CEDIA Expo DIY Smart Home
We explore DIY Smart Home products and services at the CEDIA Expo, the premier event for home technology professionals. Throughout this story we link to our YouTube channel for videos directly from the show.
To help us stay up to date on the latest smart home technology, we attend two tech conferences a year – the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association (CEDIA) Expo.
The two shows could not be more different – CES is a chaotic convention that sprawls across the entire city of Las Vegas, with more than 175,000 attendees, 4,500 formal exhibitors, and hundreds more companies setting up in hotel suites and branded trailers around town.
CEDIA Expo attracts about 20,000 home technology professionals and 500 exhibitors. Most of the event focuses on the professional channel – local companies that recommend technology for your home, install and maintain it for you – including home theater, lighting, window shades, solar energy and home automation. These pros have been building smart homes since before CEDIA was formed thirty years ago.
For AppMyHome, attending CEDIA means we can spend more time exploring and have meaningful conversations with the vendors at the show. Since we are DIY smart home, we may geek out on some of the high-end speakers and systems on the show floor but we try to focus on the products that we can buy and install ourselves and recommend to our readers.
We didn’t find that many new innovations at CEDIA, but we did uncover some trends we think will be important to watch in smart home in the future.
8K and Specialty TVs
While 4K or ultra HD televisions are becoming the standard for new TV sales, TV manufacturers are starting to push new models with unbelievable 8K resolution. Samsung, Sony and LG and many others had impressive models on display at CEDIA. While the screens look incredible, it is pretty early to buy one, and you would be hard-pressed to find any content available in 8K to watch today. But it’s always breathtaking to see these displays in person.
Beyond the latest technology, there were plenty of speciality TVs at CEDIA Expo. Seura had an impressive line of outdoor televisions and accessories for all kinds of conditions – bright sun or shade, cold, wet or hot. Samsung has updated its Frame Series for 2019 with its stunning QLED technology, with plenty of options, colors and artwork to decorate your walls when you’re not watching.
But our favorite use of a television was as a control panel for your smart home. This was not the first time we’ve seen Samsung SmartThings running on a TV, but it was one of the better and more complete demonstrations of the platform. Samsung’s SmartThings remains one of the most popular consumer DIY smart home platforms and it integrates with hundreds of different popular devices as well as with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Samsung now offers the SmartThings hub built in to all its 2019 QLED Series televisions.
Google Nest and the Helpful Home
Speaking of Google, they had their most impressive smart home booth we’ve seen in three years of CES and CEDIA. Google and Nest consolidated into one business earlier this year, jettisoning their Works with Nest integration program and rebranding the Google Assistant smart speakers and video control products to Google Nest. At CEDIA, Google created a full home setup on the show floor, with a bedroom, kitchen, living room and garage displaying a multitude of products from their connected ecosystem.
Google also continues to make a big investment to help their smart home product partners by providing staff in their booths – and in many cases these Google-hired workers know just as much (if not more) about what they’re demonstrating at the event. Certainly a lot of vendors still highlight compatibility with Amazon Alexa and some with Apple HomeKit, but Google’s physical presence definitely makes an impression at the show.
You could feel an increased energy and focus from Google to the integrator channel. Control 4, one of the leading custom-installed systems, announced support for Google Assistant within their platform. In their opening TechTalk, Google Nest execs Michele Turner and Gene Lanois talked about the easy ways to set up routines for customers. While these routines are relatively easy to create, consumers are busy and don’t always want to take the time to figure them out. Ultimately, Google sees Artificial Intelligence (AI) as the next step to integrate devices and sensors to make the house a truly helpful home.
Google also has a renewed focus on privacy. One of the reasons for the change to the Works with Nest program was to support customer privacy especially as Google Nest starts to add AI to the smart home. Google wants to have stricter control over vendor integrations to assure customers that they are responsible with their personal data.
Do It For Me
During the Google Tech Talk we also learned a new term – instead of Do-it-Yourself, Do-it-for-Me. While we think that a lot of the consumer DIY smart home products are easy to install and set-up, there are some products we don’t want to install ourselves, and many of our friends would rather not install them either.
Video doorbells, in-wall switches and outlets, smart thermostats, motion sensors, smart garage door openers, smart lighting – these are all popular smart home devices that people would love to use but are either intimidated by the install process, afraid of electricity, or just have no interest in setting up themselves. Amazon and BestBuy are already selling installation services to their own customers. We feel there is a gap in between DIY and custom install that DIFM will fill. There will be savvy companies able to fill in if they’re willing to accept a reasonable price per install.
Water Damage Prevention Systems
Smart water control continues to be a trend for the home automation market. Water damage from burst pipes and leaks are both inconvenient and expensive, and homeowners are interested in using technology to allow them to turn off their water automatically and/or remotely.
We talked to four different companies offering products in this space, some familiar like StreamLabs and LeakSmart and others new to us such as Hero Labs and Buoy from Residieo. A lot of these systems, even the clamp-on solution from LeakSmart, definitely fall into the DIFM category and some require both a plumber and an electrician to install. We feel this is a critical solution to have in our home, and we will do a more in-depth comparison of all the solutions in the near future.
Brilliant Smart Home Control
One company who has seemed to bridge that DIY and custom install gap already is Brilliant. They launched their Brilliant All-in-One Smart Home Control last year at CEDIA to both integrators and consumers and they are having tremendous success, especially with new home builders.
Brilliant replaces one of the single or multi-gang wall sockets in your house with an intuitive video control panel that works with common products people already know – the Ring Doorbell, Amazon Alexa, Sonos speakers and dozens more. New home builders love it because it looks great and it works as a light switch, whether or not the consumer uses the connected capabilities, and it allows them to differentiate themselves versus other builders who either don’t provide home automation or make it an expensive option. As early adopters of the Wink Relay, we love the Brilliant Control design and can’t wait to try it in our own home.
Taking the smart home outside
There were a lot more outdoor products on display at CEDIA – with a great opportunity for these dealers to bring technology to the backyard and beyond. In addition to the Seura outdoor TVs we mentioned, Coastal Source demonstrated their full line of outdoor lighting and outdoor sound systems for two days outside the convention center. Luckily for us, Denver had beautiful weather for the afternoon party, but even if it got bad the televisions and speakers would have withstood the elements.
We saw two key outdoor solutions in the DIY smart home space – Ring Smart Lighting and the new Sonos Move speaker.
Ring Outdoor Lighting
Many folks know Ring for their popular video doorbells as well as their line of companion indoor and outdoor cameras and sensors. Ring introduced a full line of smart lighting at CES that started shipping in June and we got a chance to get a full demo at CEDIA.
Ring offers a full-range of low-voltage landscape lights with integrated motion sensors to keep your yard lit up to distract intruders (or deer) as well as detect motion throughout your yard extending your zone of detection far beyond those motion sensing lights on your house. The prices are reasonable and they seem very easy to install, so they are definitely worth a closer look. Since they are low-voltage you can use them alongside your existing low-voltage lights with your current transformer or a new one from Ring.
For backyard music for most everyone, Sonos introduced their Move speaker. Move is a durable, weather-resistant battery-powered speaker that you can use inside with your Sonos system over WiFi or carry outside to use in your backyard. If you want to listen away from home, you can bring your Move along and stream music via Bluetooth.
The Move is substantial, yet easy to grab and carry with the integrated handle. It comes with a small recharging base that allows you to keep playing at the same time, or you can quickly charge it on the go with a USB-C adapter. At $399 it’s definitely more pricey than a basic Bluetooth speaker, but certainly a lot less expensive than some of the fancier outdoor setups we saw at the show.
The slow decline of high-end audio
Speaking of Sonos, watching their growth and seeing how many of their integration partners were promoting Sonos at CEDIA, we wonder how much longer we will see the big speaker makers in this market.
There is still plenty of opportunity in the commercial market and audiophiles who want to spend many thousands on their home theater, but for many of us who have grown accustomed to listening to digital music, the quality of Sonos is more than enough, and the convenience of wireless technology continues to overtake sound as the primary goal for most consumers.
For those folks who want both, Sonos has refreshed their Port product for the integrator market. The Port is designed to live on an audio rack and plug into a receiver to give the consumer the ability to access their music easily through the Sonos app, but retain their same high-end amplifier and speakers. Sonos has also partnered with Sonance to create an in-wall line of speakers that can be used to tailor an incredible sound experience in a new home installation.
Our 10 Favorite DIY Products from CEDIA
These ten smart home products we saw at the CEDIA Expo are worth a closer look.
Follow the links to our YouTube videos to learn more.
CEDIA expanded the footprint of Innovation Alley, the home of new home tech startups, and gave it a better place this year, closer to the smart stage and the food trucks. We were happy to see a two of our favorite startups we’ve been following, Swidget and Konnected.io, and to see them get a lot of interest from the integrator channel. Swidget announced their new wall switch and additional modules like a camera and temperature/humidity sensors while Konnected showed their second generation alarm panel including integration with existing panels.
We also learned more about the Open Source Home Assistant platform, from its founder Paulus Schoutsen at the show. Home Assistant has a strong global community supports more than 14,000 smart home devices on its platform, that can be installed for free on a Raspberry Pi or a PC.
It was the first time at CEDIA we noticed any open source platforms at all, and we were also surprised to hear a couple of other vendors mention Linux support for their products. It will be interesting to see if this trend grows among this audience as it has in the greater embedded systems market.
Emerging Smart Home Standards
We learned more about a couple of new technology standards that are just emerging, that we expect to be more prevalent at CES.
Z-Wave 700 Series and Smart Start
The Z-Wave Alliance had its strongest booth presence we’ve seen. They already have one of the largest ecosystems of home automation products, and they are continuing to innovate to help make the devices easier to install and use for consumers and integrators alike.
The new Z-Wave 700 series chipset will not only enable longer battery life and smaller designs, it will also enable Z-Wave Smart Start – so that users can add new devices by scanning a QR code, and service providers can pair everything at once before a system ships to a customer. Aeotec is one of the first companies to use the 700 series and was demonstrating their devices in the Z-Wave booth.
WiFi 6 is the next generation of Wi-Fi and will be great for consumers for a couple of reasons. First, technically it provides much greater bandwidth and less interference of devices in the home. And secondly, it is much easier to understand and ask for WiFi 6 instead of 802.11ax.
We didn’t spend a lot of time in the networking booths at CEDIA, since most of them were not displaying their consumer routers, but some of the exhibitors were starting to mention it. Product certification is open now, so we expect a lot of WiFi 6 discussion at CES.
We were able to spend quality time with nearly every smart home vendor on our list at the CEDIA Expo. We captured product demos from many of the companies we visited and shared them on our YouTube channel. While you’re watching, please make sure to subscribe.