How To Proof Your Home Against Hackers

Child watching television in a lounge filled with furniture.In many senses the latest advances in wireless technology can go a long way to making your home safer. From CCTV to baby monitors, from smart doorbells to fire, smoke and O2 detectors, there are a plethora of different devices which make home security far easier and more practical than ever before.

Who Watches The Watchman?

The upside of accessibility is that you can attach any number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices to your home hub and control them all from the comfort of your sofa, or from anywhere else in the world for that matter, so long as you have an internet connection. The downside is that, unless you follow a few basic security protocols, so can anybody else with a will, a little know how, and a laptop.

As the number of devices which are online via the IoT, so does the number of potential breeches in security which could be abused by a hacker.

As your home network grows you may find that your wifi router can’t keep up with the volume of data which is being processed, and you want to buy a new one. That’s good in at least two ways. Old WiFi routers weren’t built to ward off determined hackers. All the old security was concerned with was keeping people out and preventing them from piggybacking your bandwidth. New routers are far more secure, and designed to keep out hackers who would want to get into your network for several reasons. As with so many things, the more you spend, the better the features and benefits. A top end router doesn’t only deliver a better signal and speed, it also offers better security protocols.

The first thing you should do when you’re installing any new equipment or IoT device, you need to create a long, complex password for each item. And don’t write them down, especially don’t create a document on your computer with them in. If anybody gets their hands on your computer, they get access to all the devices you can’t remember the passwords for. As well as being long and complex, you should also update your passwords regularly, especially after you’ve shared your WiFi network with guests and visitors. More than half a million phones are stolen every year, and if one has access to your router, they essentially have the keys not only to your door, but your bank account, emails, and every other part of your life which lives online. Read more

DIY Hi-Fi, WiFi And Home Entertainment Pitfalls

DIY is one of the UK’s favourite pass-times. Last year the DIY industry was worth £36,000,000,0000 and caused 25,763 injuries requiring medical attention between 2014 and 2017.

I’m sure if you really looked into it you could find out how much of that £36bn was spent on repairing their own mistakes, and replacing stuff that they had broken. Look deeper still and you can probably find how much was spent getting a professional in after a disastrous weekend of failed home improvement.

DIY ranges from building a lean-to, putting together flatpack furniture, decorating or installing home entertainment systems and the like. For the most part these kinds of jobs are easy enough, don’t require any specialist tools besides pliers, screwdrivers and a drill. I could write for ages about the guy who removed all the floors and load bearing walls out for reasons known only to himself, or the one who began burrowing under his home, then his neighbours’ eventually undermining several properties down his street over the period of several years. Read more

What’s The Best Way To Hang A Flat Screen TV On The Livingroom Wall?

Flatscreen TVs are virtually made to be hung rather than set on a sideboard or on the floor like old TVs once were. They’re not the big clunking great piece of furniture they once were. Today they resemble framed pictures, and, as such they look particularly good when hung up on the wall.

The problem with hanging them is that they are heavy, have many wires which need to be attached, and they can’t just be nudged a bit to make them straight if you didn’t get put the mount up in quite the right place.

If you’re experienced in putting up shelves, and home maintenance generally, then hanging a TV will offer you no problems whatsoever. But if you’re new to DIY you might want to think about getting a professional TV installation company in to do it instead. They might cost a bit to do the job, but when you compare that with the costs of doing it wrong, the price is negligible. Read more

What’s The Story With Google’s Assistant?

If you have an android phone you may have already been interfacing with some iteration of Google’s Assistant for several years. If you’ve ever been too busy to use your hands, but needed information and said “OK Google, how do I get to Sainsbury’s?” or said “Hey Google, show me pictures of kittens” (and who hasn’t!?) then you’re already an experienced Google Assistant user.

Because that’s all it takes. Say “OK” or “Hey Google” and it starts listening for instructions. Google’s language analysis is now well advanced over its competitors and can follow several complex linguistic challenges which any child could understand, but computers really struggle with.

Linguistic challenges include context. Google’s Assistant can ‘turn off the light’, which seems innocuous, but other smart assistants will need to be informed which specific light you mean. Google’s application can also follow a string of instructions, for example ‘OK Google, turn off the lights and put the heating on too’ contains ‘off’ ‘on’ and the word ‘too’ which could easily be mistaken for the number 2. According to machine learning, this is an incredibly hard thing for a computer to understand, and Google’s assistant seems to have cracked it more elegantly than other devices on the market, such as Alexa or Echo.

As well as contextual understanding, it also allows you to have an ongoing conversation, so you don’t have to use the ‘Hotword’ (the spoken trigger that starts these devices listening) every time you want to have the assistant do something. It also recognises different voices, which is great for access to shopping, games and parental controls over adult content. Read more

What On Earth Is OLED TV?

OLED TV stands for organic light emitting diode television. They contain organic materials in the composition which makes it possible to produce a flatscren TV which has many advantages over other HD TV screens.

The technology involved in OLED makes it possible to create a TV screen which is flatter, lighter and able to produce deeper black and higher contrast than backlit HD TVs. Instead of being backlit, each pixel produces its own light, and when it’s off it remains completely black. Total black has long been one of the holy grails in TV technology as a black which is in fact grey adversely effects the overall picture. And because there is no need for backlight, a pixel next to a black on can be completely white (or any other colour) with no bleed, making contrast and colour noticeably better than other flat TV screens.

Bigger And Better

When the technology was first invented, as with any other new technology, it was prohibitively expensive, and the manufacturing process was less than reliable, meaning that a high proportion of TVs were scrapped before they ever even made it to the end of the production line. This difficulty still manifests itself in the fact that few OLED TVs are less than 55” in diameter as smaller screens are intrinsically harder to make. Because the process was wasteful and too expensive to realistically launch on the domestic user market, brands such as Samsung and Sony left the field. They concentrated on 4k HDR (4,000 pixel high dynamic range) while LG stuck with OLED, only to return when all the teething troubles had been resolved.

Loads Of Modes

Among the settings, all the normal colour, contrast, hue and stereo options exist, you also have a range of modes to choose. Because the TV needs to process so much detail and colour data you need to choose between viewing modes to get the best out of the TV. Action movies with fast movement and lots of noise require a different mode to wildlife documentaries or romances.
While OLEG technology is more expensive to make, the picture quality is outstanding. The screens are thinner and therefore lighter, and are more energy efficient than backlit flatscreen TVs. Also, because the screen is thinner, it is actually flexible so some manufacturers are making screens which can be bent to a parabellum, making a more immersive viewing experience. However, thanks to the thinness of the screen, the image is produced on the surface, making it viewable from a greater angle without the colours doing weird things.

Voice Or Hand Control So You Never Interrupt The Action

The current ads for OLED include LG’s ThinQ AI with the tag line “Listen, Think, Answer” as the Smart flat TV screen has smart voice activated technology built in. After reading their website, it doesn’t appear that the term ‘ThinQ’ is a play on thin and think, but simply a brand decision to mis-spell ‘think’. LGs ThinQ goods are those which are smart enabled and work in conjunction with your smart home devices, home hub, Google Assistant et cetera on a single open platform, meaning that they all talk to one another seamlessly as soon as they are in range of one another.

In the advert the hero of the story asks for the locations the movie he’s watching was filmed, the Smart TV tells him, and also brings up cast details on the bottom of the screen without interrupting the action. He asks it to dim the lights for better atmosphere, and once his daughter mentions it’s time to eat, he is able to call up the details for local restaurants, all without moving from his spot on the sofa.

The Sony Bravia is an alternative to the LG, they also are promoting the blacks and the incredibly high contrast that their product creates. Unfortunately, because of the very nature of their unique selling point, it’s hard to convey how much better their product is on the product you’re watch the advertising on. However, it’s clear that the that the richness of colour, the contrast, and the deeper than average black is something they too have nailed wonderfully. The difference being that the LG OLED TV can be spoken to directly, while the Sony requires you to speak to it via your smart speaker or home hub.

LG OLED TV Pros:

Direct voice Smart TV control, search, and control of other devices through the TV
Brilliant contrast and picture quality
Lightweight, low power and visible from wider angles than other flatscreen TVs
Controllable via voice or remote handset

Cons:

Expensive at the point of entry
Restricted in size options
Too many modes to flip between when changing programming

What’s In Google’s Home Hub?

Google’s Home Hub is the video interface which you can use to control your smart home and Google assistant, either by voice or fingertip on the 7 inch touchscreen.

Google’s Home Hub does all the things you’d expect it to, from controlling media throughout the house to the temperature and access, including security cameras, doorbells and intercoms. You can also make broadcasts, announcements, reminders and notes, and search the internet just by talking to Google assistant, which is built in. Just like any other smart home device, you connect all the apps on your phone, tablet and hub and you can control anything from anywhere.

Security, Environmental Controls, Entertainment, And Alarms

As well as all the other apps and devices, Google have added Nest to their portfolio, and if you don’t know, Nest are market leaders in wireless environmental controls, a broad brief which includes security cameras and motion detectors, intercoms and doorbells, thermostats and alarm systems, such as smoke, fire, CO and intruder alarms.

The Home Hub Nest allows you to monitor security cameras both inside the home and out. With Nest you can not only see when people are coming to your door, but watch the pets or keep an eye on your kids if you think they’re being naughty when you’re running late home from work! Motion detectors activate the cameras, sending you footage when people are moving about, and yes, you can even set it to recognise when it’s a person or a pet.

All the security sensors can alert you through a variety of means, such as an SMS or email, record footage to the cloud, livestream to your tablet and, with a single touch, let you call the emergency services.

Here’s Not Looking At You, Kid

Unlike other devices available on the market, the Google Home Hub doesn’t come fitted with an integral camera. Which seems odd until you consider that without it, nobody can hack the camera to invade your privacy, or record images without your knowledge. And it’s really no inconvenience since so many other devices can be synched which do have cameras. Because it lacks a camera, it is slightly cheaper than competitors which don’t. A double plus if price and privacy are on your mind.

The Google Home Hub comes in a variety of colours, including beige, charcoal, turquoise and off white, and is fitted with a speaker and mic, which you can turn off just by flicking the switch if you want it to stop listening for a while.

Another feature which looks like a disadvantage on the surface is the cable. To operate it needs to be plugged into a power source via the 1.5m long cable. We’re so used to all our device being wireless that we’ve forgotten that it’s actually an advantage to tie some things to the wall. There’s no chance of the hub getting lost down the back of the sofa, someone wandering off to another part of the house and forgetting to put it back, or the batteries running out when you’re in the middle of something important.

When you’re not using it, the Home Hub sleeps in a default screen which either shows the time, or a clock with the current temperature, weather, and a handy item or diary schedule on display. A simple down swipe will load all your rooms, apps and connected devices, sorted by category, waiting for your instructions.

Briant Communications are an official recognised Nest installation partner, and we install and connect a range of the latest environmental and security control systems. If you’d like to know more about any aspect of wireless home security, networking, and audio visual technology, get in touch!

How To Plan Your Entry Level Home Cinema

Finding information on many aspects of home entertainment, wireless, SMART homes, home cinema and home networking can be really tricky.

If you’re only asking basic “how to” questions, but the information you get back is in depth technical specifics, product descriptions, or professional level discussions including baffling jargon and acronyms, the information is useless. So, instead of confusing you with useless data, we break it down for you.

When I started researching this article I Googled “how to design your own home theatre” just to see what other home entertainment fans were doing. Wow! Those guys REALLY take home cinema seriously!

So, this blog is going to be about what the average home entertainment fan can do in their home to create the best viewing environment, without building a soundproofed extension and furnishing it with rows of suede armchairs. Instead, this will be about screen and surround sound location. But if you do have a mancave and want it turned into a theatre, you’re welcome too.

You can skip straight to the bulletpointed list now, or read on to see why we recommend doing things the way we do

First of all, decide which room you’re going to convert into a home theatre and entertainment centre. If you’re thinking you can just put a new surround sound system into the living room, think again. The room you choose will need to be dedicated to movies and games or the entire point of investing in the effort and equipment needed is lost.

Next you’ll need to set a budget. If you know the size of room you’re converting, and the type of movies you’re going to want to watch then you’ll also know the size of TV screen you want, the number of speakers required for the best sound and the size of furniture you can have in there. The price of the TV and separates is item 1 on your budget, but then it may be necessary to add carpet, comfortable furniture, and thick curtains to keep out light and muffle sounds.

As well as the AV equipment itself, think about lighting too. Too dim and you’ll need to turn it up every time you misplace the remote or game controller, too bright and it interferes with your immersion into the picture. Lighting which is controlled by your home hub would be perfect, but a dimmer switch will do for now.

As well as dark, heavy curtains to block out the light and noise from outside your house, it’s a good idea to get dark carpet or rugs. These not only baffle the sound while adding a soft, comfortable surface underfoot, they reduce the ambient light in the room too. Paint the walls a muted colour too, or, better yet, use a noise reducing wallpaper.

Build a rack for all your equipment. All the different pieces of technology you’ll need soon mount up, and hoping to make sense of them all if they’re strewn about will become impossible. Building a rack will mean that they’re all in one place, neatly stacked but with all vents clear and the wiring loom will be much easier to make sense of too. Nobody wants wires all over the place, but if you don’t go completely wire free, you at least want the cabling to be neat and tidy with all lines neatly identified. Find a good universal remote control too. Having half a dozen different handsets all over the place, all getting lost, needing batteries gets very tiresome very quickly.

Next you need to start making it look like a luxurious home cinema. You’ll want to place the primary seating directly in front of the screen, at approximately 1.5 to 2.5 times as far away from the screen as the screen’s diagonal width and the primary speakers should be at eye level and equidistant from your head, ideally forming an equilateral triangle of left and right channels and your head. The secondary speakers need to be set up behind you, ensuring they’re on the right sides of the room, otherwise the stereo effect will be lost. The subwoofer can go under the TV, or directly behind you. Some say it should be aimed toward the head for the best sound, while others say “no, point it at your torso for a bone rattlingly intense experience!”

Ideally the maximum width of sofa will be two seats. Wider than that and the benefits of a wide screen and surround sound will be lost. If you’re planning on having more than two people at a time watching, don’t put additional seating alongside your primary viewing position, but behind.

When choosing what furniture to use, heavy, comfortable couches with fabric covers are best. As well as being comfortable to sit in for the duration of a movie or extended game-play, the fabric will deaden ambient sound. Other furniture should be kept to a minimum. Flat surfaces reflect sound back into the room which can affect the dynamic surround. Keeping curtains closed when you’re watching will also prevent the windows reflecting sound back into the room as well as keeping out bright sunlight or street lighting.

Another reason to keep furniture such as dressers, chests of drawers et cetera to a minimum is data and signal. If you decide to use wireless devices and wireless speakers interference can come from many sources, and objects in between a signal source and the receiving device can reduce the strength of the signal, which in turn affects the output.

Finally, KISS. Keep It Simple, Seriously. Too much clutter, too many boxes and devices needing to be plugged in, swapped over, or charged, too much cable, are irritants. Even pictures and posters on the wall which can cause reflections and detract the eye all interfere with your viewing pleasure. You don’t want a bare room, but a zen-like peaceful space, at least until the opening titles run, is a must.

 

Now for that bulletpoint list:

• Dedicate your space to movies and games

• Set a budget, and tweak your expectations accordingly

• Think about how you’re going to light the room

• Use soft furnishings such as curtains and rugs to muffle sound and light

• Keep your home cinema clutter free

• Plan the layout of the room, speakers, subwoofer, screen and seating

• Use heavy fabric furniture for comfort and noise deadening

• Think about signal and data, keep the line of sight between radio sources and receivers such as wireless speakers clear

• And finally, keep it simple

Getting Started With A Smart Home System

Child watching television in a lounge filled with furniture.

Once strictly the field of sci-fi movies, a home that can be controlled by talking to it when you’re in, or by remote control (via your phone) when you’re out, is no longer a fantasy. It’s not even the preserve of the super-rich, it’s available to buy on every high street or by clicking here.

Smart devices (Technically SMART, it’s an acronym for ‘self-monitoring analysis and reporting technology) are interconnected, intelligent products such as fridges, TVs, lights, home security, including doorbells and intercoms, heating and air conditioning and even vacuum cleaners. All these devices operate on a range of different platforms, such as BlueTooth, HaLow, (low power, long range wireless) or WIFI. Because the signalling between devices isn’t compatible with one another, it will be necessary to invest in a home hub. These are the voice activated characters we are becoming familiar with. Say “Alexa, do this!” or “OK Google, do that!” and the reassuring, yet robotic voice will reply while it puts your command into action.

If You’ve Heard About Smart Home Devices, But You’re Not Sure What They Are Or How They Can Improve Your Quality Of Life, Read On

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Seasonal Security, Don’t Give The Burglars A Happy Christmas

Christmas time is a time for families to spend time together. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and all that. So you might think that home security is something that can take a back seat, since even burglars have homes and families who want to see them at Yuletide.

Or so you might think. The reality is that while burglaries increase over the summer, they also spike around Christmas time. Because extended families like to get together households will be on the move as they do the round robin, paying visits to mum, dad, grandparents, then the inlaws, making a surprising number of properties empty all day for several days in a row. And because all the attention is focused inwards, people are less aware of what’s happening in the gloomy, rainy, cold streets where they live.

Christmas also means outings and shopping trips which can drag on for hours. This gives unwanted visitors ample time to observe your home and chance their arm if they’re confident you’re tied up elsewhere.

And your home will offer rich pickings too. All your old property, and all the presents under the tree too, make Christmas a bonanza for intruders. So how can you use basic every day tech to make your home safer? Read more

Prattling on Portal and Portal+

The next month or so will see Facebook releasing their first piece of real-world hardware in the form of the Portal and Portal+ devices.

More than just optimised for videocalls over messenger, they are Alexa enabled and integrate fully into your home hub and social media. They also offer a great deal more hardware and software than your typical phone or tablet too. With four mics picking up speech it intelligently eliminates ambient noise and the 12megapixel camera provides a 140-degree field of vision. The software means the camera can pan and zoom to follow you as you move around a room, so, in combination with the mics, you’re ensured a clearer and better customised conversation. The difference in the Portal and the Portal+ comes from the hardware and its functionality. Portal has a 10-inch screen and it is designed to stand in the landscape position. Portal+ has 2 tweeters and a separate bass driver for 20W of sound, double the Portal, and can be pivoted on its mounting to display in landscape or portrait, depending on your preference. Read more