Skip to Main Content

Strategic Business Insights (SBI) logo

Connected Homes March 2016 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Kyle M. Whitman

Multiroom Audio Systems

By David Strachan-Olson
Strachan-Olson is a research analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Wi-Fi-based multiroom audio systems might help people understand the benefits of a connected home.

Description

Multiroom audio systems allow users to route audio from one or more sources to various rooms throughout their home through a series of connected speakers in each room. Early multiroom audio systems used in-wall audio cabling to route sound directly from a multiroom-capable audio system to speakers, which often mounted in rooms' walls or ceilings. Such systems have been relatively rare, because they are expensive to install and somewhat inconvenient to operate. In recent years, manufacturers have incorporated Wi-Fi technology into speakers and audio receivers, allowing users to broadcast audio from PCs and portable devices for wireless playback. Many such solutions have features that make it easy for users to route audio from their devices to speakers in various rooms, and standard software interfaces allow users to route sound from various mobile applications to various audio devices residing on a home network easily.

Some companies, such as Sonos, offer modular Wi-Fi-connected home audio gear that includes additional features for multiroom audio use. Sonos's modules can organize and store users' music collections locally, and Sonos's well-designed mobile application has support for 40 audio apps and streaming services. Many more makers of audio receivers, powered speakers, and similar devices integrate Wi-Fi connectivity with varying levels of support for Apple AirPlay, Google Cast, DTS Play-Fi, and other audio-routing standards.

Implications

The increasing availability of inexpensive, high-quality solutions such as Chromecast Audio and mobile software platforms' wide adoption of standard software interfaces that allow many applications to route audio to Wi-Fi-connected receivers have made it much easier for households to adopt multiroom audio. Likewise, users' growing preference for online streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify reduces the need for solutions to store large local music collections for playback on multiroom systems; such storage solutions are often the costliest and most complex part of a multiroom system. Streaming-service compatibility remains a problem for users, and the problem may tend to foster brand loyalty. For example, Apple Music (the default music player for iPhone) and Chromecast Audio are incompatible because of competition between Apple and Google.

Impacts/Disruptions

Households' demand for many types of connected-home products generally has failed to meet the expectations of consumer-electronics manufacturers. Perhaps the growing popularity of multiroom audio solutions could change this situation. Music has long played an important role in the consumer-electronics industry and has driven the sale of many iconic devices, including the Walkman and the iPod. People who listen to music on a daily basis immediately understand the benefits of being able to play music anywhere in their home easily. By contrast, it is more difficult to understand immediately the benefits of other connected devices, such as ovens and clothes washers. Multiroom wireless audio systems could allow consumers to experience the benefits of a connected home, which could encourage them to purchase other connected devices.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Home networking, Internet of Things, wireless connectivity, home entertainment, digital-rights management

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

IP Cameras

Why is this topic significant?

IP cameras provide a simple and accessible means for connected households to adopt home surveillance-camera solutions.

Description

A surveillance camera system can help improve a home's security in a variety of ways. The mere presence of visible cameras on the exterior of a home can deter break-ins and package thefts, and surveillance-camera recordings can help authorities identify and prosecute criminals after an incident. Many manufacturers—including Samsung, Amcrest, and Lorex—sell inexpensive home surveillance-camera systems that include four or more weatherproof security cameras and a receiver unit with an integrated digital video recorder (DVR). Cameras typically connect to the control unit via coaxial video cable or via a proprietary radio protocol. Each camera requires its own power supply—which, in low-cost systems, tends to take the form of individual "power bricks" that plug into home power outlets directly.

Despite their low cost, home surveillance-camera systems have not achieved mainstream popularity, in large part because of the difficulty in installing long cable runs to connect cameras and receiver systems together. Internet-protocol (IP) home security cameras eliminate the requirement for video cabling. Such cameras bundle some of the hardware that typically resides in a security-camera system's receiver unit and are thus able to convert their analog video signals into compressed digital-video streams that the cameras can then transmit over a home network using either an Ethernet or a Wi-Fi connection. IP cameras can then transmit those streams to remote servers—or a user's remote PC or mobile device—via the home's broadband connection. Many IP cameras have the ability to record video onto a memory card or upload video to remote "cloud DVR" services; a few models can do both. IP cameras typically include features such as motion-triggered automated recording and motion-triggered text or email alerts. Some cameras use cloud-based processing of video streams to trigger alerts—a practice that can theoretically reduce false positives.

Implications

Manufacturers typically sell IP cameras individually, and prices for IP cameras tend to be much higher than prices of conventional security cameras of equal quality. For example, Nest's Nest Cam IP camera costs almost as much as an entire four-camera/DVR surveillance system package from Amcrest. IP cameras' higher costs reflect, to some extent, the inclusion of video processing and connectivity hardware, as well as support for basic online services such as automated text-based activity alerts, cloud DVR recording, and dynamic DNS resolution (the last of which is often necessary to be able to view video streaming directly from a home IP camera over a remote connection). Additionally, a single IP camera can offer immediate value in a connected-home environment; by comparison, conventional cameras require extra hardware in order to record video or make video accessible remotely.

Impacts/Disruptions

IP cameras can be the single largest source of upstream data transfer in the connected homes that use them. And although many IP cameras do not upload data continuously (instead, streaming only when a user is actively viewing video through a remote application), others require a continuous connection to a cloud service for DVR recording, activity detection, and other basic functions. Accordingly, IP cameras could motivate users to upgrade their broadband data plans, but at the same time, the importance of security could motivate regulators to encourage unmetered home broadband-access services.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Low Medium High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Home networking, Internet of Things, wireless connectivity, home security, home broadband connectivity

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: