Get Smart for Less

Sept. 14, 2006

So-called smart homes are becoming more affordable, with less-expensive and simpler devices to manage everything including home music, videos, lighting, security cameras, heating and even the oven.

"A home system that once cost $25,000 could now be $10,000 to $15,000," said Phil Murray, marketing manger for Denver-based ListenUp. "The level of sophistication and control we can offer at a given price is much greater than we could give a few years ago. Not just the rich and famous get to take advantage of this; the average person can."

Affordable smart-home technology is a focus of the Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association expo Thursday through Sunday at the Colorado Convention Center. The event, which is not open to the public, will bring nearly 30,000 professionals to Denver.

All of the elements of the expo come together in the parking lot across the street from the convention center, where a fully outfitted smart home is on display. Westerville, Ohio-based Exceptional Innovation and Hewlett- Packard spent the past week constructing the 2,200-square-foot CEDIA Home of Electronic Lifestyles. It contains high-definition television, surround sound piped through the house, and a smart oven that can refrigerate and cook food, and even sends a message to your TV when a meal is done.

The oven retails for $6,500. Automatic window shades that can be set to pull up or down with the touch of a button start at $500. Lifepoint touch-screens that allow navigation of all the digital content in each room start at $5,500. Speakers built into the ceiling range from $200 to $500. A smart thermostat is $400.

HDTV and digital music are driving demand for home automation. Prices of HDTVs have fallen in recent years, along with the costs associated with running wires through a home and connecting various devices with a single touch-screen remote control.

"Many of the products are things that you can put into an existing home. It's much more attainable," said Mike Seamons, vice president of marketing for Exceptional Innovation. "Many people already have some of the products that make up a smart- home environment, such as an Xbox 360."

In the smart home, the Xbox 360 gaming console is hooked into the main home-entertainment center. Using a wireless game pad, users can not only play games but control TV channels, music and DVDs on a single screen.

ListenUp and Thornton-based Ultimate Electronics are just two of the retailers that will be trolling the expo this week looking for items to offer their customers next year.

"The affordability aspect is important, but you have to be able to use the products," said Jim Pearse, senior vice president of merchandise for Ultimate. "That's the big evolution. Before, it was esoteric and hard to use. We've been waiting for these home-integration products."