One notable custom AV custom installer based in Los Angeles recently compared home automation brand, Crestron, to the likes of Sub Zero, Viking and Grohe. He went on to suggest that Crestron was "among the best brands that a wealthy person can install into their home." Today that installer and many others in the area are incensed as Crestron, in seemingly a knee-jerk reaction to the pending threat coming from Apple's somewhat open-source, wireless 3G iPad, has opened up the meaty part of their line to AV distributors in the area. This means that basically anybody with a business card saying that they are a custom installer can go in and buy up Crestron parts to sell into the homes that they work in. Historically, Crestron was sold only to hand-picked dealers and installers who met the demanding criteria for the often complicated-to-install product line.
With the demise of many brick and mortar stores as well as chains like The Good Guys, Circuit City and Tweeter - every AV manufacturer desperately needs new channels to sell their product so many have decided to sell through distribution thus allowing smaller, "Trunk Slammer" installers to sell their product. Larger more established AV installers argue that Crestron is a very different beast than other products sold at AV distributors. Crestron requires very specific skill, training and support to install successfully. Respectfully, there is nothing "plug and play" or DIY about Crestron. Its hardware is specifically designed to be a powerful home automation platform and is clearly the industry leader but the end result with a Crestron system has everything to do with the skill and intuition that goes into its installation and programming. The fact remains that many Crestron systems are programmed poorly even today, and with more installers selling the line this trend is likely to continue without a massive change in the way that these products are programmed. Some suggest a cloud based system much like the one used by Harmony Remotes would be a sea change. At the same time what makes Crestron special is its customization and flexibility. Pre-programmed pages don't allow for the true power of a serious Crestron system.
Reports of the Apple iPad being able to run a Crestron program have surfaced on YouTube and other specialty forum sites; however as an iPad and Crestron owner myself - the idea that an iPad can jump through all of the hoops that a Crestron touch panel can do is a bit premature. The Apple iPad has the potential to put downward pressure on Creston's high prices but it's other lines like Control4 that are pressuring real world Crestron sales. Control4 is easier to program and often a fraction of the price of a whole-home Crestron system. In today's re-priced real estate world, even the affluent want a bargain and if $35,000 in Control4 gets you what $100,000 in Crestron does - customers will often go for the lower priced option even if Control4 doesn't have all of the bells and whistles that Crestron does.
Longstanding HomeTheaterReview.com senior writer, Brian Kahn is an attorney by trade who specializes in construction defect cases. In recent years the number of home automation based lawsuits have increased in his practice. Less than honest installers get dollar signs in their eyes when they see a $250,000 project that is loaded with home automation, but implementing the complicated tricks that well heeled clients want is often more of a challenge than an installer can handle. Some simply give up - leaving the client to have to find another firm to clean up the mess. Many of the top AV firms won't take over a project that a "trunk slammer" started and didn't finish, as they don't have any margin for product and much of the labor budget was already spent on the firm that screwed up the project in the first place. Installer friendly brands like Kaleidescape can open nearly every store and custom installer in the country, as there is no truly special skill needed to install a K-Scape server into someone's home. The Crestron control needed to run it in every room in the house is a whole other set of skills. As one of the top retailers in the nation said "You can't just call up Rolex or Patek Philippe - show them your business card and put $5,000 on your credit card to become a dealer. But you now can with Crestron."
Going forward, Crestron is going to have to make products that are priced even more appropriately for the new economy and designed specifically for the ever-changing home market. If they don't, Apple will and they will do it with low-cost apps and sexy interfaces on comparably affordable hardware. Going forward, the complexities of programming Crestron's products need to be simplified drastically so that consumers get the full value from what this lofty home automation brand can offer. Dedicated Crestron dealers are going to need to vastly adapt their business models to sell more audio, less video and home automation. For far too long custom AV installers have gotten away from their audiophile roots because selling Crestron programming was more profitable than selling speakers. Lines like Noble Fidelity and Wisdom Audio offer specific values and reasonable margins that aren't found with 3D HDTVs and iPad influenced home automation. Like it or not - pure custom AV installers are going to need to adapt because the Crestron gravy train that they have become so accustomed to might be ending for the specialty AV installer.