News

CE Pro: iRule and On Controls: One Company, Two Home Automation Brands

Two years after iRule launched a software-based, cloud-enabled home automation system for do-it-yourselfers in 2011, the Detroit-based company acquired On Controls, an iRule reseller for the custom channel. On Controls would become the basis for iRule’s professional integration offering. Here, CE Pro visits with iRule founder Itai Ben-Gal about the two businesses.

Tell us about the genesis of iRule.
iRule began doing business in 2011 after approximately two years of R&D. The concept was born from the founders’ passion for home theater and media room applications, and we went to market initially as a cloud-based DIY solution for tech-savvy consumers passionate about music and movies who wanted control but couldn’t afford the more costly solutions available at that time.

Where did On Controls come from, and why incorporate it into the company?
iRule began attracting dealers almost immediately due to the convenience and efficiency associated with a cloud-based solution, which enabled them to “work smarter not harder” by reducing programming time, truck-rolls for upgrades and basic service issues.

We had a white-label customer at that time called On Controls that was using our product to address the CEDIA channel, and realized there was an opportunity to better serve our growing integrator community by making an acquisition.

With On Controls, we have been able to create an infrastructure to properly deliver a profitable model to custom integrators both in the residential and commercial market segments, along with unique marketing to support the On Controls initiative.

What do integrators get with On Controls that DIYs don’t get with iRule?
Professional integrators were looking for non-published pricing of hardware and software, which wasn’t achievable with iRule. On Controls offers this missing piece.

The On Controls project management tool can be repurposed for job after job—reducing installation time and increasing profitability on future jobs.

- Itai Ben-Gal

Additionally, On Controls dealers have access to exclusive hardware not available to iRule users, such as the On Controls Connect, which simplifies network configuration and remote access. Additional hardware devices are slated for release later this year, offering an opportunity for integrators to elevate their business and stand out from their competition.

Professional integrators are also provided with a comprehensive cloud-based project management tool to allow teams to collaborate on projects for scale. This is a big differentiator between the two as it allows a professional to leverage his or her skillsets and creativity in an efficient manner, which in turn allows for the development of new business models and increase sales.

The On Controls brand also delivers a partners program that generates device-specific drivers for a broad range of compatibility with third-party devices such as Sonos, Lutron, Onkyo/Integra, Nest, Denon/Marantz and many more.

UI graphic templates also are exclusively released to professionals, such as our Se7en theme (shown above), slated for our 4.2 release this July.

In addition we pride ourselves in offering professionals best-in-class service and support to our integrators in the field.

What do dealers get on the service and support side?
On Controls offers tremendous support to the CEDIA channel including dedicated training, our Online University, reduced costs for showroom systems and our Concierge Service, delivering support to integrators as they are onsite in a customer’s home. On Controls takes tremendous pride in delivering best-in-class phone/online support manned by real world integration specialists who have spent time in the field and understand the myriad of challenges faced in the field.

For dealers that are successful with your product, where does the profit come from if the software costs so little?
Much like the IT industry model that used to rely on hardware sales (computers) but now leverages specialized skills to deliver services and added value to their clients, On Controls integrators have an opportunity to establish long-lasting relationships with clients and leverage their expertise to sell services on a recurring basis.

Integrators do generate revenues from selling hardware and software with the On Controls platform; however, the long-term profitability comes from an opportunity to distinguish themselves as superior service providers—force the customer to ask, “What else do you offer?” and “What else can this company do for me?”

Value-add specialty services enable integrators to differentiate themselves from competitors in a way that no hardware component can do.

Additionally, integrators can create templates within the On Controls project management tool that can be repurposed for job after job—reducing installation time and increasing profitability on future jobs.

Since an On Controls solution is affordable, integrators to increase their overall volume of business—meeting new clients with an opportunity to bring products and services to each of them.

With the On Controls platform being so scalable and with a universe of new IoT devices coming to market at a ferocious pace, profit opportunities only begin with the initial sale. Increased overall volume and new customer relationships are the key to long term profitability for integrators using the On Controls platform.

What’s on the horizon for On Controls?
On Controls Connect is in Beta now and will be released to integrators shortly. A new and exciting UI template is also nearly ready for release. Adding new partners to our compatibility and programming initiatives is ongoing.

As iRule had been pulled into the CEDIA channel and spawned the emergence of On Controls, there will be a dedicated solution for commercial markets featuring specialized functionality and new hardware.

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Crain’s Detroit – iRule to reveal $2.5M in VC, electronics investor, key

Detroit-based iRule LLC, which has developed smartphone apps to network and run high-end home and corporate entertainment systems, is expected to announce Monday that it has closed on a venture capital funding round of $2.5 million.

The significance of the round is far greater than the money involved, said Itai Ben-Gal, iRule’s CEO and co-founder.

Of prime importance was that one of the investors is an overseas electronics manufacturer and retailer with worldwide sales and distribution offices, which will help expand iRule’s reach and revenue.

Also of significance was that the way the round was structured allowed IncWell LLC, the Birmingham-based VC firm founded by former Chrysler Group LLC CEO Tom LaSorda, to make a profitable exit from a previous investment in the company.

Important, too, was that the round was joined by AOL founder Steve Case as a result of iRule’s winning a Google Inc. Demo Day event in Detroit in February. That honor allowed the company to showcase its business plan along with nine other companies at the national Google Demo Day in Silicon Valley in April.

The name of the electronics retailer as well as an announcement about a new iRule product will be disclosed at a trade show in February, Ben-Gal said.

Ben-Gal said he and Detroit Venture Partners, the lead investor in a funding round of $1 million in 2013, wanted to limit the size of this round of funding, raising what was needed to spur the next round of growth without diluting equity needlessly.

“We had a lot of demand and were able to be quite choosy,” Ben-Gal said. “Taking on this strategic partner was important because they have a huge dealer base and worldwide offices.”

Ben-Gal said the electronics retailer wanted to invest more than what was available to it out of the $2.5 million and offered to buy stock in the company from previous angel investors and IncWell.

IRule, founded in 2009, also got a seed round of funding of $500,000 in 2011 that was led by Compuware Ventures LLC, a VC unit of the computer services company that was later shut down by CEO Bob Paul.

Tom LaSorda
“We had a small investment in iRule, a little over $100,000,” LaSorda said. “For us to make a good return in just 15 months is great. Usually you expect it to take three to five years to have an exit.”

This is the first exit for IncWell, which was founded in 2013.

“We’ve already sent checks out to the investors in our first fund,” LaSorda said.

“It was funny. We got some calls saying, ‘What is this for?’ I said, ‘Hey, under the terms of your subscription agreement, we had to write you a check.’

“This is a strategic partner that will be important for iRule. Itai is such an energetic guy, just what you’re looking for as an investor.”

IRule, based in the Madison Building in downtown Detroit, has 22 employees. Ben-Gal said some of the funding will be used to hire eight to 10 employees over the next year, including beefing up the sales and marketing team and adding engineers for product development.

Ben-Gal said he projects revenue to go from almost $2 million in 2014 to more than $3 million this year. He said commercial clients include CNN headquarters in New York City, all the Best Buy stores in the U.S. and Walt Disney Pictures’ LucasFilm division.

In 2012, Ben-Gal was named to Crain’s 2012 class of 40 under 40.

At the huge Consumer Electronics Association show in Nevada in 2013, iRule won the award for best control product of the year.

—–

Tom Henderson
Crain’s Detroit

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CE Pro: Best Buy Picks iRule Home Automation for Controlling Magnolia Showrooms

Affordable, software-based, cloud-enabled iRule beats out better-known home automation brands to run the demos in some 470 Magnolia stores.

CE Pro
Julie Jacobson
May 28, 2014

Click to View Article on CE Pro

Magnolia, the custom installation arm of Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) , needed a home automation system to help customers and salespeople operate audio demos in the listening rooms of roughly 470 Magnolia stores. They picked iRule.
iRule might seem like an unusual choice, given that the software starts at only $100 and the hardware at $100 as well, and given that it isn’t one of the biggest names in home automation. But the Detroit-based company beat out many of the better-known brands in the smart home business.

“There wasn’t anyone else that was multi-platform, flexible enough and affordable,” says Brent Newman, senior manager, Technology Design for Best Buy, in an interview with CE Pro. “We wanted something flexible, modular, something we could easily change out and that wasn’t hardware-driven.”

iRule uses iOS and Android devices as interfaces, a combination of local and cloud-based services for control, and flexible adapters or dongles (about $100 each) to operate devices via IR, IP, RS-232 or relay communications.

In the Magnolia implementation of iRule, the user has a smart tablet that replicates visually the display in the store, which consists of multiple speakers and components (take the tour here).

To select a speaker and/or source, the user simply touches the image(s) on the smart tablet.

LEDs in the showroom light up to show the products selected – a feature also enabled by iRule.

Newman says that Magnolia itself – not iRule – built the interface in about three weeks, with iRule doing only “a couple of custom things to it.”

That Magnolia themselves could program the system was an important consideration for selecting iRule, since products in the showroom can be rearranged or swapped out at any time.

Compared to the last demo system Magnolia was using, “we reduced the change-out time by 90 percent,” says Newman.

Although customers themselves can operate the demo system, it is primarily meant for employees. From the same interface they use for demos, they can easily pull up more details on any given product.

“If you can’t get the employee experience down, you can’t get the customer experience,” says Newman.

So is Magnolia offering iRule through its stores? No, at least not yet. Currently the company sells AMX, Control4, Pro Control, Savant and URC for home control.

iRule founder and CEO Itai Ben-Gal tells us that Best Buy is working on a different implementation for its core stores that lets customers try out the products with their own selections of music and video.

iRule Pro, the professional installed version of iRule, was named Control Product of the Year at the 2014 CEA Mark of Excellence Awards.

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CE Pro: iRule is Only CE Company Invited to Google Demo Day

Home automation software company iRule wins Detroit, invited to pitch with nine other companies at Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Day in Silicon Valley.

iRule, an up-and-coming maker of DIY and professionally installed home automation systems, has been invited to pitch at Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Days in Silicon Valley.
The company, which recently snagged the Control Product of the Year award from the Consumer Electronics Association, beat out more than 100 applicants for the Detroit qualifier. Twenty-one companies were selected to demo to a panel of judges there, and seven made it to the final stage, presenting to a panel of Michigan investors.

iRule prevailed and will battle nine other winning startups throughout the U.S. at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley, April 1-2.

iRule CFO Joseph Ben-Gal tells CE Pro the company is the only consumer-electronics firm invited to the event.

The home automation firm is not exactly a startup. Founded in 2009, iRule claims to have sold “tens of thousands of licenses” in more than 55 countries. The software, which works with IP-enabling hardware from Global Cache, starts at $100 for the DIY model.

Considering the millions of licenses iRule hopes to sell, however, the company is still just a baby, hoping to gain the visibility that will catapult it into the Nest leagues.

“When Google selects 10 companies from around the country and pays for them to come and meet for two days, it’s amazing visibility and recognition,” says founder and CEO Itai Ben-Gal. “We are excited to meet other interesting start-ups from different sectors and continue to build our name beyond the CE community.”

RELATED: $100 iRule Could be Next Big Thing in Cloud-Based Home Automation

And if some funding happens his way from the Google pitch, that would be nice, too. AOL founder Steve Case and other prominent technology leaders will be evaluating the pitches.

Meanwhile, iRule will be evaluating Google technology over two days of meetings and learning sessions to determine “ways we can better use our mutual platforms,” says Itai Ben Gal.

iRule is a cloud-based software solution originally designed to control virtually any type of A/V gear, enabling users to chuck their handheld remotes in favor of a richer platform.

The software has grown to support any number of smart home subsystems including thermostats, motorized shades, lighting controls, security, surveillance, multiroom audio, streaming services and more.

With third-party hardware starting at less than $100, iRule can communicate via IR, RS-232, relay and IP-based commands.

Recently, the DIY-centric company acquired On Controls, an OEM customer, to better serve the custom installation channel with richer features and pro-worthy support.

——

By Julie Jacobson, March 17, 2014
Click to View Article

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iRule wins opportunity to pitch its plan to Google

Detroit-based iRule LLC will have the opportunity to pitch its business plan toGoogle Inc. executives after winning Detroit’s Google Demo Day competition Wednesday night.

The startup, which created an app that allows consumers to use smartphones and tablets to control devices such as lights and TVs, will join the other winners of Google Demo Day events in April in Silicon Valley, Calif. Demo Days, held in seven cities across the country, is part of the tech company’s Google for Entrepreneurs Program.

IRule was chosen over six other finalists in the Detroit competition, organized by Grand Circus Detroit. Finalists made a five-minute pitch and underwent a three-minute question-and-answer session from a panel of four Southeast Michigan investors in front of an audience of 150.

“It’s incredible; I’m truly humbled by the opportunity to represent Detroit and the Detroit area,” said Itai Ben-Gal, iRule co-founder and CEO, who was a Crain’s 40 under 40 in 2012.

Besides pitching his startup, Ben-Gal will be able to interact with Google’s product experts, tour the Google campus, network with other entrepreneurs and receive Google swag.

“I’m looking forward to making great connections so we can continue to grow our business and take it to the next level,” he said.

IRule generated revenue of $1.1 million last year and expects that to increase to $3 million this year, Ben-Gal said.

The runner-up in the competition was Detroit-based Are You A Human — creator of PlayThru, a program that replaces online ads and security filters such as distorted text with games. The startup could earn one of three wild-card slots that Google will select from among the second-place finishers.

The wild cards will be announced next week, said Grand Circus CEO Damien Rocchi.

The other finalists in the Detroit competition were Detroit-based Backstitch Inc., Ann Arbor-based MyFab5 LLC, Detroit-basedFoodjunky LLC, Detroit-based GreenLancer Energy Inc. and Ann Arbor-based Wisely Inc.

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iRule debuts iOS Version 3.2 of its Universal Remote Control System days before CEDIA

Newest release follows several iRule Android platform updates

DETROIT, Mich. – With its third major software update this year, iRule has released iOS Version 3.2 of its cloud-based universal remote control system, just days before the 2013 CEDIA Expo. Highlights of Version 3.2 include Top Drawers, multi-state deselection and a rebuilt URL scheme with panel/page linking. iRule’s Android version is expected to receive the same updates later this year.

“Building on Version 3.1 updates, we’re providing more iRule users and installers with the increased power and functionality they’ve asked for,” said iRule CTO Victor Nemirovsky. “Combine that with cloud computing, and installers can make changes for their customers with or without a site visit – in hours instead of days.”

Highlights of iRule iOS Version 3.2 include:

· Rebuilt URL scheme with panel/page linking: allows iRule to be opened using nothing more than a URL

· Second Multi-state Deselect Group: allows two sets of source/activity buttons to interact with one another

· Additional upgrades include: improved functionality of Variables, improved feedback when pages load, and iOS 7 compatibility.

iRule Version 3.1 for iOS, released earlier this year, included:

· Introduction of multi-state images, a drag-and-drop ESI Module for blinds, shades and drapes, also followed by updates to the Android platform app.

The company will be exhibiting the latest version of iRule and modules for audio/video and automation at the 2013 CEDIA Expo trade show in Denver, in booth # 1829.

iRule was created by two A/V fans, Itai Ben-Gal and Nemirovsky, when they were looking for an easier way to control a home theater system. It offers a solution to accommodate many components and eliminate the clutter caused by multiple remotes with limited uses.

iRule is a cloud-based software solution coupled with simple hardware which controls any infra-red (IR), RS-232 or Ethernet-enabled audio/video equipment, making it compatible with nearly any system or combination of components. A fully customizable interface allows professional users to simplify controls, upload their custom images and personalize menus to best suit their customers. iRule is also easily updated to control additional components or to migrate to the latest versions of smartphones and tablets, making it the last remote users will ever need.

iRule software is available through Apple’s App Store and Google Play. The iRule gateway package hardware is available at www.iRuleAtHome.com. The company has already sold over 12,000 licenses in 50+ countries via word-of-mouth and online “buzz” among early adopters, home theater professionals and online forums.

iRule is an application that transforms the iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Android devices into a universal remote control, allowing you full control of audio video gear simply and reliably. Based in downtown Detroit, iRule focuses on a simple user experience that allows experts and non-experts alike the ability to quickly and easily create a powerful personalized remote. iRule is fully upgradeable and accommodates users’ changing needs.

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$100 iRule Could be Next Big Thing in Cloud-Based Home Automation

Starting at $100 for software and $100 for hardware, iRule cloud-based home automation works great as a DIY remote control or as a professionally installed system for large commercial jobs. See it at CEDIA 2013.

iRule started out in 2009 as a couple of “enthusiast geeks” making iOS-based remote controls for do-it-yourselfers. Today, the Detroit-based company is one of the biggest sleepers in home automation and commercial integration with thousands of installs in homes, conference rooms, sports bars, retail showrooms, yachts and numerous other venues.

Starting at $50, the iRule software (for iOS and Android) is written for networking gear from Global Cache, which provides every manner of two-way modules for IP (wired and Wi-Fi), RS-232, IR and relay controls for roughly $100 apiece.

So enthusiasts can create a nice little one-way IR remote for their iOS or Android devices for about $150.

A good two-way solution for controlling and monitoring audio, video, security, lighting, thermostats, motorized shades and other systems starts at a mere $100 for the iRule Pro software, plus some optional plug-ins, plus a few hundred dollars for Global Cache hardware. Even then, we’re talking maybe $1,000 to $3,000 for a complete system, sans labor of course.

But is it any good? You can be the judge at CEDIA Expo 2013, where iRule is showcasing its existing products and its first piece of hardware (coming soon in another story).

Let me just say that iRule is the most extensible, least risky home-control platform I’ve seen. You can start small with a simple remote and build up to solutions that control thousands of devices. If the company ever goes out of business – doubtful—the off-the-shelf hardware can be repurposed and the software is likely to be supported for a long time via an active user community.

The iRule System

I met recently with iRule founder Itai Ben-Gal in Detroit and spent some time with the system.

I can understand the allure. iRule provides numerous templates for the do-it-yourselfer and custom installer. The templates – both the user interface and the programming logic—can be modified or users can start from scratch, “so it is the best of both worlds,” says Tom Morgan, CTO of Worthington Distribution, which distributes the system.

Going with modified templates allows dealers to install lots of systems quickly in a cookie-cutter-kind-of-way that can still look different from job to job. It gives customers the impression that their system is unique, “so they really can’t price-shop,” says Ben-Gal.

Despite its DIY roots, iRule can rival the richest of pro-centric home automation systems with extremely flexible interfaces and a wealth of programming options.

“They started out with an excellent focus on A/V control,” says Morgan. “However, they have now moved towards two-way drag-and-drop drivers for connectivity partners.”

Virtually all of the popular audio, video and control brands are supported, as well as some other brands you don’t always see in high-performance automation systems – like Roku, Boxee, Plex, Popcorn Hour, XBMC, Sky, Shinybow (huh?), Insteon, Sonos and Belkin Wemo (partial list of supported devices here).

The day I visited, iRule was demonstrating integration with Nest thermostats even though Nest has not yet released an open API.

Furthermore, iRule supports full-featured home automation systems like MiCasa Verde and HAI (now Leviton Security & Automation ).

So if you use Leviton (HAI) for security, lighting control and energy management, for example, you can integrate those controls into a complete cloud-based whole-home audio/video/automation system.

It is undoubtedly the best HAI add-on ever, and it’s a wonder not every single HAI dealer is using it.

iRule charges $25 for the HAI module, as it does with some of its other software modules, but more on theinteresting pricing formula later.

With a rich database of supported devices and the flexibility of its software, iRule has won numerous commercial integration jobs over its more recognizable rivals.

Ben-Gal showed me the user interface for an iRule system used by a race track to monitor and control some 200 TVs with an iPad. The TVs can be arranged on the screen in a number of ways, allowing easy access to individual or groups of displays. Designing the system was as simple as dragging the TV icons on the iRule Builder programming editor.

Earlier, I called iRule the most extensible, least risky home automation system I’ve seen. That’s because it is modular, requiring no proprietary hardware. Instead, iRule uses palm-sized Global Cache adapters that cost roughly $100 each. Want to add an RS-232-controllable A/V receiver to a system? That’ll be $95 (retail) forGlobal Cache iTach IP2SL TCP/IP to Serial adapter. (Obviously IP-controllable subsystems don’t require network adapters).

To be sure, there are scores of developers today writing home automation software for Global Cache, BitWiseand other low-cost network-enabling controllers (Roomie Remote is a popular one; see them at CEDIA).

But iRule seems unstoppable. The product is good, Ben-Gal is hungry and the company is funded and credible.

“Even before we quit our day jobs,” says Ben-Gal, “we were selling systems. We already had 1,000 customers.”

The Cloud, Compuware and Credibility

Although iRule started life in the basement of a geek who didn’t like the existing remote controls on the market – like where all these things begin – the company looks all grown up now, with 12 full-time employees and a real office.

Today iRule shares space with Compuware, the massive IT service provider, in downtown Detroit, where I had to pass through Mossad-worthy sentinels and other security measures to get to the iRule office.

The tight security is required for Compuware’s Tier 4 data centers upstairs, which are encased in layers upon layers of bullet-proof glass. There, the IT giant stores sensitive corporate and government data and powers 12 of the top 20 most visited U.S. Websites.

Of the top 50 Fortune 500 companies, 46 use Compuware.

And so does iRule, which enjoys some backing from its landlord.

Clearly security and uptime shouldn’t be a concern for customers of iRule’s cloud-based service. Programming is done in the cloud; applications are processed and served via the cloud.

Also in the cloud, iRule users and programmers can share their software modules and templates with each other – which the DIY and dealer community has embraced.

“Once the commands are working, a dealer can share them to the iRule community saving the next dealer a tremendous amount of time,” Morgan says. “Best of all, everything is in the cloud so all updates and changes are in real time.”

On Complicated Pricing, Pros and DIY

iRule is one of the few companies I’ve seen that has successfully made the leap from DIY to pro. The company serves both sectors.

Many professional integrators pooh-pooh products of DIY ancestry … which can be a big mistake. Who would you rather beta-test products – yourself of little time and patience, or an enthusiast who might stay up all night playing with the stuff? (AVSForum so far has nearly 9,000 posts on iRule.)

“DIYers love to tweak,” says Ben-Gal, rightly. “We’ve learned stuff that is off the charts. They have no issue giving feedback directly.”

In fact, it was a do-it-yourselfer who created the Belkin Wemo driver – mind you, Belkin still has not opened its API – and then shared it with the community.

In the case of dealers, however, by the time a manufacturer gets feedback, it has been filtered through techs, product managers, owners and the fog of time.

Now, let’s get to pricing.

iRule has a somewhat confusing price structure, the likes of which killed Life-Ware (among other things).

There’s iRule Basic ($50) for anyone, and iRule Pro ($100) for authorized dealers only.

Purchased licenses don’t expire and they include updates and improvements. Templates and most drivers are included in the price, but some of the more advanced modules (iTunes, Lutron, HAI, Z-Wave, Sonos and others) cost $25 each.

The licensing fees include a certain number of “handsets” (what IT guys might call seats) – three for Basic and five for Pro. Additional handsets are $15 each.

The “per handset” fee is not per smart device, but per person. If you personally use iRule on an iPad, iPhone and Android tablet … that comprises a single handset.

In fact, iRule’s ecosystem revolves around the person, not the room or the device.

“It used to be one remote per TV,” says Ben-Gal. “We designed our system around the person instead of the room. That way, the dealer can interview everyone in the home for greater engagement.”

Licenses also include a certain number of controlled devices – 15 for Basic and 25 for Pro. Additional devices are $7 each. Note that a system like HAI, which might control multiple subsystems, counts only as a single device in the iRule pricing structure.

The Pro version gives you other features that Basic does not, such as two-way feedback. The comparison chart is here.

While the pricing structure is unusual for this industry, at least it keeps to the theme of modularity and flexibility. Since the add-ons are so cheap, though, I’m sure integrators would rather pay a flat fee for simplicity’s sake. But that’s just not the way it is.

As for the modest pricing, “I’m selling stuff for less expensive not so dealers can put more money in their pocket [from the software], but so they can sell more products,” says Ben-Gal. “Nobody brags about their remotes, but they do brag about big amps.”

Dealers can purchase iRule through distributors like Worthington, which also provides training and support. Or else integrators can obtain authorization through iRule (here).

“All of the installer’s billing and account information is stored in a portal account so the dealer never has to look for a file,” Morgan says. “All they need is a Web browser and access to the Internet.”

I concur with Morgan’s parting words: “Keep your eye on iRule. They are doing really good things.”

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iRule Releases iOS Version 3.0 Universal Remote Control System

Updates to the iRule cloud-based remote control system focus on ease-of-use with a Builder Wizard and automation modules.

With its first major software update this year, iRule has released iOS Version 3.0 of its cloud-based universal remote control system. Version 3.0 offers more functionality and automation while simplifying the system for A/V enthusiasts and professional installers.

An upgraded Android version is expected later in 2013.

“As interest in iRule continues to grow, we saw an opportunity to streamline many of the features while remaining true to our original goal of creating a fully customizable remote control system,” says iRule CTO Victor Nemirovsky. “Adding Wizards and support for more lighting and automation systems will help users create remotes faster with better control of more devices in the home.”

Highlights of iRule iOS Version 3.0 include:

iRule Builder Handset Wizard helps new users create custom remote layouts by selecting a theme, activities and devices. The Wizard will create the layout while still allowing users to tweak and fully customize their remote

Automation Modules for lights, HVAC systems and appliances with full feedback for Lutron RadioRA 2, HAI Omni, Universal Devices ISY, Mi Casa Verde Vera ZWave, and Radio Thermostat

Updated modules for Leviton Z-Wave that now supports HVAC control with full feedback via Leviton Vizia RF controller, and another for Onkyo-Integra Module that now supports multi-zone receivers

Gateway Configurator for easier, faster set up of the iRule handset device.

iRule was created by two A/V fans, Itai Ben-Gal and Victor Nemirovsky, when they were looking for an easier way to control a home theater system. It offers a solution to accommodate many components and eliminate the clutter caused by multiple remotes with limited uses, according to the company.

iRule is a cloud-based software solution coupled with simple hardware which controls any infrared (IR), RS-232 or Ethernet-enabled audio/video equipment, making it compatible with nearly any system or combination of components. A fully customizable interface allows users to simplify controls, upload their own images and personalize menus to their preferences.

It is also updated to control additional components or to migrate to the latest versions of smartphones and tablets.

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iRule Releases iOS Version 3.0 Of Its Universal Remote Control System

DETROIT — With its first major software update this year, iRule has released iOS Version 3.0 of its cloud-based universal remote control system. Version 3.0 offers more functionality and automation while simplifying the system for audio-visual enthusiasts and professional installers. An upgraded Android version is expected later this year.

“As interest in iRule continues to grow, we saw an opportunity to streamline many of the features while remaining true to our original goal of creating a fully customizable remote control system,” said iRule CTO Victor Nemirovsky. “Adding Wizards and support for more lighting and automation systems will help users create remotes faster with better control of more devices in the home.”

Highlights of iRule iOS Version 3.0 include:
* iRule Builder Handset Wizard — helps new users quickly create custom remote layouts by selecting a theme, activities and devices. The Wizard will create the layout while still allowing users to tweak and fully customize their remote
* Automation Modules for lights, HVAC systems and appliances with full feedback
* Gateway Configurator for easier, faster setup of the iRule handset device

iRule was created by two audio-visual fans, Itai Ben-Gal and Nemirovsky, when they were looking for an easier way to control a home theater system. It offers a solution to accommodate many components and eliminate the clutter caused by multiple remotes with limited uses.

iRule is cloud-based software coupled with simple hardware which controls any infra-red (IR), RS-232 or Ethernet-enabled audio-video equipment, making it compatible with nearly any system or combination of components. A fully customizable interface allows users to simplify controls, upload their own images and personalize menus to their preferences. iRule is also easily updated to control additional components or to migrate to the latest versions of smartphones and tablets, making it the last remote you’ll ever need.

iRule software is available through Apple’s App Store and Google Play. The iRule gateway package hardware is available at www.iRuleAtHome.com. The company has already sold over 10,000 licenses in 50 countries via word-of-mouth and online “buzz” among early adopters, home theater professionals and online forums.

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Detroit Venture Partners Invests In 15th Detroit-based Digital Company, iRule

DETROIT — Detroit-based Detroit Venture Partners announced a second round of funding for iRule, a platform for home entertainment automation that makes it easier for consumers to control their home theater system with a universal remote control anytime from anywhere from a mobile device.

One of the newest tech-based companies to move to  downtown Detroit’s  emerging tech hub, iRule helps its clients accommodate many audio and visual components to eliminate the clutter caused by multiple remote controls with limited uses.

Based in the M@dison Building, downtown Detroit’s digital corridor, DVP is a venture capital firm thatinvests in seed and early-stage technology companies, providing capital and resources to help drive growth and success. DVP was founded by Josh Linkner, Dan Gilbert and Brian Hermelin in 2010.

Itai Ben-Gal and Victor Nemirovsky, two self-described die-hard audio and video fans, founded iRule in 2009. The company’s flagship product is a cloud-based software solution coupled with simple hardware which controls all infrared, RS-232 or Ethernet-enabled audio and video equipment. The technology makes it compatible with nearly all systems or combination of components. A fully customizable interface allows users to simplify controls, upload their own images and personalize menus. iRule is also easily updated to control additional components or migrate to the latest versions of smart phones and tablets, making it the last remote you’ll ever need.

“We love home entertainment and home automation, and we wanted the perfect universal remote to control it all,” said iRule CEO Itai Ben-Gal. “We were sick of the pile of remotes with missing battery covers at home. We were frustrated that our wives and kids couldn’t figure out how to watch TV, and we’d had enough of all the universal remotes that were ridiculously complicated, insanely expensive, or both. We knew what we wanted, but no one else made it. So we created iRule to do it ourselves.”

With a customer base of more than 10,000 households and businesses in more than 50 countries, iRule has grown significantly since its founding in 2009. The second round of financing will help continue to fuel the company’s growth and improve the iRule system for its worldwide users.

IRule software is available through Apple’s App Store and from Google Play. The iRule gateway package hardware is available at www.iRuleAtHome.com. The company has already sold thousands of licenses in  via word-of-mouth and online buzz among early adopters, home theater professionals, and online forums.

In addition to DVP, other iRule funders include Invest Detroit and several Michigan angel investors.

“We believe in the team and their vision to take home automation to the next level, and we look forward to helping them make their mark,” said Josh Linkner, DVP CEO and managing partner. Linkner will also join iRule’s board of directors.

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5 Apps to Turn Your Phone into a Universal Remote

Controlling your home theater system used to be easy—you simply told your kid to turn the knob and presto, Honeymooners. But today’s home theater packed with feature-rich TVs, cable boxes, AV receivers, and streaming boxes—and all demanding their own remotes—there’s no way the little guy can keep up. Instead, replace your pile of remotes with an app that does everything they can do and more.

Dijit

Dijit is a personal media assistant app that allows you to build a custom electronic program guide for your favorite channels, create personalized menu layouts, discover new shows, or get series recommendations from Facebook friends. And with the help of the Griffin Beacon—pairs with the iPhone via a Bluetooth connection, then translates the iPhone’s command into IR signals—it can be utilized as a universal remote. The Beacon is able to control not just the TV but AV receiver, Blu-ray players, and even Xboxes all from your iPhone. The Djiti app itself is free, though it is an iOS exclusive and requires rev 5.0 or later, but the Beacon runs $80—a price, according to our own Casey Chan, that is well worth it.

iRule

iRule also uses a combination of software and hardware to control your home devices. However, unlike the Beacon, iRule leverages your home’s existing Wi-Fi network to send commands, allowing it to communicate with just about any Wi-Fi-enabled device—A/V equipment to lights to thermostats.

Users first create customized menus, commands, and key layouts using the iRule Builder web app, then sync them to the iRule app. The app then communicates with a separately-sold gateway that, in turn, sends commands to the IR-based devices. iRule can also communicate with TCP/IP-based devices directly. It’s software comes as either a $50 Basic package that supports up to three separate controllers and a $100 Pro package that allows up to 5 unique remotes, allowing remote monitoring of supported devices, and other features. The hardware isn’t cheap either, running between $95 and $300 on the iRule site for IR gateways.

RedEye

The RedEye app works much like the Djiti-Beacon—your phone communicates via Wi-Fi with the base station which translates the command into IR for the devices. However, the RedEye is far more platform-tolerant and can be used with the iPhone, iPad, iTouch, Android, PCs, and even the Kindle Fire. An online database of more than 85,000 control codes covers the major brands and models of devices. The app also allows you to define profiles—custom menus, button layouts, etc—for each room in your house, then share that profile with your roommates and plan your collective viewing schedule on the integrated programming guide. The RedEye base station retails for $200 on Thinkflood as well as the feature-limited, iOS-exclusive RedEye Mini that retails for $50.

The Rē remote control app from NewKinetix essentially cuts out the Wi-Fi-to-IR middleman by utilizing an IR dongle that plugs directly into your iOS device(sorry Android and WP users). When used in conjunction with the free Rē app, this system will allow you to control (literally) any IR device. In addition to the Rē’s large and regularly updated database of control codes, it can also learn the controls of a device from the device itself. What’s more, you can create a custom menu for controlling, say, your PS3, then use the integrated BUMP app to painlessly transfer it to another iOS device. The plug-in hardware will set you back $60.

Zmart

The Zmart system also leverages a 5-ounce dongle that plugs directly into your phone. But since it plugs in to the device’s audio jack rather than a 30-pin connector, it can runs on both iOS and Android. Like the others, the Zmart hosts a massive collection of 200,000-plus control codes that support virtually every major AV manufacturer and can easily learn the ones it doesn’t. The Zmart remote retails for $20 on the Vivatek website.

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HydraConnect Adds iRule for Matrix Processors

HydraConnect LLC has introduced iRule support software for its HSS family of HDMI matrix processors. Now, iRule users will be able to use a HydraConnect HSS matrix processor to simultaneously connect eight different program sources and eight different video displays under the remote control of iRule’s home automation system for tablets and smart phones.

The iRule system utilizes cloud-based design and mobile devices (iPad, iPhone, and Android devices) to create a powerful customized remote control for AV, lighting, shades, security, and other home automation devices. HydraConnect extends these capabilities by now making it possible to create more complex multi-source and multi-room environments.

iRule-enabled mobile devices, in conjunction with an HSS system, provide a complete AV distribution and control system without a traditional automation system. iRule site licenses are inexpensive (under $100), non-expiring and include updates and improvements. Additionally, an iRule-based automation system is a solution that both dealers and end-users can install.

HydraConnect LLC’s iRule software was developed to automatically and invisibly deal with the problems that arise in multi-source/multi-room environments in a custom installation (CI) environment where typically a collection of sources may be connected in any order and any combination to a varied collection of  displays. Since the iRule control software executes within a mobile device, there is no inherent “centralized” intelligence to manage concurrent use of AV equipment. For example, when more than one room is viewing the same source and one of the rooms selects “power off”, the shared source device must be left in the powered on state until the other room has also selected “power off.” The HSS control software manages a centralized database of current connections that allows it to determine when it is safe to power off a source device.

Other features of the HSS iRule support include: automatic detection of volume ramping for highly efficient and responsive changes in volume; feedback notifications for connection changes, audio changes, and other device status changes that can be reflected in the iRule user interface for a richer experience; and straightforward iRule gateway setup utilizing a simple TCP/IP “port to device” map to ease installation.

The many unique features of HSS Matrix Processors are now available to iRule environments. These include whole house audio, video, and control distribution via 8×8 HDMI and independent 8×16 audio matrix switches. It provides auto-configuration of detected AV devices, automatic EDID and HDCP key management. CEC control of AV devices (including sources, AV receivers, and TVs) that eliminates the need for IR flashers and provides 2-way control and status, and on screen display (OSD) of source device sharing status changes. HydraConnect also provides automatic software updates for new features and software improvements, remote access without the need for security weakening port forwarding, and a web administration interface that is accessible locally and remotely using PCs, tablets, and other mobile devices

HydraConnect’s iRule support comes in the form of new software components that have been included in all new HSS matrix processors. This technology upgrade is also installed automatically on all fielded HSS-2 systems in use worldwide during Q4 without customer or dealer intervention.

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iRule iOS and Android WiFi Universal Remote Control System

Executive Overview

There’s a certain dread to reviewing A/V equipment. I know, I know, you’re saying “that’s easy for me to say”, right? I mean, for me its all just fun and games… playing movies and spending countless hours just lounging around listening to music on high resolution speakers and watching on high resolution displays… actually that’s pretty much spot on. But anyway, thanks to all those devices I have another problem on my hands: getting all those devices to talk together. That requires a pretty decent remote. You see, while the average consumer upgrades once every couple of years, I have to upgrade every couple of weeks. And that kind of amps up my remote control needs. So needless to say I need a good remote. A couple of months ago we ran through a couple of batches of Bluetooth and IR remotes.

But we only touched upon what we consider to be the next generation of remotes, the most powerful  – the WiFi remote. This is a system that connects into your existing WiFi network and then allows your iOS or Android device to control your equipment without the confusion or hassle of Bluetooth or the hit-and-miss or line-of-site issues of IR. In fact, you can use IR emitters to route commands directly to your devices without the need to actually have to point anything.

That brings us to iRule. iRule is an iOS or Android app that works on just about any device and delivers a pretty robust software interface so you can roll your own remote. And it works with Global Cache hardware (and other suppliers) so you can interface with a host of products so you can deliver IR or RS-232C control to almost any device.

SO you have the software, iRule and the hardware – which varies. Let me set up what we have and what we used. We have a Denon AVR-5308CI(A) which we just upgraded. It’s fed by an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player as well as a DISH Hopper DVR, and Xbox 360 – and we’re feeding all of it into an Epson Pro Cinema 6010 3D projector. Oh, and it’s all in a closet (well, not the projector).

In the past we used an MX-3000 remote from URC which we fed into an MSC-400 base station. And that worked awesome. It was a dream come true… until it all got hit by lightning. Then it was time for ‘Plan B’ or as I like to call it: iRule. iRule is available; as Basic and Pro version. The Basic version lets you use up to 3 unique iRule remotes you can control. The $100 Pro version lets you set up 5 remotes but also gives you two-way feedback so you can verify the status of RS-232C and IP controlled devices during the use of macro commands. I opted for the Pro version as well as a Global Cache GC-100 18R which I racked up with my gear and an iTech WF-2IR for my Epson projector. The WF-2IR is a WiFi IR device which has two emitters  and the ability to control any projector I happen to be using in my theater room.

For the equipment rack I grabbed a system that can use RS-232C and IR emitters as well as relay connections. While I can’t “teach” you the iRule, I can get you the basics.

First, the iRule software is web-based – it’s all in a web browser. And the bigger the screen the better – we filled up a 1920×1600 monitor completely, so you may feel cramped, even on a 1080p display. On the interface itself, the left side is your panels, what you see on a “mockup” of the actual remote interface. The right side is the GUI. We though that the database was pretty robust – kudos to whoever manages that at the source. Where iRule may fall a little short is in the graphics department. They have some nice basic interfaces, but it would be great to see more and better graphics, as well as some missing GUI elements and matching IR commands, like those for the colored buttons for my cable box.

Learning commands includes the use of a separate app, a dongle and/or something like the iTech devices. The iRule builder is simple and not very sophisticated. Copy and paste is possible but not sophisticated. You basically have to figure out your base layer and then copy it to all the screens you want… there are no punch through buttons. And then hope you don’t have to change anything because it’s extremely difficult to do so.

“Feedbacks” allow you to know when macro command went through as planned. The software is powerful and it can really accomplish just about anything you want to do. It’s cheap enough that you should really check it out if you like to customize and tweak and you have an iOS or Android device. There are more sophisticated devices on the market, but they also cost a lot more.

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Crain’s 40 Under 40

ITAI BEN-GAL, 35

President, iRule LLC

• Biggest achievement: Bringing his product, which allows consumers to use a smartphone as a TV remote, from concept to market.

• Current goal: Keep improving the product and satisfying customers.

When Itai Ben-Gal was building out a home theater that he describes as a “labor of love,” he was interested in getting a universal remote system installed but found it was too expensive.

Lucky for him he was unable to afford the quoted work because out of that happenstance was born the idea for his Detroit-based company, iRule. The iRule is a universal remote app that is compatible with iOS systems used on iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

It is available in more than 50 countries through dealers or can be purchased from the iRule website and installed by the customer.

Ben-Gal, an engineer from Israel, and business partner Victor Nemirovsky, the chief technology officer of iRule and a software developer from Russia, established the company in 2009. For the first year, they crafted the product and worked out technical glitches.

Version 1.0 was released in February 2010, and Ben-Gal said he and Nemirovsky thought of it as a side project. But by the end of the year, the company had revenue of $115,000, and they realized it might be bigger than they’d planned. It also received a boost with funding from the venture capital arm of Compuware Corp.

This year, iRule is on pace for $1 million, and the company now has 10 employees.

A major hurdle Ben-Gal encountered was preparing the product for dealers instead of individual customers. The company had to focus on how to make the product work for larger installers and developed the right tools to make that happen.

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iRule Releases Version 2.5 Of Its Universal Remote Control System

DETROIT — With its second major software update this year, iRule has released Version 2.5 of its cloud-based remote control system.

This new version is designed to work on iOS devices such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.  An updatedAndroid version will be released later this year.

IRule allows one device to replace multiple remotes with touch-screen controls for nearly any household device that uses a remote.

“As we continue to fine-tune iRule, we’re looking at ways to not only control devices, but making the controls simpler, faster and more efficient,” said CTO Victor Nemirovsky. “We’re committed to being able to quickly update and improve our system to respond to our customers’ needs and requests.”

New iRule features include:
* Drawers – allowing page configurations to be used on multiple screens without having to recreate the page, and providing additional real estate when needed. Drawers are an “overlay” sliding sheet for additional page controls on small-screen displays
* SOAP support for control of devices using this protocol, including Sony Blu-Ray players Faster creation in iRule Builder with nudging elements, allowing users to move elements in the remote layout one row or column at a time, making designing more intuitive

IRule was created by two audio-visual fans, Itai Ben-Gal and Nemirovsky, when they were looking for an easier way to control a home theater system. It offers a solution to accommodate many components and eliminate the clutter caused by multiple remotes with limited uses.

IRule is a cloud-based software solution coupled with simple hardware which controls any infra-red, RS-232 or Ethernet-enabled audio-video equipment, making it compatible with nearly any system or combination of components. A fully customizable interface allows users to simplify controls, upload their own images and personalize menus to their preferences. IRule is also easily updated to control additional components or to migrate to the latest versions of smartphones and tablets, making it the last remote you’ll ever need.

IRule’s version 2.5 software is available through Apple’s App Store. The iRule gateway package hardware is available at www.iRuleAtHome.com. The company has already sold thousands of licenses in 45 countries via word-of-mouth and online buzz among early adopters, home theater professionals and online forums.

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2012 CEDIA Report

After 2 action-packed days at CEDIA, our feet are tired, our heads pounding, but it’s all good.  Here’s the basics and things of note.

The big deal at this CEDIA was 4K.  Sony had the biggest display of 4K product, and though it’s expensive now, it’s available.  My impression of their 4K display: simply impressive.  I was not expecting to be impressed, for a lot of reasons, mostly that at normal viewing distances 2K should in theory be good enough.  But if you creep just a bit closer to the screen you can easily start to see pixels in most 2K displays, and it was quite a treat to move close and away from the 4K image and not see pixels, but see a silky smooth image, crystal clear, sharp and noise-free.  Content is the issue of course, there’s no native 4K available to mere mortals, unless you buy your own RED camera,  but scaled 2K is darn nice.  No more detail, but no visible pixels either.  Turns out it’s not a big deal to scale 2K up to 4K, not as hard as SD video to 1080p.

My pick, though, for practical HD displays was the Pioneer/Sharp Elite LCD line, actually introduced last year, and shown this year in 60″ and 70″ class.  Call me slow, but I watched the display for several minutes before realizing I was watching an LED/LCD unit and NOT an plasma!  Off axis viewing is amazing, contrast shocking with blacks so deep you’ll feel you’re looking straight into an abyss, and spot-on color, pretty much that way out of the box, but capable of being calibrated too.  It’s 1080p, not 4K, but since few will be able to afford 4K for a few years yet, this would be the pick this year for the most amazing practical TV.

In audio, there were a lot of wireless solutions.  Wire less speakers, subwoofers, amplifiers, and all-in-one speaker/amps.  Sonos didn’t have much new, but it was good to see the entire line, though impossible to hear above the din of their own other demos.  But they were far from the only game in Indy.  There are lots of custom install solutions, including an impressive line of wireless audio amps from Knoll ElectronicsContact us for more info.

GoldenEar Technologies showed Sandy Gross’s latest brainstorm, his version of the soundbar speaker called the SuperCinema 3D Array.  But as you might expect, it’s got Sandy’s touch, including passive crosstalk cancellation, and it does create a believable  LCR soundstage.  It’s simply the best soundbar I’ve ever heard, though that statement in itself does the product a dis-service.  Soundbars are notably the worst category of speakers in today’s market.  That makes the Golden Ear soundbar all the more impressive, as it actually sounds quite good, and even on music.  A soundbar I could live with? Even I have a hard time believing it!

In a category I normally wouldn’t bother talking about, it’s funny there should be more than one soundbar innovation at CEDIA worth talking about, but there is. The second was theDefinitive Technology Solo Cinema XTR, designed to aim squarely at the overly simplistic (and frankly a bit shameful) HTIB market, and shoot holes in it.  You know the type: they got to Big Box, say “I want a surround system!”, walk out with a dinky set of speakers, and under-powered DVD/AVR combo, and a subwoofer that barely qualifies.  Enter the DT XTR.  The new product not only is a fine sounding soundbar speaker system, but it takes care of the entire 5 channels with a believable virtual surround system.  While not has high impact or dimensional as having real surround speakers, if you don’t have the room, this is the solution, and does provides a believable surround sound field.  But then they throw in the wireless subwoofer that really has some sonic heft, and a little remote.  And as if that weren’t enough, the thing will take a digital output from your TV with all that 5.1 material on it, handle decoding, processing and volume control.  So with the bar and sub, and your TV, you’re done.  The DT SoloCinema XTR soundbar and sub combo sell for $2000,  and when you consider the simplicity and performance of this system that runs without the help (or need) of an AVR, you’ve got yourself a bargain.  Call us to get yours on order.

Being the creators of our own control system built with iRule, you can bet we’d be interested in the competition in that area.  There were more iPad apps than  ever, and everybody has their own idea of how a control app should look and operate.  Crestron was doing their own iPad app that works with their systems, but they weren’t particularly interested in discussing the exact cost of even the most basic system.  It seems you’d be into them for well over $3500 (plus programming time!), but that’s a guess.  (Sorry, Crestron, I’m not linking to you!) Key Digital showed their Compass Control system, which would be fairly economical until you needed to control any device that isn’t up to IP based commands (like your TV, projector, older AVR, AppleTV…need I go on?), at which point you need their $2500 master control unit.  So you could throw $2800 their way but you wouldn’t have anything that actually controlled something until it was programmed. Universal Remote showed their usual line-up of candy-bar remotes with pseudo touch screens and the usual tiny buttons with 3 point gray type legends.  We were impressed by the fact that touching a function button on their flagship touch screen system brought up the Windows CE logo for 10 seconds before it responded.

Pretty much every serious equipment manufacturer has a control app now.  And this has created the virtual coffee table full of remotes (see my earlier post).  It’s exactly the same problem: a remote for each device, each is different, each works and looks differently, and you have to find the right app to accomplish the task at hand.  But it’s actually harder to exit one app and bring up another than dropping one stick remote and picking up another.  I say: don’t bother.  They’re free, and worth every penny you spend.  I’m more convince than ever than our Platinum Control System will make your remote control life easy and happy, and won’t break the bank.

We visited our partners at iRule and got our first look at the latest software that includes “drawers”, little slide-out trays on your screen that can hold seldom used functions that slide out of the way when you don’t need them, or help make a more usable screen on a smaller device.  Watch for us to integrate those features soon! I’ve said it before, but again, after years of searching for the best solution, I think iRule, in the hands of an expert programmer/integrator, is the ultimate solution, winning in functionality and value simultaneously.

On our way out of the main show floor we stopped at the VRX booth to test drive their latest iMotion  simulator designed for driving and flying game play.  They showed a triple screen 3D display with full motion in the seat and steering wheel, a package that cost about like a family car, but can caster out of the way in your basement until you’re ready to play against other players world wide in the 3D head-to-head race of your life.  Video 1 here, Video 2 here. Watch the Platinum web site for more details soon!

While I’m on 3D for a moment, this one comment:  3D wasn’t absent from CEDIA this year, but was a small fraction of the total display demos, which now focus on high brightness, high resolution, and by the way, we can do 3D if you insist.  It’s a refreshing take on what I’ve been saying was just another peak in the on-going 3D wave that started in the 1950s.  Every so often 3D makes an appearance, is claimed to be the next big thing, peaks, then fades again for another decade or so.  And we’re now riding the wave downward.  The benefits of 3D this time around, though, are great bright displays, particularly projectors, at a reasonable cost.  Epson showed their latest not-release-yet projector that will be THX and THX 3D certified, lots-o-lumens, and comes with 2 pairs of 3D glasses.  We saw the demo, the 3D was as good as any, but the 2D was spectacular, blowing away Sim2’s admittedly better styled Italian-looking units.  The Sim2 demo was just another huge but average picture, but with a surprisingly noticeable amount of chromatic aberration in it.  Sorry Sim2, they’re beautiful boxes to look at, not so great to watch.

One odd surprise was the Perrot Zik headphones, a full sized over the ear set that is bluetooth wireless, and has active noise canceling.  Being a many-decade headphone listener, I’ve been disappointed with nearly every headphone set I’ve demoed in the last few years.  I had no expectations from something that looked this slick, had finger-touch volume control, and would also work to make phone calls, but surprise, they really sounded excellent, and the active noise canceling worked scary-well.  400 beans is a lot for a set of cans, but I’m hooked, will probably end up with a pair.  The were actually less colored in response than a set of Stax electrostatic phones I recently divested.  That’s saying quite a bit.

Lastly, in a rather odd tangential product, I’ve found a solution to one of the more annoying problems of this century: poor cellular coverage in your own home.  I suffer from living in a AT&T hole, both at home and at our summer home, and it often renders my iPhone about as useful as a brick.  But I’ve got the solution, thanks to zBoost from Wi-EX. Simply, it grabs the tower signal up on  your roof where it is, and repeats it down in your home where you live giving you all the bars you want, even in the basement.  Yes, I know it’s odd for a home theater guy to handle this product, but when I see a tech solution I can get behind,  it’s worth it to me and my clients to make it happen.  As usual, call us for details.  We’re Wi-EX dealers as of this weekend.

It’s impossible to completely cover a show of this size in two short days, but those are highlights.

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