During the run up to Christmas, you can’t have helped seeing all the ads for Alexa, Google Home Assistant, Smart Speakers and all other things ‘smart’. It’s almost as if there’s a technological revolution taking place and nobody’s told us what it’s all about!
When we thought about automated homes a few years ago it was the domain of sci-fi and horror. Movies such as the seminal Demon Seed and 2001 A Space Odyssey depicted the way an all seeing, omnipresent robot in our home would try to take over and make us mere mortals it’s slave. Or we’d perish trying to resist. It turns out Big Brother didn’t have to force us to put Telescreens into our homes, we bought them willingly from Google and Amazon! Read more
BT’s Modern Families Report has found that 52% of families in the UK would be put off of living in a home with poor wifi. Unreliable reception, blackspots, and weak signal could therefore knock thousands of pounds off the value of your home when you come to sell it.
As anthropologist Amber Case said, “we’re all cyborgs now” and you can see the evidence of that in your own home every day. We’re all connected to our electronic devices and they become increasingly integral to our lives the longer we spend with them. Our dependent relationship becomes immediately and painfully evident if you ever have a wifi outage. It’s a viscerally unpleasant feeling to know you can’t just check on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Twitter. And if you’re heavily reliant on IoT connected devices, Smart TV and Netflix, that unpleasant feeling is multiplied. Read more
As soon as you walk through the door you realise there’s something amiss. It just doesn’t feel right. There’s an odd draft and it’s much colder than it normally is.
That’s your first clue. Then you notice the sound. Outdoor sounds are a little too loud and the hairs on the back of your neck and on your arms start to prickle.
If you’ve ever been the victim of a break in, you’ll know the feeling. You just know when someone’s been in your house. Even before you see the missing items and the mess they left after ransacking your property you get a feeling. And that feeling doesn’t go away quickly, it’s only added to by the feeling of violation you have knowing some stranger has had their hands all over your things. Selecting the goods they think they’ll be able to flog on quickly; electronics, jewellery, cash and cards, keys, tools, and whatever else they can carry away quickly.
Knowing that your life has been evaluated, and that there’s every chance that the burglar will be back if they saw something they liked that they couldn’t carry off, or that they will wait for you to replace your things and come back for a second sweep makes it hard to sleep at night, and hard to relax the rest of the time. So what can you do to improve your security measures, and stop them coming back if they’ve invaded your home before?
Life and work change along with the accessibility of technology people make use of. When you like using something, you find ways to use it in your everyday life. Ease of use and advances in functionality make things more useful, and the more useful they are, the faster and more deeply they are adopted.
Working From Home Will Make Your Home Work Differently
Technological advances, like evolution itself, are a part of a creeping change, and only occasionally manifests itself as a identifiable leap. If you look at home-working, there has been a natural progression which allowed this to come about. Home working was often considered as skiving for most people until relatively recently. Today, with the reliability of digital communications, the ubiquity of laptops, tablets etc. and the problems people have commuting remote working is now a practical solution, and it’s been found that people are actually more productive working from home than from the office.
Because our lifestyles, workstyles, living and working spaces are evolving and merging with one another the space where that takes place needs to change and evolve too. A lifestyle ecosystem will develop around individuals which will include home, work, leisure, and relaxation, all taking place in one unified space. Smart technology will play an increasingly large part in that. Read more
One day, well, numerous times over several years, everything went digital. In the 90s mobile phones switched from analogue to digital, TV went digital a few years ago, and many radio stations are now internet (digital) and DAB only.
Analogue makes sense to us, it moves in waves like sound, and it’s something we understand. As the joke goes, there are 10 different types of people in the world, those who understand digital, and those who don’t. Yet, whether we can make sense of it or not, it’s faster, more energy efficient, more adaptive, and easier to make tiny devices which can then be used to control bigger devices. And it’s these IoT devices which we are now buying and introducing to our homes, in turn, making them a stand-alone internet of things. Read more
It’s thought that up to 1000,000,000 alive today have some form of disability, that’s 14.3% of the world’s population who have trouble performing tasks that the able bodied are able to do without much effort.
With that number of people struggling it makes sense that technology should be deployed to make life easier, which is why we need to stop thinking about Smart home solutions as a luxury for those who can afford it, but a necessity for those who need it.
Jaquelline Fuller of Google.org, Google’s charitable arm, said that “historically people living with a disability have relied on technologies that were often bulky, expensive and limited to assisting with one or two tasks. But that’s to change. Together we can create a better world, faster.” So, as we see further developments in connected home devices, the more we see how they can be deployed in such a way that helps those who have trouble seeing, hearing, reaching or even moving a great deal.
Lifestyle Isn’t Luxury
Many devices exist which are a welcome addition to the array of goods which people suffering from mobility and sensory disability will appreciate, yet they’re not marketed at these people because to get the best bang from the buck, marketing departments overlook people with disabilities because they are regarded as a low take-up group with too small a budget/income. Instead the obvious advantages they have for these people are sublimated to the convenience that the devices hold for cash rich time poor individuals for whom total automation and intuitive voice control are the holy grail. Gimmicky gadgets detract from the advances that Smart devices are making. Newspapers and magazine writers take delight in mocking the latest innovations, often because they solve a problem that the writers take for granted or don’t look at from any angle beside face value. Because of this Smart devices are considered luxury goods or needless developments that boffins come up with simply because they can. However, a lot of that ‘luxury’ technology is a godsend for people who know the limitations of living in a world which isn’t designed for them. Read more
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
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
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
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