CES 2007: Day In The Life Of A Digital Integrator

systems integration

Slide Show: A Day In The LifeOf A Digital Integrator At CES

As part of his sixth trip to the Consumer Electronics Show, van Zuiden graciously allowed CRN Senior Writer Paula Rooney to accompany him as he moved from booth to booth, hall to hall and hotel to hotel in order to give a glimpse of the life of a digital integrator one afternoon at CES 2007. He's very interested in home media centers powered by the new Windows Vista consumer editions and home automation and control systems powered by Windows and Linux. Our journey began Tuesday afternoon at the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

1:30 p.m. Van Zuiden steps outside the South Hall into the blazing sun, zig-zags through the crowd to the curbside, where he waits to be ushered across the street to the NextGen Home pavilion, sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association, Best Buy and Exceptional Innovation. As he enters the pavilion, he bumps into one of his vendors, Jeff Kussard, vice president of strategic development at Russound, a developer of multiroom audio systems. Kussard convinces van Zuiden to walk with him to Russound's suite at the nearby Renaissance Hotel to see a demonstration of Russound's first Windows Vista Media Center offering. Van Zuiden is intrigued: He has just begun his first Vista Media Center project as part of a large home integration project he's doing in southern California. He believes Vista Media Center is the first version that Microsoft has shipped that's stable enough for implementation.

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1:45 p.m. As we enter the suite, a Russound product manager is demonstrating the new Windows Media product to five people. Russound's system integrates the company's multiroom audio, full multimedia capabilities and home control software. It's expected to ship midyear, which is good because it roughly coincides with van Zuiden's project. He has a high opinion of Russound and is excited about its product but wants to beta-test the code before deciding whether to use. He pledges to give it a shot.

2:30 p.m. Van Zuiden walks back to the convention center area en route to the NextGen Home Experience, a futuristic mock home next to the Best Buy Tour Bus. A CES veteran, van Zuiden is wearing comfortable shoes, a light backback and carries no vendor literature. While strolling down the crowded sidewalk, he muses about the contrast between this sunny, 60-degree day at CES and the light snowfall that jammed many people into the North and South Halls at last year's show.

2:45 p.m. As he arrives at the open-air Central pavilion, he greets a representative from Exceptional Innovation, who's demonstrating the company's Lifeware home control software near the Best Buy demo bus. He's then approached by Best Buy reps, who invite him for a tour of the bus. Contrary to popular notion, van Zuiden said, digital integrators aren't worried about Best Buy's foray into the home tech services market. He thinks it will drive consumer awareness about products and benefit his services business. In fact, he intends to talk to Best Buy about cooperating on the services front. Inside the bus, he sees a demo of the $15,000 digital entertainment and home automation system being introduced by Best Buy. It's a good starter kit, but van Zuiden said he's capable of more sophisticated implementations. On his way out, he chats with Chris Mauzy, a Best Buy business development manager, about the possibilities of cooperating on services, perhaps developing a referral system that would benefit both parties. The Best Buy exec is open to the idea but believes it may be best handled within each local district. He pledges to give van Zuiden the name of a Best Buy manager in his California district to discuss the possibility of doing business together. 3:15 p.m. While in the Best Buy zone, he bumps into one of many Exceptional Engineering executives he knows floating around the Connected Home pavilion and steps aside for a private discussion.

3:30 p.m. He's ushered into the NextGen Home for his second tour. Inside, he and several other attendees -- including three Microsoft executives focused on vertical markets -- are treated to a real-life scenario of media and home automation technology demonstrated in the home by hired actors. In the kitchen, we see a hectic business exec assisted by several media center displays around the kitchen that help her prepare dinner, inform her when she needs to pick up her child and when the laundry is dry, and automatically shut down and lock up the home as she leaves. We are then ushered into a living room where two men are viewing a high-end, high-definition television powered by Media Center, who intersperse videos of their own high-school football glory days on the same TV set. As the visitors are moved to the den, van Zuiden, mindful of the afternoon ticking away, slips out the back door past the computerized washer and dryer to head back to the South Hall to check out what another one of his vendors is showing.

4:00 p.m. As van Zuiden heads out the back door of the mock home, he bumps into Seale Moorer, CEO of Exceptional Innovation. There's a lot to discuss. The two men trade updates on the home control and entertainment market, and van Zuiden discusses possible referral arrangements with Best Buy. Good news. Moorer, whose solution is part of the Best Buy home system, said he worked out a deal with the top brass at Best Buy that ensures that any deal beyond the scope of the basic home package installation will be steered to a member of CEDIA. Moorer said it's a done deal, and there's a defined line that limits what Best Buy's installation services staff can do on the services front. Exceptional Innovation wants to ensure that customers are happy with their Lifeware products and that any add-on services beyond the basic package are handled by higher-end integrators like van Zuiden -- whom Moorer said "has the imagination to do anything."

4:10 p.m. Van Zuiden heads to the South Hall to meet with a vendor from the "other side": Salt Lake City-based Control 4, whose home control and automation software runs on Lineo Linux. (Editor's note: Many of the top execs are formerly of Caldera and Lineo). Van Zuiden admires the company's products and has installed their systems in two customer sites, and both clients are satisfied. He wants to see if the company aims to make its home control displays any larger, as some customers had wished. The Control4 exec smiles and leads van Zuiden to one end of the booth, where displays of various sizes -- some new -- are being demonstrated. His problem is solved. He sees a new display that's several times larger than the home control panel he has installed at some customer sites.

4:25 p.m. He sees several Control4 execs in meeting area atop the booth and heads upstairs.

4:45 p.m. As our day concludes, van Zuiden said the meetings have been useful. He has seen a few interesting things at CES 2007, but nothing earth-shattering. He will be checking out the new batch of Vista Media Centers coming out at the end of the month and new home-control products based on it, as well as the Control4 products. Earlier in the day, van Zuiden said he went to the Sands Expo Center, where smaller vendors showcased some new innovations, including iRecord's PVR to iPod and PSP recording solution; a 2-Gbyte, credit-card-size USB flash card from Walletex Microelectronics; and the Spotwave Z1900 wireless device, which distributes a strong phone cell signal to serve everyone in the house.

CRN plans to catch up with van Zuiden later on down the road to find out if any of his CES visits helped him grow his business in 2007 and whether vendors were true to their pledges.