When the Xbox One was first announced, many argued that Microsoft was waging a battle to control your living room. They wanted the Xbox One to act as a central hub to all of your entertainment devices. Now, industry insiders believe that Harman and AMX are poised to win that battle and claim your living room and your home for their own.
The Xbox One
The Xbox One was designed to have an HDMI input port and an external controller to manage all of your cable and satellite components. This feature allows you to use the Xbox as a single hub for all of your entertainment sources, which can be controlled with your voice via the Kinect peripheral.
From a design standpoint, Microsoft was moving in the right direction. The user could turn on different devices with their voice, interrupt game-play with the feeds of these other devices, and even split the screen to view the video game content as well as a cable channel. Needless to say, and after several months since its release date, this defining feature of the Xbox One is widely considered to be a mixed bag of forward thinking ideas that was implemented poorly. Some consider it to be a Beta experience, hoping for future improvements that may never come.
Unfortunately, not everyone feels comfortable verbalizing commands to their TV, and not everyone looks forward to having a gaming console as the central hub to their home entertainment system. On the other hand, a lot of people own an Xbox One strictly for gaming, and think of the console only as an accessory rather than the central entertainment hub that Microsoft wishes it to be. Essentially, all of the technology that Microsoft created was wasted on poor execution.
Harman International Industries is the uncontested industry leader in electronics audio equipment manufacture. With a portfolio of brands from JBL, Infinity, Harman-Kardon, Crown, and Lexicon (known for providing the sound engineering in the Rolls Royce Phantom), Harman is a leader in innovation, product quality and one of the most respected audio brands in the world. Recently, they completed the acquisition of AMX, one of the leading manufacturers of high-end audio/visual control devices for the office and home. This acquisition is going to affect everybody, very much in the way that Microsoft wanted the Xbox One to affect everybody.
In 2006, AMX acquired a company called AutoPatch, a world-renowned video processing and matrix switching company. They were known for designing top of the line digital and analog matrix switchers, which could be used on an industrial scale or for a high-end fully integrated home entertainment system. AutoPatch also invented their own technology for video scaling, capable of taking a full pixel count and make any input scale to any output, regardless of the limitations of the video source. These two features could be the backbone for a high-end, all-in-one home entertainment hub.
At Infocomm 2014 in Las Vegas, AMX revealed their advanced meeting space technology called the Enzo Content Sharing and Conferencing Platform. Designed with the commercial world in mind, this is the first step towards full home integration. By integrating screen mirroring of laptop and mobile device content, Enzo alters how information is presented in meetings and it will support easy to launch web conferencing that can be activated right from the touch pad.
A key feature to the Enzo is AMX’s newly-designed, echo-canceling, 1080p web cam, the Sereno Video Conferencing Camera, which could potentially rival the Xbox Kinect. These web cams can be plugged into any USB device, a major improvement over the Xbox One’s peripheral, which must be plugged into the popular next-gen console or (eventually) a Windows computer. AMX has yet to announce a voice command feature for their top notch video conferencing camera, but it is only a matter of time before they either develop software in-house or simply purchase another company to get the job done.
The future is just around the corner
With one of the best audio companies in the world, one of the best audio/visual control companies in the world, and one of the best video processing/matrix switching companies in the world, Harman is in a great position to fulfill the promise of the Xbox One with its own version of a central command hub. Using Harman’s available technologies, they could develop an 8 input x 3 output matrix switcher inside a Lexicon receiver, amplified by Crown, which can be hooked up with a top of the line JBL speaker system. All of this coupled with an AMX voice-activated controller and you could control all of your computers and entertainment devices, regardless of the operating systems they use.
Not only will you be able to use matrix switching to control your home theater and computer network, but you will also be able to control other integrated systems within the home, allowing you to program your hub to control the lighting, the temperature on the thermostat, and the locks on the doors. With Near Field Communication (NFC), the AMX controller will be able to adjust the settings of a room that suits the user’s exact programming specifications, setting the mood just as you like without having to make any adjustments on your own. The technology is available and the possibilities are endless and with AMX’s Rapid Project Maker (or RPM), the end user (be it a home owner or an IT tech in an office) can program the system on their own without an outside company doing it for them.
One can argue that Apple is already moving in a similar direction with their recently announced HomeKit, which provides developers an automation standard for home integration with all of our favorite devices. The only flaw is that it will require products that are within Apple’s approved eco-system.
Though Apple’s announcement at WWDC 2014 is promising, it will be no match for a similar Harman product. Guaranteed, if Harman continues in the direction they are going, they will release an easy-to-use, fully integrated matrix system that will be able to communicate with all of our devices.
An Xbox One is fairly affordable and the gimmicky voice controls are intriguing enough, but the console and its Kinect peripheral accommodates only part of the entertainment hub/home automation experience. To complete the package, you would need to include Apple’s HouseKit technology (whatever that may be), which will be priced at a premium and have no integration with the Xbox One. The Harmon alternative that we are proposing may not be cheap either, but it will pave the way for a future full of similar products that are fully integrated and eventually, more affordable.