Just about every American household has some form of home entertainment system (TV, VCRs, DVDs, etc.), most have at least one PC, and more are looking to incorporate some form of home automation or “smart home” system. An HCPC (Home Control PC) system merges these media in a seamless, networked environment managed and controlled by the PC.

UnitedHome software from Listman Home Technologies (LHT) facilitates this convergence by enabling communication among a home?s devices and systems, so they work cooperatively and share information more efficiently and reliably than ever before. These devices and systems may include audio/visual entertainment components, computers, video cameras, security, light, and HVAC.

This paper explores the emerging HCPC market, the technology behind United Home, and why it is poised to become a catalyst for sale of computing products, PCs, CE devices, wireless access points, Internet services, entertainment gear, and integrator services.

The PC as the cornerstone of home control systems

Studies point to a growing trend among PC owners to use their system to simply send email and surf the web; greatly underutilizing the power and potential of their systems. UnitedHome helps refocus the importance and leverage the untapped power of the PC, placing it front and center as the cornerstone for home control.

As more products and services like home theater, whole house audio, security systems, high speed Internet, cable/satellite services, and wireless video cameras make their way into our homes, networking and controlling all these media becomes important.

Market Snapshot

The connected home market will grow from 1.4 billion in 2001 to 9.2 billion worldwide by 2006. Source: Cahners In-stat Group.
Thirty-four percent of builders now ofer structured wiring packages as standard or optional amenities. Source: National Association of Builders
Rapid market growth predicted in residential wiring; 82,000 homes wired in 2000 compared to 881,000 in 2004. Source: Cahner In-Stat
5.3 million households are expected to install digital hubs in 2002 , growing to 25 million in 2006. Source: Forrester Research
Smart appliances are projected to exceed 20 million units by 2005. Source: Cahners In-Stat

United Home give consumers a powerful, feature-rich way to accomplish this; enabling the PC to control everything from the lights on your back porch, to your DVD player, to the temperature in your bedroom.

Sound expensive? While the technology and research behind UnitedHome is quite advanced, UnitedHome software is not only cost effective but also feature-rich and user friendly; making it extremely attractive and accessible to the average consumer.

Market adoption

LHT sees consumer adoption of UnitedHome as a three step process:

Step 1. UnitedHome is marketed to consumers for its digital music management features while positioning the value of an entertainment-connected PC as the framework for home control.

Step 2: Consumers purchase add-on hardware and wireless control packages to experience the mid-level home automation features of UnitedHome.

Step 3: Consumer sophistication increases and manufacturers and integrators become involved in the sale and implementation of more sophisticated high0end components and networking features.

United Home & UniPlay technology

United Home is LHT?s premier home control product. With UnitedHome, consumers are able to leverage the power of their PC to automate and control a variety of electronic devices and systems in their home.

UnitedHome is driven by UniPlay, a technology developed exclusively by LHT leveraging the open architecture format of PCs using Windows-based operating systems (MS Windows 98? or higher). UnitedHome can be pre-installed and shipped with a PC or, unlike any other home control software available today, is easily installed by the consumer.

Our extensive experience with Windows embedded operating systems and UpnP technology enabled us to make UniPlay compliant with UpnP and a myriad of other home networking and power line carrier standards found in the home networking and automation industry.

In addition, while UpnP and other protocols define ways to control devise, they do not specify how to make devices easy to setup and easy for users to control. UniPlay does both by providing a bullet-proof installation shield, a highly intuitive, wizard-driven interface, and a wide array of system control options.

UpnP explained

UpnP (Universal Plug and Play) is a standard that uses Internet and Web protocols to allow devise such as PCs, peripherals, intelligent appliances, and wireless devices to automatically recognize each other when they are plugged into a network. With UpnP, when a homeowner plugs a device into the network, the device will configure itself, acquire a working address, and then automatically enable its control options.

Formed in 1999, the UpnP Forum is a non-profit industry group of more than 400 companies from the consumer electronics, computing, home automation and security, home appliance, computer networking and related industries; all working together to develop standards for home networking.

LHT extends your reach to non-UpnP devices

LHT has developed a number of patent-pending technologies such as UniPlay Stack & Bridge that increase the reliability and efficiency of home automation software.

UniPlay Stack & Bridge is a development service that enables many no-UpnP devices to be recognized and controlled on a UpnP network. With this technology, UnitedHome and other UpnP systems have the ability to integrate and control both UpnP and non-UpnP devise.

Increasing the reliability & efficiency of X10

Power line carrier (PLC) standards provide a set of technical guidelines for products that communicate through a home?s electrical wiring. There are several standards or protocols including CeBus and X10. Both support the interconnection and interoperation of consumer products in a home using unique house and unite codes.

LHT searches out and works with companies who develop innovative products to increase the reliability of X10 signals. For instance, once company developed switches that are specially designed to offset triac-generated noise from sinewave cross over points. Their firewall technology acts as a giant noise filter for devices that can generate conflicting noise on the power line.

Additionally, we develop our own systems to further increase reliability and reduce the noise levels that can plague other systems and result in unreliable or intermittent control. For example, our X10 converter is designed to time-sample power line signals; comparing and analyzing noise levels and X10 signals.

This information is used to increase the successful detection of X10 signals and to dynamically adjust and scale those signals to travel above noise levels in a power line. This greatly increases the reliability of standard X10 signals, making your home control features perform more efficiently and consistently.

LHT is constantly researching and developing products that improve performance, reliability and ease of use.

Wireless & Internet control points.

Once installed on your PC, UnitedHome can also be controlled over the Internet or by using many of today?s popular wireless products such as Pocket PCs, web tablets, and other CE devise. In addition, using a wireless keyboard, homeowners have the ability to view and control UniPlay using their TV. These control options greatly enhance the system and extend the users control beyond the home.

It also give consumers more compelling reasons to purchase that wireless device they?ve been considering.

LHT improves wireless performance

UnitedHome utilizes the 802.11b protocol to communicate with wireless control devices. 802.11b allows wireless transmission of data at distances from several dozen to several hundred feet over the 2.4 GHz unlicensed band. Consequently, 802.11b-based wireless PDA and CE devise are popular choices for wireless home control. Still, the technology is not fully matured and reliability and efficiency are sometimes erratic. Many of the cards and components used in these wireless devices are plagued with bugs and glitches. LHT has dramatically improved the reliability of 802.11b with these wireless devise by developing software and firmware updates that boost the performance of the device drivers and cards. This has been particularly effective in the areas of fault-tolerance and full motion video delivery. These improvements have been so well received that LHT is now working directly with several wireless manufacturers to help enhance their product?s performance.

An industry group known as the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) certifies its member?s equipment as conforming to the 802.11b standard, and allows compliant hardware to be stamped Wi-Fi compatible, short for Wireless Fidelity. The Wi-Fi seal of approval is an attempt at a guarantee of compatibility between hundreds of vendors and thousands of devise. LHT technology greatly enhances the reliability and performance of wireless devices using this standard.