Tuesday, January 10, 2012

iPad for home control?

We all know the iPad can do a lot of great things but I bet you didn't know that within one app you can:

1) Control and automate your home theatre.

2) Control and automate lighting, temperature, irrigation, security, spa and much more.

3) Control all of these systems from anywhere in the world.

4) Access your songs and playlists from iPods, music stored in hard drives and in the cloud.

These are so elegantly executed on the iPad that many home automation product manufacturers have been forced to discontinue selling a significant number of proprietary touch-screen controllers that used to sell for hundreds or thousands - now a hard sell when, in fact, they would not be able to compete with many aspects of iPad's performance.

The fact that there are so many iPads out there means home automation companies have unprecedented opportunity to introduce their benefits to a mainstream audience. All it takes is the addition of an integration processor and some programming - an investment that can start somewhere in the range of $1000. It doesn't sound like a lot once you compare that to the similar cost of a traditional handheld colour touchscreen controller before it's even programmed.

Many clients tend to gravitate towards the benefits of using an iPad as a system controller, which include:

1) A stunning, colourful display with lots space to display custom, intuitive user interface graphics.

2) Excellent WiFi reception to keep you connected to your system consistently.

3) The ability to have quick access to other useful apps.

However there are also some drawbacks to consider before deciding to use an iPad as your main controller such as:

1) The lack of tactile buttons that can allow you to use a controller without looking.

2) The inherent lag time involved in turning on a control app when you need it immediately (imagine the slight frustration of having to wait for a moment when you want to turn the volume down to answer the phone).

3) The chance that you won't have a TV controller if someone decides to borrow the iPad to use in another room.

If you find yourself getting excited about using your iPad for home control, don't hesitate to call Home Digital for a quick demonstration or download the RTiPanel demo app to experience iPad control immediately. I guarantee you'll fall in love.

Tristan Leynes - HomeDigitalAV.com

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Big Box Stores - Are You Getting Real Value?

Big box electronic stores are best known for one thing - big discounts. Since the inception of high volume, low margin sales, the game of retail has changed, making it harder for reputable mom and pop stores to sustain required profits. Now with the general decline of consumer confidence, signs are showing that even the big box giants are suffering. Since increasing margin is probably not their top priority, the race is on to see how they can possibly gain more sales for the sake of staying alive. Which begs the question: Are you really getting the best value buying from a big box store?

You are probably familiar with this scenario. You head into the store looking for a TV. You find one you like and are ready to purchase. The salesman highly recommends you buy the high end cable because your picture won't look good without it. "Better buy the big power bar too so you get the best sound and picture - only the brand we sell will do this. Get our universal remote, too, it's the best in the industry, and you should really consider our extended warranty".

Nothing really wrong with add on sales. The fact is, you do need some extra equipment these days to get your TV working. But considering that your TV is probably going to have to integrate with a home theatre system and various other components how do you know the cable you're getting is enough or the right length? Do you even need the most expensive cable available? Controlled scientific tests have shown that there could be no discernible difference between an entry level cable and a very expensive one.

When big box stores sell, it seems a lot of focus is put on selling as much as possible, especially higher margin accessories such as wires, brackets, batteries, cleaning products and such. Not only this, they also have to make sure that products are moving. If a piece of equipment is not flying off the floor you better bet that the sales team is pressured to sell it. You may be inclined to buy even if the product is not quite what you need.

As a custom home electronics integrator, I like to take a fresh approach on sales. It's not just about selling individual components and accessories but more about selling whole systems based on a clients' needs and a long term plans if he or she wants quality. If I'm to sell a single component, immediately I'm thinking about how it's going to interact with other components in the house, whether it's going to work with the wiring we ran through walls during construction or whether it's going to be easy to use. For the client I liken this to buying a high performance car. Would you shop various discount vendors for high-end car parts expecting to be able to put together a high quality product? It obviously makes sense to buy a car complete even though it costs more than its individual parts.

Let's not forget the extended service and unique products provided by specialist like Home Digital. Product is delivered to your door free of charge. All products come with full manufacturer warranties and if any equipment should fail we cover the labour to remove, ship and replace it as soon as possible. Furthermore, system are installed with true expertise. Many of the products we carry will never even be found at stores targeting everyday consumers. Advanced automation controllers for example, which require extensive training and knowledge, will continue to be sold to professionals for resale. Only when programmed and installed professionally can they deliver the unparalleled intuitive control they were designed for. Big box stores recognize the growing custom installations market and want to play our game but none yet have truly emulated the value that we provide.

There's no denying the great deals available at big box stores - even I have been known to shop them. I never stop a client from buying there as it's never worth getting involved in such a price war. Should you see that special deal tucked in the Saturday newspaper, be sure to call a home integration expert to find out if purchasing it would be a good decision. It's in our best interest to make sure you're getting the best value in every situation.

Tristan Leynes
Home Digital

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Design and User Interface Makes or Breaks Your Home Theatre Experience

Let's face it, probably less than 1% of the world's population knows how to get a modern TV working the way it should. It's almost a crime selling ever changing technologies, lined with a multitude of buttons and connections that are sure to impress Star Trek geeks. For most regular people, it's all too confusing. All they want to do is watch TV...in High Definition... okay, it would be really nice to get some surround sound, too. What if there was a way to just plug equipment together and press a button to get things going? There is - sort of.

For years, manufacturer have been touting plug and play functionality in their products, but the reality is we're not quite there yet. There seems to be some promise in the new HDMI wire that combines digital audio, video and data signals into one cable but that's really just a start. A respectable home entertainment system requires several components and if you want great value, it's probably going to be made up of several brands. You can do research, purchase the products and hope it all comes together neatly at the end of the day. Those who are tech savvy can do an admiral job of this, but again anyone normal may and end up with disaster. Let's say you managed to make all of the right connections. Everything may look and sound great but what's that on your coffee table? At least five remotes that will make you look ridiculous trying to turn on the TV in front of friends.

Here's where a genuine Systems Integrator can make your day. This is a person you hire to come to your home to discuss the kind of system you want and what your expectations are. You are to admit that you know nothing about any of the equipment you've seen in stores or at your friend's house. You do know that you want outstanding picture and sound but you're not sure if you'll even be able to use the system without a patient assistant.

This is the kind of story an Integrator hears all the time. I'm an integrator and the first thing I do is get to know the client well. How comfortable are they with using technology? What do they watch or listen to? Can they tolerate having a big TV or big speakers in the living room? Once I know some key information I can begin to think about options for equipment and the type of controller they should have for the system. The goal is to design and install a system that is really easy to use, looks great in the room and delivers impressive performance.

Getting all this to happen starts by choosing the right equipment. Nobody can really have intimate knowledge about every piece of equipment out there but it helps to do lots of research and to be closely in touch with the custom installations industry. What also helps is the day to day experience of installing and integrating together many types of components. In time you learn what always works and what to avoid in terms of connection types, brands and methods.

Consumer review sites can offer some guidance in finding some excellent products but they don't recognize many of the challenges integrators face that can render some of these products virtually useless in larger systems that are to function intuitively. For example, I can recall a TV purchased by a client, said to be a top performer, that could not fit into our overall design. The problem was, changing inputs on it required pressing too many buttons, and in such a way that the process could never be automated, even by the most advanced control systems available.

Having the right audio/video equipment, by itself, is still only part of the picture. What makes an exceptional system leaps and bounds ahead of the ordinary is the user interface. In essence this is your remote control. When a talented integrator does a thoughtful job of designing and programming a unified system remote, its function is not unlike what you were used to in the olden days - when watching TV required one remote and turning it on meant pushing a button. The modern, expertly programmed automation remote, is truly a marvel, seamlessly combining the functions of numerous components. The user is presented with a minimalist display of buttons, customized and simplified to do exactly what they're supposed to. It's so intuitive that lessons may not even be required to operate the most sophisticated systems. High-end models show more pizzaz with colour touchscreens and live display of iPod song information or access to weather and other online information.

As a consumer, it may be maddening to realize that buying a flat screen TV alone will not bring home the total home theatre experience. That likely requires a lot of added equipment and some skill to put together. As long as no one figures out a way to package this all into one box, I guess I'll always have a job.

Tristan Leynes
Home Digital
705 - 444 - 5638

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Off-Site Home System Control is Perfect for Chalets.

There's never been a better time for Home Automation systems that allow for off-site control and monitoring of climate, security, irrigation and lighting - especially for cottagers who want to conserve energy.

What is off-site control exactly? It is the ability to turn up your chalet's thermostat a couple of hours before arriving, or setting your alarm off for workers, using a web browser or iPhone from anywhere in the world. Not sure if you turned your lights off before leaving? Easily check online and you'll see live status of your lights. Essentially, you control almost any system as if you were there.

The most versatile systems are installed during construction, when there is still time to plan for a suitable system and get wires in place before the drywall is installed. Most systems will require a hard line connection to your home network so be sure you have high speed internet service before you even consider this advanced home automation feature.

Some newer systems are designed specifically for retrofit installation in finished homes. Crestron's Prodigy line, for example, features a thermostat that communicates wire-free to the home automation processor, which in turn is connected to the home network and internet. The thermostat can then be controlled and viewed by all user interfaces throughout the home including hand-held remotes, in-wall touchscreens, PCs and iPhones/iTouches.

Prodigy Light Switches can replace standard switches and dimmers for the same kind of control. Add to this the ability to create lighting schedules to make sure lights are only on when needed. You can even program lights to turn on below maximum intensity, making sure you're always saving energy. The savings are significant yet you may not even realize that the lights are not quite as bright as they could be.

Off site control doesn't have to be expensive. Crestron Prodigy starts at around $1000 for home theatre automation and thermostat. Add light switches for about $150 each and 3.6 inch in-wall colour touchscreen for less than $800. As sophisticated as the system is, programming is easy and quick.

Start thinking about off-site control systems. You'll save energy, enhance security and have fun doing it.