Shifting trends in home entertainment may boost Z-Wave tech

By nearly all industry analysts’ estimates, the shipments of Zigbee-based smart meters are set to explode over the next few years. This is often cited as one of the more unfavorable conditions stacked up against Z-Wave, a competing wireless technology. But even if Z-Wave doesn’t manage to conquer the energy management space, there may yet be another way into the home.

To be sure, if it’s a Zigbee-enabled smart meter that acts as the go-between for millions of homeowners and their utility company, there’s more than a small advantage to be gained. At that point, the demand response scenarios that we hear so much about, like the ones where your ice machine only produces cubes when it costs the least, will become a tangible reality.

Like smart meters, IPTV and other digital media applications are also waiting for their big day. Companies like Netflix and Hulu have shown that successful businesses can be built on digital entertainment alone, and there’s no shortage of devices in our homes where content can be enjoyed.

Sigma Designs, producer of the Z-Wave chipset via acquisition, is also heavily invested in IPTV as well as standards-based technologies for wired home media networks. Though they aren’t without competition on this front, Sigma’s set top box solutions provide support for content streaming technologies like G.hn, capable of transferring multiple gigabytes per second over three types of legacy wires. This provides the in-home infrastructure necessary to link up multiple media devices, and to support seamless content sharing among all of them.

The same set top solutions also integrate Z-Wave RF remote control, a functionality that Sigma will lend itself to helping manufacturers fully incorporate into their media and CE products. Recently, the Z-Wave specification was updated to support richer metadata, ensuring that media-related data like movie titles is available to remote controls and other devices on the Z-Wave network.

In this regard, Sigma is probably in closer competition with Google and its Android@Home approach to home control than the Zigbee Alliance. With its recent acquisition of Motorola Mobility, Google is poised to integrate its home control standard into the set top boxes Motorola already makes (Motorola Mobility’s set top boxes currently use chipsets made by Sigma Designs). However, the ecosystem of products that support Android@Home is vastly underdeveloped. According to our count, there are currently more than 500 certified Z-Wave products to none that we know of for Android@Home.

The strength in the solution by Sigma is really a single unit concept that enables an IP connection to deliver content from providers, technology that enables ultra high bandwidth sharing of content within the home via existing wiring, and ultra low-bandwidth, energy-efficient control over home systems like lighting and security.

So, even if there is a Zigbee logo affixed to the electricity meter of every home, it may not be the devastating blow to Z-Wave’s progress that some predict. Because Sigma Designs is focused on integrating its multiple technologies, we may see Z-Wave and the digital media experience coalesce nicely. From there, applications like lighting control, energy management, and security will add value to the network infrastructure.

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