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CES 2018: Tying It All Together
Posted on Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A few weeks ago was the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. For the first time, the majority of exhibits in Las Vegas emphasized applications over hardware, or to put it another way, “it’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it.”

And that shouldn’t be a surprise at all. Prices of commercial and consumer gear have been steadily declining over the last decade to the point where much of that gear is now considered consumable and disposable. Buy it, use it, and replace it over ever−shorter product life cycles.

Attendees wandering through the LVCC couldn’t help but pick up on the “connected” vibe: Connecting and controlling everything with voice commands is all the buzz nowadays. So are faster WiFi and 5G cellular, along with smart, connected appliances and smart, connected cars. To make things even more interesting, Amazon and Google voice recognition systems were found on everything from televisions to cars.

Speech recognition and control has come a long way since we first saw it implemented at the turn of this decade by companies like Conexant, and it works. And it’s cheap. And you can use it to control just about everything in your home that’s tied to a network, so it’s not unreasonable to assume voice recognition could also be used to operate everything in an AV installation.

This isn’t fantasy. Every TV manufacturer had at least one model at CES that supported Amazon or Google Assistant. (Some models support both systems.) You can link your TV to your refrigerator, washer, dryer, and other appliances in your home and control just about anything or get status updates. Or you can just ask your assistant general questions, and depending on the question, the system can anticipate what you’re about to do and activate or deactivate devices.

LG has this feature in their 2018 TVs (ThinQ with Cloi), while Samsung claims that every product they make will be interconnected by 2020 and voice controlled using their Bixby system. While the Chinese brands are not quite up that level, they did show sample rooms with interconnected devices that all respond to voice prompts.

In addition, Samsung’s purchase of Harman in 2016 gives them entry to the multi−billion−dollar car audio market. And by extension, they can support voice recognition and control in cars, linking them back to homes and offices. On the TV side, both TiVo and Comcast have had voice control and search features for some time, using adaptive intelligence to hunt down and locate programs.

Examples were shown of voice commands through an LG OLED TV to (a) adjust room lighting, (b) adjust room temperature and humidity, (c) check where the washer and /or dryer cycles stand, (d) check to see what’s in the refrigerator and suggest a recipe for the food that was found, and (e) ultimately order takeout food from a restaurant.

Another key part of this voice−centered control system is machine learning. As implemented in televisions, these systems can anticipate which programs you’re likely to watch. As part of a wider control system, they can remember what room temperatures you prefer, when you cycle room lights, and what combinations of lighting/temperature/humidity you like when you retire for the night. Needless to say, the system can also activate alarms and outside lighting.

Samsung also showed an advanced in−door wide−angle camera to see who’s ringing the doorbell. Not exactly a new concept, but it can be linked to your TV or a display in your kitchen appliances. (Yes, that’s becoming a thing now, with a large LCD screen that serves as a hub for everything from your daily schedule to recalling recipes from cloud storage.)

Another example of machine learning was discussed at the Panasonic press conference. Their big thing is “smart cities” (also a themed area in the Westgate Convention Center) wherein everything is connected – your home, your car, the highways, you name it. Panasonic talked about getting into your car and driving to Starbucks (either with you driving or an autonomous system) and the car will automatically call ahead and order your favorite beverage.

If it’s this easy to implement in the consumer space, why aren’t we doing more of it in the professional AV world− Kramer Control is already using the icon−oriented drag−and−drop method of building a control system, using cloud−based drivers. All of the control systems for home use that were shown at CES work the same way. The big question is, which voice recognition system will be paired up with this next generation of control systems−

A big concern that comes to mind is security. It sounds like a great idea to command the function of every piece of hardware in a building, but if all of that gear is interconnected through Ethernet or WiFi, then it’s open to hacking from the outside world. Google’s Nest thermostat was hacked a couple of years ago, so it’s reasonable to assume anything from a TV to a projector, lighting control system, or HVAVC could be at risk.

Samsung announced at CES that every product they make will be connected by 2020, largely using 5G cellular networks. No doubt companies like LG, Sony, Panasonic, and Chinese brands will follow suit. After all, it’s what consumers want – right− (At least, that’s what we heard all week long in Las Vegas…)