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System Integration for the Connected Home

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The Resurgence of Powerline

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Running the network across inexpensive electrical wiring instead of cable, fiber or copper was such a simple idea that I.T. executives sniffed it away. Now “PowerLine” is back and its commercial “voltage” is simply humming.

PowerLine is gaining ground because utility companies are developing "smart grids" to meet regional mandates to conserve on energy. In some parts of the world, these utility grids already support streaming to home devices through a mix of Broadband-over-powerline on large utility power lines and low-speed communications on standard electrical wiring in and around the house.

At both Connected Home Europe and at CES, you could see the sparks from PowerLine. IO Gear, GigaFast, Tatung, and Russound -- each showed their own new PowerLine audio systems.

And, at CES 2008, Sharp became the first company to prototype a product that can stream two simultaneous HD feeds and internet content over existing power lines.

Sharp’s Network AQUOS uses PowerLine Communication modems to connect the TV and PC, and transmit high-quality audio, video and online content over Homeplug AV, a high-speed networking standard. At its booth, Sharp showed  how you can watch NASCAR, for example, on an AQUOS high-def LCD TV, and simultaneously download ticket information and directions (via Yahoo! Maps) through the computer and view it in the living room, without getting up off the couch--all through power lines.

Go Sharp’s Network AQUOS

A Standard for Windows (and more)

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By Bob Snyder

The industry needed a standard for Windows. Some even called for creating standards for Gates.

Then prominent global companies decided they had to get together to do something. And they thought, Why should we just stop after Windows and Gates?

They created an association and set out to create standards, standards not only for Windows and Gates but for Shutters, Doors and more, too.

While they are not the competition that Redmond expected, the io home control association is indeed composed of prominent, world-leading companies, but companies that never had a stand at Comdex, never joined the queues at CeBIT, and never raised venture capital from Silicon Valley.

And these companies (whom Redmond might disdainfully refer to as low tech) may have actually found one of the few niches that the Redmond market monster had overlooked for its Windows.

It all started when the king of windows and skylights for homes, VELUX, got together with the queen of curtain-motion for the house, SOMFY. These companies recognized that the eminent leaders of information technology, those giants battling over how to control the data of major enterprises, had failed to build protocols that could effectively control the humble doors, windows and curtains in the common home.

Their respective company engineers, far from Silicon Valley, Silicon Glen, Silicon Desert and other epicenters of programming, developed a protocol basic layer that could support higher layers of applications. The first products worked so well that other companies in the building components industry wanted to join in: Assa Abloy (world leader in door-opening solutions), Hoermann (famous for residential, industrial and garage doors), and Honeywell ($34 billion company for controlling heating and security).

Each of these companies are major and dominant in their own part of the building industry-- just as famous for their products as HP is in printers, Toshiba in notebooks, or Sharp in LCD screens.

io home control focused first on the domain areas of comfort, energy, and security for the home. The result? The pooled know-how and experience bring home control at an affordable cost. A range of products from the different companies labeled as io-homecontrol that are reliable, simple and continuously growing in number. Millions per year are already sold in Europe.

The io-homecontrol protocol, based on OSI standards, is embedded in the actuators, with standard profiles that command the behavior of a product and a range of functions without additional cost.

The io-homecontrol protocol handles 2-way radio communication at frequencies from 868MHz to 870MHz, complying with EN 300-220 regulation for low-power radio applications. Two features add value: 128-bit key encrypted message exchange for security and frequency hopping (to avoid radio interference).


Eric Plesner
Business Development Manager
The cool part is that an io home control device recognizes any other device in vicinity (and they define vicinity as 200 sq. m of a concrete building with three floors. Recognition is part of the simplicity that io home control hopes to achieve. We are used to working with carpenters in the building trade, says Eric Plesner, Business Development Manager at io-home control. They dont want complicated electronic products, they just want to switch on, switch off and have everything work.

The IO in our name stands for InterOperability, notes Plesner. Having had success in its targeted domains in the building products industry, the association now intends to open up more product domains for new members in 2009. New members could help define more products that can run applications built on top of the extent basic layer.

2008 will be spent finalizing the Smart Functions (cross-product functionality) and the LifeStyle Scenarios (where the user can command a range of standard reactions from many different products, e.g. Leaving Home Scenario that requires doors locked, windows closed, heating reduced etc.) Then the association will open up its own doors of membership to all residential applications (heating, indoor climate control, lighting management, sun shades etc).

And to even the auto industry, where the vision calls for the Audi and Mercedes and other cars to open and roll past a Somfy gate, up to a Hrmann garage door and open it while the Velux house exterior lights switch on, the Honeywell heating turns the temperature up and the Assa Abloy main door of the house unlocks (Coming Home Scenario.)

We want to be as open in membership as we are open in standards, says Plesner, in reference to their platform. But Open still has responsibilities. You just cant do whatever you want; you have to protect the other products in the standard.

The Lyon-based organization recognizes that security is also a top priority. In our business, you want to be able to open your cat flap without opening your front door.
In this case, in 2009, the association could be inviting in the cats that could really open a lot more front doors as home control converges with home entertainment.

The convergence of home control with home entertainment has not been a heads-on collision: its been more like two autos traveling independently down separate streets, at right-angle to one another, only to meet suddenly at the corner.

For example, its hard to imagine a Home Theatre Scenario where you dont want lighting that is dimmable on command. Or a Leaving Home Scenario where you dont need shut off the kids Playstation3, your Home Theater and your TV.

In 2009, home entertainment might turn the corner and stare into the headlights of home control standards. Will some CE giant (or association) step forward to join the building products association?

And when they step forward and join, the standards-based group may confront those companies already famous for proprietary home control, companies like Crestron.
What will go best in the home? Integrated products from a single manufactureror separate components based on big brands confederating a universal standard?

And ultimately will Microsoft employees stand by and watch the windows of their own homes be controlled by something other than Windows platform?

All these questions because high tech wants to enter the home and never thought their biggest competition might come from a totally different direction: from inside the home itself.

For more info, go to Home Control Association

Cisco in 3D Star Trek Demo

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You just have to see this demo. Complete with Star Trek jokes, Cisco kingpin John Chambers demos 3D holograms in teleconferencing with a holographic Mr. de Beer before an audience in Frankfurt, noNew York, no, in Bangalore.

 "We may be in a room where if I walk around behind you I can see the back of your head," says Marthin de Beer, head of Cisco's emerging technologies group and holograph of the day.

The new hologram technology is the result of a collaboration between Cisco and Musion, a UK-based company specialising in 3D projection.

Now 3D videoconferencing is a wow, but thats not the reason why this news item is filed under Residential Systems & Digital Home. The bigger news story, our humble opinion, is that if you listen carefully to John Chambers you will hear that Cisco plans to bring this technology down to consumer level.  OK, maybe not next yearbut watch out as Cisco becomes the next Sony.  No kidding here.

Go to the YouTube video on Cisco 3D

No Spring Expo for CEDIA USA

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Forget about that Spring CEDIA in USA.

“The feedback from our members has changed over the past couple of months and they are no longer ready for a full-force tradeshow such as what was planned for the 2008 Spring EXPO,” says Don Gilpin, CEDIA Executive Director.

It’s no secret that turbulence in the USA housing and mortgage markets is rocking even the world economy. Market conditions and member feedback prompted CEDIA to step back from Spring EXPO at this time and focus on education and expanding the exposure opportunities with architects, builders and interior designers at the 3rd annual Electronic Lifestyles® Forum.

Along with the Electronic Lifestyles® Forum education opportunities and round-table discussions, CEDIA will be offering a new table-top display option for sponsoring manufacturers.

The CEDIA Electronic Lifestyles® Forum will be held April 30 – May 2 at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas.

Go Electronic Lifestyles® Forum