CEDIA Expo Virtual – DIY Smart Home
Watching YouTube and reading blogs are great for learning about current smart home technology, but to find out what’s coming next, there’s nothing better than a tradeshow to see the tech in person and talk to the folks building the solutions.
Every year we visit two: CES (Consumer Electronics Show), the massive global technology show in Las Vegas, and the CEDIA Expo, a smaller residential conference targeted at higher-end custom integrators and installers.
Since we use and recommend Do-it-Yourself smart home tech in our own home, the CEDIA Expo conference features a lot of products and companies that are a little out of reach, but there is plenty of cross-over and more and more of these sophisticated products are sold directly to consumers.
We’ve been attending CEDIA Expo since 2017 and we love the smaller format and the ability to have longer conversations with the companies. In 2018 and 2019 we interviewed and shared dozens of videos from the event on our YouTube channel.
CEDIA Expo Goes Virtual
Since CEDIA takes place in September, it wasn’t an immediate casualty of COVID-19 but was officially cancelled in June. We were thankful we hadn’t booked our plane tickets but curious how the virtual event would work.
Before a show we normally review the list of exhibitors to prioritize who we want to meet, but with a virtual event it was hard to tell when the list was finalized so we kept logging in to see if new companies had signed up. We had a decent plan by the time the booths “opened” for a press preview on Tuesday.
The event times were optimized for Eastern Daylight time, so we missed the opening keynote and some other sessions that were just too early for us. The good news is that all of the sessions have been archived and will be available until the end of the year, so we can go back and watch whatever we missed.
COVID-19 – refocusing the industry
It was almost impossible to listen to a session or visit a booth that didn’t touch on the impact of COVID-19 in some way. The keynote panels set the tone for getting a common industry understanding of how the global pandemic affected this industry and what to do next, something that CEDIA has been doing well for their members over the last several months with their on-going education and support.
Linzi Boyd and Darren Shirlaw of the BoB Group took the focus into the future with their two keynotes. Boyd and Shirlaw believe that we are headed for at least a decade of high growth, reflecting that the last global pandemic ended in 1919 and was followed by the roaring 20s.
They recommend the best way to take advantage of this growth is with a strong brand focus, not just company brands but people brands. They predict in the next 5 to 8 years, the traditional categories of “business to business” and “business to consumer” will be extinct, replaced by a much more broader and more personal category – “business to people.”
The COVID Home Tech Economy
This was the first time we were able to take advantage of the CEDIA Education sessions as well as the free (sponsored) Tech Talks and exhibitor sessions and there was plenty of interesting content. We noticed several emerging trends throughout the three day event – home office design, wellness, and aging in place.
Home Office – from an afterthought to a priority
The CEDIA installer community has always had expertise in home connectivity and networking, but this year, in addition to building home theaters optimized for streaming, they are increasingly applying it to the home office.
With more and more people working at home, sitting at the kitchen table or on the couch is no longer a viable option. Customers are looking to the CEDIA community to upgrade everything from their network bandwidth to lighting to installing sound-proofing.
Depending on their budget and needs, customers are installing better Wi-Fi, automated shades, and custom furniture to keep them comfortable. Some customers are outfitting kids’ rooms with the latest technology to help them stay focused and productive at school – and with cameras so parents can keep an eye on them while they’re at their own desks.
Upgrading and Securing the Home Network
With more business traffic than ever coming through the home, network security and privacy become even more critical and integrators have to adapt to support it. In a recent survey of businesses from MalwareBytes, 20 percent said they have faced a security breach as a result of a remote worker.
For this home tech market, enterprise-grade business products are too big and DIY products not as secure, so these companies have to develop their own best practices for network management.
We manage our own home network and we’ve been especially sensitive to security and privacy since we started installing more and more devices. Specific smart home protocols like Zigbee and Z-Wave are inherently more secure, but more and more devices use Wi-Fi and require different accounts and passwords. Plus these devices ultimately communicate to the internet via some type of Wi-Fi bridge.
It was interesting to hear that these professional integrators have many of the same challenges we do at home with their own customers and how they are struggling to quickly adapt IT best practices within their own companies as well as in the homes they serve.
As far as network speeds go though, this custom installer community is well equipped to make sure the home office, school and entertainment run at peak performance. Optimizing a home theater for streaming 4K and 8K video and high quality audio requires the same expertise as keeping the home Zoom channels up and running.
We saw a quote on Twitter from the CEDIA virtual lounge that sums it up nicely: “Your ‘brand’ is the quality of your Zoom.”
Wellness – physical and psychological
Wellness technology and services have been increasing for the last two years at CEDIA, but this year customers are even more interested in creating a healthy and safe environment.
Since everyone is at home, lighting has become even more important to our well-being. Many different speakers mentioned circadian rhythm, and the importance of the cycle of light to creating healthy sleep patterns. It’s not enough now just to have smart bulbs, they need to be tunable to your situation and mood, and natural light and comfortable outdoor spaces are critical to our psychological wellness.
To help combat viruses, consumers are installing high-end air filtration systems and monitors to keep their home air as clean as possible, as well as more touchless (voice) controls, from our DIY friends like Alexa and Google or more sophisticated integrated voice solutions like Josh.ai.
Aging in Place
Technology and design not only can make our lives easier and more comfortable, it can also allow us to live in our homes longer. There were a couple of really interesting sessions on this topic, featuring solutions from Alarm.com and PeoplePower among others, and the most active online forum discussions during the conference.
New DIY Smart Home Technology Products to Watch
With the virtual booths, it was difficult to find out about the new product announcements. As media, we got plenty of press releases about things we weren’t interested in, and it wasn’t until after the conference that we found this helpful link on the CEDIA Virtual Expo site (under About, somewhere we never thought to look).
Brilliant Home Control
We’ve been following Brilliant since they launched at CEDIA in 2018 and we are excited to see their continued growth. Brilliant offers consumers whole home control of most all of the popular DIY smart home products through their well-designed panel that fits easily within a standard switch box on the wall.
Since their launch Brilliant has been able to partner with builders to offer easy to use smart home tech to new home buyers and keep upgrading and integrating new products, with new software updates every two weeks. They’ve also launched a smart dimmer switch with an intuitive smart slider to extend lighting control to other rooms throughout the house.
At CEDIA, they announced new distribution partners and expansion to multifamily properties and they won the CEDIA Tech Bites competition during the event. We hope to test the Brilliant Control sometime soon.
NETGEAR Orbi Pro WiFi 6 Tri-band Mesh System
We have been using the consumer NETGEAR Orbi Mesh Router in our home for several years and are looking forward to upgrading to WiFi 6 soon. Unlike some other WiFi 6 Mesh Systems, the Orbi Pro offers WiFi 6 speeds on both the 5Ghz band and the 2.4 GhZ band, which means that all devices will benefit from the faster connections. That means Wi-Fi speeds that can exceed 1 Gb/s, faster than many wired ethernet installations.
Since we have so many smart home devices on our network, we are considering this Pro version as an option. The main difference between the Pro and the consumer Orbi seems to be the security – the consumer Orbi includes NETGEAR Armor, a cybersecurity solution from BitDefender for everything on the network, while the Pro Orbi instead offers the ability to create four different SSID wireless networks, managed by the NETGEAR Insight app.
Professionals at CEDIA tend to prefer creating and managing separate SSID networks for security, though the ones we asked tended to stay away from mesh networking in general. And they prefer an added box for firewall security. Before we buy our WiFi 6 capable system we will have to think through both the consumer and pro options.
iRoom IO Smart Control
When we originally looked at the iRoom iO virtual booth, we thought they were selling mounts for iPads. After the show, we discovered their upcoming IO Smart Control products – installable relays that can add connectivity to any switch in the home to services like Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, EnOcean as well as third-party control from higher end systems. We haven’t tried them yet, but relays seem to be the next big thing in Smart Home. You can automate your house using any switches you want.
Liftmaster Smart Garage Door Opener with Camera
We’re amazed it has taken this long to see a garage door including a camera. We’ve long been proponents of the smart garage door opener, but they aren’t 100 percent reliable, so we added a smart camera in our garage so we can be absolutely sure the door is closed. Liftmaster also announced a separate smart home camera that works with the Chamberlain MyQ and new smart lock in partnership with Yale.
Sensative Strips Sensors
We have used Z-Wave sensors for years and our first ones were big and um, ugly, but they worked great with long battery life. Over the years, as Z-Wave has improved and technology has evolved, they’ve gotten smaller and the battery life has improved, but they’re still not the most attractive part of our smart home.
The Sensative Strips are thin, beautiful sensors that you can install almost everywhere, with batteries that last up to 10 years. You can use the Strips to detect movement, water, temperature, and light. We already have a Z-Wave set and can’t wait to test them. They also have Strips that work with LoRAWAN – that have a reach up to 10km.
Z-Wave Alliance Long Range Specification
The week before CEDIA, at another virtual conference (Works With by Silicon Labs), the Z-Wave Alliance announced a new specification for extended range devices. With the new Z-Wave LR, companies will be able to create new devices such as door locks, garage door sensors and security gates that will work with the home network far beyond the driveway. It will also allow up to 2000 devices on a single smart home network.
There is great potential for new smart home use cases as well as expanding to apartments and other multifamily dwellings. It will be a while before devices and compatible hubs will be available in the market, and we’re looking forward to more news hopefully by CES.
Summary – a mixed virtual experience
Visiting the virtual booths was a mixed experience for us – not all of the booths had consistent content and it was hard to figure out how to engage the staff. But once we got to the right people, we actually got much more “face” time than we normally would at the live show. We wonder how the sponsors felt about the show and how much value they saw from the three day event.
We definitely missed the parties and networking events. There were a few virtual ones, we joined one and it was a huge free for all on Zoom and a little hard to manage. We did not miss staying out too late and having to wait for an Uber to go to and from the convention center.
Soon we will have to navigate a virtual CES. Based on our virtual CEDIA Expo experience we are concerned about CES being overwhelmed with hundreds of thousands of people trying to log in to see all the latest gadgets. Since there is no need to fly to Las Vegas and book an expensive hotel room, we expect lots of people to attend who would normally never consider it.
We look forward to CEDIA Expo 2021 in Indianapolis and we hope the world will be ready for CEDIA and plenty of other events next year.