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The Connected Home
What if your home electronics could talk to each other? No, we’re not talking
about a bad science fiction movie. This might actually be fun. It might even be useful.
Some folks call it “the connected home,” and it’s just about here. In fact,
if you’ve set up a wireless home network to go with your high-speed Internet connection, you’ve already taken
the first step.
Connected home entertainment
For many folks, the connected home will be about sharing all your media
anywhere in and around your house. Want to watch YouTube videos on your TV? Use
your home audio system to listen to your MP3s, or thousands of Internet radio
Browse your photo collection on the big-screen set in the den? It’s all
doable -- though
it’s not all equally easy.
Sometimes it seems like every electronics and software vendor worth its salt has
its own strategy to move towards the connected home, though none of them offer
all the pieces yet.
If you’re running Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows Vista Ultimate, or
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, you can use “Extenders” to connect
systems, and other components to the media you’ve stored on your computer.
you’ve done that, you can watch and hear your digital content on up to five
rooms in your
house. Tip: Own an Xbox 360? Your Xbox 360 is an extender.
No Xbox 360 in the house? There are other extenders, such as Linksys’ Media
Center Extender with DVD, which comes with both a high-speed Wireless-N connection
and a nice upscaling DVD player (next best thing to Blu-Ray). And some TVs, like
MediaSmart line, are starting to come with Extenders built in.
Of course, Microsoft’s approach isn’t the only one out there –
not by a long shot.
Apple TV plugs into your TV and connects it to all the content on your Mac or
PC – as well as YouTube, Flickr, and anything you can buy through Apple’s
music and video store. (You can even rent high-def movies through AppleTV.) Sonos’
impressive (but not inexpensive) wireless, multi-room digital music system lets
all your favorite music all over your house—and control it all from an elegant
surprisingly easy to use wireless controller.
Slingbox connects to your TV and lets you watch it from anywhere you
fast Internet connection: in the house, in town, or in Timbuktu. Sony’s
TiVo’s Series3 DVR, and Vudu’s Movie Player can all grab at least
from the Internet without involving your computer at all.
Connected home automation
It’s worth mentioning that home entertainment is only one aspect of the
“connected home.” For years, hobbyists – and a growing number
of non-hobbyists – have
been testing out all sorts of automated home control and security applications.
range from lighting and appliance controllers to make your house look “lived
you’re away... to security systems that can email you if anyone opens a
door or window...
to automatic plant-waterers and pet-feeders.
As with “connected home entertainment,” the home automation industry
is still in
flux. Not all systems work the same way (for instance, some use wireless networks,
others plug into powerlines, and others require their own wires). And there are
(incompatible) standards, from X10 to ZigBee and Z-Wave. If you choose one, you
to stick with it for all the equipment you purchase.
Ever wonder where all this home technology might be headed? Your parents (or
grandparents) might remember Disney’s old “House of the Future,”
which ran at
Tomorrowland from 1957 through 1967. Now, Disney’s building a new Innoventions
Dream Home – and it’s got more connections and automation than you
can shake a
remote at. If you happen to be visiting Disneyland in California after May 2008,
might want to check it out.