Review: AWE Expo Smart Home Technology Event 2016

posted on Wednesday, 11th May 2016 by Steve May

AWE Europe  Expo  home cinema  Smart home 


AWE has once again thrown open its doors, offering installers an early look at products set to lead the field in AV, distribution and control. Held at its Epson HQ, the event also offered a fascinating insight into the direction of the UK custom install business.

“We all know the growth predicted for connected devices,” says MD Stuart Tickle. “What we want to do here at the AWE Expo is give installers an insight into what tomorrow’s smart home may look like. These technologies have been available for a long time, for the past twenty years trade organisations like CEDIA have been instrumental in bringing connected devices to market. So the notion of smart home isn’t new, but it is becoming mainstream.” 

The big change, says Tickle, is affordability. “There’s a blurring of the lines between the mass-market smart home and the professional smarthome,” he notes. “There is a new middle ground, with things like the Panasonic Smart Home kit, which is very good.” But it’s a secondary convenience system, he adds.


Smart Home Crop

AWE Main

The CI business is changing. “Electricians, satellite and cable guys - these are all trades that can now come into our industry. That’s potentially another 10,000 professionals. But unless they learn how to install a professional system, they’ll never know how to add value to a smarthome, they’ll only ever sell that box which is on Amazon. Install a URC Total Control hub though and you have a system which can integrate with Nest, Sonos, Hue, as well as professional grade products.”

Tickle says ultimately people have all sorts of ideas as to what a smart home is - “I prefer the term connected Home” – and there are reasons why the trade should be cautious.  “The smart home is not a safe secure plug and play environment. I think there will be all sorts of issues, for example where people put on smart locks that get hacked. That’s why we advocate that this equipment is installed by a trained professional.”

One big attraction at AWE HQ is its Dolby Atmos/DTS: X home cinema. The room has had a significant overhaul since its opening, with a Marantz processor and power amp combo now providing the sonic muscle and an Epson laser projector delivering images. It looks and sounds excellent.

But there are less obvious additions. The room now has two Draper screens. Joining the original electric tab-tension screen is a new Clarion fixed frame screen with ReAct fabric. This is a silver-grey light-rejecting fabric with the same gain +1 gain as the original matt white screen. It’s designed to give better contrast and colour accuracy where there’s some ambient light in the room. On demo it certainly improved the black level performance of the cinema, and clearly negated the effects of room mood lighting.




The back-end has also been revamped. It’s now fitted out with Sanus 44U 85-inch tall component racking. In the rack we spotted the new Panasonic UB900 4K Blu-ray player, alongside a couple of tried and tested Denons, and the HDanywhere 8x8 Mhub 4K distribution system (“HDR compatibility is about a year away,” I was told).

Interestingly, AWE now offers THX certification. “There’s a lot of focus on quality of screens at the moment,” explained Tickle. “Our Tech Services Team can now calibrate all projectors and screens.” He says AWE’s focus will be on providing a pre-calibration service on all TVs that leave the AWE warehouse.

Another initiative announced at the Expo is a new guide to off-the-shelf package solutions. “It’s an outreach tool for installers,” we were told. “It allows installers to fairly quickly give an idea on multiroom audio and home cinema hardware and prices to clients. It’s a handy reference reference guide, with example packages and a general description of benefits and performance.”

AWE is also now the stock and technical service support hub for URC's international business, which means a doubling in its stock holding. “It represents’ a dramatic improvement in service,” we were told. AWE was also showing Philips Hue lighting for the first time. “The interesting thing is that Hue integration can now be controlled from Philips Dynalite and URC,” explained Tickle.

Unsurprisingly, TVs continue to be a focus of attention. In the showroom was the latest Panasonic DX902, a 4K HDR model. Loewe also unveiled Loewe One, a new affordable line of TVs. The One is available in 40-inch 1080p and 55-inch 4K models. “You still get the quality Loewe design,” says Tickle. “I see Loewe One fitting into multi-dwelling installs, where price is a priority.” Loewe also unveiled a firmware update at the show with adds Amazon Video and Tidal music streaming. This is the first time we’ve seen Tidal on a TV, and the interface with full album art, looks very slick. The Loewe One sets also have the option of a wireless subwoofer to improve audio performance.

“There is a conversation to be had about smart functionality on TVs,” says Stuart Tickle. “Are you better off with a monitor design and a connected box, because the smart functions on a TV will go out of date?  Nobody knows for certain what will happen with smart TV functionality. The debate will continue for quite a long time. I think Loewe TVs are on a roll. They work really well for installers. You know when you have RS232 control it’s fixed, it’s robust.”

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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