30 Years of CEDIA, 30 Years of Tech — Part 4

Ed Wenck | Mar 25, 2019

CEDIA is turning 30, and as part of the celebration, the CEDIA Technology Council is reviewing 30 of the biggest trends in tech over the last 30 years.

CEDIA’s Technology Council built a list of 30 innovations and advances that have impacted the residential industry (and by extension, CEDIA’s members) since the association was founded in November of 1989.

Items 16-20 include the impact of the IoT, the evolution of the operating system, and quite a bit more.

Video games aren’t really “toys” anymore. In 1989, Nintendo introduced the Game Boy, which featured a little app called “Tetris.” The handheld device, with its wondrous color palette of – well, every hue of green you’d find in creamed spinach – was a smash. It also signaled that gaming was pushing a lot of other technologies forward (in the Game Boy’s case, it was battery life). As handheld games developed, the console-and-controller setup was also roaring ahead, with advances in video imaging taking players from controlling avatars in what was essentially a flat, two-dimensional looking space into more of a window-into-another-world. (It won’t be much longer before the graphics are so slick that the average “first-person-shooter” game will be indistinguishable from a Hollywood action flick.) Soon, the consoles became multi-media players in their own right, and connected boxes allowed gamers to compete with other players via the internet, and not just face-to-face. More recently, the viral success of the game “Pokemon Go!” has proven that AR gaming is much more than a passing novelty.

The set top box can bring in much more than cable TV. “When I first started working in the cable industry, the cable set top box was simply a clickity, clickity, clickity analog tuner. It was a knob that's turned or buttons that you pushed,” remembers Mike Heiss of M. Heiss Consulting. “But as compression and digital came into play, then you had the need to fit more channels down the same pipe,” continues Heiss, who’s been a longtime member of the Tech Council. “So it starts to get more compressed and then eventually it led to digital. The set top box changed in order to accommodate digital technology and digital compression.” Soon, coaxial connections to the TV were replaced by HDMI cables, but, “that is now going to change over the next couple of years as things turn to IP.” And, of course, there’s now the ability to build everything right into the television set.

Things have their own internet. Seven years before the birth of CEDIA, a grad student at Carnegie-Mellon University got sick of finding the Coke machine in his building on campus devoid of soda. He figured out a way to link it to the “ARPANET,” the internet’s forerunner, and created what was likely the world’s first connected device to alert him that the machine was empty. The Internet of Things, or IoT (the term itself wasn’t coined until 2002) is today defined as the connected universe of connected stuff beyond personal computers or mobile devices. From the Nest thermostat to the Ring doorbell to “smart” TVs and connected fridges, CEDIA’s Walt Zerbe gives the numbers: “100 new devices are connected every second, which means 27 billion devices will be connected by 2020. As broadband speeds increase (2.7 times per year) and technology – including sensors – shrinks (by 100-fold every decade), the home will become a living, breathing thing managed and controlled by sophisticated IoT devices.”

Oh, what a wire can do! (Apologies to Dr. Seuss.)  Tech Council member Christiaan Beukes (Sphere Custom Design) weighs in on the wires that are coming into our homes: “Thirty years ago, structured wiring didn't really exist in the way that we currently think about it.” Beukes notes that all the cables coming into a residence had their own specialized function. That’s changed. “Video, electricity, lighting, all of those things work on a structured network of types of cables. The internet as we know it only came into being 30 years ago, and it’s the primary example of structured wiring. It's one node connecting to many nodes and having a decentralized connectivity hub. The progression of those physical cables changed from a single cable — single purpose that usually operated a single item — to more complicated cables made up of multiple strands of copper and/or fiber, or both, and one cable has become ubiquitous for many things — the Category cable. Today, it can effectively do video, it can do audio, it can do PoE, it can do lighting. And that's going to continue changing as technology develops. The cable isn’t going to go away because of ‘wireless’.”

And those wires developed hand-in-hand with the evolution of operating systems.  Beukes sees these last two items as being connected (literally and figuratively), and he notes, “They're two very different things but intrinsically linked.” Back in the old days of the creeping dial-up browser, operating systems were limited mostly to the family’s (probably single) PC. Now, says Beukes, “There is an operating system embedded in your phone, there's an operating system embedded in your fridge. And that's come a very, very long way because of the connectivity that's been enabled by the wiring side of things.” From Mainframes to Microcomputers, from OS/2 and Unix to today’s Windows, Android, iOS, the impact is tremendous: “If it weren't for an OS, Uber would not exist. If it weren't for an OS, Airbnb would not exist. If it weren't for an OS, Amazon wouldn't be where they are. And where are we going to see it going? The smaller the chips get, and the more powerful they get, the less energy they'll use, the more flexible they‘ll be for putting into any and every device that we can think of. Ten years ago, we couldn't imagine the power that was in today’s iPhone. Twenty years ago, we couldn't imagine the power that was in yesterday’s laptop. Thirty years ago, we couldn't imagine the power that was in last week’s desktop. Tomorrow all of that will be condensed into a chip the size of your fingernail that's embedded underneath your skin. Where will it take us? Will we be hacked into – or onto – a HumanOS …?”