From high on his perch in the US, Michael Heiss looks back and then forward, to predict where we will go, what we will need to know and what we need to prepare for in the year ahead.
Content distribution via IP
Audio and video programming has traditionally been distributed as analogue or digital data, either wired or wirelessly, baseband or RF, or any number of other methods. However, with the advent of streaming to computers, smart phones or tablets, and devices such as Chromecast, distribution is all IP.
Just as IP telephony has changed that communication path, so too will the broader use of IP change the devices used in our installations, and the technologies used to connect and control them.
Here in Los Angeles, the cable company adds over $40 for their various set tops and DVR; however, with the cable company’s own app, I’m replacing them with Roku streaming boxes. That’s $40+ per month that I will end up saving.
There are associated challenges, though, that are certainly different than connecting a coax or setting the WiFi. On the other hand, it shows your client the value of what you can, and will, do for them.
At first, sceptics were saying that 4K/UHD will be just another 3D; a scam by TV manufacturers with little benefit that is just a way to sell more sets.
The perceived value of increased resolution, alone, may not be visible to some and in large rooms, the addition HDR (to the full definitional set of UHD) is something that viewers will see immediately.
The comparison of an HDR set to an SDR set, even with the same 4K resolution, is what really makes UHD something to understand and get behind. Know what it does, which content delivers it, what devices and connections may need to be changed to facilitate it, and how to make sure the displays are properly calibrated to take the maximum advantage of it.
This is going to be a major driver in 2017!
Voice search and interface
The crowds at the Amazon stand back at the 2016 CEDIA Expo in Dallas clearly point to the interest on the part of your colleagues and competitors in the voice capabilities of Amazon’s Echo, Dot and Tap products. Along with Google Home and the capabilities of Apple’s Siri as combined with HomeKit, the voice search of individual devices will captivate the public’s imagination.
Some have dubbed this VUI, or voice as a user interface, and that leads to both opportunities and challenges. The notion of ‘interface’ rather than ‘Control’ means that the system, search engine and associated devices do more than simply respond to commands. Rather, there is a deeper conversation with command trees and personalisation.
This means that you and your vendors will likely have to do more than just connect things together, you both will have to avoid a Tower of Babble and learn the languages and techniques needed to make the system both ubiquitous and seamless.
Games and ‘Games as streamers’
When we think of streaming devices, particularly for video content, one first thinks of using a tablet or smart phone and then external ‘dongles’ such as Chromecast, connected optical disc players, dedicated streamers such as AppleTV, and, of course, ‘smart TVs’.
Largely ignored by the custom community, perhaps because we don’t directly sell them, are video game consoles.
That’s a shame, as game consoles are a large percentage of the products used to access content, as well as for their obvious purpose of playing games. Indeed, The Diffusion Group, as US-based research firm, reported that over a quarter of survey respondents said that a game console was the preferred device for receiving streaming content, second only to smart TV.
Add to that the 4K content capability of the latest Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 Pro, and the future of Xbox Project Scorpio and perhaps yet another new PlayStation in 2017. Granted, the price is higher than a non-game streamer, but in the grand scheme of things the cost of a game shouldn’t be that big a chore in the type of systems you likely provision. Even better, the Xbox One S is also an UltraHD Blu-ray player and HDR=10 compatible and the price differential for a player all but disappears.
The availability of 4K streaming content, though not, at this point, perhaps true 4K native games, should put game consoles on your radar as something to learn about and suggest to clients. Oh, and the availability of PlayStation VR doesn’t hurt, either!
As I write this article, numerous popular websites and services, including Netflix, Amazon, PayPal and Twitter, along with many smaller company sites, were brought down for the better part of a day by a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. Things were rectified and brought back to normal, but the story was in the US national, if not global, news for a whole weekend.
In a political and communications environment where ‘hacking’ is in the news on a daily basis, there is an important reason why security is a trend and something that you will need to both understand and explain to clients and prospects, as well as explain what you can and cannot do about network security.
Similar DDoS attacks have occurred in the past. The big difference was that this time it was done using with the co-option of IoT devices. The news reports showed shots of connected security cameras, thermostats, streaming audio products, and even DVRs. Yikes!
Your response should not just the provisioning of appropriate firewalls and password controls. You need to do some client education so that everyone knows about the danger of downloading and opening attachments from unknown sources. It’s a reminder to change passwords frequently and make them robust. Equally important, use security concerns as a reason to offer “managed services” so that you are able to remedy any local network and security issues remotely so that the client has a good measure of comfort.