When you’ll soon be able to buy a home automation system at the same place you pick up paper for your copy machine, you know that the technology that was once only afforded by the rich and famous has made into mainstream America. The recent announcement by Staples (read about Staples Connect) that select stores would begin offering later this fall an assortment of wireless devices to enable consumers to piece together their own home automation systems marked a huge shift in the industry. At the CEDIA Expo in September several manufacturers were preparing to ride the wave by introducing systems intended to attract a relatively untouched sweet spot in the market.
Many of the companies demonstrating their commitment to the mainstream with new, more affordable products systems at the Expo were those that have for years catered to the high-end luxury market. Savant, AMX, Lutron and others—all with solid reputations as providers of systems to owners of million-dollar homes—were touting the merits of solutions that could now fit the budgets of consumers with average incomes, and the introductions covered just about every category of product—lighting, A/V, control, shading. It’s a sure sign that home automation is moving in the direction of mass adoption, says Mike Harris, CEO of Zonoff, the company that developed the technology behind the Staples Connect system..
Making a significant shift in its product development and marketing efforts Lutron. By offering affordable dimmers and battery-powered motorized draperies as part of the Staples Connect platform, the high-end lighting control manufacturer is now firmly establishing roots in the mainstream. “We want to make our products more available and viable for homeowners, reach a broader audience and drive awareness of our motorized drapery category in particular,” says Rich Black, director, residential product management. With prices starting at $399 for a Serena motorized shade, is putting its money where its mouth is.
Tackling the affordability roadblocks of adding a turnkey automation solution to homes is Savant. Historically one of the premier providers of luxury automation systems, the company was promoting heavily at the show its $1,000 home control package, which includes a gateway with Savant software preloaded and a remote; a larger package with a Wi-Fi dimmer switch and a Wi-Fi thermostat is $1,500. “This is Savant for the masses,” says Jim Carroll, executive vice president, corporate strategy and business development. And if all a consumer wants is an economical lighting control system, Savant now has that, too. By using Wi-Fi as a communications platform, and keypads that can be programmed and controlled from an iPad, and settle in at a comfortable price point.
While the iPad has become the home control interface of choice, largely due to its pleasing price tag, proprietary home control touchpanels are still a viable alternative, especially when companies like AMX continue to streamline its models. At the Expo AMX introduced its Modero S Series touchpanels. Available in tabletop and wall-mount versions, in 4.3-, 7- and 10-inch sizes, the smallest starts at about $1,000. It’s still more expensive than an iPad, but at this price, consumers may be willing to install at least a couple of dedicated touchpanels in their homes.
Which adds more value to your home automation system: a dedicated touchpanel like this or an iPad
Another product has felt the sting of changing technology over the years is the media server. With streaming services proliferating households, manufacturers like Kaleidescape have had to rethink and retool … and bottom line offer lower-cost options. Its Cinema One media server (read our review here) may just keep Kaleidescape in the running. Priced at $3,995, which is nearly one-third of the cost of the company’s flagship 1U server, “We’re taking the Kaleidescape experience and making it available to everyone,” says Angelika Stalman, vice president of marketing. The only difference between the company’s original line of servers and the new Cinema One is storage capacity, says Stalman. The Cinema One stores up to 600 DVD quality and 100 Blu-ray quality movies; the $9,495 1U holds 150 Blu-ray Discs or 900 DVDs. And here’s the real kicker: the server is available to consumers at Magnolia stores.
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.