Tips for planning home tech

Integrated home tech
The perfect time to include some affordable home tech touches is when you’re building or renovating your home. Home technology adds to your comfort and lifestyle, and with some thought it doesn’t have to greatly impact the aesthetics or floor space in your home. Here are a few tips for great home tech.

Hide your media room in your living space

A family room or living room is often a home’s entertainment focal point. It can be a great place to connect with your family or provide a safe hangout for your kids and their friends. With some forethought, your space can service all these needs without tech clutter and still provide an engaging media room. The incremental costs can be low, but you get a big payback when your tech isn’t an eyesore.

  • Think about your seating and TV location. You can wall mount and/or hide your TV screen with creative cabinetry, e.g. behind cabinet doors or a sliding panel. If you’re planning to use a sound bar with your TV, make sure you plan its placement too. There are also affordable options for projection systems with retractable screens.
  • In-wall and in-ceiling speakers are available right up to audiophile grade, so they are a Music in the Dengreat way to get impressive sound without impacting the aesthetics of the room. Think about speakers in the other rooms where you’d like to listen to music as well. Bass can be a bit tricky though, so plan out the acoustics of your room when using in-wall subwoofers.
  • Plan cabinetry to hide equipment like TV cable boxes, media players and AV receivers, and then you can use a control system that operate these behind cabinet doors. (As a bonus, you’ll have one easy to use remote instead of a coffee table full of them!)
  • Build recessed wiring boxers, cabling or conduits into the walls to hide the cables to the TV and gear. Where possible, plan for wiring to allow for the transition from current HDTV signals to 4K TV, 8K TV and beyond. In addition, don’t forget to ensure there is plenty of power and ventilation for all your gear.

Consider smart home products

A smart home doesn’t mean a complicated or expensive home. There are great products available that provide positive impacts in our lives. Here are some of the more popular ones.

  • Lighting automation and control: Lighting automation may be something that might simple lighting automationmake you wonder how you lived without it. There are affordable solutions like Lutron’s Caseta that are accessible for new or retrofit applications. You can dabble with a room or two and build on it as you wish. You can start with setting up a lighting ‘scene’ (e.g. relax, entertain and watch TV), set your lights on timers, or have them automatically come on when you’re near your home. Products are also increasingly compatible with other products like Apple’s HomeKit and Sonos music systems.
  • Smart lock: Smart locks allow your family (and selected friends!) access to your home without physical keys. There are many options that include keypads, smartphone access, smart home control integration, or combinations of these.
  • Smart doorbell: Smart doorbells work with your smartphone to allow you to know when someone’s at your door regardless of whether you’re in your room, in the backyard or at the market. They give you a video feed of the visitor and often you can talk back. This can be good for deterring opportunistic intruders or even ignoring unwelcome solicitors. Some smart lock options can interact with your smart lock to allow you to let someone in as well.


While networking may not be as sexy as other tech like media rooms, streaming music and smart home gear, its the backbone of all that good stuff. Its important to give networking careful thought and attention so it can work for you.

  • Wire everything you can: Other than portable devices like mobile phones and tablets, most home tech gear can and should be wired to your network. Don’t make devices like TVs, Apple TVs, desktop computers, printers, etc. fight for Wi-Fi – they will work better when physically connected to a solid network. Think of the future too, as a few extra networking wires won’t cost much at build time, but will come in handy when and where you need them.
  • Ensure good Wi-Fi where you want it (inside or outside): Think about where you want to good wi-fiuse Wi-Fi and make sure you can put a Wi-Fi access point close enough for a good Wi-Fi signal there. For example, one router in a basement most likely will not cover a whole home. Consider a home’s layout and building material, and run network wire so you can install Wi-Fi points where needed.
  • Use professional quality equipment and cabling: A home’s network is no longer just for checking the odd email or cat video – its now major infrastructure asset for your entertainment, work, automation and more. When you consider how much you will use and rely on it, the investment is very reasonable.

Well architected home tech can add enjoyment and value to your home while still allowing it to feel like a home. Some up front planning can balance your home tech needs with your style and aesthetics.

What’s fast roaming, and how does it help with good Wi-Fi?

good wi-fi

These days, good Wi-Fi coverage seems to be as important as the air we breath. You likely need more than just a Wi-Fi router to provide a strong Wi-Fi signal throughout your home. This is especially true since since so many devices rely on good Wi-Fi. Great, so you decide that you’ll use multiple Wi-Fi routers or access points to improve coverage – the issue is that you may still find that your Wi-Fi performance is poor – typically when you move around. The reason is likely that Wi-Fi devices like mobile phones and tablets decide when to switch to a different Wi-Fi signal, but they usually don’t want to let go of a Wi-Fi signal unless its completely unusable. This is where fast roaming can come to your rescue.

You may not think you ‘roam’ around your home, but you likely move around enough that you’re not always close to the Wi-Fi signal that you started with. You get a wide range of Wi-Fi signal strengths to your devices as you walk around your home. This is not only due to size and layout of a home, but also due to building material (e.g. Wi-Fi doesn’t travel well through concrete or metal). Newer devices are usually compatible with fast roaming, but they need help. Better Wi-Fi access points have fast roaming as a configurable option. Fast roaming Wi-Fi equipment (based on IEEE 802.11r and 802.11k standards) negotiates handoff with the device. This way your mobile phone or laptop can be switched to a stronger Wi-Fi signal without you noticing, allowing multiple Wi-Fi access points to work together in your home to handle your Wi-Fi needs.

Make sure you or your tech architect designs your home’s networking to support fast roaming. Its not enough to put a bunch of Wi-Fi access points around your home, you have to make sure they’ll actually work in concert to give you solid Wi-Fi coverage that you’ll appreciate. Happy fast roaming!

What’s on 4K TV?


4K Ultra HD TV

So here we are two-thirds through 2016, and 4K TVs are definitely worth looking at if you’re considering a new TV. Regardless if they’re called 4K TVs, Ultra HD TVs or UHDTVs, there are a lot of great 4K TVs available at reasonable prices. Good ones make today’s HDTV sources, like Blu-rays and Cable TV, look great using their built-in upscaling capabilities. But what actual 4K material – what are our options for that? While true 4K content is still pretty thin, its improving with options for streaming from the Internet, cable TV providers and 4K Blu-ray discs.

Streaming services like Netflix are still the go-to for getting 4K content (and will likely be in the future). Netflix has stated its committed to Ultra HD 4K content, and their list of shows is growing. There is currently a $2 premium for Netflix Ultra HD, but this also gives you the ability to stream on up to four screens.  YouTube has been offering 4K for longer, but there is less programming there. Shomi and CraveTV, the Canadian brewed streaming services, are also rumoured to be offering 4K content soon. If you want to stream 4K services though, make sure your TVroku_roku4 has the apps available, as there are currently no separate 4K media servers readably available in Canada (like the Roku 4 – which is currently not officially supported in Canada). Note though that internet streaming will cut into your data allowance from your Internet Provider.

So far it looks like only Telus is offering a 4K compatible set top box in our area. This is a good sign, but there is little 4K content on cable TV to actually watch. There was the Olympics, and there will be a few Blue Jays and NHL games, but its a pretty light offering. How this turns out depends on the future of internet streaming – one could image that any programming will be available via streaming vs. just cable TV (regardless if offered by a phone, satellite or cable company). The technology is readily available, so it really will be decided by licensing deals and the CTRC. Hopefully future decisions will be made to benefit consumers and not just service providers.

There is still an industry push to offer physical mediums like 4K Blu-ray discs. Since these discs won’t rely on your Internet service, they will offer consistent high quality and without impacting your Internet usage. Since we’re increasingly an instant gratification society, only time will tell if people are willing to go to a store or wait for physical discs to watch. The current issue is that there’s not many 4K Blu-ray players available like these from Samsung and Panasonic. The list of available discs is growing, but its not very comprehensive either.

All that said, its definitely still worth considering a 4K TV if you have the budget. There is strong momentum with this next generation TV technology, and in the meantime, for a reasonable premium, you get superior picture quality while future proofing for when content availability settles out.

How to hide technology gear like TV components

hide technology

Most people want to hide technology so they don’t see their home’s audio and video gear. You need to see the TV while you’re watching it, but other gear can be hidden in a cabinet or closet. The good news is that there are ways to control the hidden gear – these include IR repeaters, universal remotes with hubs, and control systems.

We first need to understand how audio and video gear is controlled. Most devices like TVs, cable boxes, AV receivers and blu-ray players use IR remotes. IR, or infrared, is light that we can’t see that is used to carry control signals. Some higher end devices like TVs and AV receivers can also be controlled with a serial port. This is a special communication port that gives full control of the device. More and more devices are also including control using your home’s computer network as well. Some devices can also be controlled with wireless technologies like Bluetooth. For example, Sony only allows the PS4 to be controlled by their Bluetooth remote or game controllers.

An IR repeater is a simple and affordable way to get the IR signals into a cabinet. These require a sensor somewhere outside the cabinet that receives the signal, and then the signal is sent to one or more IR transmitters (IR LED lights) inside the cabinet. Usually these work best for a simple system like just a cable box hidden away. Not all IR signals are the same, so some may not be properly repeated IR repeater receiverinside the cabinet. The gear can’t be too far away either, as repeaters aren’t made to cover long distances. Although quite small, you also need to find a place to put the sensor that isn’t an eyesore in the room. Finally, of course, these will only work with IR controlled devices.

The next step up is to use a universal remote that includes a hub or base station that is placed inside the cabinet. With these remotes, such as the Harmony Ellite, the remote uses a wireless radio signal to talk to the hub, and the hub then sends the IR signals. These systems will allow for equipment placed a bit further way, but its best to keep harmony remotecomponents within the same room. It should be noted that IR is one-way control. An IR remote has no knowledge if your TV has turned on or is set to the right input for example, so some of these remotes have help features to fix issues when hiccups like these happen. These types of remotes often include control for smart home products like Sonos and Lutron Caseta as well.

If you want complete control, then you can choose a home control system such as an RTI system. These powerful systems can take the complication out of a TV room, an elabourate home theatre or smart home to make it easy to operate. You can choose to use hand-held remotes, smartphone or tablet apps, wall touchpads, or any combination of these controllers. These offer two-way control of custom home controlmany devices using a serial port or network connection, so it can determine if devices (like your TV) are on, and all the components are set to the right input, etc. While IR repeaters and many universal remotes are good for a do-it-yourselfer, you’ll need a professional to set up a home control system. It can even be setup to run things like lights and heat without you needing to do anything.

You have options if you’d like to hide technology out of sight. Tech is always changing, so not all control options will control all devices. If you’re handy, maybe you can set up a IR repeater or universal remote yourself, or maybe your want a professional to figure out what will work and set one of these up for you, Whatever you choose, make sure that there is adequate ventilation or fans to keep your gear cool as electronics can get hot. As always, let us know if you’d like a hand getting the right solution set up for you.

How to secure your home tech

home tech hackerThere seems to be a scary news article every month or so that makes it seem like home tech is particularly vulnerable to evil hackers. The truth is that anything – be it your home, car or home tech – can be vulnerable if you don’t take precautions. You likely don’t leave your car unlocked with the keys in the ignition, but this unfortunately is essentially what sometimes happens with home technology.

The biggest issue is that people often don’t change the default passwords that come with their home tech gear. The classic example is a network camera from a big box store. These are often just plugged in right out the box and used with the defaults. Sure its easy, but its also foolish. Some hackers find it fun to scour the Internet looking for network cameras with default passwords so they can log in and link to your video. It gets really creepy when they log into a camera with two-way communications and they start talking to you! The same goes with consumer automation packages – someone can jump onto your system and start turning your lights on and off. The good news is that most hackers are harmless, and some even are trying to warn you before a real thug logs into your system. Most of these types of issues can be avoided by simply changing the default password. And while you’re at it, make it a good password that is hard to hack!

Humans make errors, and humans write the programs for home tech. Occasionally there is a bug in the code that may be security related. Most companies are open and transparently admit to the issue and provide a timely software or firmware update for their products. That’s why its always a good idea to immediately check the manufacturer’s website to see if there is new software or firmware to update when you install a device. You should also regularly check for updates in case new issues are found.

Now that you’ve changed the password and updated the software, don’t stop there. Make sure you’re network is safe too. What’s the point of locking down a fancy new home automation system if it uses your insecure Wi-FI? A common problem is that people make their Wi-Fi passcode something easy to remember (like their phone number), but this is easy for hackers too. Use a strong password – even a moderately stronger one is better than something simple that anyone off the street or behind a computer on the other side of the world could figure out.

You can dig a lot deeper on home tech and network security including closing or blocking open ports and MAC filtering, but a balanced approach will get you started in the right direction. Like anything from a car to home tech, if there is perceived value and its easy enough, someone will figure out a way to break in. There is nothing special about home tech in this regard. Your job is make hacker’s jobs hard enough so they’d rather choose an easier target.

What is an OLED TV?


You may have heard that OLED is the TV technology of the future. OLED TVs are starting to become available, and they promise to be cheap, incredibly thin, and even flexible. We’ve talked about 4K TVs, which can be made using OLED or LED technology – but what is OLED, and how does this compare to today’s LED TVs?

Let’s start with how TVs create the picture we watch. First, LED TV’s name is a bit misleading. The picture is actually created using a Liquid Crystal Display, or LCD, (like on a cheap digital wrist watch) with LED lights lighting it from behind. The LCD makes a grid of shutters that allow colour filtered light to shine through (or not shine through). They are called “LED TVs” because LED lights replaced fluorescent lights that used to back light “LCD TVs”. This made TVs thinner and cheaper to make.

Now lets look at OLED – Organic Light Emitting Diode. LEDs and OLEDs are semiconductors that emit light when powered. Here the word organic doesn’t mean its natural and living free flexible OLEDrange, but rather a scientific term for an insulator that becomes a semiconductor when a charge is applied. OLEDs make their own light, so they don’t need any back light. OLEDs can be manufactured on thin backplane that can even be flexible. So, which technology is better?

Colour: Advantage OLED TV
Since OLEDs make their own light and can be controlled individually, they have a potential for better colour accuracy. LED TVs need to rely on special technologies and colour filters to make a great picture, but they still fall short of OLED TVs.

Black Level: Advantage OLED TV
One of the main short comings of LED TVs is black levels – the best they can do is a very dark grey. This is due to the shared backlight. Even with high-end LED TVs with hundreds of LED lights behind the TV screen, each light covers thousands of pixels. Its hard to go to black in an area when there are other areas that need light to shine though. Since OLEDs make their own light, each pixel can basically be whatever intensity is required.

Brightness: Advantage LED TV
The other side of the coin is brightness. In scenarios like outdoor TVs or digital signs, TV makers can put whatever light they need to make the back light bright enough. That said, in most home viewing situations including bright rooms, OLED TVs should be bright enough.

Viewing Angle: Advantage OLED TV
The technology that LED TVs use limits the optimal viewing angle. On a LED TV, the optimal viewing is from the centre to about 45 degrees to either side. If you’re looking at it from the side at 45 degrees or more, the picture quality will degrade. OLED TV pictures will not degrade with viewing angle – you will get the same picture quality until you are essentially looking at the side of the TV.

Refresh Rate: Advantage OLED TV
Although this is less noticeable in current LCD LED TVs, LCDs take a millisecond or more to turn on and off. This may sound quick, but our eye catches it as motion blur. This can be noticeable when the picture is changing quickly like in an action movie or hockey game. OLEDs can do this in around 0.01 ms, and our eyes can’t notice that!

Price: Advantage LED TV (today)
Like any technology it takes a while to get manufacturing issues sorted out and costs down. Since OLED TV technology is new, this hasn’t happened yet. That said, if you have deep pockets, current OLED TVs have picture quality that can’t be found in LED TVs at any price. For those of us with more modest budgets, we’ll have to wait a bit longer though.

The really incredible thing about this is that even with the current crop of great LED TVs available at affordable prices, TVs are only going to get better! As 4K UHDTV come into the mainstream, they will be followed by more and more OLED TV options. Deciding on gear like TVs is a balance between the fit for function and budget, but like we do with our clients, choose the TV that fits your needs and timeline. With technology, there is always something better coming, but the right fit will meet your needs for a long time.

Why should I buy a 4K UHDTV?


Believe it or not, this isn’t about encouraging you to buy a 4K TV. Its about arming you with the knowledge to make a decision either way. A nice 4K TV is great, but a good HDTV may still fit your needs. Here are some of the things that you need to know to understand whether a 4K TV is for you.

First lets look at the consumer TV screen resolutions. Resolutions are described in pixels, or the little coloured rectangles that make up TV images. 1080p HDTV resolution is 1920 horizontal by 1080 vertical pixels. This is usually simply denoted as 1920×1080. Doing the math, there are 2,073,600 pixels on a 1080p HDTV. Smaller TVs sometimes are 720p HDTV or 1280×720. Of course when TVs get larger, those tiny HDTV pixels start to get more noticeable (more on that in a bit). UHDTV 4K TVs video resolutions comparisonshave a resolution of 3840 x 2160, or 4 times the resolution of 1080p HDTV. The ‘4K’ is named because of the approximate 4000 horizontal pixels (the movie projection industry’s DCI 4K resolution standard is actually 4K at 4096 x 2160, but let’s focus on the consumer standards). You can see that there are a lot more pixels of picture information in 4K TVs.

For smaller TVs, 1080p or 720p HDTV may be fine, as they are usually viewed far enough away that individual pixels aren’t noticed. Retina distance is the distance a typical person’s eye has to away from a screen to not pick out individual pixels. Since the trend and prices are moving towards affordable large TVs, HDTV pixels are starting to be noticed at average viewing distances. Below is a table of TV sizes and retina distances for 1080p HD and 4K TV. Using a 65” TV as an example, you may start seeing pixels when you are at 8 feet away from a 1080p HDTV, while you’d have to be 4 feet away for a 4K TV. You should consider this for your seating distance. For example, THX recommends that you should sit about 6 1/2 feet from a 65” TV to be immersed in the viewing experience. While perhaps aesthetics and not THX will decide your seating distance, its worth considering all the same.

TV viewing distances

There are some other terms that get pulled into the 4K discussion. While we’ve covered HDR or High Dynamic Range (deeper colour palette), what the heck is a Nit? A Nit is a unit of brightness that is used by TV manufactures. The idea is that a screen should reproduce all levels of luminance from pure black to daylight like images. Current 4K TVs are claiming to be able to reach 1000 Nits (pretty bright!) without sacrificing ability to show blacks that are close to black.

4K TVs prices are falling, and manufactures are adding great features like HDR to justify premium prices. Specs are one thing, but you need to balance out quality as well. A cheap 4K TV might be just that, cheap. Your money may be better spent on a good HDTV. Good 4K TVs have very nice pictures though, and they do a great job making ordinary HDTV content look good as well while we’re waiting for more 4K content.

Home Tech 101: What to look for in a router

home tech router networkWe’ve talked a lot about proper networking equipment for home tech lately, and its important to understand the equipment that goes into a network. Most people will know a ‘router’ as a Wi-Fi router as this is what most people have – either from a big box store or a ‘gateway’ (Wi-Fi router & modem) from their Internet Provider. A router is arguably the most significant piece of technology in your home, as all home tech activities from surfing the web to streaming media to home automation need a router to work. While all routers route home and Internet data (see below), amongst the long list of features, there are other ones like VLANs and remote management to look out for.

Routing & firewall: Although routing is what a router does, its worth reviewing what that actually is. A router is a device that connects data between two computer networks – in this case, your home’s network and the Internet. You need a router to do this because originally there wasn’t enough computer addresses available in the world to allow your home computers and devices to have their own unique addresses. Instead your home network uses a subset of addresses that can be re-used in all homes and businesses – their routers also translate the address between their networks and the Internet. Computer IP addresses are similar to home addresses – just a way for computers to know where data needs to go. (The world is now starting to use IPv6 that has lots of addresses, but that’s another story.) A Router can also implement a “firewall” that offers a level of security to help shelter your home’s devices from the big, bad Internet. Security features can include Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI), Denial of Service (DoS) prevention, WAN Request Blocking (blocks ping requests), and content filtering (e.g. block adult content).

Performance: We have nothing against consumer grade Wi-Fi routers for the right home application – its just that they’re often the wrong tool for the job. People demand so much from their network and often they’re not aware that they’re asking a lot from basic equipment that was never designed for heavy usage. Often basic equipment fails families even when they think they “aren’t really doing much techy stuff” at home. Proper equipment helps ensure that all of your home tech can do what you need it to do from Instagram to HD Netflix streaming. More and more people can benefit from commercial grade networking equipment that is built to handle the load that they need. A good router can also prioritize certain data and/or balance data needs within your allotted access to the Internet. While great Wi-Fi capability is extremely important, it doesn’t necessarily need to be built into a router. Often a router is stuffed away somewhere that doesn’t make sense for Wi-Fi coverage. In those cases, we look at putting Wi-Fi Access Points in central locations to provide the needed Wi-Fi coverage.

VLANs: A LAN, or Local Area Network, is the local computer network in your home. In a home network, a significant amount of data is broadcasted to all devices regardless if they want it or not. A VLAN, or Virtual Local Area Network, allows the network data to be tagged with an ID that separates it from other data. You can use VLANs to separate data even its on the same physical network – those broadcasts can be separated to only the devices that need them. For example, you can tag all of your entertainment devices for the same VLAN so they think they’re on their own network and not compete as much with other devices such as surveillance cameras. You can expand this with VLAN compatible IP switches to make a powerful and flexible network.

Dual WAN: For those who want to ensure their Internet is dual WAN portsalways on, you can use the dual WAN (Wide Area Network, i.e. the Internet in this case) to connect the network to two different Internet Service Providers and/or configure your WAN connections to load-balance and link failover.

Remote Management: Since we help people with home tech, remote management is a big benefit for both our clients and us. In the event something goes awry with a router, we can remotely check on the router, modify configurations, and restart it without having to set up an on-site appointment, etc. Very handy!

A router is the centre piece of the home network, so its important to use one that fits your particular needs. Regardless if you’re building or renovating, or if you’re looking for a stable network in an existing home, a bit of focus on the networking foundation of your home will pay dividends.

Top home tech that people need

lighting control

A recent article, 8 Technologies That People Actually Need, by Heather L. Sidorowicz really resonated with our philosophies at Simpleer. Although it was targeted to home tech industry folk like us, it provides a solid baseline for homeowners too. Here’s why we feel strongly that these topics are important for today’s homes.

Simple universal remote: We all want one simple-to-use remote to control our TV and sound system. It needs to work, and this means it needs to work for the tech savvy and tech novice. One simple remote that replaces a coffee table full of Simple remoteremotes is a beautiful thing! The more simple to use the better – it’s our jobs as technology experts to program remotes and create device interfaces that make technology easy to use for everyone. Most people are like us – when it’s time to watch a show of listen to music, we just want to press a button and enjoy.

Better Wi-Fi: Unfortunately Wi-Fi coverage is a pain point for most people until they get our help. Sometimes they were aware when Wi-Fi coverage was poor, and often they just saw the effects of poor performance on their slow smartphones or choppy Netflix. Since Wi-Fi coverage is a corner stone of home tech, we always include a wireless Wi-Fi & networkingand wired network plan in our home tech solutions to ensure good Wi-Fi coverage inside and out. Increasingly this includes commercial grade gear, as consumer gear, especially from Internet Service Providers, just isn’t made to handle modern usage or provide good Wi-Fi coverage.

Cord-cutting solutions: Clients ask if they can or should cut their cable, as they mention their bill is costly, and they only watch a handful of channels. Cord cutting depends on personal viewing habits, so we spend time educating on what alternatives are available. There are over-the-air options, but these are limited to local TV stations (which may or may not have the shows you want). Streaming services are available when you add a Smart TV, Apple TV or Roku media streamer. If you don’t mind watching older shows and movies, then Netflix, Shomi, Crackle, etc. might cover you. If you’re a sports fan, there are Apple TV media streamersubscriptions like the NHL’s GameCentre and NFL’s Game Pass (but check to see if you’ll be effected by local blackouts). You can also buy current shows via Apple’s iTunes. Unfortunately not everything is available via streaming services, e.g. golf and HGTV. For now, Netflix et. al. cover many people’s viewing needs, and more options will become available.

Music in living spaces: Music is a big part of my family’s lives. It plays nearly continually in our kitchen and spills outside from our deck speakers in the summer. Our office Integrated streaming musicalso has streaming music from services like Deezer, and local and international radio stations. We have subtle in-ceiling and outdoor speakers that are reasonably priced and sound great! There are also great retrofit options from companies like Sonos and Denon. So far the DJing battles, using iDevices, simple remotes and keypads, have been civil. Great sounding music at the mere touch of a button is just awesome and enhances life.

Keyless entry: Our smart lock has been fully embraced by my family. Not only do I not have to worry about my kids having smart door lockhouse keys, I don’t need to take one with me either. We live in a walkable neighbourhood, so I often head out for groceries or a night out without keys. It sounds trivial, but its liberating. Its also handy when a friend or someone needs to get into your place – you can give out temporary codes, or let them in with your smartphone.

Lighting control: Lighting control and automation is one of those things that once you have it, you may wonder how you lived without it. With solutions like Lutron’s Caseta, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune either. You can begin with a room or two and build on it as you wish. You can think about lighting ‘scenes’ like relax, entertain and watch TV rather than the old ‘this switch turns on that light’. Many products also allow for easy retrofitting: In our house, we updated our living room by controlling our retro floor and table lamps from wall switches, or from anywhere in the world. iphone light controlWe also have them scheduled to come on just before sunset and off at midnight (unless we turn them off earlier). They’re also programmed to slowly flash (like at a theatre) at 10:30pm so we know we should go to bed (no Netflix, we don’t want to watch the another episode). We also have a motion sensor to turn on the hall lights at 20% for middle of the night bathroom trips. Combine all that wih not having to fight with thumb knobs on lamps, and you have a great equalizer for the disabled or elderly.

Better sounding TV: Most of today’s TVs look great, but they don’t sound very good. This is especially difficult for elderly or TV + soundbarthe hard of hearing. In media rooms and home theatre, the centre speaker can be turned up (since dialogue usually comes from the centre). But if you don’t want a media room or home theatre, you can have an affordable sound bar directing sound to the viewer. Simple solutions can make a big difference.

Better streaming services: As noted in cording cutting above, a Smart TV, Apple TV and Roku handles streaming services, so its really not the technology that’s the hold up. More services need to be available (especially in Canada) – from streaming optionscurrent top shows to sports to old classics. Local and international shows should be at our finger tips. The future is simple-to-use streaming apps on these devices. Content holders will have to figure it out, as viewers will soon demand it or they’ll move onto other entertainment.

There are so many great experiences that home tech solutions can provide us. It really comes down to the technologies that we actually want and will use. Its important to ensure these are cohesive and organized into holistic solutions – you can’t put a square peg in a round hole. Its great when you get it right, and we’re so lucky that we get to help people with the right mix of technology that helps elevate their homes and lives.


CES 2016 home tech wrap-up

stack responsive

The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, is North America’s big electronics show. Its the event where companies show off their latest and greatest products. It wrapped up on Saturday, and as in past years, there was an overwhelming amount of gadgets from wearable tech to drones to car tech (all of which created their own buzz). With so much going on, we’ll narrow our focus to a couple home tech related themes; 4K TV and smart home products.

Like last year, 4K TV was hot at CES. This year though it looks like 4K TV is heading quickly towards the mainstream. While 4K TVevery TV manufacturer showed of their latest 4K TVs at CES, manufactures like Hisense and Sharp announced more affordable sets. They may skimp on some features and quality, such as back lighting and HDR, but they may be satisfying for the price.

TI also announced a 4K chipset (the devices manufactures will use to build projectors with) that should bring more affordable 4K projectors to the market sometime towards the middle of the year. Many also announced 4K UHD Blu-ray players. There looks to be 4K UHD Blu-ray movies on the way as well this summer, but we’ll see if people will still choose physical discs over the convenience of streaming 4K TV from services like Netflix.

Although there was a fair amount of “smart home” gear, there weren’t really new complete solutions that solved pain points. For example, Samsung and LG had ‘smart’ refrigerators, but likely the best feature was that the Samsung took picture of what’s inside your fridge. Perhaps handy to check if you need to pick up milk on yoursmart fridge way home, but maybe not worth the $5K US. Whirlpool also has some appliances including a smart stove that is controlled via a phone app. While it will also work with a Nest thermostat to send alerts when the oven is on while the the Nest thinks you are away, it really should have the smarts to know when someone has completely forgotten a pot heating on the stove. This could save a forgetful or elderly person from a common danger.

There were also products like NanoLeaf and Stack’s responsive lights that make lights smarter. NanoLeaf integrates with Apple’s Siri. Stack’s can turn themselves off when you leave the room and adjust colour of light for the time of day. The idea is that it provides more natural lighting based on environmental conditions and time of day. Cool ideas, but the average home owner would have a patchwork of apps to control them with other home tech vs. simple whole home control. In general, its good to see that manufactures are trying, so hopefully they’ll move towards products that are simple to use and solve pain points.

The main takeaways from CES 2016 for the home were the solidifying of 4K TV and that homes will continue to get smarter. The good news is that great 4K TVs are getting to price points so we can all enjoy 4K TV, and there looks to be an increasing interest in making home tech products that improve our lives.