30 Years of CEDIA, 30 Years of Tech — Part 5

Ed Wenck | Apr 08, 2019

As CEDIA turns 30, the association’s Technology Council takes a look back at the last 30 years of innovation – specifically noting the technological advances that have impacted CEDIA’s membership. 

From cables to compression, from the floppy disc to the cloud, we’ve been unpacking the CEDIA Technology Council’s list of 30 innovations and advances that have impacted residential technology – and the integration business – since CEDIA’s inception in 1989.

Here are items 21 through 25.

We’ve figured out better ways to control sound. Remember the thumping disco/R &B bass drum beats (often referred to as “four on the floor”) that seemed to be on every radio station back in the 1970s? That steady thud would bleed into everything, rattling the innards of studio pianos. Recording engineers had to figure out how to isolate that drum kit — one early solution included filling a drum platform with sand and then resting the whole thing on tires. The tricks that recording engineers began developing were soon informed with more scientific methods — not to mention better materials. Foam absorbers, multi-surfaced diffusers, building a “room within a room,” and a much better understanding of how to make HVAC become almost sonically invisible have all been adopted from other industries into the home environment with spectacular results.

We’ve made staggering advances in the home theater/media room experience. There were once two kinds of “home theater.” One was an incredibly pricey projector and screen rig in a dedicated room, and the other was a TV set connected to a content player (yes, the latter really describes a media room, but bear with us). Funnily enough, those two kinds of “home theater” still exist – but the components in each have made stunning advancements. We’ve gone from hooking up RCA cables to a stereo receiver to 5.1, then 7.1, then immersive, “3D” audio that can give the illusion of a chopper passing overhead. The CRT was replaced with a variety of flat-panels, allowing much greater clarity and aspect ratios that could express a creator’s vision for expansive film scenes. Projectors are more brilliant than ever before (transitioning from light bulbs to lasers), microperforated screens have automated masking, and our understanding of everything from video calibration to seating to providing smooth bass response for the viewer has developed at a startling pace over the last thirty years (evolving from standard definition to 8K HDR). 

Heating and air conditioning got a lot smarter. As CEDIA began, the round dial of the home thermostat was slowly being replaced by rectangular, digital devices. (Mechanical programmable thermostats had been around since as early as 1906 – the first design was introduced by a gent named Mark Honeywell.) As the notion of a “connected” thermostat began to catch on – a thermostat that could be controlled remotely – three designers at Nest Labs were working on a “learning” thermostat. Their device, 2011’s first-generation “Nest Learning Thermostat,” utilized an algorithm that figured out a user’s patterns over the course of a few weeks, then implemented temperature changes based on a homeowner’s preferences. Better bandwidth and sensors that get ever smaller will usher in the next era of “smart” climate control – and will soon regulate more than just temperature, cleaning the air in a home and delivering consistent humidity.

Managing — and cleaning up — the power to the home has gotten a lot more complicated. Power management – and conditioning – has become increasingly complex in the last three decades, says Tech Council member Ken Erdmann (Erdmann Electric): “In 1989, we would get noise, surges, and spikes, from TV cables, telephone and power lines — power lines, of course were the worst. But for the most part, except for a little bit of refrigeration equipment, the noise that we dealt with came from outside the residence. An LED light bulb was all well and good, except it has a non-linear power supply. And so, all of these energy saving devices are adding significant noise and creating harmonics issues in the residence that we've really never had before. The majority of the noise these days, except for the occasional catastrophic spike from outside, is being generated within the residence.” In addition to controlling that racket, energy management has its own unique challenges: Everything from set-top boxes in standby mode to the USB power supply integrated into a wall outlet are “power vampires,” and integrators are learning how to judiciously shut down those devices that won’t cause inconvenience with long boot-up times when switched back on.

Thirty years of “format wars” have left us with a lot of great content sources. Betamax tape. The 8-track. The LaserDisc. The history of content delivery is littered with the detritus of ideas – some great, others not so much – that either died from their own limitations or were subsumed into other technologies. At CEDIA’s outset, the compact disc was making huge gains – the mid-’80s release of Dire Strait’s “Brothers in Arms” became the format’s first million-seller. DVD (and then Blu-ray) would soon replace the VHS tape, and the entire universe of content delivery would eventually be upended, first by the download (goodbye Walkman, hello iPod), then by the stream. Now, companies like Netflix and Amazon aren’t just interested in providing content – there’s money to be made in creating it, too. As more and more people watch and listen “on demand,” though, physical media hangs on – vinyl album sales have been growing steadily for the past 13 years. The quality of digital delivery – in high-resolution, lossless formats – continues to evolve, though: As Archimedia’s Peter Aylett noted on a recent CEDIA podcast, “The goal of digital is to become indistinguishable from analog.”