30 Years of CEDIA, 30 Years of Tech — Part 1

Ed Wenck | Mar 04, 2019

A lot has happened in the last thirty years. Since CEDIA’s creation by a group of tradespeople, entrepreneurs – and yes, hackers – in 1989, the pace of technological change has been nothing short of startling. As Ray Kurzweil noted in his book “The Age of Spiritual Machines” back in 1999: ““Computers are about one hundred million times more powerful for the same unit cost than they were a half century ago. If the automobile industry had made as much progress in the past fifty years, a car today would cost a hundredth of a cent and go faster than the speed of light.”

So what have been the changes, the innovations, the advancements, and inventions that really affect the folks who are out in the residential tech space, pulling cable and troubleshooting lousy firmware updates?
CEDIA’s Technology Council – a group of people tasked with helping see what’s coming next to help keep our members’ businesses nimble – came up with a list of 30 that have impacted the residential tech industry since CEDIA’s inception. Here are the first five.
Television has gone from CRT to LED. In a statement that signaled a jump as important as the Philo T. Farnsworth made (taking TV from a mechanical system of spinning discs to one that relied solely on electronics for reception and transmission of images and sound), the FCC declared that on June 13, 2009, “full-power television stations nationwide are required to broadcast exclusively in a digital format.” That transition made possible a clarity and color range that the old cathode-ray tubes couldn’t capture: HD TV that arrived first as 720p, then 1080p, and now, 4K – which is soon to be replaced by 8K. The other advancement here? HDR, or high dynamic range, succintly explained by CEDIA’s David Meyer: “Where wide color gamut gives us more colors to choose from, HDR puts it to good use by greatly expanding the range from dark to bright of every gray and color shade, resulting in a huge color volume for a far more vivid picture.”
TV displays got thinner and thinner. Digital TV had another benefit: It plays really, really well with flat panel sets. LCD and plasma battled it out for market dominance after the sets became available for consumers in the late ’90s: liquid crystals were brighter, but plasma screens were able to get bigger. LED TVs eventually pushed to the top of the display food chain, and the ubiquity of flat-panel displays drove prices down dramatically: when first introduced, a 42” plasma screen could set early adopters back $15,000, today a big-box-bought 4K UHD LED TV that size can be had for less than 300 bucks. As Meyer further notes, “On one hand we had the transition from ‘the box’ — CRT TV sets — to flat panel displays and ever-increasing size, resolution and capability, and concurrent to this we saw the transition from analog 4:3 TV to digital 16:9 and high definition.
The internet wasn’t always right there in your hand. Some future civilization may come across a layer of landfill waste from the ’90s and deduce that for a brief period, the U.S. was using 5-inch-wide discs with holes in the middle as Coins of the Realm. (Imagine the history books in 3019: “For perhaps a decade, the U.S. Treasury was replaced in part by something called ‘America Online’ …”) The grinding speed of downloads and bizarre audio chatter of the dial-up log on was, of course, replaced by broadband. High-speed internet connectivity is now as important in the developed world as electric light — and that connection is always “on,” too, whether via ethernet cable, a modem and router setup delivering Wi-Fi, or the smartphone in your hand.
Streaming media has gone from a trickle of an idea to a huge geyser of content. In 2000, Reed Hastings, the Big Kahuna at Netflix, was running a company that was losing money. His DVD rental-service-by-mail wasn’t cutting it. He began to pitch an idea to a video rental chain called Blockbuster – for $50 million, Blockbuster could own 49% of the streaming service Hastings was pondering. Blockbuster, of course, said no, and the rest is (literally) brick-and-mortar history when it comes to rewinding VHS tapes and paying late fees. Although the concept had been around since the ’90s, the preponderance of high-speed internet connections (and the various devices and displays that can carry both audio and video) has made streaming a massive player (pun intended). One example: as of Sept. 2018, streaming accounts for 75% of the revenue in the music industry.
Devices talk to one another in an ever-expanding number of ways. When CEDIA began, “Recommended Standard (RS) 232” had been around for nearly 30 years itself. The familiar old D connectors have since been replaced by an astonishing range of devices and protocols – both wired and wireless – that allow devices in the home to communicate. From Z-Wave and Zigbee (which use much less power than Wi-Fi) to the incredibly portable (but shorter-range) Bluetooth, the smart stuff in your home is connected in ways only dreamt of in 1989. As Tech Council member Sam Woodward (Lutron) notes, “Reliability of communication is the foundation to a stable system, as all integration is built on top of the protocols used for inter-device control. These continue to advance.”