Just what is the future for home automation?

posted on Wednesday, 2nd May 2012 by Steve May

Speakercraft  Home automation 

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The home automation industry is back in the headlines, courtesy of two stories that make interesting bedfellows: SpeakerCraft has dropped its long-gestating Nirv multimedia control and distribution system, even as Microsoft trials its nascent Home OS platform.

While the SpeakerCraft Nirv system held considerable promise, it never made it into mass distribution, despite becoming a regular feature at trade shows such as CEDIA and ISE. Ultilising a modular design, Nirv enabled 1080p video and multichannel audio to be distributed over a single Cat5e cable; movie and music content was accessed from client devices via a highly graphical UI. Controlling it all was the stylised Nirv Wand. This RF remote featured few buttons but had an integrated microphone. The mic wasn't intended for system control but for inter-home paging. The unique Nirv twist was that in addition to home entertainment, the system also supported door entry and intercom. The user had the choice of moving between Watch, Listen, Control or Page modes on his Nirv centre. It was a forward-thinking concept.

Speaking to Residential System's Jeremy Glowacki, SpeakerCraft president Jeremy Burkhardt said the decision to bench the platform was taken after Nortek sister brand ELAN's g! system began to gain traction. "When you're talking about getting into automation, you're talking about millions of dollars in commitments basically forever to continue to support the system," he said.

Mircosoft prototypes Home OS
Coincidentally only days before Nirv was knobbled, CNET was reporting that Microsoft's nascent home automation platform Home OS was being trialled by real world users for the first time.

It's unclear yet just how committed Microsoft is about extending itself into the home automation market, but the company has long harboured plans to migrate from PC to living room. The Xbox 360, with the recent launch of the Kinect gesture-based control interface, has enabled it to build a family-room beachhead far ahead of its rivals, and it's consolidated this lead by offering a variety of streaming media options from the console, including BBC iPlayer, Sky, VoD and SVOD services. Prior to this, many will remember that Windows Media Centre found itself the subject of considerable customisation by CI brands eager to user it for home automation applications.

Built on the .Net Framework, the new Home OS goes several steps further by bringing lighting control, security, environment, network hardware and potentially more under PC, smart device and almost inevitably Xbox 360 (or Xbox 720) control. Microsoft has reportedly been (pre)beta-testing HomeOS in selected US homes for between four and eight months, and has been invited .Net-based application development for a Homestore front end, which would effectively serve as an app store for the system: "Want motorized blinds for the living room, go buy the Home OS app." 

According to a Microsoft white paper, 'HomeStore verifies compatibility between homes and applications. Based on users' desired tasks, it recommends applications that work in their homes. If a home does not have devices required for those tasks, it recommends appropriate devices as well.'

The implications of this could be huge for the custom install industry, both in terms of technology awareness and heralding new competition. Interestingly, Microsoft does not see itself as a lone proprietor for the system, saying: "We do not intend for the HomeStore to become the sole gatekeeper for home applications. Towards this end, we allow for multiple HomeStores, and users can visit the one they trust most."

So just what is the future of home automation? The SpeakerCraft announcement underlines the fact that proprietary automation systems will always be too expensive for the mainstream. But if Microsoft decides to continue with Home OS, we could all find ourselves facing a significant game changer on the horizon.

For more on SpeakerCraft visit our Partner page here.
Also read:
SpeakerCraft unveils Profile and Seamless
SpeakerCraft RooTs review

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology specialist who also writes for T3TechRadarHome Cinema Choice, Trusted Reviews and The Luxe Review.

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Posted by Darren Shear on 2nd May 2012, 7:53 PM
Nirv being pulled is no great surprise I saw it 3-4 years ago at CEDIA US and every demo since It never worked and looking at what an iPad and sonos amp can do its probably wise to pull it.

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