The smart home gets smarter

By Karen Long

Even though we're still waiting for our jet packs and flying cars, with the right digital equipment, our homes, at least, can resemble something out of The Jetsons. Here are some experts in the home automation business giving us a preview of what to expect in the coming decade.

Wireless control

A smart phone or an iPad can serve as a universal remote for your entire home when used in concert with a home automation controller like the Home Logic system installed by John Lee of A Plus Electronics. It can be used to control lighting, security, thermostats, audio-visual and more. An iPad can even be mounted right into the drywall with an in-wall bezeled dock  no wires needed  as a more economical option compared to a wired LCD touchscreen. That's a game changer, says Lee.

Cindy Chowdhury would agree. Her family owns three unmounted iPads to remotely control the CD changer, DVD player and FM radio components, which are wired to play throughout the house (XM satellite radio coming soon). You have one flat little thing for the control, she says. Instead of three or four different controls for each thing, you have one control.

We love Apple for that reason, says Thomas Shafer, operations manager of Living Sound. Everyone's got one of those (iPhones) now days and so, man, that put a touch panel in everyone's pocket.

Streaming media

In the near future, a big percentage of people won't buy hard media any more. They won't go to the store and buy a CD or DVD or Blu-ray  they'll stream it, says Gary Jones, owner of Living Sound. In his showroom, Jones demonstrates the Crestron World Search, a small keyboard that sits on the coffee table and allows you to search for a title  say, for example, Iron Man. The system searches both the local network and the Internet and shows a list of all available streaming options, whether it's stored on the hard drive or available for streaming from Amazon, Hulu, Netflix or on YouTube in low resolution. That wave is coming and it's coming fast, says Jones.

Shafer quips, I could imagine my kids laughing at me: you mean you actually had to put something in the player?

Energy monitoring

When smart grids are rolled out, home automations systems will be an integral technology, although that's not much of an option right now in Kansas because the state isn't offering incentives to do so, but it's coming, according to Jones.

In the meantime, there are energy-saving techniques available right now through home-automation. Some systems allow you to set all the lights 15% lower  a degree of dimming undecipherable to the human eye, but more than visible to an electric meter.

Dr. Rob Fleming has seven air conditioning units and four thermostats combining steam heat and forced air heat in his older home, which he controls with a Home Logic system installed by John Lee. If you're downstairs and you don't want to heat or cool the third floor, you can just turn it off from your bedroom, he says. Now that we have the ability to adjust it from any room in the house, we're probably a little more energy efficient because we can turn it down when we're not going to be there.

Vinyl makes a comeback

Vinyl has doubled each year the last four years in a row, Jones says. There's actually a company in Salina that's going to start making records again: Acoustic Sounds. They're keeping us posted.

Hopefully we won't have to wait as long as we have for that jet pack.

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