Technology

Cable Duo Translates CE Onslaught

9/22/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

If the people who transform living rooms into elaborate home theaters blaze a trail for the early adopters of consumer-electronics gadgetry, watch for an onslaught of devices that wirelessly link the stuff in your home — your stereo, PC, TV, lights, sprinkler system, heating/cooling.

That, plus row after row of dazzling flat-screen and projector high-definition TVs, were the main attractions at this year’s Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association show, held in Denver.

'NANCY’ AND 'JOHN’

At the invitation of a prominent cable technologist and home-electronics enthusiast, I drove over to wander the floor last Sunday afternoon. We traveled incognito. My badge said “Nancy London,” his said “John Smith” — especially amusing, because he is visibly Asian.

My intent was to see if the new stuff being made for the home-theater people had any overlap with day-to-day cable operations and strategy. John’s intent was that, plus window-shopping for his own (formidable!) home-theater setup. (Part of the fun of hanging out with tech people is to witness what gizmos really get them fired up. More on that later.)

This week’s “Translation” will serve as a sort of “columnist’s notebook” CEDIA (pronounced “see-dee-yah”).

WEIRD, INTERESTING

The show floor, which we covered at a careful pace in three hours, held the usual mixture of the weird and the interesting.

Weird first: A central vacuum system that doubles as a food-storage system. That’s right. It works like this: A narrow suction arm fits into a vacuum port in the kitchen. (When not in use, the arm “pivots neatly away.”) When you’re ready to freeze the leftover chili, you pull a double-zipper Ziploc freezer bag out of the box, pivot that suction arm, remove all the air, and voila — “sealed-in freshness.”

Then there was the combination mirror/flat panel TV display, complete with heavy gold leaf frame. When it’s not a TV, it’s a mirror. Kinky.

Oh, and for all the flat-panel TVs heading into homes, there are nearly as many options for fixed and “swing out” display mounts. One had cantilevers, to attach flat-panel speakers. Another boasted the ability to hold up to a 660-pound display. (The small print: “Wall must be strong enough.” Makes you wonder if they learned that the hard way.)

And, for the serious future-proofer: Forget fiber to the home. The new new thing, according to Franklin, Tenn.-based Tenvera Inc., is fiber in the home. (Makes for a more pronounceable acronym, too: FITH.)

Granted, if you don’t have fiber to the home, it’s not going to do you much good to put fiber in your home. But, for bragging rights, optical fiber in your walls is right up there with the indoor driving range.

As far as general trends go, silence and visual grace were prominent at CEDIA. High-end home-theater components tend to generate heat; fans are the antidote. Fans are noisy. Noisy makes audiophiles crazy. Silent fans are nirvana.

Several companies showed ceiling and wall-mount speakers, designed to be visually unobtrusive. One company even showed an in-wall speaker that can be painted over with as many as four coats of latex paint.

In all, the big trends that could intersect with day-to-day cable operations and strategy appeared to be touch-screen control systems and wireless links between in-home electronics, from stereos to PCs to TVs.

NO LINK FOUND

At the end of the three-hour CEDIA wander, notably, John didn’t find what he was looking for: A wireless link to an HDMI (high-definition media interface) connector. Application: He has a flat panel display, but the receiver it needs to connect to is too far away for a wire. (HDMI wires tend to top out at 15 feet, because they’re carrying so much stuff.)

He did find an all-in-one surround sound system (the Yamaha Digital Sound Projector) that produced considerable muttering. (“I want one of these,” “I have a place just for this in my house,” etc.) It works by putting 42 tiny speakers ($1,500) or 23 tiny speakers ($800) in a flat-panel wall-mount directly under the display. A microphone analyzes the acoustics of the room, sets the best beam angles, and optimizes the sound for the room.

To tell the truth, it sounded so good, I think I want one, too. Either that or a pair of running shoes nice to my feet.

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at www.translation-please.com.

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