Welcome To Your Digital World


A quick survey of the products that debuted at last month's 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show reveals several trends that are poised to drive sales for home integrators this year. Just as enterprise networks are branching out to become the platform for a variety of services, home networks are evolving to host technologies ranging from home automation to networked TVs. Integration with Apple's iPod music and video players is becoming a prized feature and, with all of this digital content floating around, storage is developing into a key piece of the puzzle as well.

Home Automation
The home-control market is set to reach $3.5 billion in 2007, on its way to $6 billion in 2012, according to research from Parks Associates. With that kind of growth on the horizon, it's no wonder networking players like D-Link Systems are looking for ways to tie lighting, air conditioning and heating systems into home networks. "It's an area we're looking to get into in 2007, enabling the remote control [of home systems]," said Daniel Kelley, director of marketing at D-Link, Fountain Valley, Calif. The company is considering the development of its own branded home automation products and is working with Smartlabs, the maker of Insteon wireless home-control networking products, he said.

Networked TVs
As consumers flock to big, high-definition displays, it's becoming apparent that the TV, not the PC, is the device home users want at the center of their digital universe. The market for digital TV sets and displays is expected to pass $26 billion in 2007, with more than 19 million flat-panel displays expected to ship this year, according to research from the Consumer Electronics Association.

For home integrators, that means media players that can bring networked digital content like movies, photos and songs to HD TVs are hot tickets. Vendors like Microsoft, Netgear, D-Link and Cisco Systems and its Linksys division all showcased products at CES that aim to help users access their content throughout the house, especially on big-screen HD TVs.

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Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, for example, introduced a Windows Home Server, due to ship later this year, which is intended to serve as a central hub for storing digital pictures, audio, video and documents that can be easily accessed by all.

Netgear, meanwhile, launched its Digital Entertainer HD EVA8000, a set-top digital media receiver that automatically discovers HD content across the home network.

"Resellers are going to get a good opportunity to get the digital lifestyle happening for consumers," said Vivek Pathela, vice president of product marketing at Netgear, Santa Clara, Calif. "Resellers can do a better job than some of the retailers offering home installation services. They have more concentrated expertise."

iPod Integration
Solution providers that can show customers how to get more use out of the content stored on their iPods will find a strong market. ViewSonic has jumped into the fray, showcasing its PJ258 ViewDock projector, several flat-panel monitors and an HDTV that include integrated iPod docking stations. Russ Stover, owner of Digitainment, a San Marcos, Calif., digital integrator, welcomed ViewSonic's effort. "This is great technology," Stover said. "It's simple, complete and powerful."

One linchpin to making the connected home a reality is storage. "We're selling terabytes [of it] into the home," said Dan Schwab, vice president of marketing at D&H Distributing, Harrisburg, Pa. D-Link, Linksys and Netgear showcased networked storage solutions at CES, giving the channel a plethora of options for helping organize customers' digital worlds.

—Steven Burke and Paula Rooney contributed to this story.