Today we are literally standing on the brink of significant changes in the way we interact with the technology that surrounds us in our homes. While the art of integrating the technology we all have and love in our homes has been reserved for the rich in years past, there have been a number of developments that have created a situation where this industry is about to really hit momentum and take off for the average consumer: “Joe User.”. I will discuss some recent developments that I feel are acting as a catalyst for Home Technology Integration to make a rapid shift from merely being the playground of the rich upper class and a distant fantasy for “Joe User” to becoming a tangible reality for all. It’s clearly being shown that Integrated Home Technology is not only becoming available to the average consumer but it will also become the norm in homes across much of the world.
As I just mentioned, until recently, fully integrated homes were reserved for the very highest levels of society and money. Over the past few years, however, many of the manufacturers that build devices for the average consumer have noticed this ripe market and have started taking steps to fill that need by producing quality, yet reasonably priced products targeting the general population. This has happened not only as technology seems to advance at an exponentially faster pace year after year, causing the prices for said technology to become more affordable, but also because this is the natural order of things: What once was exclusive for the rich and famous eventually becomes accessible for the general publicâ€¦ the Average Joeâ€¦you, and I.
Just about every recognizable company out there, from Netgear to Cisco to even the bigger players like Microsoft and Apple not only seem to recognize this trend, but have whole departments within their companies dedicated to the expansion of the Home Technology market.
One thing has certainly become obvious:
The general population is ready for Home System Integration, the manufacturers recognize this, and the solution now becomes to educate Joe User as to what his or her options are.
Besides this coming down to the natural progression of technology moving from exclusivity for the rich to the affordability for the general population’s use, there are also some external forces that act as a catalyst for this process and, thus cause it to speed up.
1. Streaming Internet Media
By far, I believe that not only the advancements in streaming media, but also the sudden prevalence of it (or more accurately, awareness outside of tech circles), is acting as the greatest catalyst in raising public awareness about what can be accomplished in the home when it comes to integrating technology. While streaming media has been going on for years now, there is suddenly a huge upsurge in popularity with the general public. It’s not just the “geeks” who are into streaming media; everyone seems to be catching the buzz. One great example of this is D-Link’s Boxee Box. This device hasn’t even been released, yet already it is sitting in the #1 and #2 spots for Network Adapters and Digital Media Adapters respectively on Amazon.com. That is huge for a device that hasn’t even physically hit the market yet! Moreover, with Google TV just around the corner, I don’t think I’m the only one waiting to see the impact that Google with have on the TV viewing habits of people around the world. Suddenly, the average consumer has “Geekdom” at their fingertips, in High-Def!
Further building up the excitement and the market are Netflix and Hulu with new deals coming out practically weekly between them and the movie companies. There is no question that the world is paying attention to streaming media; from the consumer, to the device manufacturers, to even the film studios. Rest assured the cable and satellite companies are certainly paying attention as well, especially as technology gets to the point where true HD content can be streamed reliably. It will be interesting to also see what cable and satellite providers come up with to combat these new threats to their viewer base.
2. Hardware Advances
The vast majority of Blu-ray players and even a large portion of TVs that are being released these days have built in support for streaming content from Netflix, Blockbuster, and more. Beyond that, however, there is a plethora of devices built around storing media within the home and then being able to stream that content (whether it be movies, music, or pictures) to which ever UPnP device (PC, Laptop, Tablet) you like, no matter where it is located in your home. Aside from the multitude of UPnP NAS solutions out there, one could, for very little cost or effort, make the move to Windows Home Server. The combination of Windows Media Center and Windows Home Server is truly hard to beat (in my opinion) when it comes to accessing your media content from anywhere in the house to literally anywhere in the world with internet connectivity (obviously with reasonable price considerations).
Want to watch that TV show you recorded on your HTPC (Home Theater PC) on a laptop, all-in-on PC, or even your favorite tablet (whether it be iPad or Android flavor) while you cook dinner in the kitchen? Sure, you can do that! Want to watch that same TV show from your Smartphone while commuting via public transportation to work? Yep, you can do that too!
The technology is here that enables you to record, store, share, and stream your media content from just about anywhere, to just about anywhere! Best of allâ€¦it is fairly inexpensive and getting cheaper! Plus, the networking technology to move that media content across your network via Gigabit speeds or over wireless is here also. Now, everything is in place for…
3. Public Awareness
Finally, we come to the key part of the equation, the fuel that will ignite the Home Technology Industry ablaze: Public Awareness! It’s easy to see that people are becoming more aware of some of the options they have when it comes to scenarios like having the freedom to watch what they want, when they want, and literally WHERE they want. But at the same time, I think that we can do so much more to raise the awareness of people about just how cool their homes can be when they start integrating the components that surround them.
There is more to this than just Streaming Media everyone! There is so much more that you can create with the technology in your home. For example, by simply adding a Windows Home Server, you can create the ability of controlling the lighting in your home, the climate settings, adjust security and surveillance systems, and control just about all of the other digital devices within your home. That is just one example from one company; now find what fits your tastes and run with it! If you do find yourself in over your head, there are plenty of qualified System Integrators around the country/world, and even websites that you can find answers from.
In conclusion, with the surge in popularity of Streaming Content, combined with the fact that companies are creating Home Technology devices designed for the general population, what you create in your home is really limited only by your imagination (and perhaps budget if it’s really tight)!
As public awareness becomes more and more widespread, the momentum of Home Technology Integration will increase exponentially to keep up with the demand.
We live in an “always on” world where we expect our Smartphones to provide us with media content, email, social media, and any other information on demand. It is time we realize that we can now expect the same functionality that we get on that 4.3″ screen of our Smartphone from the 46″ HDTV in our living room, the laptop or all-in-one PC in the kitchen, and even from the tablet we use sitting out on the patio enjoying nature.
The technology is here! What are you waiting for? The time is now everyone! Integrate that technology you love and surround yourself within your homes so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy a rich new Integrated World.
Tom Abell is a System Integrator and Owner of Home System Integration LLC, in Sunnyvale, CA. He brings to the table a combination of 15 years in IT Systems Engineering and Home System Integration experience, shifting back into the Home market after returning from Iraq in April of 2009. Judging from his passionate writings on the Articles page of his website (www.homesystemintegration.com), it is easy to see that he feels he’s in the right place at the right time and that his “mission” is to raise awareness about Home Technology Integration to the masses!