It’s no surprise that ISE has become the world’s largest show for smart home technology, AV and integrated systems. Located in the wonderful city of Amsterdam and taking place the beginning of each year, this ever-expanding show packs out the RAI exhibition hall and provides the perfect place for the smart home community to get together, share ideas and generally gain an idea of what new technology will be available for the year ahead.

ISE tends to be an annual pilgrimage for our R&D team in their efforts to find interesting new ideas for integrating into our smart home projects – and this year was no exception. We’ve highlighted some of the home technology innovation that excited us this year, some of which might soon find its way into our own projects in the near future.

Lutron ambient Lighting
Ambient lighting is becoming increasingly important in smart homes; Lutron is now able to incorporate this into its smart lighting systems.

Smart Lighting

Lutron has long been the benchmark for intelligent lighting and always tend to have something new to shout about at ISE. One of its main focuses this year was ‘two-channel lighting’ (essentially, controlling both brightness and colour temperature separately yet simultaneously). This would allow room colour and illumination to be ‘tuned’ depending on what activities are taking place: cooler hues for when you need to focus on something, or warmer tones for hosting guests or late night relaxation.

This new concept fits in neatly with the idea of residential ‘biodynamic lighting’ (which we explore in detail in an earlier article), which is where an intelligent lighting system replicates the natural colour shift from blue to red that takes place naturally as the sun moves through the sky (and to which humans are innately attuned as part of our evolution). The approach Lutron is taking – letting the user change both the colour and illumination intensity simultaneously – should help to enable the creation of much more realistic lighting scenes in the home.

Beyond this, Lutron was giving exclusive ‘top secret’ demonstrations of a couple of exciting new technologies that will soon be on the way. While we’re unable to say more at this point due to non-disclosure obligations, we’re interested to see what effect they’ll have on the smart home once they hit the market. 

An interesting option for intelligent lighting and blind control on smaller or less expensive projects is Rako. With established product lines for both wired and wireless installations, Rako can be used either as a retrofit option to replace an older lighting system or as a solution for a new-build property.  

Like Lutron, Rako can easily be integrated with several whole-house control systems such as Control4 and Crestron, meaning that everything can still be managed from a single interface by the user, rather than constantly having to switch between apps when trying to control various systems within the home.

Crestron touchscreen remotes
Crestron's new remotes include a number of tweaks to make them better to use.

Control Systems

A particular highlight from Crestron this year was a refreshed smart remote line-up, with two new designs geared around creating a better user experience. Both the HR-310-I and TSR-310 have a much cleaner design than previous models and easy-grip housing, addressing one of the key issues with the earlier versions.

Both versions offer an incredibly personalised experience, with innovations including individual profile settings and the ability to custom engrave buttons with the specific functions you need access to most frequently. Like previous models, voice control is integrated, as is the ability to manage smart home systems from AV sources to lighting, heating, motorised shades and more.

A further update to Crestron’s suite of products is the addition of the ability for its Pyng control system to handle video sources for the first time. Pyng, which makes it easier for homeowners to customise scenes and set up automation schedules, has long been able to handle several different systems across the home, including environmental systems, smart lighting, multi-room audio and a variety of cameras, door locks and sensors for smart home security.

With the addition of support for TVs, video sources and other AV equipment (which follows another recent upgrade adding support for Amazon Alexa voice control), Crestron’s Pyng control platform has now become a viable option when designing smaller whole-house smart home systems.

Having seemingly acquired half of the smart home manufacturer market over the past year, it was perhaps no surprise that Control4’s focus this year was heavily on how it can work as an all-in-one solution. One of the main features of this year’s stand was its Triad speaker line, particularly its single-zone Triad One amplifier, which comes with support for high-res streaming (up to 192kHz/24 bit). As this device can be installed wirelessly and acts both as a sound system and control hub, it is suitable for when existing smart home owners want to add an extra audio zone to their home without the need for extensive upgrade work.

Control4's new CA-1 controller looks to be ideal for the lower end of the smart home market, where a simple yet scalable system might be required. This unit allows for integration with lighting, energy management and security within a home, although it omits the audio/video abilities that Crestron’s Pyng system offers. That said, a system built around a CA-1 could be upgraded to include AV functionality at a later date with the addition of a Control4 EA-Series controller.

Control4 CA-1 controller
The CA-1 controller from Control4 is designed for smaller smart home installations.

Screen technology

One of the brilliant aspects of ISE is that it’s not simply a smart home-focused show, which gives visitors the chance to see what is happening in the commercial world and to get a sneak peek at what we can expect in our homes in the near to medium future.

As expected, 4K is now well established across the major screen manufacturers. An unexpected development, however, was the likes of Sony, Samsung, LG and Sharp all unveiling prototype 8K screens at the recent CES 2018 in Las Vegas a few weeks before ISE.

Sharp had its 8K screen at ISE 2018, showing content filmed live at the show on its new 8K professional camcorder. While life in 7680 x 4320 pixels looks just as crisp and clear as you might expect, the cutting-edge set up did highlight what will be one of the big inhibitors of this technology over the next few years: namely, that it will take the world of content creation a long time to catch up to this new ultra-rich resolution.

Not to be left behind, ISE 2018 marked the first time an 8K projector made its way onto the show floor, courtesy of Digital Projection. Like Sharp, they intend to be the first to market with their 8K product, but embracing 8K is likely to come at a hefty price tag, at least to begin with.

Wisdom Audio media room
For the second year running, Wisdom Audio created the best home cinema experience at ISE.

Home cinema rooms

A perennial highlight at ISE are the several home cinema rooms dotted around the show floor, which let visitors try out different speaker configurations, projector/screen combinations and different types of cinema seating in a semi-realistic environment.

As each home cinema room is built from scratch for the show itself (and considering the space and sound-proofing limitations of creating such a room in the middle of a busy exhibition), the relative performance can only be taken as a rough guide rather than a definitive ranking.

That said, for a second year running the Wisdom Audio media room came up trumps with punchy, clean audio delivery and excellent bass notes. The full set-up included the company’s Sage L75 line source speakers with a customised Sage C38 horizontal loudspeaker, L8I in-walls and four Sage ICS7a in-ceiling units complemented by the manufacturer’s S110i subs. Powering these were SA-3 amplifiers, which are designed to run without generating excessive amounts of heat to minimise the amount of space required by the unit in the rack space.

While not quite up to the entirely custom speaker configurations employed in some of Andrew Lucas London’s top-end home cinema rooms, it was nonetheless an impressive demonstration of how quality audio can be used effectively in a living room or entertainment space.

While it didn’t have a dedicated home cinema room on the show floor, Artcoustic’s Spitfire speaker series for home cinema applications were nonetheless impressive in terms of the flexibility and scalability they offer. This line of loudspeakers ranges from the Spitfire 4-2 for smaller spaces right up to the Spitfire 24-12 for rooms that stretch beyond 120 cubic metres.

Artcoustic speakers have featured in several CEDIA award-winning home cinema projects in the past and offer a reasonably priced alternative to going down the custom-built road when choosing an audio set-up for a media room or dedicated home cinema space in a property.

artcoustic Spitfire speakers
Artcoustic's Spitfire speaker range are designed for home cinema rooms of all shapes and sizes.