Outdoor tech for your home

The weather is warming up and many of us are trying to figure out our summer plans. Since we’re spending more time at home these days, this often turns to what we can do to improve our leisure at home. There’s tons of great outdoor tech to help you enjoy your home this summer (and fall, and winter…) Here are some of our favourites.

Automated outdoor shades

Automated shades are a great addition inside our homes, and adding them outdoors has many benefits as well. They can expand your outdoor living space by not only providing privacy and light filtering like indoor shades; automated outdoor shades are also a convenient way to help make a space more comfortable and extend outdoor enjoyment into cooler evenings or shoulder seasons. Companies such as Screen Innovations make great outdoor shades that provide these benefits and are made to endure the elements.  

Outdoor music 

There are lots of options for outdoor music – from in-ceiling speakers in eave overhangs, to wall mounted speakers, to landscape specific speakers. All are great options that can be used to match your home’s specific situations. We’re also looking forward to trying out  Sonos’s new Roam speaker (available this spring). Sonos’s Move speaker is also made for outdoors, but we think the Roam will be more in that sweet spot of being more portable and affordable. 

Outdoor WiFi

We never stop talking about the importance of good WiFi, as its a critical piece of any good home tech system. You need WiFi for most everything from streaming your music and video, working, and even controlling your smart outdoor lights and water features. A home’s exterior walls often block WiFi signals. If you want excellent WiFi coverage in your outdoor spaces, then you need outdoor specific WiFi equipment. Vendors like Access Networks make products that will make sure that the WiFi goodness will continue outside.

Outdoor TVs

We’ve covered outdoor TVs in the past, and the highlights are that they are not only made to survive the outdoor elements, they are also brighter to help offset outdoor natural lighting. There are also options for outdoor AV sound systems to augment your AV experience. There’s even full projection systems if you need a really, really big outdoor screen!

Whatever your outdoor tech jam is, make sure that you’re well covered with your home technology.  Let us know if you need help to get to your outdoor nirvana.


What about an Outdoor TV?

Outdoor TVOutdoor TVs are increasingly popular. Its started out as people using regular TVs temporarily outside to watch shows and sporting events while still enjoying nice weather. Now people want something permanent. To help this trend, manufactures like Sunbrite and now even Samsung sell outdoor TVs. In the lower mainland, we often want to maximize our enjoyment of the outdoors – maybe it would be nice to be outside and keep binge watching The Great on Prime. In that case, what should you look for in an outdoor TV?

Outdoor TVs can handing even the lower mainland’s weather

Some people are tempted to install a regular indoor TV outside. It could be dangerous due to the electronics water safe outdoor TVnot designed to be outside, and it will definitely not last as long as it should. Although the weather in Vancouver and area isn’t as rainy as the rest of the of country thinks, lets face it, its quite damp here. Even in covered areas, that dampness will creep into everything outside. Outdoor TVs are made to handle that dampness and the heat in the summer. They can be left out in the rain or get splashed with no issues. If you put one pool side, you wouldn’t even have to worry about even the best (or worst?) cannonball splash. 

Outdoor TVs are brighter

Since outdoor TVs are made to be, well, be outdoors, they are also brighter than regular TVs. Even in full shade, the outdoors is much brighter than in a home. Consider how hard it is to look at your phone outside in full sun versus in your home.

How bright of a TV you need depends on where you’re installing it. For covered, shady areas, you can use a less bright one like a Sunbrite Veranda. If you’re putting it out in full sun, by a pool for example, then you’ll want a much brighter one, such as a Sunbrite Pro.  

How to connect an outdoor TV

You’ll need a power outlet near the TV location at the very least. If you want to stream video from Netflix or Prime, you might be able to just use you home’s WiFi if its strong enough. Most outdoor TVs are now full 4K, so you’ll likely want a better signal. For a better connection, you should use network wiring. You can use network wiring to also route the video from a cable box somewhere safe and dry in your home. Then you can decide if you want to use an outdoor fixed mount or a moving one that allows for better viewing. You can also add an outdoor rated sound bar for improved TV sound. Some people build a whole outdoor surround system for a full theatre experience under the stars too!

If you’re considering an outdoor TV, it might be a nice way to make it through these COVID-19 times. Once you balance out your goals and location, a nice outdoor TV system can be set up to match your outdoor lifestyle. 


Ways to improve your WiFi

Great home WiFi is an asset, but its really showing its greatness during our COVID-19 times. While most of us are relying on it more than ever, many of us don’t have WiFi that’s very good. Since many of us are working from home or our kids are now taking their classes on-line, poor WiFi has become even more apparent. There are ways to improve your WiFi though.

Improve your WiFi with upgraded equipment

Long gone are the days when most of us can rely on the WiFi equipment from our Internet provider. Our insatiable appetite for data combined with the sheer number of WiFi connected devices in the modern home means that our WiFi equipment needs to be up to the task. Unless you have a small place, this likely means a good router with multiple WiFi access points in your home (and outside if you need WiFi out there too).

  • If you have a newer, well technology architected home with networking wiring in the walls, you can use a dedicated network router wired to the WiFi access points. A good router has better ability to move the data in and out, and around your home – both wired and WiFi.  Internet provider routers can’t properly handle modern loads. The separate WiFi access points are then installed strategically around your home to provide coverage where needed.
  • If you’re not one of the lucky ones with networking wiring in your home, then you can use mesh WiFi. As mentioned previously, mesh WiFi is made of nodes that talk to each other to create a network. Its sort of like a WiFi version of the children’s telephone game, but the newer equipment, like the ones from eero, work quite well and the messages get through.

Improve your WiFi by tweaking what you have

While upgrading your WiFi may sound great, it might not be possible due to budget or that you can’t actually have someone come into your home during COVID-19 to install better gear. (This is looking up though as restrictions are easing.) Here’s a few things you can try:

  • Move your WiFI router closer to where you need it. People often put WiFi routers Choose a good location for Wi-Fi routerin a back room or in the basement, so unless you’re near there, it doesn’t do you much good. Your home’s building material makes a big difference too. You likely aren’t going to get very good signal if your walls are made of concrete or metal studs. Perhaps temporarily moving it centrally for better coverage is worth the tradeoff of it being an eyesore.
  • If that’s not an option, or you’re not into that sort of aesthetic, maybe you can try a place in your home where the WiFi is better. You can check WiFi strength using the Airport Utility App on an iPhone, or Wi-Fi Analyzer for Android. While not a perfect WiFi-o-meter, these can give you a picture of your WiFi. If you can get -60dBm or higher, you should have decent enough signal to get things done.  (Note its a negative number, ie -50dBm is even better.)
  • Reduce the number of WiFi devices activity trying to use WiFi. Many WiFi routers can only properly service 20 or so devices. Once you count all your family’s phones, tablets, laptops, smart watches, eReaders, thermostats, smart TVs, smart lights, etc., you can quickly amass a mess of WiFi devices that all need to be serviced. While we think they’re all getting a connection at the same time, they’re actually taking really quick turns. When it’s not a device’s turn, it has to wait without data. This really slows down for WiFi routers that can’t handle lots of devices well. (Fun fact, even devices not on but near your WiFi can slow it down.)

Deeper WiFi tweaks

If you’re feeling savvy, you can try some more involved changes:

  • Change to the 2.4G WiFi – even though most advise to use the 5G WiFi signal as it has faster data. While this is true, 5G WiFi doesn’t transmit as far as the 2.4G signal. You might be better off sacrificing data rates to actually get usable WiFi signal coverage. WiFi routers also have a propagation pattern for their antennas (ie the 3D ‘shape’ of their WiFi coverage). If you can find it for your router, you can try to orient it to favour your needed WiFi spots.
  • Change the WiFi channels. 2.4G WiFi has 11 channels available, but usually only 1, 6, 11 Improve your wifi changing channelare feasible for technical reasons. If you and your neighbour are both using the same channel, then you are getting in each other’s way. Changing to another channel will improve your WiFi. With only 3 useable channels, its obviously difficult to stay off of your neighbour’s channel in places like apartment buildings though. 5G has more channels, so you should be able to find a space there. With 5G, you need to worry about the signal coverage as noted above though. If you have more than one access point, make sure they’re not using the same channels too.
  • For setups where you have more than one WiFi access point, adjust the power levels. You might think that its best to turn up the transmit power to max, but that makes it harder for your WiFi devices to decide which one to listen to. You want to set power levels so that device like iPhones naturally move to better WiFi when its available.

WiFi is complicated

WiFi is a complicated beast, but you can make some adjustments to help get you through these trying times. It does seem a little bit like black magic though. So it might be a good time to consider professional help and equipment to get your home network up to date.


Sonos cuts support for older devices, then backtracks

Sonos received an Internet smackdown this week when they announced that they were going to stop supporting old equipment. Some of the backlash was because it wasn’t clear that support was being dropped for systems with really old products only, but the damage was done. In the end they apologized and backtracked, but will this be a good thing for Sonos users? And what is a reasonable expectation of manufacturer’s home tech support of our favourite devices?

What happened?

OK, so what is this all about then? Sonos announced that they will stop software updates for some Connect and Connect:Amp (plus Gen 1 Play:5) players. If your system has one or more of the affected products in it, your whole system would have been held back and would not get software updates. Sonos likely made this hard decision so they could keep offering new features people want, and the old gear needed to be culled to allow this. These products just didn’t have the horsepower to keep up the home tech support of features like voice control and smart home integration.

To ease the pain and get you on their latest gear, they’re offering a 30% discount to update your gear. The media and Internet haters missed that only the really old gear is effected. Even if two pieces of gear look exactly the same on the outside, they’re not the same.

Underneath the covers

Like many manufacturers, Sonos updates the electronics of their products without changing the outside appearance much. They do this for manufacturing cost reductions or tweaks and improvements. So, while one Sonos Connect might look like another Sonos Connect, they might be quite different on the inside. Sonos would not support the older version of the Connect but will support the newer version. To us though, they look the same. If you have several Connects or Connect:Amps, the easiest way to tell their vintage is to log into your Sonos account, and Sonos will tell you which of your devices are too old. It’s quite possible that many people have different vintages of equipment in their homes and don’t know it. The Connect we bought last year is quite different from the Connect we bought over 10 years ago.

The reality is that Sonos is more of a software company that sells physical music players, rather than a stereo manufacturer. The issue is that many of us Sonos customers expect to buy stereos that we can hold onto for decades like we used to with our old simple stereos. Good or bad, this isn’t the case anymore. We also want our new ‘simple stereos’ to support all of the world’s music services, voice control and whatever’s next. We have learned to not expect Microsoft to support our 10 year old PC and our TV needs to be replaced when its doesn’t have HDMI inputs, but it looks like we’re not ready for our music streaming systems to not be supported even if they’re ancient in a technology timeline.

What happens next?

The good news is that Sonos has backed away from stopping the support of quite old gear. Good for them for listening to their customers, apologizing, and trying to make things right. This is good for customer’s bank accounts and saves much gear filling landfills. The bad news is that this might slow or hobble future features that Sonos may want to introduce. First it will divert a lot of engineering resources to allow Sonos to split your old gear (no new features) and new gear (with new features) groups while still allowing them to work together in your home. Sonos will eventually have to retire these and other product though.

While we’re huge advocates for getting quality gear that can run for a long time, it’s also unreasonable to expect home tech gear to have an infinite lifespan and be maintenance free. It’s extremely hard to achieve this when home tech is evolving at an accelerated pace. We offer home tech support to keep our clients’ home tech goodness going, but manufactures likes Sonos are part of the solution.

We are torn on this one, as we understand both sides of the coin. It brings up some good questions. What is a reasonable amount of time a manufacturer should offer updates for a home tech device? And how much home tech support should these devices need? We hope Sonos can navigate it and continue to provide great products that many of love to use everyday. In the meantime, we’ll help clients with home tech support as they need it.

What’s new in mesh Wi-Fi?

The latest crop of mesh Wi-Fi products are helping a lot of people get better Wi-Fi coverage in their homes. We’re fans of using mesh Wi-Fi when you don’t have or it doesn’t make sense to run network wiring for a wired network. The new generation of mesh Wi-Fi makes it even more compelling with better stability and coverage.

Mesh Wi-Fi networks

Mesh networks are made of nodes that talk to each other to create a network. Here the mesh networks use Wi-Fi itself to bounce Wi-Fi to parts of your home. Since your Wi-Fi router is often stuck in the basement or on one side of your home, the far reaches of your place may live in the darkness of no Wi-Fi. With these nodes, you can place them where the signal is still strong enough, and it will extend it further out. You can keep installing nodes until you have the coverage you want. Consumer mesh Wi-Fi devices have apps that help you figure out if the placement is good, or if you need to find another spot.

The next generation

The last generation of mesh Wi-Fi was pretty good, and the latest generation is getting better. Their speed, stability and coverage has improved. Google has its new version, Nest Wifi, and we’ve had great success helping people with eero Pro extenders. They use three bands of Wi-Fi to help spread Wi-Fi goodness in your home. They also offer automatic software updates and network control (perhaps, for example, you’d like to pause or limit Wi-Fi for your children).

So much that we do in our homes from working to media streaming to smart home automation requires good Wi-Fi. Without good Wi-Fi, often everything becomes an effort in frustration. Mesh Wi-Fi can make the whole experience so much better – perhaps its even a great holiday gift idea!


CEDIA 2019 home tech highlights

We follow the CEDIA trade show, as its where many manufactures strut their new home tech stuff. Earlier this month, this year’s show was full of home technology wizardry. Here’s what caught our eye.

TVs, TVs, TVs

TVs are always a big part of these shows, and the likes of Sony and Samsung showed off their fancy TVs. Sony joined the 8K TV push this year with their TVs like the A9G and Z9G series. You can future proof as much as possible for 8K and get a dazzling TV that you can enjoy today. It might be wise to wait until prices drop a bit though, especially if you’re interested in their Crystal LED Display video wall (scalable from 109 inches to 65 feet!) The amazing 219” one they demoed (yes, that’s 16 feet x 9 feet) is available for a mere USD877,000. Although LG’s transparent OLED screen is focused on commercial installations (like digital signage), we can see this trickling into homes in the future for art and control screens.

Short throw projectors

Speaking of TVs, short throw projectors were also literally shining bright. Short throw projectors are designed to be placed very close to your wall and projection screen. For example Epson showed a package of a short throw laser projector with an ambient light rejecting screen. Laser projectors can produce bright images and don’t need their bulbs replaced. An ambient light rejecting screen will do just that – not reflect the room’s ambient light but allow the projectors light to get to your eyes. The Epson LS500 Laser Projection TV will be available in 100″ or 120″ screen sizes that you can watch with the lights on.

Other notables

A few items that will help fill specific gaps in homes were the Luxul’s Epic Mesh, Sonos Move outdoor speaker and Lutron’s LED+ dimmer. For homes where it doesn’t make sense to re-wire, Luxul’s Epic Mesh system should provide another option for better Wi-Fi. While the Sonos Move isn’t the last word in portable outdoor speakers, it is the one that works with a Sonos system. You can use in your yard and take it to the beach as a Bluetooth speaker. With the Lutron LED+ dimmer, Lutron makes it easier to match a smart dimmer with lightbulbs and LEDs lights. While not effecting home owners directly, this dimmer should make it easier for professionals to help clients.

The CEDIA trade show is focused on home tech professionals, but its really is about sharing interesting products that we can then help get into people’s homes. Some may be pricy today (we’re looking directly at you Crystal LED Display), but prices will eventually drop. Others like mesh Wi-Fi and portable Sonos speakers are affordable today. Either way, its a home tech win.


Why not stream art or photos on your TV when not watching it?

Many of us have a TV screen in our living rooms and other living spaces, but often it’s left as a black void when we’re not watching it. Today’s 4K TVs are thin, have very tiny frames and consume less power, so they open up other possibilities. For those who have Samsung’s Frame TV, they may already have photos or art showing on it, but what can the rest of us do to stream art?

Devices to stream art

If you have an Apple TV or other streaming device like a Roku (available both as a separate device or pre-installed in some TVs), then you have options to show photos and stream art. For example, Apple TVs have built in photo viewing for your photos and cool aerial screensaver videos. Otherwise, you can look for other services to let your arty side show.

Apps to stream art

There are third party art apps, such as Art Authority, artcast, LANKA, loupe and Mochi. These range from classic museum paintings to modern art. Some are free, and some have ads or require a paid subscription to stream art collections. There are many options, so you can search for one that matches your taste and style. Currently it looks like the Apple TV has the most options, but some TVs like Sony TVs allow for these apps via the Google Play Store.

If you want stream art or show off your photos, then your TV might be just the tool you need. If you don’t already have a media streaming device like an Apple TV, you can add one relatively affordably. These devices consume power, but they’re low enough to guiltlessly stream art when you want to get arty.

Why do I need a smart home control system?

Smart home control systems are becoming more affordable and useful everyday. They allow you to simplify your world by streamlining the comfort and control of your home. But how do you know if you need a custom smart home in your home?

Replaces many remote and apps

Sometimes the trigger for a smart home control system is to simplify a TV system. You can go from many remotes to one unified remote that turns on and sets up the TV and related equipment with one press of a button. Sometimes its that you want to use one app vs. a multitude of apps to control your smart devices like your smart doorbell, smart lock or smart lights. Or maybe its both – you just want one system that you can control all your TV systems and smart devices.

Simplifies a complicated home

If you have many home tech devices in your home, then its tricky to get them to work together. For example, when you press the “Watch TV” button on your remote control, you might want it to not just turn on your TV system, but also drop the shades and dim the lights for better viewing. Maybe its a ‘Goodbye” button at your door that turns off all your smart lights, stops your music streamers and adjusts the temperature when you leave your home. You can also have device like your thermostats, lights and shades on schedules or based on sunrise and sunset to set them for you. Or check and close your garage door if its left open, or alert you there’s a water leak before you have a major issue.

A smart home control system can also bridge smart devices that aren’t inherently compatible with each other and have them play well together for your comfort and control. Increasingly homes have more and more complicated tech – these can be coordinated into one simple-to-use interface.

Provides flexibility

Life gets busy. You shouldn’t have to search around for the right remote or app to control or check on something. You should be able have control and be informed if you’re at home or far away. A smart home control system can coordinate hand-held remote controls, touch screens, and smartphone and tablet apps so you just use what’s within reach.

A professionally installed smart home control system can simplify your life. One simple-to-use system, can provide convenience and comfort so you have have more time to relax and enjoy your home.

What is Wi-Fi 6?


We need Wi-Fi in our homes, but the Wi-Fi people haven’t been very good at making it easy for us to understand Wi-Fi versions. Most people aren’t sure what the letters mean; is 802.11ac better than 802.11n? Now they’re trying to make it a bit more easy to understand.

802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wave 2 – really, its not just random letters

The fundamental issue is that the non-profit Wi-Fi Alliance has been using the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 working group naming. While we really appreciate the Engineers work on the technology, their naming conventions are a bit hard to follow.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has finally figured this out. While we may have gotten used to names like 802.11n and 802.11ac, they decided a straight forward numbering system would be easier for non-technical people to understand. So, they have used simplified to generational names moving forward. 802.11n is called Wi-Fi 4 and 802.11ac is Wi-Fi 5. The next Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ax, is christened Wi-Fi 6. It will take a while for this to catch on, but it certainly makes it easier to understand that Wi-Fi 6 is newer and better than Wi-Fi 4. Maybe in the future, the average consumer won’t even know or need to know what the IEEE name is for a future variant of Wi-Fi.

SU-MIMO vs. MU-MIMO, what the heck are those?

While we’re waiting for the new naming to stick, the fine Wi-Fi folk have a second wave of 802.11ac (or Wi-Fi 5) coming out. 802.11ac Wave 2 has a theoretical speed of 2.34 Gbps. Of course theoretical speeds, are just theoretical, but your could be looking at about 1 Gbps when you’re in decent Wi-Fi range. In general, this means that 802.11ac Wave 2 will give you about double your network speed of Wave 1.

There’s also some fancy technology updates like improved channel use, but the other big Wi-Fi deal is MU-MIMO. MIMO, or multiple-input and multiple-output, uses multiple antennas on both side to get more out of a wireless link. Here the wireless link is a Wi-Fi connection. The MU part stands for Multi-User. Older Wi-Fi was a round-robin waiting game. You hand to wait your turn to ‘talk’ to the Wi-Fi router (ie Single-User). Of course this goes super fast, so it seems like you’re always getting a Wi-Fi turn. MU-MIMO allows for multiple users to talk at the same time – four at a time for 802.11ac Wave 2. This will be noticeable faster.

A few things about Wi-Fi 6

As you would guess, Wi-Fi 6 will be even better and faster. Its theoretical top speed is 9.6 Gbps, so even real world speeds should be impressive. It also ups the ante by being able to connect with up to eight users at a time. They’ve also worked to make Wi-Fi 6 better for low power devices like small smart home sensors, so their batteries should last longer. Wi-Fi 6 also bulks up the security to use WPA3, the next generation of Wi-Fi security.

Hopefully we’ll start seeing the terms Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 being used more often. While it will take a year or so until Wi-Fi 6 devices are readily available, it will help us keep track of what we should be looking for vs trying to remember that 802.11ax is better than 802.11ac!

What you need to know about 5G mobile wireless

5G is the next generation of the mobile network. As it starts rolling out this year, it will offer faster data speeds and more reliable connections for smartphones and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Its being described as super fast, always connected mobile Internet, but that’s not quite the whole story. While theoretical data rates can be up to 10 Gbps, we’ll likely be getting 50 Mbps and up in the real world. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but we need to understand the limitations.

Really high data rates, poor coverage

One of the set of frequencies that 5G uses is very high: 28 GHz. Higher frequencies allow higher data rates. The issue is that the higher frequencies have physics to deal with. Higher frequencies don’t propagate very far, and they aren’t very good at going through walls, trees, etc. You may notice that deep in some concrete buildings, your mobile phone often doesn’t have coverage. This will be worse with the really high frequencies networks.

This means that there needs to be a lot more base stations (kind of like Wi-Fi routers, but for telecoms). Small base stations fill in coverage for today’s 4G networks in places like concrete buildings (e.g. malls, subways). Many mini base stations will be needed in a city to make a 28 GHz network work at all. We should be getting over 1 Gbps when things are set up properly – that’s pretty darn fast! Beyond being faster than home Internet, 5G is also designed to respond faster to improve network latency.

Good data rates, decent coverage

The 3.5 GHz frequency band for 5G, on the other hand, will have similar coverage to what we get today but with better data rates. This is partly due to a littler higher frequencies. It’s also due to 5G implementing better technologies like MIMO (multiple antennas working to get data to you) and beam forming (those antennas ‘pointing’ the signal to you).

While data rates will be faster than 4G, they will only be a bit faster when your smartphone connects to a mid band 5G network. Not a bad fallback when the super fast version of 5G isn’t available in the your area.

Low data rates, great coverage

The low frequencies bands are really good for their inherent coverage. While the data rates will be slower, the lower frequency band, 600 MHz, can travel farther. It isn’t bothered as much by pesky buildings, trees, etc. While perhaps not very useful for a high data user (e.g. someone watching Game of Thrones at 4K on a bus), it will be incredibly useful to little devices and sensors scattered around our world sipping on data. These IoT devices could be handy for home tech, but also for commercial and industrial needs.

5G might not be the perfect, super fast mobile network some describe it as, but it will offer a significant step forward. 5G can also be used as a short cut to a fast Internet connection for rural households without wires or fibre. It may also kick off some really useful IoT innovations.

For coverage and high data rates, we may need mobile network boosters in our homes. Otherwise we’ll need smartphones that switch over to Wi-Fi networks better. (It’s quite possible that you may already need a booster in your home to get coverage for our current 4G network.) In the end, 5G may leave us wondering how we lived without out it.