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.


Video streaming and audio streaming vs. data usage caps

Netflix internet streaming service for home theatre and media roomsMany of us use streaming video and music to media rooms, home theatres and music systems. A lot of people have chosen to cut tradition services like cable TV because streaming covers their needs at a lower cost. If you stream content, watch your usage and be careful to not burn through your home and mobile internet plan data caps. It depends on the application (e.g. Netflix or Spotify) and the devices (e.g. HDTV, smartphone or tablet), but here are some guidelines.

First you should be aware of what your home and mobile internet plans offers for data usage caps. You should check with your provider (e.g. Shaw and Telus for home), but we can look at examples for a common home limit: 250GB / month and mobile limit: 1 GB / month.

Applications like Netflix and Spotify have settings to adjust bandwidth use vs. the quality. The table below shows approximate hours you can expect for one stream (e.g. one of your TVs). You can calculate similar numbers for your data usage cap and multiple streams depending on your use.

data usage for home theatre, media room and home audio internet streaming In short, for home streaming, light users should be fine and heavy users should watch their usage during the month to avoid bill shock. For your mobile data, be very careful, as you can use up your allotment fairly quickly. Be especially careful when traveling, as roaming charges can be extremely nasty. Also watch out if your provider decides to lower limits or if they don’t increase them over time based on natural data use growth.  Look at your monthly bill periodically, and consider changing companies if you find a better deal.

Streaming internet content is great for choice, convenience and price. With a little effort, you can ensure you have the right internet plan to match your needs and avoid overage charges.

Making sense of TVs: “Should I get a Smart TV?”

viera-wt60TVs are often a large part of the home tech experience. There are a lot of options for TVs (size, LED vs. plasma, smart features, inputs, etc.), and therefore, usually a lot of questions about these options. We’re looking at common TV options and some tips on what to look for. Last time we looked at: “Do I need Ultra HD?”, this week: “Should I get a Smart TV?”

Smart TVs are all the rage these days, or at least they’re advertised as such.  Smart TVs are TVs with built in functions or apps that use the Internet.  In the old days, like five years ago, the only built in TV function was that it could tune in channels.  These days most of us use cable boxes, DVD/Blu-ray players or streaming devices.  As TV viewing habits and content sources are changing, TVs now have other built in functions like Netflix, YouTube, Facebook and more.

Should it effect your buying decision when looking at a new TV?  The answer is maybe.  If you use a TV with a cable set top box, DVD player or something like an Apple TV, then the TVs smart features won’t budge your decision one way or another.  It doesn’t hurt to have the smart features, but put your money first towards TV picture quality and size.

On the other hand, if you want to use Netflix without connecting a streaming device, then a TV with built-in Netflix would be handy. Below is a partial list of available apps to give you a sense of what’s available in Canada (our neighbours to the south have even more options).

  • Sports: MLB.TV, NHL GameCentre, MLSSamsung Smart TV
  • Special Interest: BollywoodHungama, NFB, Crunchyroll, Times of India, c|net
  • News: The Weather Network, WSJ Live, Huff Post Live,
  • Social: Skype, Twitter, YouTube
  • Convenience: smart phone streaming, Internet browsers, voice control

You can also look at TV manufactures smart functions such as Samsung’s smart TV offerings. Perhaps you can see yourself using something like Skype, checking the weather or streaming to your TV from your smartphone, so a smart TV might make sense to you.

If these types of smart features appeal to you, ensure that your short list of TVs also include apps that are important to you.  Remember that when you get it home though, you’ll need to have a stable Wi-Fi or wired network to fully enjoy the smart features as most require an Internet connection.  Happy viewing!