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System Integration for the Connected Home

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Nortek Sell-Off May Face Lawsuits

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Nortek, the diversified industrial company that holds 9 of our industry's brands in its Audio, Video & Control group, will sell the entire company to a British turn-around specialist for $2.6 billion...or maybe not...

Nortek's Audio, Video & Control brands include ELAN, Furman, Gefen, Niles, Panamax, Xantech, Speakercraft, Proficient and Sunfire.

Nortek logo

Another division, Ergonomic & Productivity Solutions, also includes brands in our channels, Ergotron, Anthro and OmniMount. (Which always raises the question for AV: "What, we aren't ergonomic or productive enough for those brands to join us in AV Control?")

These brands-- and all of Nortek-- are signed away in $2.8 billion deal with Melrose Plc in the UK.

Don't fall for the headlines about "a merger" because the merger is only the temporary financial vehicle that maximizes the British investment and probably reduces US federal corporate tax (Thank you, Nevada tax laws). In this deal, Nortek would end up as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Melrose PLC, a public company enjoying the publicity of one of the first post-Brexit acquisitions.


Google Daydream VR Platform to Launch this Autumn

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Daydream headset

At Google I/O 2016 for developers, Google introduced its Daydream — the next generation of its virtual reality.

Google VP of VR Clay Bavor says Daydream will include “all the ingredients you need to create incredible, immersive VR experiences.”

“Over time Daydream will encompass VR devices in many shapes and sizes. But today is about how Daydream will enable high quality VR on Android smartphones.”

Daydream-- both hardware and software — is an advanced successor to Google Cardboard, the disposable headset standard released two years ago. It's a mobile VR system powered by the next wave of Android N devices, built to a company-approved standard.

Google Cardboard worked with almost any smartphone, but Daydream will only work on new phones with specific components (with special sensors and screens) to be released this autumn.

Google Daydream

A Daydream home screen will let you access apps and content (while using a new headset) and an early look shows a whimsical forest landscape (shown in photo). Inside this environment, Google has created special VR versions of YouTube, Street View, Google Play Store, Play Movies, and Google Photos. It's also recruited outside media companies to bring their apps to Daydream-- streaming platforms like Netflix and gaming companies like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts.

The Google exec added that: “Hulu, Netflix, HBO, even IMAX are bringing their libraries to Daydream so you’ll be able to watch shows and movies in a virtual cinema, or an immersive 3D film in a virtual IMAX theatre.”

Some hardware partners that will make Daydream-ready phones include Samsung, HTC, LG, Xiaomi, Huawei, ZTE, Asus, and Alcatel.

Daydream is Google’s “Phase Two” in Google’s mobile virtual reality ambitions. The scale of Android-- with all of its content, service, computer vision and AI assets-- puts Google in a strong position to become the leading force in the virtual reality that will come eventually into AV, digital signage, UC and industrial technology.

Watch the Google I/O Keynotes, including the VR Keynote


IMAX to Bring VR Mainstream

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IMAX Corporation wants to push virtual reality into mainstream—and for that they’ve partnered with Google and signed a joint venture agreement with Swedish games studio (and hardware creator) Starbreeze.

After building an VR ecosystem of alliances, IMAX will now develop a premium, location-based virtual reality offering (entertainment content and games) for commercial destinations like multiplexes, malls, museums and other.

IMAX’s VR experience will use the StarVR headset technology. Starbreeze’s headsets provide a 210-degree full peripheral “IMAX-like” field-of-view — twice that of any other VR headset currently out there.

IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond says, “We believe VR is an area that holds tremendous promise and is a natural progression for IMAX given our established worldwide brand presence, our immersive entertainment technology know-how, and strong industry relationships with filmmakers, studios and exhibitors.”

The first IMAX VR location has been selected (but not disclosed). IMAX will launch “up to six sites this year in both domestic and international markets”. If successful, the concept will then roll out globally.

IMAX used the recent Google’s I/O developer conference to announce that it is working with Google to develop a “cinema-grade virtual reality (VR) camera” – another aspect of its overall VR strategy.

The IMAX VR camera will be designed “from the ground up” by IMAX engineers and camera specialists, in partnership with Google, and will use the latter’s Jump platform (a camera rig with 16 camera modules in a circular array) for creating and viewing 3D 360 video. Google will have exclusive access to pre-existing IMAX documentary footage for conversion and use within the VR world.

While some industry observers predict the beginning of VR feature films, (and surely some new director will think it’s a James Cameron-loke move to do so), we think Gelfond has a different vision.

In his investor’s conference, Gelfond said, “a movie-goer may see Star Wars, for example, at the multiplex. Then, after the film ends, they may pay for a premium VR experience around the Star Wars IP in the same complex. You'd go to a different place in the multiplex and put on VR glasses and you would fly the Millennium Falcon or see how many stormtroopers you can shoot.”

To us that sounds right: instead of dragging Hollywood (not easy!) along, IMAX can create its own game-like experiences based on Hollywood content. IMAX can supplement Hollywood blockbusters.

IMAX will work with Starbreeze’s library of VR entertainment content and games and leverage Starbreeze’s partnerships in the gaming industry.

Lionsgate and Starbreeze currently are developing a John Wick VR game. John Wick fans can predict what John Wick would have to say as VR’s new poster boy, “People keep asking me if I'm back. And I really haven't had an answer. But now, yeah, I'm thinkin' I'm back!”

Go IMAX’s VR Strategy


NextGen HomePlug Fills “the Dead Spot Gap”

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Rob Ranck

Almost every home has at least one Dead Spot. You know, the place in your home where suddenly your internet connectivity disappears, replaced by the black hole of no connection.

This dead spot, this "failure-to-communicate" turns out to be the needy gap in the home interenet systems that HomePlug... plugs.

If that seems obvious, it took 200m devices shipped with 95% share of Powerline networking to get to this point: instead of competing with wifi, Homeplug embraces it and complements it.

That's our take from the recent HomePlug press webinar. Rob Ranck, HomePlug Alliance President talked about the latest generation of HomePlug products, AV2 (enhanced AV for 2-3X improved performance),"We hope this starts a trend of retailers embracing the way to cure dead spots in home."

Guest speaker David Watkins, Strategy Analytics' Service Director for Connected Home Devices, told us that Europeans now have an average of 6.5 IP-enabled devices in our homes, up from previous years but still chasing the US overachievers’ average of 9.1.

Citing Broadcom Field Trials and the roll-out a new line of products with HomePlug AV2 now at Best Buy, Ranck positions HomePlug as the saviour of wifi problems and as a necessary component of whole home network.

Under the name “DST,” or Dead Spot Terminator, Best Buy sells (exclusively at Best Buy stores and online) NETGEAR Nighthawk DST AC1900 Wireless-AC Gigabit Router with DST Adapter. The solution combines Wi-Fi 802.11ac and embedded HomePlug AV2 technology within the router and DST wireless extender. In addition to one DST wireless extender included in the kit, customers may purchase additional DST wireless extenders (up to eight) as needed to ensure maximum connectivity to additional areas of the home.

Netgear Nighthawk DST

“HomePlug is pleased to see this rollout of HomePlug AV2 technology from CE retail leader Best Buy,” says HomePlug Alliance President Rob Ranck. “By offering a hybrid solution with next-generation wired and wireless technologies, customers are able to enjoy whole-home connectivity for high-demand applications, such as streaming 4k Ultra HD video and online gaming, with greater ease of installation.”

We all know the problems for wifi in the home...congestion by neighbours… interference from other electrical appliances... blocking by brick or stone. The Broadcom field trial showed how HomePlug AV2 resolves these issues in a large 2-story home (in this case, raising a kitchen from 5.4Mbps reception to 81.8 Mbps.)

"There are lots of wifi-to-wifi extenders being sold," notes Ranck. "But where is the best place to put a repeater? It's a guess. With HomePlug, you simply place the extender like one from Best Buy where wifi is weak."

"It's like turning a 2-lane road into a 4-lane highway of higher performance connectivity," adds the HomePlug President.

According to the Alliance, HiSense in China sells appliances with wifi and HomePlug together so HomePlug is a backbone and can blanket the home.

“HomePlug AV2 MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) products are available now in retail stores worldwide, and many service providers are expected to include HomePlug AV2 MIMO technology in IPTV offerings,” notes Ranck. “With MIMO technology, the next generation of HomePlug technology has arrived, delivering much higher data throughput and coverage...”

“More mobile devices in the home, the coming of Ultra HD Video, and an expected 33% compound annual growth in Smart Home intelligent systems through 2019 are all combining to drive demand for greater bandwidth in the home,” adds Michael Palma, Research Director with IDC. “HomePlug AV2 is an important advancement for hybrid home networking technology, and will help satisfy our growing appetite for content, apps, and IoT applications.”

Home Plug House

Some of the key advancements of HomePlug AV2 technology include:

  • Ideal backbone for hybrid home networks that must evolve to carry large amounts of data for Ultra HD -Video and IoT applications
  • Support for MIMO with beamforming - Doubles rate coverage
  • Whole-home coverage with repeater functionality
  • Power save modes (Active, Standby and Idle)
  • Complete interoperability without degradation with HomePlug AV and HomePlug Green PHY™ devices
  • Enhanced support for Multiple Dwelling Unit (apartment) environments to maximize throughput of neighboring networks

“HomePlug AV2 provides the fastest and most reliable powerline networking to connect Smart TVs, media players, game consoles, and other devices while also enabling proliferation of Wi-Fi technologies for mobile connectivity, everywhere,” notes Greg Fischer, Broadcom Senior Vice President and General Manager for Broadband Carrier Access. “HomePlug AV2 Certified products can provide a simple migration to next-generation networking, as they are interoperable with the large number of HomePlug AV and Green PHY devices already in the market.”

Installers, retailers and etailers now have good reason to sell customers the new and more powerful HomePlug AV2 (and upgrade HomePlug AV users).

On top of this solving-the-deadspots story, here is something else we learned: HomePlug also offers a solution to charge EV cars-- VW e-Golf and e-Up!, the BMW i3 and Chevrolet Spark come with the embedded Combined Charging System with HomePlug Green PHY (AV optimzed for low cost/energy IoT applications).

Recently the Homeplug Alliance also showed their Netricity program at European Utility Week as the key for utilities and energy companies looking to address the need for long-range powerline networking for outside-the-home, smart grid, smart city and industrial control applications.

Go HomePlug Alliance

Go Video Showing HomePlug AV2 Interoperability and Technology Benefits

What If Google Made a Free Chromebox?

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Here's a festive thought for the end of 2013: What if Google made a free Chromebox?

Grinch Stole the Chromebox

Google has made it BIG by expertly giving away its technology to earn an audience.

Google Search, of course.  But think about all the Google products you might know, love and use.

Do you use Gmail? That's free...

Google Maps? Yep, free, too.

Google Docs? Free..

Google Talk? Sure, free.

Google+? OK,maybe you don't use this yet but soon Helpouts will pull you in.  Yes, it's free.

YouTube, Picassa, Chrome OS and Android... all the Google hits roll on..and they are ALL free.


So why does Google think it has to make money SELLING the Chromebox?

What would happen if Google gave away the Chromebox to promote its other products? Maybe Google doesn't realize how important FREE is to their success? Maybe Google thinks when they get into hardware, they should start acting like a hardware company?  But all the hardware guys look at Google's fast-growing success with nothing but envy.

Check out our festive Power Point as we bring in Dr. Seuss to get this message across to Google. Maybe it's time we had a free Chromebox...

Go What if Google Made a Free Chromebox?

Jeremy Burkhardt "Retires" From Speakercraft

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Jeremy Burkhardt, industry character and one of the industry's most influential leaders, announces his retirement from Speakercraft. Keith Marshall, president of Proficient Audio (and sister company to Speakercraft) will step in.

No doubt the full story will come out, but why is 40-year old Burkhardt retiring?

Watch him in his announcement video (link below) and hear him repeat the word "retirement." And then he explains,"I'll probably go sit under a tree and do something else."

And that's exactly the point.

Jeremy Burkhardt

"Do something else." This doesn't sound like a man about to retire. It sounds more like a man who has decided to leave for whatever reason and has agreed with a corporation on the best way to walk away "in the best interest of the corporation."

Nortek is the corporation that owns Speakercraft, and an impressive list of companies with important residential brands. Nortek bought Speakercraft in 2004 for $58 million and Burkhardt made a lot of money, money affectionately known by most entrepreneurs as “FU money.” Money that enables an entrepreneur to walk away from large companies at the appropriate time.

When is the time appropriate? Normally, when you get fed up of big company constraints...or new management steps in and you disagree with new philosophy or have conflict with new personalities...or you feel under-appreciated...... or maybe when you lose your Nirv.