|Move over Two-and-a-Half Men, Web-enabled televisions are interactive, can provide streaming video and create new types of opportunities and revenue streams for some electronic system contractors. Photo Courtesy of PRNewsFoto/DISH Network L.L.C.|
Who would have thunk it?
Confusion and too many choices can create business opportunities for home electronic system contractors (ESCs), this time as the Internet and Web-enabled televisions come together for e-mails, social networking, sophisticated gaming, family picture shows and, especially, video on demand.
If you have jumped into streaming video for your clients, or are considering it, wade over that stream and view it all as a kind of Pittsburgh of home services, where three rivers — the Internet’s Allegheny, television’s Monongahela, and the home area network (HAN) of the Ohio — are converging.
No doubt, home electronics, components, applications, displays, lighting and mobile devices are all coming together in one way or the other, sooner or later, depending on technologies, protocols, platforms, players and service providers.
But when it comes to homeowners considering Web-enabled TVs and streaming video, many are confused and face scores of choices that often impact other decisions like dominoes falling. Such potential obstacles create streams of another kind — revenue — for ESCs who can extend their consultant advice for current clients and add to their story when prospecting.
While there is plenty to do with hardware, software, to-the-home broadband, wired and wireless HANs, energy management, and integration, the newer Web-to-TV twist is content. Somewhat similar to IP-enabled whole home audio services, in which the homeowner can tune into Polish disco, German opera and drum songs from a Thailand radio station, for video, content is king but an expensive and befuddling one, centering on sources, delivery, storage and retrieval, to name a few.
There always exists demand. Media research firm Nielsen reports that about 60 percent of home viewers watch television and surf the Internet simultaneously, though often on different devices. Mobiles devices such as tablets, the iPad and many smartphones all can bring Web and TV experiences together, but on an obviously more personal basis. Of course, such “Walkman-like” experiences have their place but when it comes to home theater and whole home video, what some television makers call Internet-based television, or IPTV, has the ability to transform the TV from a passive to a much more interactive device for the whole family.
IPTV concepts can confuse some clients and prospects but it also a way to provide advice, installation, service, maintenance and “in-the-cloud” storage/retrieval, all based on a better understanding of the customized needs of customers and a better understanding of technology. Photo Courtesy of PRNewsFoto/VIZIO
Which shifts back to the emerging role of content aggregators, individuals or organizations that gather Web content or applications for reuse or resale. There are two kinds of content aggregators: those who simply gather material from various sources for their websites and audio/video display and those who gather and distribute content to suit their customer's needs.
For some homeowners and ESCs, IPTV and content aggregating is “certainly in its infancy,” says CEDIA Senior Director of Technology Dave Pedigo. “But things are changing rapidly.” It seems with the consumer electronics, do-it-yourself (DIY), solution-in-a-box arena that Apple TV, Roku, D-Link’s Boxee Box, and, to a lesser extent, Google TV are attracting customers by bragging that “there’s more on TV than television.”
Beyond those simple applications, “The connected TV market is strong and growing,” says Pedigo. Audio and video are a significant part of a CEDIA member’s business. But, when it comes to an ESC’s ultimate sweet stop, it’s how all the “rivers and streams” come together while meeting customized needs. More importantly: “System integration and automation across rooms with high performance and home theaters” must be more than a large Internet screen, adds the CEDIA executive. He contends that a viable next step would be professionals to look at themselves more as a digital home doctor, to help set up, install, maintain and even remotely manage the whole home network, whatever its configuration, embedded technologies and connected devices.
Pedigo’s concept of a digital home doctor, which goes beyond Best Buy’s Geek Squad, seems to have juice. At least, early this month, Comcast/Xfinity thought so. That firm, which has already introduced monitored security and home system services, first in Houston, will now rollout what it said to reporters was “a new kind of service technician who can clean out viruses from a home computer, walk through setting up a wireless printer or help connect a flat-panel TV to the Internet.” Hold on a minute…that sounds like the Geekers.
The Xfinity Signature Support service starts in the Twin Cities, Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn., before a nationwide rollout.
And many of the big boys are involved in home tech support — Target, Walmart, AT&T, Verizon and Qwest Communications International. But it is highly unclear if such “I’ll-try-to-see-you-next-Thursday-between-9-and-2” service will succeed beyond the mass market and into more complex connected home, home area network (HAN), whole home audio/video, and customized “I know my clients better” approaches of ESCs.
For example, CEDIA member Ben Komar, president of Komar Associates, Joliet, Ill., and with a Home Control Works div., sees HANs as one essential element that includes Web-enabled TVs, too. “There are many more connected devices with the Web – mobility, smartphones, data packages. Today, you just have to understand how to apply flexible, robust wired and wireless networks.” He adds that, when it comes to video and gaming applications, a wired network approach is always preferred.” But wireless continues to improve.
Wireless, while having numerous methods; can be challenging to homeowners and another opportunity for ESCs. An aim can be gaining access to all content from room to room, but often, and especially in DIY designs, there is only so much bandwidth in the house available to handle all that traffic simultaneously.
Though some clients continue to be dazzled by wireless, technology has advanced in wired nets, too. A few years ago, many ESCs found component video preferable to HDMI, as one example. But recent advances with the latter — and advances in whole home audio/video and the Web — may make it more attractive compared to more traditional methods. A recent announcement from Crestron Electronics, Rockleigh, N.J., of an HDMI extender that can go 330 feet may help turn a corner.
Methods of communication are important to Komar. A CEDIA instructor, he consistently stresses:
- Bandwidth and quality of service requirements of Ethernet networks.
- Correct cabling infrastructure to support an IP network with given bandwidth andquality of service requirements.
- Cabling scheme to support a wired network.
- A cable infrastructure to support a wireless network while considering performance requirements.
- Assess requirements for emerging technologies, including multicasting, bandwidth and security.
Komar points out that there continues to be more downloading of connected applications for clients of ESCs — a valid form of aggregating content.
However, and at the same time, more home connected devices as well as a more accessible Internet gateway into the home create traditional and unique privacy, information security and potential identity theft concerns. Dealers, electronic system contractors and their colleagues can view these challenges as a way to get closer to clients — to reassure them, stay with them for a longer period of time, and open up a new recurring revenue stream.
“Probably the most critical elements in any network monitoring solution is the device that is located at the client’s home,” says Caleb Yaryan, chief technology officer for Certified Cyber Solutions (CCS), Anderson, S.C. Yaryan’s technology helps the ESC pair up an enterprise-grade server in the client’s home with a server in the ESC’s facility. CCS is not serving as a third-party monitoring company but offers service plans to the integrator.
IPTV will play a growingly larger role in such protection program.
“Bandwidth requirements for today’s homes are enormous, often rivaling commercial enterprises. Remember, you are downloading video, sending hi-res pictures over the Internet, streaming audio and video, playing games on the Internet and all of this traffic has to be managed” and secured, adds Yaryan, whose firm’s technology was recently honored by the CEDIA Manufacturers Excellence Awards.
He urges ESCs to design a network system that separates the client’s private information — personal computers, VoIP phones, IP surveillance cameras, etc. — from basic audio/video data.
Look for more from Yaryan and remote managing and security of home area networks in an upcoming smartHOME.
No matter what the technologies, content, networks or security solutions, it’s obvious that many folks from early adopters, to luxury homeowners to John and Jane in Pittsburgh are smitten with home video.
Larchmont, N.Y., Horowitz Associates’ annual State of Cable and Digital Media - Multicultural Edition 2011 study suggests that, at least weekly, almost a third of urban consumers (31 percent) watch TV content via alternative platforms such as on a computer/laptop, on a mobile device/tablet, or streamed directly from the Internet to the TV through an over-the-top or OTT device such as an Apple TV, a Vudu Box, an Xbox or a Blu-Ray DVD player.
Those who use alternative platforms for TV spend, on average, 15 percent of their viewing time on a platform other than traditional TV. This is in addition to time devoted to digital TV platforms such as DVRs, NVRs and video-on-demand.
There is confusion and too many choices when it comes to the convergence of the Web and TV. That’s the danger and the opportunity of it. The best advice? Launch out and start “streaming” down those Pittsburgh rivers, navigate intelligently and you’ll end up at an endpoint that will make sense for your clients and your business.