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Lennon and McCartney, Scorsese and De Niro: we all love a good collaboration that just works. As it turns out, so does the custom install industry this year, which racked up more winning home automation combinations at CEDIA 2016 than you could shake an Echo at.

CEDIA set the collaborative tone of the show with its keynote address, announcing its plans to unify CEDIA with CEDIA EMEA in a move that the group promises will bring significant benefits to members across the globe. With integration, CEDIA will streamline its governance to make decision-making more efficient, representative and consistent. Instead of two separate governing boards, the association will be governed by a 13-member global board, comprised of nine elected directors and up to four appointed skills-based directors.

However, it was another company that was responsible for creating the most collaboration buzz at the show: Amazon. With Alexa voice activation integration announcements being announced left, right and centre, Amazon became one of the show’s main talking points.

Now that the Alexa powered Amazon Echo and Dot products are officially launched into the UK and Germany, the floodgates of integration were opened, with many established automation players lining up to with the Amazon platform.

But what does it mean for installers and the industry? Understandably, many installers are cautious about the new collaborations: will the functionality and reliability be there right out of the gate, is an obvious concern that has led some installers to keep in a ‘wait and see’ holding pattern. However, the power of big beasts like Amazon (Google was also at the event, although at the time not yet ready to make its own big voice control announcement – look out CEDIA 2017!), could mean the message on automation could be about to reach unprecedented numbers of people, so even if installers do or don’t climb aboard the voice activation express right now, it could be a huge boost in public awareness that will help the wider industry.

Automation Makes Friends With Alexa

Never one to miss a trick, Crestron announced that its installers can now leverage Alexa Voice Service to build voice controlled scenes and settings that are fully customised, with the user able to set specific scenes and activate them using just their voice. Integration is not limited to basic functions such as lighting and temperature, however: homeowners can choose from an unlimited range of voice control options for their homes, said Crestron.

Crestron installers can define and deploy Amazon Alexa using new software modules that interface with both the Smart Home Skill API and the Alexa Skills Kit SDK. These modules are for use with homes using both Crestron 3-Series processors and Crestron Pyng App (coming soon).

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Control4 also announced compatibility, with users able to activate smart home scenes and control individual devices using just voice. Scenes could be anything from ‘cooking’ to raise the lights in the kitchen, lower the shades and turn on the TV to a pre-set food channel, or a simple scene that will turn all devices and lights off, lock the doors and lower the thermostat using the command: ‘Alexa, turn off house’.

Connecting an Alexa-enabled device within a Control4 home is activated by enabling the Control4 Smart Home Skill inside the Alexa App, which connects with Control4 discovering devices and scenes. The Control4 Smart Home Skill is available now for the Alexa family: Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, and Amazon Fire TV. This new Alexa skill is included with a Control4 4Sight subscription and requires an Alexa-enabled device to use it.

Control4 used the show to roll out OS 2.9, Bakpak 4.0, as well as integration announcements with Amazon Alexa, Comcast, Lutron, Somfy and Sonos.

Control4 says the release of Control4 OS 2.9 is packed with new consumer enhancements and dealer tools and the introduction of Bakpak 4.0, the new cloud-based network and automation management solution.

Like many others, Control4 unveiled Amazon Alexa Smart Home Skill for voice-enabled automation, delivering hands-free control of a Control4 system.

Control4 also announced the EA Series controllers are now Z-Wave certified via a new plug-in Z-Wave module and integrate with 13 newly-supported electrical outlets and sensor modules for lighting, comfort and security. Additionally, Control4 unveiled a new partner program, ‘Connects with Control4,’ that makes it easier for manufacturers to promote their products as Control4-ready. The program also enhances the installation process through the mobile App for installers, Composer Express. Now installers can ensure installation accuracy and save time by scanning a Connects with Control4 QR Code to automatically add the correct device driver to a project.

Now available with no licensing or subscription fees, Control4 says Bakpak 4.0 provides all Control4 and Pakedge dealers with the tools and cloud infrastructure to deliver the most robust and reliable home networks, enabling rapid response to issues, proactive management and greater visibility of network and automation systems.

The new Bakpak Apps for iOS and Android include context-aware, intelligent alerts and the tools to remotely address network issues from anywhere. Bakpak manages both network and automation devices to ensure that the network is tuned to the automation that runs on top of it. Control4 also adds the ability for dealers to monitor ZigBee and Z-Wave devices remotely.

Now available on all Control4 EA series controllers, OS 2.9 offers new blinds and shades experiences, including a more intuitive interface to make it easy to control and automate window coverings.

Integration with Lutron, Qmotion and Somfy is also on board. Additionally, with OS 2.9, homeowners can now create their own ‘Wake Up’ and ‘Sleep’ scenes including lighting, music, TV and shades, from their Control4 touch screens. Dealers can also customise the UI with Experience Drivers and dynamic, graphical icons so that customer favourites can be placed within the UI for quick access and personalisation.

The platform also introduced a new MDU offering that includes property-wide video intercom communications, better integration with lobby door stations, integration with SIP-based phones, concierge services integration and a full line of smart-home solutions that can be customised for individual residences.

Bang & Olufsen also announced during the show that the BeoLink SmartHome now offers integrated voice control via Alexa. The SmartHome solution works with other brands such as Lutron and Nest too. Bang & Olufsen also presented a new 300W 2-channel amplifier, BeoAmp 2 to supplement the existing BeoAmp 16, an efficient 16-channel audiophile amplifier for multizone installations and use in professional applications.

Other companies connecting with the Echo and Alexa platform include URC, Savant, ELAN, (via November software update) and Lutron.

Get Integrated 

Of course integration announcements and improvements to automation were not limited to voice activation, the show was a showcase for a satisfying amount of other automation news.

Savant announced compatibility, with Nest and iPort both joining its partner program. Nest and iPort join Sonos, Sony, Lutron and PureLink as Savant Elite Partners.

Meanwhile, ELAN v. 8.0 was also being trailed at the show, mixing the familiar Elan approach and interface with new functionality. Through the ELAN 8.0 software, custom installers can now work with – you guessed it – Amazon Echo, and its digital assistant Alexa – to access ELAN’s most common control functions.

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As well as all the updates, CE Pro Eu particularly liked the new 12in touchscreen. The gXP12 is compatible with all ELAN systems, and in particular, with the new Overlay Feature available in the upcoming ELAN 8.0 software update, the gXP12 gives installers the opportunity to not only sell a control touch panel, but a video monitor as well. As such, the gXP12 is aimed at installs where space is limited and video from sources like Satellite, Cable TV, or Blu-ray, is desired from a single device.

The gXP12 has an 11.6 diagonal 16:9 screen offering vivid 1920 x 1080 resolution. With a 5MP camera, the gXP12 is also a good match for the for ELAN Intercom. The touch panel also provides high-fidelity audio for hearing conversations and notifications. The unit also includes a digital MEMS microphone with echo and noise cancellation.

Featured on a lot of other stands showcasing its compatibility was Nest, which had its own stand, although there was no big news from the manufacturer at the show. The new exterior camera was highlighted with its night vision abilities and the fact that the thermostat now comes in four colours, original stainless steel, and now white, black and copper. Nest staff did assure CE Pro Eu however, that completely new products are coming, but no details as yet.

 

URC used the show to launch a brand new product line, that the company believes will be a serious player in the ‘affordable’ automation category. MX HomePro is designed to be easy to install and program, offering users one-touch control of their home entertainment as well as the Internet of Things: lighting, thermostats, security cameras and Z-Wave products.

In addition to an ‘ergonomic’ URC Remote Control and compact Smart Hub, the MX HomePro Mobile App delivers on-the-go control via smartphone and tablet. Simple programming allows installers and users to get started quickly. And the MX HomePro Editor helps dealers maintain customers’ systems from anywhere with web access. The manufacturer adds that cloud-based Editor software offers convenient programming via PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet.

To get started all an installer has to do it set up the H500 Smart Hub, which connects via Wi-Fi or Ethernet to control the main room of entertainment plus smart home devices. The R500 Wi-Fi Smart Remote Control, featuring a 2in colour LCD and a favourite channels option, is designed to control one room of entertainment plus smart home devices throughout the home. Installers can add the URC Z-Wave Gateway TRF-ZW2 to control all Z-Wave based lights, thermostats, door locks and security cameras.

A friend to Control4, QMotion highlighted its compatibility with the platform through Control4’s EA series controllers using OS 2.9. All QMotion Qadvanced shades with ZigBee Home Automation v1.2 and Qadvanced Intelligent System hardwired shades now automatically integrate with Control4 EA controllers.

QMotion’s Qadvanced Intelligent System (QIS) for hardwired motorised shades feature single or dual hardwired switches, multichannel remotes, two-way communication, patented manual override and low power consumption for maximum energy savings. The QIS shades also interface with Vantage, Elan, RTI and Savant.

For customers needing a wireless, battery operated shade with two-way communication, QMotion also launched the Qadvanced with ZigBee Home Automation v1.2 motorised shades, engineered with native ZigBee specifications. The maanufacturer says the Qadvanced with ZigBee HA1.2 are the only battery operated shades available that have built in ZigBee capabilities without the need of additional plugins.

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Basalte also presented several new initiatives, including new finishes for its touch-sensitive keypads which can work with Lutron HomeWorks QS and Crestron systems as well as KNX. This designs offer precious metals in a ‘trendy’, handcrafted finish, expanding its hand carved fer forgé finish, with three new looks to: gunmetal, classic bronze and sparkling rosé.

Additionally, Basalte introduced the new soft copper finish, replacing the grey fer forgé in the classic finish range. On the stand the company featured the Sentido, a multifunctional design keypad and Deseo, an HVAC control panel. Both keypads are touch-sensitive and carry the new Lutron HomeWorks QS and Crestron compatibility.

The company also introduced the minimalist Eve mount for iPad Pro suitable for home or commercial spaces. Together with the Eve wall mount, the iPad Pro’s larger screen serves as a useful ideal control panel for when complex control and GUIs are needed.

Atlona always likes to come to a show with something completely new and this year the company’s message was: “so okay, we have HDR now, but you need to be able to control and extend it”.

Designed to do exactly that, Atlona introduced the Centum Series AT-CENT-301-CEA, which it says is the industry’s first high dynamic range (HDR) compatible video extender, delivering 4K/UHD video @ 60 Hz with 4:4:4 chroma sampling and HDMI data rates up to 18 Gbps, to meet next-generation residential integration requirements.

Using HDBaseT technology, Atlona says the product is ideal for applications requiring the latest generation of 4K/UHD and HDR sources and displays and is compatible with all video resolutions, audio formats and colour space formats supported in the HDMI 2.0a specification. In addition, it has the ability to pass metadata for HDR content.

The unit is HDCP 2.2 compliant and provides HDMI transmission up to 330 feet (100m) over category cable with embedded multi-channel audio. HDR and 4K/60 4:4:4 video extension are made possible through the use of visually lossless VESA Display Stream Compression (DSC). The extender also supports Ethernet pass-through, RS232 and IR control and Power over Ethernet – the receiver is powered by the extender. EDID management features ensure proper audio formats and video resolutions are provided to the AV system.

Ultimately, the AT-CENT-301-CEA is designed to deliver dependable, pristine-quality image presentations in residential and commercial applications. Suggested applications include projects using UHD and HDR sources such as Ultra HD Blu-ray players, plus compatible televisions and projectors, TV showrooms requiring reliable content distribution and pro AV applications with full-motion, highly detailed 4K graphics presentations for visualisation, 3D renderings and simulations.

The extender pair also supports the HDMI Audio Return Channel, with the ability to transmit digital audio from a television back to the transmitter and then to an AV receiver via HDMI or a TOSLINK digital audio output, allowing integration of audio from over-the-air TV broadcasts and smart TV Apps.

On the RTI booth, the manufacturer was drawing attention to its new CX10 touch panel, amongst a complete line of control and automation solutions.

Suitable for anything from executive boardrooms to gourmet kitchens, the sleek and CX10 touch panel aims to deliver simple, intuitive control. Its flexible design allows it to either be set on a countertop or inverted and mounted under a cabinet with a fully adjustable screen to attain the best viewing angle possible.

The large 10-inch, high-resolution LCD touchscreen is ample enough to act as a HD video display via its HDBaseT input. With a built-in composite input and video intercom support, users can view security cameras and other devices. For ease of installation, the unit boasts wired and wireless Ethernet for two-way control and feedback, in addition to convenient programming. The built-in IR and RS-232 port allow the CX10 to be fully integrated into a powerful RTI control system with direct control of other equipment and devices.

“This is the first time this has been seen at a tradeshow,” said Brett Stokke, director of communications at RTI. “Residential has been our bread and butter for the longest time, but more and more we’re hearing about integrators that are using our products. Simplicity is key, that’s the whole point of having a control system. In a business environment, you need to be able to control everything, and customise it to create a floor plan of say, a restaurant where you can say, select a TV, and change the channel just like that – from the panel.”

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RTI also displayed its recently shipping interfaces, including the KX3 and KX10 in-wall touch panels. Sporting a 3.5-inch colour LCD display and five customisable hard buttons, the KX3 in-wall touch panel is a hybrid device that combines the capabilities of both a touchscreen controller and a control processor within a single, cost-effective unit.

Whereas the KX10 10.1-inch 1280×800 WXGA resolution multi-touch-capacitive LCD display provides ample screen, while its engineering makes it a convenient high-resolution display where users can watch HD video via the HDBaseT video input. Both touch panels are equipped with a camera and microphone for video intercom functionality.

Lastly, RTI was highlighting its new Z-Wave lighting control solutions, which enable users to manage lighting elements both locally and from the convenience of an RTI user interface. The devices utilise Z-Wave RF technology, creating a wireless network that integrates with RTI’s home and commercial automation systems via the ZW-9 Z-Wave interface module.

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Meanwhile, Fibaro was drawing attention to a product named ‘The Button’ during CEDIA – a small, battery powered device (available in various colours) that is capable of recognising up to six different actions – be it turning lights on and off, activating an AC unit, or creating a customised scene. The Button is available now worldwide.

Also on display was Swipe, a new device that embraces gesture technology. Available now, Swipe can detect a series of hand gestures, which can be tailored to the user’s smart home needs.

Luxul was exhibiting a new series of scalable routers designed to enable integrators to lay a great foundation for virtually any size network. The company also showcased new powerful and easy-to-install switches, which are available with a range of features and form factors – including the AV Series for clean integration with AV rack systems.

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The Nuvo Player Portfolio was also on show on the large Legrand booth – a whole home audio system designed for the professional market and offers high fidelity sound, no-hassle third-party integration, extensive source variety and complete control with in-wall keypads and iOS and Android devices for maximised listening experiences. The system’s offerings have been enhanced with the recently introduced driver for Universal Remote Control (URC) systems, as well as the soon to be introduced P4300 Professional Series Player, soundbar, subwoofer and keypad controller models. Nuvo Series Two, Four and Six speakers are made for professionals and offer models for every space, project and price point.

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Over on the On-Q section of the stand, the manufacturer was showcasing its Intuity Home Automation System, which gives production homebuilders and installers serving the mainstream housing market a cost-effective, modular, repeatable and affordable solution for controlling entertainment, security and comfort within a home.

It can be operated intuitively and seamlessly via mobile devices, in-wall command centres and PCs and offers easy integration with Legrand’s range of high-performing subsystems, as well as those of leading third party manufacturers.

On-Q was also showcasing radiant RF Lighting Control, which delivers convenient operation with a variety of options, offering easy installation and simple scene setup from Legrand iOS and Android Apps. On-Q Premium High Speed Cables with Ethernet are tested and verified by the Premium HDMI Certification Program and are ensured to deliver the full 18Gbps bandwidth necessary to support 4K UltraHD devices.

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Lastly, Vantage’s new Universal Dimming Station and Module provides effective and seamless dimming control of multiple lighting sources in wired or wireless applications. They are load agnostic and offer auto-switching between forward and reverse phase loads. Equinox Touchscreens and Mobile Apps offer consistent user interfaces across all platforms for enhanced interactivity and intuitive lighting, climate, and shade control.

Words by Dan Sait and Alice Gustafson.

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