The High-Tech House
The latest state-of-the-art systems integrate your home’s security, lighting, heating, and entertainment and do your thinking—and worrying—for you. Put your feet up and let your place take care of itself.
By Rich Mintzer
Blu-ray is the next-generation disc format, offering close to five times the resolution of conventional DVDs. Samsung recently introduced the industry’s first Blu-ray disc player ($999), offering the opportunity to view High-Definition discs on existing HDTVs. Available at Best Buy and Circuit City stores.
When you get an email from your refrigerator telling you that its cooling system isn’t working properly, you’d better listen. Today’s appliances are serious business—and they’re able to speak up for themselves through the latest smart-house capabilities and high-tech systems integration.
“There’s a radio commercial where a guy is told by his boiler that he’ll soon get a call from his heating company,” says Tom Manna, founder and president of Digital Home Specialists in
But there is more to it than just chatty appliances. In our effort to move toward smart-house technology, home integration allows command central to be found on an easy-to-use touchpad. Companies such as Crestron, regarded by many as the Rolls Royce of the touchpad industry (with models ranging from about $400 to more than $2,000), along with Texas-based AMX, and a local multi-million-dollar company called Universal Remote (based in Harrison), manufacture the easy-to-program control panels.
“From one hand-held control panel, you can select between a radio, a CD player, an MP3 player; choose from a playlist; and control the sound in every room of your house,” says Robert Zohn, owner of Value Electronics in
Frank Huang, president of
Crestron’s TPMC-8X ($3,800, price does not include required control system, installation, and programming) is a WiFi wireless touch panel cusomized for home automation.
While controlling appliances, watching the premises through closed-circuit cameras, and setting the mood with lighting are all part of smart-house integration, entertainment systems still pave the way in modern home electronics. “Home theaters, which so recently cost upward of $30,000, can now be designed for less than $5,000,” says Zohn, who’s seen sales of big-screen sets climb as prices drop.
Of course, the big news in home electronics is HD-DVD (High-Definition DVD players), with competition from Blu-Ray (a next-generation optical-disc format developed to enable recording, rewriting, and playback of high-definition video and to store large amounts of data). “The new high-resolution HD-DVD players offer unbelievable quality,” says Zohn, who packages an HD-DVD player (listing for around $500 from Toshiba) in with large-screen TV purchases.
Not to lag behind, the big-screen TV manufacturers are also making news. Plasma manufacturers have moved to higher resolution screens on their sets, and LCD makers are competing with their own higher-resolution flat-panel equivalent. What this means is better picture quality from both camps as the plasma/LCD debate continues. (If you’re keeping score, LCDs are still considered more energy efficient, work well in brighter areas, and are thought to last longer than their plasma counterparts, which have a better refresh rate and are sharper in darker rooms, such as home-theater environments.)
For those who want to integrate their appliances with their entertainment (a pretty nifty idea), you simply can buy a TV refrigerator made by LG, with a cable-ready, 15-inch LCD television screen (with remote-control features) incorporated into the fridge for just over $3,000. A stainless-steel kitchen may coordinate better with the new stainless-steel flat-panel set from Toshiba, which lists for only $699 and fits unobtrusively into most kitchen motifs. It also comes with a waterproof remote in case you drop it in the sink during a particularly dramatic moment of Grey’s Anatomy.
LG’s TV Refrigerator ($3,499) has a 15-inch, LCD TV screen with remote control features and built-in FM tuner. Available at Best Buy stores.
Security is also an integral part of the home-integration package with HD CCTV (High-Definition Closed-Circuit TV) providing much clearer shots of who is outside your front door or on your property, even sending you photographs via email. If you prefer to inspect your residence over your cellphone, the Motorola Q Phone, using CoPilot Live software (listing at $399.95), offers that possibility.
While full integration technology now allows you to see visitors at your front door while you’re at work or change the temperature in your Westchester living room while you’re in Tokyo, the reality is that a home-integration system is only as good as those who install it.
“It’s the programming and interface that the installer designs that makes one system better than another,” explains Michael Demello, president and owner of AV Design and Integration in Elmsford. “And that’s what makes one company better than amother.”
“I wouldn’t say there’s a fail-safe in integrated home systems yet,” says Manna, who compares the situation to a car. “If it gets a flat tire, you can’t get anywhere. The same holds true if something stops working in the house. However, as home integrators, we’re doctors of technology and have to be able to help you fix your system.” He sees home integrators finding their way onto many speed dialers in the coming years.
So, settle down and relax, lock the door, dim the lights, raise the heat, and crank up some Miles Davis tunes—all without getting off the sofa. We know you have just one remaining question about your smart-house technology: what button can you push to get the kids to go to bed?
No line of sight is needed for Logitech’s Harmony 890 advanced universal remote ($399) to control sophisticated home-entertainment systems (even if the equipment is hidden behind closed doors). The Harmony 890 remote controls all of your components with one simple activity button; it’s as simple as selecting the activity you want, such as listening to music or watching TV or a DVD. Available now at Best Buy and
Rich Mintzer is a journalist for