The Future of Home Technology
Houses that know where your are, Bluetooth streaming and projectors connected to the cloud: Here are the gamechanging innovations that will rock your home- and your world.
Technological advances in the home happen at a fast and furious pace. It seems like only yesterday we were popping CDs into players and pecking away at banks of buttons on remote controls.
Those “old-fashioned” CDs and remotes may have a little life left in them, but what’s more common—and much cooler these days is to stream songs from the cloud to your stereo system and swipe a touchpanel to channel-surf.
This radical evolution in high-tech took only a few years, so what can we expect to see in home technologies in the near future? We asked several industry experts to forecast what’s in store for us in home audio, video, control and networking. Here’s the scoop:
Smart TVs—the kind that connect to the Internet and come with preloaded apps and widgets—are in vogue, and those features will continue to be refined and enhanced in the coming years. “We expect connectivity and apps to increase in our 2012 line of TVs,” says Tony Favia, senior manager of product planning at Sharp. That’s a good thing, though Samsung believes that the TVs of our future should also help us decide what to watch. TVs of tomorrow will allow you to streamline your search by simply typing in the name of a movie, an actor or a type of show—yes, these TVs can connect to wireless keyboards—and the TV will find it for you. For example, a request for Tron might pull a list that includes Netflix and pay-per-view options, with their prices. The choice is then yours.
After watching the movie you can rate it. The TV will learn the types of movies you enjoy the most and will begin to recommend shows. Of course, as TVs get smarter, you can also expect them to get larger, which has inspired a growing number of consumers to explore projection systems. Manufacturers are ready to exploit the trend of projector popularity by incorporating a slew of new technologies into their machines. These new features will make projectors more versatile, energy-efficient and intelligent, says George Walter, vice president of home cinema for Digital Projection International. One technology that will be a huge game-changer is wireless HDMI, he predicts. When wireless HDMI takes hold, a projector will no longer be physically connected to a Blu-ray player and other components. This will simplify the installation and allow homeowners to use projectors in areas like the outdoors that may have been previously impossible.
A new emphasis on optics, like shorter throw distances and greater lens shift, will also simplify installation. Then there’s content. Currently, projectors are fed video signals from components inside equipment racks. In the future, says Walter, they’ll stream video from the Internet all by themselves. “There will be a time when projectors will have mini computers built inside so they can function as their own self-contained entertainment components.”
Now that everyone is familiar with downloading music from the Internet, the next logical step is using technology to enhance the fidelity of those tunes. We’re already moving in that direction, says Bob McConnell, vice president of North American sales at Anthem/Paradigm, but it will be at least a few more years until streaming audio reaches the fidelity level of, say, a Blu-ray disc.
Paving the way for higher-grade listening experiences are advances such as high-res music from websites like HDtracks.com, more affordable audiophile-grade components, technology that tailors the audio reproduction to the room environment, and Bluetooth connectivity between mobile devices and whole-house audio systems.
All of these developments are making high-fidelity more mainstream, says McConnell. “No longer is it just for audiophiles, but for regular folks as well.” For example, Anthem’s Automatic Room Correction (ARC) technology, which tweaks the audio output of a receiver based on the room environment and location of the speakers, used to place a hefty premium on the company’s line of A/V receivers. A few years ago an Anthem pre-pro with ARC sold for around $7,500; today a receiver with that technology costs $999.
For a few years Wi-Fi has been spreading tunes around the house; now Bluetooth is entering the fray. Here’s what’s in store: From any Bluetooth enabled smartphone, tablet or PC you’ll be able to transmit your music directly—in lossless high-def—to a whole-house audio system (Bluetooth-enabled, of course), which can then send that music to every speaker in your house. Sure, we’ve been doing the same thing with Wi-Fi, but as David Rodarte, CEO of whole-house audio manufacturer NuVo Technologies, points out, in most homes Wi-Fi communication can be finicky and spotty. The Bluetooth solution, which you can already find in some products, promises flawless transmission of the audio signal from the mobile device to the whole-house audio system. As long as you and your tablet or phone are in the same room as a Bluetooth receiver, you’ll be able to wirelessly transmit your music files.
Currently, most control over the lights, thermostats and A/V equipment in a home occurs by pressing buttons on a remote, telephone, keypad or touchpanel. What’s bound to change soon, says Jon Sienkiewicz, marketing director of home control systems manufacturer URC, is that “we’ll move out of this button-pressing world and into one where a house knows who’s in a room and responds appropriately—without any interaction required. The house will know what lighting level the person likes, what music they like and so on,” Sienkiewicz explains.
The bio-sensing home control Sienkiewicz envisions is already being used in devices such as laptop computers and point-and-shoot digital cameras, so it’s not much of a stretch to think that it will work itself into home control systems. Take Panasonic’s Lumix DMCFX580 camera, launched in 2009. With a facial recognition feature, the camera stores shots of a particular person to a file, which a user can later call up to display only the photos containing that face. It wouldn’t be the first time a mobile device painted a roadmap for technology in the home. The Apple iPod, iPhone and iPad have become coveted home control devices, often supplanting wall-mounted keypads and handheld remotes as the primary modus operandi. Manufacturers in the home control business expect this trend to continue, driven primarily by the ever-increasing number of innovative apps available to consumers. For example, with a GPS app loaded into an iPhone, it’s conceivable that in the not-too-distant future the electronic systems inside a home will be able to adjust themselves based on your current location.
For example, “When you’re 50 miles away, the home might lock the doors and turn down the heat,” says Eric Smith, chief technology officer for home control manufacturer Control4. “When you get closer to the home, like 1,000 feet away, the app could signal the garage door to open and the lights in the kitchen to turn on.”
Today, the pervasive hardwired network is made up of Category 5 Ethernet cabling, and 802.11n Wi-Fi is the wireless networking technology du jour. But as we demand more content, higher-quality content and utilize more IP (web-based Internet Protocol) devices, our homes will need a lot more bandwidth than Cat 5 and 802.11n can provide.
“The days of adding a router and wireless access point [to beef up your network] for a couple of hundred dollars are long gone,” says Andrew Wale, vice president marketing for Vantage Controls. “In the near future, custom electronics (CE) professionals will integrate equipment into homes to provide homeowners
with enterprise-grade networks.”
Indeed, your home will need a strong, solid network to handle the plethora of streaming high-def content, and distribute that content to the bedroom TV, rec room, stereo system and other places—without any compression of the signal. The proliferation of Internet-connected devices such as surveillance cameras, TVs, even kitchen appliances, and new technologies like digital home healthcare and telepresence products—only makes big-bandwidth networking more essential.
Adds Clark Roundy, vice president of marketing at Luxul: “Never underestimate a company like Cisco. Bigger companies that have traditionally focused on commercial markets may delve into residential sooner than you think.”
During their long existence, home security systems have evolved from systems that simply sounded alarms to those that can control lights and thermostats and allow users to monitor and manage their homes remotely from mobile devices like iPhones and laptop computers.
More recently, sensors are starting to play a larger role in the functionality of a home security system. This trend is expected to continue, says Steve Shapiro, director of group product management for residential/small business at ADT North America.
Security installers are beginning to use traditional security sensors to illicit responses that have nothing to do with protecting a home. For example, the same sensor that alerts homeowners to someone entering the house could be programmed via the security system to turn on the kitchen lights and play a message over the speakers to remind the kids to do their chores. Later, when the door opens at 6 p.m., the sensor could tell the TV to tune to the evening news.
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