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Upcoming TCP/IP Revolution???  

post #1 of 79
Thread Starter 
All I've been hearing about lately is how the adoption of TCP/IP protocol by manufacturers is going to revolutionize the integration industry.

Is this just hype? How will it change the business of home integration? Anyone using such equipment yet?
post #2 of 79
It's beginning to happen some. There are a number of ethernet based multi-function or single function boxes out there, that provide serial ports, contact closures, and IR on a box that sits on the ethernet network. There still aren't a lot of actual end devices that are ethernet based. Unfortunately, in my opinion, more are moving towards USB. Unfortunately, USB is a lot messier protocol for folks like me who create control systems, because they introduct another layer of software between me and the device, and often require the user to have correctly installed drivers of the right version, are often platform specific because of driver support, and so forth. Ethernet would provide the speed and flexibility of USB, given a little protocol support for auto-discovery, without the issues.

And frankly, ethernet is the home networking protocol. Anyone else can give up at this point, not that there's really anyone to compete with it I guess. Firewire cannot replace ethernet in that job. So either you have boxes that sit on the ethernet, or you end up with the doubly complex, and therefore error prone, scenario of ethernet based serial, USB, etc... boxes that then talk to the actual device. So you just introduce another layer in there any time that there's not a physical PC close enough to directly connect the USB or serial port to.
post #3 of 79
I read an interesting article in MIT Tech review magazine, where MIT is working on an electrical system using signaling (TCP/IP?) instead of direct wiring. For example, a switch and a light wouldn't be necessarily wired together,but would be on the same "leg". A receptacle would have a unique address and any switch on the same leg could operate it. Its like X-10 on steroids, but would really make lighting, for example, a lot more flexible and would reduce wiring costs (current problem is the switches and devices cost more than the wiring savings).

I think this is how a lot of cars are now made, for example there is no direct wire from the brake light switch to the brake light, but they are on a network with unique addresses.
post #4 of 79
Thread Starter 
So Dean, will this ( either ethernet or USB ) move us towards the scenario we've been hearing about for years where all our home electronics ( from any manufacturer ) can finally recognize each other and communicate/control each other ? True Plug n Play ? I thought Firewire was supposed to do this .
post #5 of 79
Firewire *can* do that, but unfortunately, it's not a reasonable home networking system. So it can provide that functionality within a, say, the home theater, or in your bedroom, but cannot extend that functionalty to the full home as a networking system. They took too much of a CE approach when they created Firewire and didn't consider the real eventual use for such a system.

IP over ethernet could easily provide auto-discovery, it just needs a protocol that everyone agrees on. Broadcast messages provide all the means you need to implement such a thing. When you plug in device X it broadcasts its advertisement to a particular port, and when a controller is plugged in, it broadcasts a message to a particular port that causes all devices to report their presence, so that he can enumerate them and then go back and query them about their features.

It's all doable, but the problem is that even if you do it, none of the CE manufacturers are likey to make use of it, since if they really gave a crap they could have done it long ago. Even with Firewire, which supports the HAVi protocol, very few vendors have bothered to support it. In the case of HAVi, I can understand that, since it's just too small a world to bother with, and since Firewire cannot really address the big picture, it just remains a chicken and egg problem that never goes anywhere.

And I think that the HAVi folks want some fairly large amount of money just to get into the club, or they did the last time I checked. That's not really the way to create a standard. The basic reality is that, if you are looking to be a plumbing vendor, you have to make it very easy and cheap for people to use your plumbing or it's just not going to ever get off the ground. You'll hvae to make your money some other way, by perhaps selling enabling packages to make adoption of your plumbing very easy for those who want to go that route. Think about somebody selling a $25 device paying say $10K or $20K to get a license to put someone's control port and protocol fireware in it, which would also increase the hardware and development price of the box so much that they'd have to make less margin just to be able sell them.

That continues to be an issue all around I guess. Even a serial port, the hardware for which probably costs about a $1 or something, seems to impose too much of a burden for most devices out there, much of the problem being the 'complexity' of providing the control circuitry in the device and the associated fireware probably more than the cost of the hardware. And if you look at many devices, you can tell that the control functionality was an afterthought, which makes the device very difficult to control in any snappy, clean way.

Given that, how likely is it that these same folks are going to put a Firewire board or an ethernet board, and the associated control logic and protocol stacks, into their devices and provide a clean, slick control protocol for them? It just ain't likely. There's hardly more than a handful of DVD players with any sort of control port out there, and probably the $1000+ Denon 3800 is the cheapest one, with a serial port in that case. Some sat STBs have them, though unadvertised, and I don't think any HD STB has one of any sort. All of TAG's devices were controllable with a well thought out protocol, but look what it did for them.

Basically, you end up relying on folks like me to provide the missing integration, albeit with some manual configuration on your part to tell the control system what's out there, and the control system can then create that homogenous environent in which control functionality can deal with devices generically. And unless you are willing to spend some bucks, you will never get a whole HT of two way controllable devices, and even then you might not be able to do it.

Oh well, I'm ranting now. But the bottom line is that I just don't see any time soon most of the low, mid, or upper-mid devices are going to have any sort of control ports any time soon. And I don't see any kind of ubiquitous smart protocol out there any time soon either.
post #6 of 79
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your concise accessment of the current state of affairs on this topic. It's really aggrevating to me because I keep waiting for these "revolutionary " systems of control to materialize but they never do.

BTW, saw your post on your latest version of Charmed Quark and it looks real nice.
post #7 of 79
Quote:
BTW, saw your post on your latest version of Charmed Quark and it looks real nice.
Thanks. If I don't have a heart attack from overwork within the next couple weeks, hopefully you can check it out for yourself :-)
post #8 of 79
Quote:
Originally posted by AJF
It's really aggrevating to me because I keep waiting for these "revolutionary " systems of control to materialize but they never do.
AJF,

I know you expressed interest in Crestron in the past. The only real competitor to AMX and Crestron right now IMO is a relatively new company named Xplore Solutions. Perhaps you have read about them. They have a real understanding of the higher end home automation and control market and are marketing a truly IP based system. They probably cost about 25%+ less than Crestron on average (which still isn't cheap). The downside compared to Crestron is that the Crestron line is extremely mature and they (Crestron) now have solutions which fill in many holes that exist in the market right now that no one else fills.
post #9 of 79
I think we are closer to TCP/IP control via UPN then those respondents above. Fire wire will be used much as analog interconnects are now to send data and power to the various stacked equipment in the same area. Control data from centralized servers or control units will be delivered to that stack via fast Ethernet via TCP/IP. UPN ( universal plug and play) is much closer than is indicated above. Onkyo has already installed Ethernet connections on its Integra line. Other Japanese manufacturers are soon ( next year for some, most with in year 2005 ) to follow.

In my opinion the biggest short coming will not be the hardware manufacturers at this point in time but the fact that there is no good user interface. Web tablets and Pocket PC are not yet the kind of user interface most people will accept when controlling their audio or video systems. Control via a web browser is too inconvenient to be accepted by most people when changing channels on a TV or cable box. But given the number of unemployed software programmers familiar with Java and flash this too will be overcome in the near future (3 years ).

The next problem will be having sufficient drivers for each piece of equipment but that will be overcome as well. Once these drivers are written you will be able to launch executable files to control the various audio and video gear in your home as will as a variety of appliances and hardware ( security cameras ).

Next year you will see at least 10 companies with TCP/IP control systems that will auto negotiate with any device on the network. They will automatically configure GUI and control drivers. They will do this initially with a limited number of music servers, Internet client servers, satellite radio, video and CATV boxes. Expect the manufacturers of the equipment left out to write the drivers or aid in the writing of these drivers so as not to be left out. How close are we to all this? In addition to the usual suspects, Crestron, AMX, and Extron all showed TCP/IP control boxes that subscribed to UPN protocols via TCP/IP. Netstreams, Coreaccess, and ONQue have or will all have audio server systems available within the next 6 months.
And Xplore Solutins was controlling the coolest product at CEDIA, Kalidescope, a DVD hard drive server that sends the DVD codec and control over fast Ethernet to up to 7 clients. 7 different streams from a centralized server with both data and control via TCP/IP
Alan
post #10 of 79
Quote:
Originally posted by Dean Roddey
Firewire *can* do that, but unfortunately, it's not a reasonable home networking system. So it can provide that functionality within a, say, the home theater, or in your bedroom, but cannot extend that functionalty to the full home as a networking system. They took too much of a CE approach when they created Firewire and didn't consider the real eventual use for such a system.
1394b kind of solves that. It allows for 100 meters over Cat5 cable. Combine that with a 1394 hub and you have a home network. 1394b can also handle multiple stream of HD content. So you can have content and control on one network, and all the hardware is here and now (At least that is what I learned this weekend form the Mitsubishi and 1394 people).
If you compare this to using IP, presumably over gigabit copper, IP has the disadvantage in that you need an extra STB on the remote display side (basically a PC) in order to decode form MPEG/TCP/IP to analog or DVI.
Quote:
IP over ethernet could easily provide auto-discovery, it just needs a protocol that everyone agrees on. Broadcast messages provide all the means you need to implement such a thing. When you plug in device X it broadcasts its advertisement to a particular port, and when a controller is plugged in, it broadcasts a message to a particular port that causes all devices to report their presence, so that he can enumerate them and then go back and query them about their features.
[/b]
Some of that exists as DHCP. Plug in device X onto the network, and an address is assigned. The content server should also be acting as the DHCP server, so it would have awareness to a new device, and can present it as being available on the GUI. That last layer of intellignece is all that is needed on the server to make that work.
Also, Crestron has some IP stuff, and I'm not sure how close they come to this, but they do act as a DHCP server, and can control IP devices. I don't know if the devices are all their hardware, or if there is third party hardware that can sit on their network, but I intend to find out.
My opinion... I think IP currently has an advantage in that is closer to offering the homogonized home network for PC, home theater, music/media distro, control, and secruity,,, HOWEVER, content protection remains an issue that 1394 has dealt with. Let's see what Windows mediaplayer9 does for the IP camp in that regards.
-Bill
post #11 of 79
A CN-ENET-2 is in its current interation a router and as such no different than any other router. Any network device can sit on this network whether Cresnet or third party. DHCP is an addressing method. This gets complicated as it involves what is contained in the packets broadcast by one computer to an other but DHCP is related to NAT and is in essence a kind of port forwarding. Auto discovery involves more than providing a LAN id for the router. It involves loading any necessary drivers and configuratiion files so the two devices on the LAN can communicate. DHCP allows the router to foreward the appropriate TCP/IP packets to the relevant computer but it does not allow two computers to talk without some other software acting as a go between. Place a printer on a network without a driver and the two devices will not communicate. UPN is one such protocol for auto negotiation.

In so far as 1394 is concerned it is supported by Mitusbichi but almost no one else save the Camcorder industry. There is something very useful in having data, signal and power on one cable and you are correct it can be used as a network with lots of repeaters. But Ethernet networks can also support multiple streams of High def content. THe current High def codec requres a bandwidth of just under 20 Kbs. On a fast Ethernet network this is 5 streams of content. Kalidescope is sending up to 7, including macrovision, over fast Ethernet although in this case its 480p not 1080i

Alan
post #12 of 79
Quote:
Next year you will see at least 10 companies with TCP/IP control systems that will auto negotiate with any device on the network. They will automatically configure GUI and control drivers. They will do this initially with a limited number of music servers, Internet client servers, satellite radio, video and CATV boxes
But it won't be any different from HAVi. You'll have a system with cool capabilities, which cannot talk to 99.999999% of the devices out there that people own or are likely to own. In the end, it's always going to be us less idealistic folks, who create architectures that are designed to bring everyone under an umbrella, as apposed to building a shed off in the far distance and expecting everyone to come to them, who will provide the only realistic solutions.

It always sounds cool to hear people talking about creating such stuff. But, if like me you create a control system, and you show people what it can do and you see them get all excited, and then they say "I have an X, Y, and Z box and these other two devices, can it support them", and you say no it can't, they just walk away basically. So in any practical way, such systems are just permanently caught in a chick and egg cycle.

I'm all for a socket based protocol, and I'd make use of it if any devices supported it probably. But, OTOH, if you are talking about a higher end control system, it's not immediately apparent if you'd want such a thing. Do you want your kid to be able to plug something into your network and have it immediately be accepted so that he can start using it to do whatever he wants? I've spent a lot of time creating a secure, account based control system, and though I might use auto-discovery to help aid the user in their configuration of the system, I'd probably still always require that someone with admin rights has to take pro-active steps to allow any device to actually take part in the control and automation system.

In the context of a serious control system, as apposed to Joe Blow's little home theater system, control and stability count for far more than the small amount of inconvenience required to bring up an interface and bless a device to enter the system. That's not to say that certain types of devices shouldn't be able to just connect and work, but in many cases it would only be after pre-approval of the system admin.

Quote:
Web tablets and Pocket PC are not yet the kind of user interface most people will accept when controlling their audio or video systems. Control via a web browser is too inconvenient to be accepted by most people when changing channels on a TV or cable box. But given the number of unemployed software programmers familiar with Java and flash this too will be overcome in the near future (3 years ).
If you don't think that a computer or web tablet or PocketPC is appropriate, what good will software engineers do for you? Personally, I think that an LCD touch screen beside the couch, connected to a very small, minimalist PC or connected to a larger control machine in the closet, or the small computer wirelessly connected to the larger control machine, will be a very common and acceptable interface, with PocketPC and IR and keypads providing alternative means of control.

Also, I think we need to keep up with what markets we are talking about here, which I kind of hinted at above. I think that there is a problem with people confusing their markets in many cases. If you are talking about a serious control system for the home, that is a far different market and set of constraints and requirements from a system where Joe Blow can just plug in his DVD player with a single cable and it will do some minimal integration with his receiver.

What is possible and desireable is fairly radically different between those two groups. Joe Blow, the one who needs an auto-configuring HT system, isn't going to be building a home network probably and ain't gonna buy any kind of serious control system or a PocketPC to control it. On the other end, those folks looking at a serious system aren't going to put their own systems together, their system integrator will do it, so auto-discovery is not an issue except to the point where some devices are set up by the control system to be allowed to be plugged in (physically or conceptually) to the system temporarily. In that system, stability will be far more important than any kind of auto-discovery and auto-connection. It won't be considered any kind of burden to manually indicate what devices are on the network and set up the drivers for them and create interfaces to control them and so forth.

So that leaves some number of people in between those two extremes, and what kind of market that is and how big it is. I'm not sure, personally. I would imagine that the bulk of those people lean more towards the Joe Blow end of the range than the serious control system side. So they are probably going to be satisfied with simple auto-configuration, of isolated islands of co-located devices, probably with control via the TV screen or some such thing, i.e. a purely CE world.

So I have to wonder whether someone like Crestron pushing some kind of auto-discovery system is their attempt to get more into that middle chunk of people, and how really successful that will be, or will it just be a big waste of money and time?

Oh well, I'm rambling again. No matter what, if any of these protocols are proprietary, they are doomed. No one is going to dominate the industry with a proprietary protocol. This is purely plumbing and if it's not an open and freely useable protocol (with possibly a validation process that costs money in order to get the official seal of approval), it ain't gonna ever be used in enough devices to be useful. I think that this is one of the big issues with HAVi/Firewire, that instead of just making the standard and putting it out there for everyone to use, they've made it a proprietary technology, with fairly sizeable licensing fees and such.
post #13 of 79
Vantage unveiled their IP based control system at CEDIA as well, although it is obviously focused around the lighting market.

As an addendum, Xabler is another IP based control system, although Xplore has much better touchpanels and is better positioned amongst CEDIA dealers.

BL
post #14 of 79
Well, I'm definitely doing my part to create an IP based system, though it's really based on my own ORB technology, so very little of the code knows it's running on IP sockets, and it could be converted to some other technology if the bucks were there to make it worth it. The Xabler stuff looks very 'lifestyle' oriented from a quick look at it. I'm really heading more towards the heavy customization and broad functionalty front, though I also need to get into a couple areas that they are obviously concentrating on, such as a music jukebox subsystem.
post #15 of 79
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the link QQQ. I've not heard of them but I'll take a look at them.

BTW, lest you think I'm just a "tire kicker ", after you suppled me with all the info a while back about Crestron I called a local authorized installer from their website list and he did'nt even return my calls. E-mailed him ; no response. I'm telling you, they're all busy around here doing installs on multi-million dollar homes. They don't want to bother with my measley $800,000 house . Anyway, soon after that things got a little dicey financially for my business so I let it go.

I still have my heart set on Crestron but was just wondering how this move towards TCP/IP relates to the industry . In the meantime I'm hoping to at least work on my lighting this winter .

Thanks everyone for your posts. Sounds like there are still many points of contention as to whether there is an "upcoming revolution " at all .
post #16 of 79
Dean
I never meant to suggest that some professional would not be necessary to integrate what ever control system is installed in someone's home. The skills will be different but the task will be the same. I do think there is a paradigm shift in the works and I do not think it revolves around someones Ethernet to serial translator box. I do think that in place of RS-232 protocols we will have drivers. We may still need to write those drivers but I do think control will be easier as the protocols become more demanding of certainty. I have spent many years becoming proficient at writing code for Crestron and using graphics programs for touch panel layout. But these skills may not translate directly if knowledge of Java or flash or VB script become the new universal languages.

It is the ability to stream uncompressed audio or video directly to the speaker or display device that I think is revolutionary. Control via sockets is just an other form of control. But the skill sets to manage these control systems will change and thus for those of us who have become proficient in proprietary control systems, dangerous if we cannot adapt to this change.

And this does not mean that Crestron or AMX is dead. As their product lines continue to evolve and make more and more integration products available to the market whole house control is more easily available. But not everyone is prepared to spend 40-100 k on a control system. These will become high end control systems ( which is what they are in fact at the moment ) but they will provide a-z solutions without the company having to do the engineering themselves.

Just because the Pocket PC is not a good user interface does not mean that a WiFi product will not make its appearance that is a good design. Perhaps it will be a standard remote with a 801.11 built into it. I do not predict the future well but I can tell when the future is upon me.
post #17 of 79
Alan:

Brilliant post. It's really nice to see someone that appears to be studying the market from a non-emotional viewpoint and seems prepared for the fact that they may have to adapt to a new paradigm.

Dean, just in case you misunderstand my words to Alan above, my post is NOT in any way directed at you. Alan and I are both involved in high-end automation projects, and not all systems integrators in our business are prepared for change or studying the changes that are taking place...that's where I am coming from.
post #18 of 79
Can I freak out and call you names anyway?
post #19 of 79
Dean, look out! I'm sending you an invoice for a new keyboard as a spit coffee into mine laughing so hard on that post!
post #20 of 79
You forgot to read the disclaimer, which not only reduces my liability for reading of my posts to zero, it actually requires you to pay me if you incur any damages in the process of said reading.
post #21 of 79
The B&W/Rotel/Classe group is another outfit who has decided to enter the TCP/IP based control world. As Alan stated this is a platform that relies on a 232 to IP box that physically sits next to the component to be controlled. The 'box' contains all of the serial parameters associated with that particular component, and then translates that information over TCP/IP to a controller that ties into a user interface.

As a representative of a company that does significant business with Crestron I definately concur that the design/programming process in general will get easier. Tiers will begin to form within the Control System manufacturers, and those on the lower tiers will incorporate TCP/IP in conjunction with proprietary 422/485 Buses.

Our firm will certainly maintain our allegiance to Crestron, as we have millions of dollars spread out amongst prior projects that will require service and upgrades. However, it would be foolish to completely ignore the Xplore's and Xabler's of the world.

Projects (especially large scale commercial ones) will most likely be assessed on a case by case basis to determine which platform will be the most germane to the situation at hand. High end residential homwowners could view Crestron and AMX as the Mercedes and BMW of the industry, and form 'flagship' allegiances based on perception.


Incidentally, Crestron could manufacture a z-bus card with a BNC jack on it that would facilitate streaming video.

BL

P.S. Xplore actually sells Toshiba Pocket PC's as a reccomended U.I. on their website!
post #22 of 79
Thread Starter 
The more I learn about Xplore the more impressive it sounds. Started by ex-employees of AMX & Crestron. This page says alot:

http://www.smr-home-theatre.org/ces2.../page_04.shtml

Their product looks more mature than could be possible from a company formed just a little more than one year ago.
post #23 of 79
AJF:

Perhaps that's the official start date but the product has actually been in the works for about 3 years according to my understanding. They were first at CEDIA last year in a private room. The other good thing is that all the feedback I have heard on initial systems that have been installed is positive and the product actually worked as advertised.

I'm not sure if you're aware of the nightmares dealers for the original PHAST and many other dealers of new automation systems have encountered - but it's common place for these types of companies to sign up a bunch of companies and have the first generation of products be bug infested.

So IMO XPlore earns a gold star right off the bat if they have truly avoided that. From what I understand they purposely started off low key so they could get beta systems up and running and not repeat the mistakes of so many companies in this industry.

So they either did it an awfully good job so far OR have done a great PR job. Either way, it's definitely an interesting product.
post #24 of 79
Thread Starter 
QQQ;

That all makes sense.


Would there be any advantages for you to consider installing their system ?
post #25 of 79
Xplore resides outside the proprietary world, as the programming is done in Java and the processor runs on a linux kernal. Even the U.I. is programmed with Dreamweaver MX/Flash and other web based software.

This avoids the bugs that plague a proprietary language, as Java bugs can be referenced by millions; Crestron/AMX bugs can only be investigated by a couple hundred (CAIP's and ACE's included).

I had a chance to see the product in action in Infocomm as well as meet the principles in charge of the company. The designs that they presented were stunning and the lightweight touchpanel included an integrated web browser. Their 10" Wireless web tablet/touchpanel does things that a TPS-5000 wireless can't do (like streaming video and flash animations) at a fraction of the price.

Xplore is in the process of establishing a national dealer network, and dealers will receive full programming support for an initial period of time after making the initial commitment. Xplore is also very well marketed due to their successful ad campaign and their allegiance with Runco and the CAT/MBX group.

We are keeping a close eye on the control system market and look forward to the continued emergence of Xplore.
post #26 of 79
Count me as another fan of Xplore. It's a well thought out approach and a good group of people.
post #27 of 79
Well, unless you have the source code, all systems are 'proprietary', in that you cannot look inside the box any further than they want you to. My system is open as well, in that I really want to create a powerful tool kit that installers and advanced users can use to create the actual system. But clearly it's a proprietary system. The difference is whether you make it easy for other things to attach to it or not, and whether you want to sell the them attached things, at a big markup, vs. selling them the tools and letting them mix and match the attached things.

There are pros and cons of both approaches, but Xplor probably isn't any more 'open' than any other PC based system, which will almost always depend on third party hardware to create a full system, and therefore will always tend to take the approach of making it easy to plug other things into it, since they couldn't really be done.
post #28 of 79
It is certainly true that the maufacturer will always have the final say as to how much information can be extracted from their control system; however I guess that I was simply trying to say that a non proprietary software platform allows for more flexibility than a SIMPL+ or Netlinx platform.

Xplore's programming platform revolves around Java, which is a common language and can be explored through a variety of avenues. SIMPL/SIMPL+/Netlinx is only divulged to those who have attended manufacturer training (which requires a dealer affiliation).
post #29 of 79
I kind of split the difference. There are a lot of issues with using a third party language as well. So I take the middle road of providing my own object oriented language, with built in virtual machine, compiler, and IDE, but I fully document it on the web site so that anyone comfortable with modern OO languages can easily pick it up. So I avoid all of the issues that arise from making users use any external tools that don't come in the package, such as being sure to use the right versions, extra expenses, the extra complexity of a fully generalized language that make it a lot harder for less technical users to learn and use, etc...
post #30 of 79
What about the control bus portion of the upcoming HDMI cabling system? It looks to me like everyone will soon be using HDMI to shuttle digital HD video and digital sounds to/from their receivers/monitors/source gear. But HDMI also has a control bus - wouldn't you want to use that bus if wanted to control everything?

Anyone have more info on the control bus portion of HDMI?
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