The design-build community was treated to a truly human experience in the Crestron booth at this year's CEDIA® Expo. If you missed it, here's a recap.
For architects and designers, technology works when it matches the aesthetic
Sept. 19, 2023 - There was a time when electronics trade shows were pretty pedestrian affairs — stacks of black boxes accompanied by spec sheets full of technical info such as "frequency response" and "matrix switching." As the concept of the "smart home" began to blossom, however, that began to change — firms creating solutions for this segment realized something critical:
It's all about the experience.
"Technology dealers, integrators, and installers want to know about functionality," says JoAnn Arcenal, Crestron's Director of Business Development. "But design-build professionals want to know how these products are going to work and — and look — in a home."
Showing just how well they work — and look — was Crestron's goal at the annual CEDIA® Expo trade show in Denver.
"The Crestron booth was expertly crafted and routed by our teams," says Arcenal. The booth was designed to tell a story as attendees walked through the space — and the first chapter in that story was all about simplicity and ease of use.
Keeping it Simple
"There is still the misconception among a great many end-users and design-build folks that smart home solutions are too complicated," says Arcenal. To combat that notion, the booth "opened" with a look at Crestron's new residential platform — Crestron Home® OS 4, an elegant and extraordinarily powerful operating system built on years of Crestron's experience crafting technology solutions. The new-look platform is designed so that "anyone who's used a smartphone in the last 10 years could understand the interface immediately," according to Arcenal. Additionally, this version of the OS allows for more customization by the end user than ever before.
From there, the display took an attendee through a variety of systems that are controlled by the new OS. This offered an immediate opportunity for Arcenal to explain just how powerful and streamlined the platform can be. "We had audio, shades, lighting, and much more — imagine the banks of switches that might be required to handle everything in that space if one didn't have the proper control interface," she says. The platform's power was suddenly easy to conceptualize, with a single touch screen taking the place of dozens of analog switches.
Lighting and Shading
The lighting and shading areas of the booth yielded the next surprise. "We had layered lighting on display," says Arcenal. From Crestron fixtures to Philips® Hue® smart lighting, the viewer was treated to a variety of solutions that changed the lighting in a model "dining room," showing how the various combinations of colored and tunable white fixtures could create drama, enhance a painting on the wall of the booth, and even mimic the circadian rhythms of sunlight.
Shading is, of course, another aspect of the lighting experience — and Crestron's made big strides in that segment. "We were able to showcase the more than 400 fabrics that we have in our inventory," says Arcenal, noting that the wide selection was new to a lot of design-build pros who came through the booth. Battery-powered shades — including the new rechargeable lithium-ion options — were also on display for situations where running power to a window covering isn't practical. "Sometimes a designer or builder doesn't have that 'blank slate' to work with and wire up, especially in a remodel," says Arcenal.
While the booth underscored the holistic experience created by the gear, there is one big benefit that Crestron's "black boxes" provide, however — the fact that they're tucked away in an equipment rack. "One of the keys to our audio-visual components is that they're designed not to take up any actual living space," says Arcenal. "If you live in New York City — where real estate costs run $3,000 per square foot — not needing a custom credenza to hide an amplifier or cable box is wonderful." Those components — providing nearly every sound and video streaming option a customer could think of — are designed to surreptitiously deliver entertainment to every speaker and display in the home.
And when it comes to music, the speakers delivering the sound are becoming less and less obtrusive, too. "One of our latest offerings only needs a three-inch opening in the ceiling," says Arcenal. That speaker, the Ultimate IC3 — whose full spectrum of sound is created by a box that's tucked behind the drywall — has the same dimensions and look as Crestron's lighting fixtures in order to blend in with an overall aesthetic.
Fit and Finish
For everyone that made it to this year's CEDIA Expo — and attendance at the 2023 edition approached pre-pandemic levels — there was another plus: the in-person experience can often be much more satisfying than a virtual show. "The ability to see the products is one thing, but to really feel the quality of what we offer is really important," says Arcenal. One example: Crestron's newly redesigned Horizon® Keypads and Dimmers. "When a room — or a resident — doesn't need all the options of a touch screen, these products are an excellent alternative," she adds. "And the luxurious finishes — well, once you get that tactile experience, you'll be sold."
That attention to detail is always consistent — even at scale. From the largest luxury home to outfitting hotels and multiple-dwelling building projects, the solutions are built so that every room in a project is outfitted with the same level of quality, no matter the scope of work. But despite its scalability, the technology itself remains diminutive, says Arcenal: "We were able to showcase how little space that a base package could take up." That was apparent in the MDU (Multiple Dwelling Unit) section of the booth, where the display showed how to tuck the "head end" — the "brains" of a system — between two wall studs.
Tech for the Long Haul
Besides providing dramatic lighting or robust entertainment options, there's a growing understanding that the technologies you'll find in what's dubbed a "smart home" can provide a range of other benefits. "Some of what we offer can help with 'living in place' solutions — assistive technology that can help someone as they age," says Arcenal. "We also have security solutions, including exterior cameras with video that can be called up on any TV in your home, for example."
Crestron's also focused on sustainability solutions. "We completed two net-zero homes last year," says Arcenal. "A solution that's as simple as utilizing shades and an astronomical clock to reduce passive heat within a space — I think a lot of people underestimate the impact that can have on energy savings." And because clocks and sensors can govern the system, it's not incumbent on the homeowner to monitor any of these functions. "One of the homes is in Arizona, and they get beautiful sunshine nearly year-round," says Arcenal. "By taking full advantage of the ability of automated light fixtures to reduce their output in the daytime, the natural light supplements interior artificial light," she adds.