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European Custom Installer

System Integration for the Connected Home

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Know Thy Customer - 1st Commandment of Business

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Jay FaisonI thought I knew custom installers. After all I was one. But a sample of one (me) is not the basis for really understanding custom installers—or anything else for that matter.

Let’s face it: we are all guilty of marketing to ourselves sometimes. We sell the way we want to be sold, and we choose products for our customers the way we would for ourselves.

Want to build a great company? Stop marketing to yourself. Be an expert at reading the tea leaves of what your customers really want. In other words, talk to your customers and (wait for it…) LISTEN.

Read more...

Who owns the Home? OSS/BSS challenges in the home networking environment.

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Sean Meagherby Sean Meagher, Online Marketing Manager, Intamac Systems UK Ltd.

The arrival of more intelligent home gateways, the addition of WiFi, DECT and femtocell connectivity plus storage and the expansion of services to include home monitoring and security, appliance control and energy management as well as a raft of other new domestic applications provides both a threat and an opportunity to service providers. Where their responsibilities once stopped at the junction box into the home, these now extend right into the heart of domestic life.  Are the supporting systems up to the job?

The connected home space has promised much over the years and many companies have attempted to attack what is widely recognised as a huge market opportunity.  Yet, despite the technological advances, our homes still lack much in the way of real intelligence.

We have islands of technology; the broadband router supporting communication and media, the set-top box delivering entertainment, and we now see a new entrant with utilities planning to use smart meters as a route to enter this potentially lucrative market with their smart energy plays. Unfortunately, convergence remains a dream.

The problem is that service providers have traditionally not gone beyond the gateway and in-home systems for services such as energy management, automation and security have been too complicated and expensive for mass market – usually requiring a truck roll.  Part of the problem is their OSS/BSS systems have become monsters that now block innovation with changes taking huge investment and time.

In my view, it’s not the support systems that are the problem for service providers, it’s their business models.

They need to adapt and innovate and move beyond the gateway into delivering the connected home to their consumers. To do this they need a family of products that can be delivered at mass consumer prices, easy to install, and relevant to their needs.  More importantly, they need to exploit these new devices to deliver a new generation of services that will compensate for the loss of traditional revenues and the squeeze on broadband pricing.

However, to succeed they need new thinking and new business models.

They need to move away from the model that sees the gateway as the overlord of the home network to a model where it simply collects and transmits data.  The current model has been derived from small businesses where large central servers or gateways manage a range of propriety devices and systems.  The solution cannot work for the home because it is too complex for the consumer with the gateway becoming too expensive and inflexible.  This model has been the downfall of convergence.

The answer lies in the Cloud, not in the gateway.

Many major manufacturers are recognising that it\'s not about building more intelligence into devices in the home - it\'s about striking a new balance.  Use devices to manage applications and simply relay data to the Cloud where it can be aggregated on specialised platforms and exploited to deliver a range of new services through simple portals via the web or any mobile device.  This will deliver the vision of convergence and give some control over customers.

Convergence can happen in the Cloud and it offers many benefits. For example, a security system sends a signal to a cloud based platform to say the home-owner is leaving and the platform relays the message back to smart plugs on a different network in the home to power down devices and reduce electricity consumption.

The Cloud is at the heart of the model relaying information to mobile devices and simplifying the installation.  It provides service providers with a way in which they can offer a wider portfolio of different  services that can be integrated into their main service portal.  The model allows different technologies; WiFi, DECT, Zigbee etc to co-exist.  More importantly, multiple platforms can be used to deliver entertainment, media, communications and home management.  The service provider can focus on merging the output from the various platforms into a common user interface and then adapt the OSS/BSS to support the new business.

Manufacturers have recognised the opportunity.  The new generation of home gateways from Technicolor allow for applications to be embedded and partners like Intamac can exploit their Cloud-based platform to deliver services for energy management, automation, telecare, video and security to Technicolor’s customers.

This model doesn’t overcome all the challenges with legacy OSS/BSS systems but it addresses some of the current limitations because it provides options. In the short term, the new generation of service platforms such as Intamac’s can co-exist with simple rules for data exchange; in the longer term, the OSS/BSS systems will themselves become Cloud based simplifying integration and allowing real-time transaction management. Moreover, TR69 and other remote management tools will add still more value for the consumer.

The move to Cloud based management is both an opportunity and a threat for traditional service providers.  They are ideally placed to leverage the smart home opportunity; they have the knowledge of the consumer, the understanding of the home network and the support infrastructure in place.  However, the new generation of Cloud based platforms lowers the barrier to entry for competitors and with new players like utilities entering the space there is a very real treat and their competitive advantage could be lost.

Go Intramac Systems

Discontinuous Improvement

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Cont DiscAlastair Dryburgh, management consultant and our contributor is in a contest to publish his manifesto and we can help by adding our votes…

"Continuous improvement is a good discipline, but sometimes it just isn't enough. If you are behind the curve, or your market is changing too fast, or you are just too ambitious be satisfied with slow steady progress then you need to do something discontinuous.

Discontinuous improvement is often safer than it seems, while continuous improvement may be more dangerous than it appears. In times of rapid change, continuously improving something which the market no longer values may be the worst possible thing to do.

The manifesto will inspire business owners and managers to raise their sights, giving them a range of techniques for achieving discontinuous improvements in a wide range of areas..."

If you click to vote, we’ll pass on a link to a cost-free pre-publication draft of this manifesto about how to bring innovation to your company approach.

Vote to Publish the Discontinuous Improvement Manifesto

The Biggest ISE Yet

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ISE 2011 stands out as the show's biggest yet-- the numbers are pretty clear about that. An estimated 35000 attendees visiting 715 exhibitors over some 26650 net square metres of Amsterdam RAI floorspace in 3 packed days (with extended hours for the last day).

ISE 2011The show's barely over and more impressive news shows up-- Integrated Systems Events confirms 2012's show will occupy an even larger space (with the addition of the RAI's Hall 7). How come? On-site exhibitor rebooking shows 102% of floor space already reserved for next year.

What about this year's show? For sure, it was consistently impressive, including new pavilions for 3D applications, digital signage, audio-video networking and more filling the show agendas.

A few observations: control and networking systems were big this year, with all the big players showing up (Crestron, Extron, AMX) alongside more networkable AV gear.

3D made a big appearance as well, with the organisers organising their own dedicated 3D theatre-- alongside demos from all the major manufacturers, including Samsung, LG and Runco. Pico projectors also made a bright appearance, with Samsung and 3M's 30-lumens models gaining a lot of attention.

The only major AV manufacturer not showing up? Sony. Their company slogan is Make.Believe and they can make.believe all they want that ISE is not that important to them. But 22% growth says at some point reality must set in.

Go ISE 2011 Sets new Benchmark for AV Tradeshow Attendance

Untying that Knot Known as Hollywood

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In legend, the world's most famous knot was "untied" as Alexander the Great (out of either frustration or perspicacity) reached for his sword and in one swift stroke cut through the frustration of the famed Gordian knot. He ended up acclaimed as a hero.

So might Mark Teitell. 

Mark is the Alexander the Great of The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem. DECE is not exactly the Persian empire but nonetheless a far-flung confederation of major Hollywood studios, consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers, network hardware vendors, systems integrators and other interested parties.DECE GM Mark Teitell These parties want either to protect the intellectual rights of content-- or find ways to make those holding such rights to feel comfortable about sharing content without getting ripped off.

Teitell faces the modern high tech equivalent of that mythic uber-knot--  the complicated issue of Digital Rights Management. The consortium he leads--in a bold Alexanderian stroke-- intends to create a eco system to enable consumers to share purchased digital content between a domain of registered consumer electronics devices.

Their proposed "digital locker" system is now known as UltraViolet.

"...We wanted a name that represents the digital evolution of home entertainment, "says a DECE spokesperson. The term “ultra” connotes the "best, fastest and superior" which for DECE points to their brand promise of consumer empowerment. “Ultraviolet” draws connections to the colors outside the visible spectrum – so it speaks to the invisible yet "powerful aspects" of their offering.

The most powerful aspect of UltaViolet is that it could work...it could set us all free.Ultraviolet Logo

Digital technology, the driving force that's bringing us music, voice and video anywhere, anytime anyplace is being held hostage by a Hollywood that appears Luddite to most hardware and device makers.

In defense of Hollywood, and it will be a very short defense, one can say from experience (as witness the publishing business) that "disuptive technology" isn't pleasant from those whose business and livelihood are being disrupted.

If we could only find a way to untie that complicated knot that handcuffs Hollywood from shaking hands on deals with device makers, then digital technology progress could proceed-- unimpeded by content's lack of cooperation with hardware and internet folk.

DECE thinks they have that way.

UltraViolet will allow consumers to purchase digital content and watch it wherever, whenever. Consumers who purchase UltraViolet entertainment will have an easy and consistent way to watch film and television content across multiple branded platforms, such as computers, connected TVs, game consoles, smartphones and tablets. The UltraViolet name and logo will help identify content, devices and services from a spectrum of familiar entities – including studios, retailers, consumer electronics manufacturers, cable companies, ISPs and other service providers – that will work together.

The consumers will create a free UltraViolet Household Account the first time they purchase UltraViolet entertainment media, and up to six registered Household Account users can share it. When you purchase UltraViolet media-- as Blu-ray, DVD or Internet download-- you get more than a single file or disc: you also get the right to access your content on any UltraViolet device registered in your Household Account (via streaming through devices at home or on the go).

Teitell compares the UltraViolet system to the VISA or MasterCard network where folks anywhere can go to an ATM an access their account.

UltraViolet

Ultimately, UltraViolet expects its system (once it takes hold) will extend its influence past rights to ensure that public will only need a single file of the acquired content. (Right now, rights to content still may mean you confront several different types of files for several different types of devices...for example, the same game moving from one brand of game console to another.)

Critics point out that any content consortium of makers, studios, telcos, cable companies, retailers (and all their accompanying lawyers) is like herding cats... and combine that to the difficulty in managing an eco system based on millions of Household Accounts. When these logistical and technical problems are woven together in the same problem, it creates an intricate knot-within-knot.

Undeterred, DECE found a solution provider to deal with that inside knot.

To create UltraViolet infrastructure, DECE turned to Neustar, originally founded in 1996 to meet the technical and operational challenges that arose when the U.S. government mandated local phone number portability or LNP. (As long as Americans remain in the same geographic area, they by law can switch telephone service providers, including VoIP providers, and keep the existing phone number.) Today, long after LNP,  Neustar provides many types of many-to-many solutions to complex global communications challenges by enabling connectivity across a myriad of networks, technologies and applications for carriers and enterprises alike.

Think of it like planning a mining mission to the moon. If you want to get there, you hire NASA. Once you get there, you still have to do the mining. But solving transport is critical to free you to do your job. Infrastructure was a "knotty" problem so DECE cut through it in one deft decision.

That frees the DECE members to grow UltraViolet: at CES, they announced a roadmap for introducing UltraViolet content, services and devices to consumers beginning in mid-2011; an expansion to Canada; and the release of technical specs for evaluation by potential licensees.

Grand plans with Hollywood often encompass America and leave the rest of the world out.

So what about Europe? Teitell says the UK will be set up this year. He points out some very substantial UK partners have joined DECE: BSkyB, Tesco, BT, FilmFlex, and Lovefilm (just purchased in full by Amazon)...among others.

And UltraViolet could be coming to the rest of the Europe in 2012. Teitell does not confirm this but says only that where UltraViolet goes next after UK will depend upon local reaction and response.

Current DECE members have assets in important markets like Germany, France, and Italy (and therefore a reason to move expediently into those markets). But Teitell also says DECE will be prone to reading the market signals.

If retailers, content providers, telcos, cable companies, hardware makers in any particular country respond quickly to UltraViolet, then DECE will be more likely to respond. And that market, promises Teitell, could move faster than others...

That sounds to us like DECE is sharpening its sword to cut through even more knots...

Go UltraViolet, to partner, to join or to learn more

Why Some Smart People Resist Smart Meters

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Smart meters trigger privacy concerns to people who know more about them, says the Ponemon Institute's latest study.

Elec Meter The U.S. held study finds 39% of respondents believe the smart grid will diminish their privacy.

Meanwhile 24% are unsure of its impact and 37% believe it won't impact or improve their privacy.

What's interesting is the more one's knowledge on smart meters increases, so do the privacy concerns. After all, much more information can be created, collected and analysed by smart meters than data collected by "dumb" meters gathered by meter readings.

The primary concerns expressed by consumers include misuse of personal information by the government and not enough protection of personal data by 3rd-party companies.

The research company concludes utility companies need to expand their consumer education on smart meters' impact-- as well as alleviate many of the more serious privacy concerns through tweaks in data management practices.

Go New Ponemon Study Points to Need for Smart Grid Education

Avoid the Most Common HDMI Install Issues

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Aurora hdmi converterMaker Aurora Multimedia wants to share insight into the most common HDMI pitfalls that cause installers grief. Not meant to be an exhaustive list of all possible (you know HDMI just invents these tricks) , this advice demarcates some of the most common issues to address before the install—to save time, money and keep everyone happy (especially the customer).

Aurora also present ways of utilizing specific Aurora HDMI converters and extenders to eliminate the need for legacy analogue signal based systems.

EDITOR'S NOTE: in fairness to other manufacturers, some of the advice is Aurora-specific.

For example, where Aurora says, "Use CAT6 unshielded solid core for new installs as it will give you the greatest distance. Uses shielded only when the environment calls for it (due to interference) and then remember to ground only one end of the shield."

We asked Nick Mawer of Kramer Electronics, as an example of another manufacturer, what his company might recommend. He says Kramer would recommend Cat 6 cable with each pair individually shielded.  "This would reduce chances of crosstalk."

When Aurora says, "Try to use dual cable CAT extenders as it can be powered from one end.  It is also a much lower cost to run the extra cable versus a single cable version which usually costs 50% more."

From Kramer's point of view, "Single CAT extenders can be powered from one end.  In the case of Kramer Electronics, our single CAT cables are in fact cheaper than our dual CAT versions."

So different manufacturers have different HDMI solutions. ECI are publishing this HDMI article as it is still helpful insight. But please be sure to recognize this is HDMI background from the point of view of a single manufacturer (in this case, that's Aurora Multimedia).

I. Most Common HDMI Issues by Aurora Multimedia Inc.

HDMI Extenders

  • When using CAT extenders, keep in mind the higher the resolution the less distance you will get. 1080p will not go nearly as far as 480p so always get the distance specification for the resolution you will be using.  Most extenders list their best distance at the lower resolution.
  • Use CAT6 unshielded solid core for new installs as it will give you the greatest distance. Uses shielded only when the environment calls for it (due to interference) and then remember to ground only one end of the shield.
  • Try to use dual cable CAT extenders as it can be powered from one end.  It is also a much lower cost to run the extra cable versus a single cable version which usually costs 50% more.

HDMI Matrix, Switchers, Distribution Amps

  • If an output has a DVI destination device, make certain to use an HDMI-to-DVI audio converter between the HDMI output and the destination. Since the HDMI source device will output HDMI if it learns the EDID of one of the other outputs that may be HDMI, the DVI device will not get an image.  If the EDID is learned from the DVI device then the HDMI outputs will not get audio although the DVI will now get video.
  • Make certain the matrix can support HDCP on all outputs simultaneously.  Some devices on the market can only support one HDCP output per input source.
  • If you are using a Dolby receiver on one of the outputs it may not work if the other destinations do not support surround sound. You may have to deal with the audio on a separate matrix and use the S/PDIF or optical of the source devices to get the 5.1 or better so that the HDMI output can be at 2 channel to keep compatibility with the display devices.
  • Always try to pick out display devices which can all handle the highest resolution and frame rate desired.  Even if a display does not have a native resolution of the best display device being fed, it is important it has the ability to downscale the higher resolutions.  Failure to do so will result in having to learn the EDID of a common denominator of the output devices so the 1080p 60 frame device would have to settle for 720p if this is not done. This applies to colour depth as well.
  • Make certain the HDMI matrix, switcher, or DA can learn the EDID of any of the output devices otherwise you may be limited to the EDID built into the device.
  • Always read the specifications of the source and destination HDMI device for its actual capabilities. Just because it states 1.3c compliant does not require the device to support every capability of 1.3c. For example, an HDMI 1.3c DVD that can output 1080p 60 frames with 36 bit colour depth, however the HDMI 1.3c LCD may only do 1080p 24 frames with 24 bit colour depth.  Usually the source in this case can reduce its output to the lower frame rate and colour depth but you will not achieve the desired intent of the DVD capabilities due to the limitation of the LCD.

2. Some Aurora HDMI Converter & Extender Applications/Solutions by Aurora Multimedia Inc.

Legacy analogue (VGA /YPbPr/ Audio) on digital HDMI matrix or switchers managing analogue and digital audio / video with multiple matrixes adds cost, complexity and uses valuable rack space.

Instead, a single HDMI matrix can be used in combination with the Aurora converters. The VGA and YPbPr sources can be fed into the ASP-VTH which converts the analog source with audio to an HDMI source to be fed into the matrix (ASP-88 per the diagram).

To deal with the audio into the amplifier (AS-AMP1 per the diagram) an ASP-HTD can be used on one of the outputs to break out the HDMI audio into an analogue L/R or digital S/PDIF. In the event an output device has only a VGA input and provided the HDMI is not encrypted the ASP-HTV can be used on the HDMI matrix output. Through the use of these simple converters, the systems core can be digital and wiring can become less complex especially to the display device which will now only require an HDMI connection.

DVI Displays on an HDMI System

A common issue on an HDMI matrix or switcher is the use of a DVI display on one or more of the outputs. If the EDID of the HDMI display is used, then the DVI will not show an image. If the EDID of the DVI is used, then the HDMI displays will have no audio. To solve, use an ASP-HTD (HDMI to DVI converter) on any output with a DVI destination. This way the HDMI EDID can be learned and when the matrix routes to the DVI output(s) the HDMI source will be converted by the ASP-HTD back into DVI with the separate audio (thus solving the issue).

DVI with analogue Audio into an HDMI matrix

The ASP-DTH combines the DVI video with the audio channel into the single HDMI feed, allowing integration into the HDMI matrix / switching solution.

Extension Solutions

When going long distances with HDMI, there are a variety of ways to extend the HDMI. For shorter distances the ASP-CATx1 or ASP-CATx2 can be used. Keep in mind CAT 5/6 solutions distance is limited by the bandwidth: the higher the resolution and colour depth, the lower the distance. For example, if 480p is the max resolution the cable can be over 200ft, however, if 1080p is used with 36bit then about 65ft – 80ft can be used.

For best distance when using HDMI CAT solutions choose CAT 6 solid core no shield for best results. For longer distances, fibre is the perfect solution. The ASP-FIBRS1 can go over 300m (about 1000ft) with a single multi-mode fibre. Bandwidth will not affect the fibre solution and it can also transmit/receive RS-232 control data.

Go Aurora Multimedia