We're not quite into the realm of The Jetsons, but in 2007, the idea of a truly digital home will take a few steps forward in that direction.

Ian Hendler, director of automated products for Little Neck, N.Y.–based Leviton Manufacturing Co.'s integrated networks division, says builders are more interested than ever in digital amenities. However, “the first thing on everyone's mind is the slowdown in the market,” he explains.

The key to balancing interest with market conditions is that the amenities need to be cost effective and easy to use. Most popular among Leviton's digital offerings are structured wiring and intercom and lighting systems, he says.

Hendler expects to see several trends materialize next year, including increasing the interoperability of systems—such as security, intercom, audio/visual (A/V), lighting, and HVAC systems talking to one another over the home network. “There's now more connectivity,” he says. In the A/V space there is much more demand for gear that will seamlessly shift content “from TiVo to TiVo or computer hard drive to video.”

In more expensive homes, Hendler sees a migration toward Cat-6 wiring, which offers more bandwidth for systems to use when communicating with one another and with sources from outside the home. “We're also seeing a lot of interest in fiber-to-the-home,” he says. Providers are starting to offer service via the massive amount of fiber optic cable they are installing in more and more neighborhoods. And he sees much more interest among builders in anything that will improve a home's energy efficiency.

For Neal Manowitz, director of marketing for Sony's consumer systems and applications division in Park Ridge, N.J., there are two kinds of builders right now. “One group is extremely focused on cost cutting,” he says. “The second group sees that price is not the variable that they are going to concentrate on. They are saying, ‘How can I differentiate my home.'”

“In 2007, the housing market is going to be challenged,” Manowitz says. But “using technology as a differentiator will make 2007 a record year for A/V. The questions for us are how do we help the builder sell the home faster and how do we help the builder make a couple of extra bucks.”

He cites Sony's experience with Paramont Homes' Bella Vista project in Manteca, Calif., as evidence of those “couple of extra bucks.” According to Dan Valencia, purchasing manager for Paramont, working with Sony and contractor Interactive Home has boosted low-voltage option sales from an average of $1,000 per home to an average of $14,000 per home.

Sony is also adding functionality to its WallStation line of intercom/home entertainment center systems and beefing up its NHS line of pre-integrated, rack-mountable, A/V gear. “1080p is the big story,” says Manowitz, referring to the progressive scanning TV sets that are now the standard in high-definition video.

“Watch Apple,” says Joe Piccirilli, executive vice president for marketing and new business development at AVAD. Apple will unveil a $300 “box” in February that it claims will deliver the contents of a computer hard drive to traditional A/V systems wirelessly or over Cat-5 with no loss of quality. To date, this has not been done successfully without some form of compression, which necessarily degrades quality. Apple hasn't yet disclosed how it intends to do this.

As for the housing slump, Piccirilli doesn't see builders cutting costs, despite what people are saying. “I have never had interest so high from builders. They want to differentiate,” Piccirilli says. “But everything has to be a complete package.” He agrees that interoperability will be a buzzword in '07. “You want to be able to interface with HVAC, our entertainment and information packages, and lighting system.”

Digital Trends to Watch in '07

  • Interoperability
  • 1080p
  • High-definition DVD
  • Energy efficiency
  • Apple
  • William Gloede, BIG BUILDER'S Digital Home editor-at-large, lives and works in Cam-den, Maine. E-mail: billgloede@adelphia.net.