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The Smart Home Blog
The latest news and updates on home technology
The ability to turn lights on and off from a keypad, controller, or smartphone may not sound all that essential. Once you have that type of system though, it’s downright addictive. Attaching technology to everyday tasks can turn the mundane into something super-cool. After all, asmart lighting system is convenient, energy-efficient, and kind of awesome.
Forget running around the house to flip switches or worrying about whether or not the lights were left on for the entire weekend. Smart lighting puts all of the control into your palm, whether you’re sitting on the couch or on a beach a thousand miles away. It can even create the ultimate atmosphere for a party, a movie night, or just a quiet dinner for two.
Ask someone to describe their idealhome technology system. They will likely conjure images of the latest 4K TVs. They will describe high-fidelity speakers that can produce an immersive listening environment throughout their home. They will picture a control system that is fully integrated and easy to operate. And they will want this all to blend in seamlessly, without compromising the design of their home. While all of these technologies are wonderful, it is much less glamorous to discuss what makes these coveted systems possible: the wiring.
Good Wiring Yields Placement Flexibility
A proper infrastructure will serve as the foundation of any home technology system. Yet more often than not the infrastructure receives far too little planning. This has the potential to create a number of problems that may only come to light near the end of the project, when they are difficult and expensive to fix. With a little planning these issues can easily be avoided, allowing the technology to shine, without any compromise to the home’s aesthetic value.
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The Qube is an upcoming smart bulb. Like most smart bulbs, all you need to do is screw the Qube into any light socket and pair it with the iOS, Watch OS, or Android app. Since it has WiFi, you can control the Qube from anywhere. It also has Bluetooth support, so you can connect the bulb to mobile devices and Bluetooth-emitting wearables.
Looking for New Lighting Control Options? Get expert guidance FREE in this special report, Lighting Control: Smart Upgrades For Today's Connected Home.
Unlike most smart bulbs, the Qube only costs $19. The company is hoping to keep the costs down by selling direct to consumers. However, the Qube isn’t just an inexpensive smart bulb, but it’s an inexpensive colored smart bulb that can deliver about 16 million colors. It even has IFTTT (“If This Then That”) support.
Another interesting perk is Qube Sense, which means that the bulb can recognize whenever you enter the room (and turn on), as well as switch to your preferred settings.
“We recognize that existing smart bulb solutions are too expensive for consumers to reap the full benefits of smart lighting—especially because they need more than one or two bulbs to see results,” said Joo Siong, co-founder and VP of products for Qube. “With Qube, we have big plans to disrupt the smart bulb market by offering a truly affordable and smart light bulb to the masses.”
Qube smart bulbs are currently available for pre-order through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. If you pledge early on in the campaign, you can score the Qube for $16 each. After the first 2,000 orders, you can still snag the Qube at its expected $19 MSRP. All of the initial backers can then expect the first units to ship out sometime in April 2016.
Can’t wait that long to brighten up your setup? Check out our article on the best bargains in smart LED light bulbs.
Just a few months ago, you probably wouldn’t have seen the words “affordable” and “Dolby Atmos” in the same sentence—anywhere. However, we are finally starting to see some of those Dolby Atmos receivers come down in price.
Are they cheap? Well, no. However, Dolby Atmos is not really meant to be a cheap experience. After all, it takes some serious technology to make it seem like planes are flying over your head in your living room. More specifically, it takes technology and some additional equipment.
Getting one of the aforementioned Dolby Atmos receivers is a must. This type of receiver has the capability to decode Atmos-enabled content. Yes, you will need that too. Right now, there are a decent number of Blu-rays with Dolby Atmos tracks. The good news is that you won’t need a special Blu-ray player and even if you don’t plan to upgrade to an Atmos-capable system in the immediate future, those Blu-rays will still work with your existing home theater setup.
And finally, you will need additional speakers. Those speakers need to go on the ceiling or you can opt for Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers, which project audio upward and “reflect” that sound off the ceiling. In other words, these speakers make it sound like you have speakers on the ceiling, without the need for a ladder. The minimum speaker configuration for Dolby Atmos is 5.1.2 or 7.1.2. Each one is your basic 5.1 or 7.1 setup, with two ceiling or Atmos-enabled speakers. There are options for more speakers, however.
It will depend on what that receiver can handle. As in any other home theater system, the receiver is the cornerstone of this setup. While you shouldn’t skimp on this piece of equipment, there are a few affordable Dolby Atmos receivers currently on the market. Let’s take a peek at three models priced under $500.
This 7.2-channel receiver doesn’t just support Dolby Atmos, 4K/60Hz video, HDCP 2.2, and the 21:9 aspect ratio. Promising 95 watts per channel (8ohms, 20-20kHz, 0.08%, 2-ch driven), it’s also perfect for high-res audio fans who want to pair this with a PC, a NAS or even a smartphone. It has Qdeo upscaling that can boost low-res content to full HD or near-4K quality (if you have a 4K TV), as well as WRAT (Wide Range Amplifier Technology) and Onkyo’s own Three-Stage Inverted Darlington Circuitry for the front and center channels. Other features include built-in WiFi, Bluetooth and DLNA, two 32-bit DSP engines, an HDMI/MHL terminal on the front, six HDMI inputs around back, a dedicated phono input, and options for a second zone.
MSRP: $399 (on Amazon)
For More Information: Hands On: Onkyo Receiver TX-NR636 Rocks Dolby Atmos
This 7.2-channel receiver looks a lot like the one mentioned above. It has the Dolby Atmos and the 4K/HDCP 2.2 support. It also has the WiFi, Bluetooth and DLNA. It even delivers the same 95 watts per channel (8ohms, 20-20kHz, 0.08%, 2-ch driven). However, it does add in THX Select2 Plus certification and a second HDMI output. Other features include the Wide Range Amplifier Technology (WRAT), the Qdeo upscaling, Three-Stage Inverted Darlington Circuitry amplification, dual Digital Signal Processing (DSP) engines, 192 kHz/24-bit Burr-Brown D/A conversion, the Advanced Music Optimizer DSP, InstaPrevue technology, and seven HDMI inputs (with one getting MHL support as well).
Hey, it’s a receiver that’s not made by Onkyo! This last option is Denon’s 7.2-channel receiver, which promises 80 watts per channel (8ohms, 20Hz-20kHz, 0.08% 2-ch driven). It also features the latest HDMI 2.0a spec for 4K/60Hz content, 4:4:4 Pure Color sub-sampling, HDR (High Dynamic Range), Rec.2020 color space capability, and 21:9 aspect ratio pass-through. It can even support HDCP 2.2 on all six of the receiver’s HDMI inputs. Other features include a quad-core 32-bit DSP processor, WiFi, Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay, Audysssey MultiEQ setup room calibration, web radio and access to streaming music services, DLNA 1.5, two subwoofer outputs, and support for Denon HEOS Link.
Don’t have a budget? Check out additional Dolby Atmos receivers that are out now.
2015 was a banner year for great smart home product introductions, many of which were showcased recently at the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA) conference and trade show in Dallas. The Electronic House editors hit the venue in search of some of the brightest, most innovative devices available today … and in keeping with this issue’s design theme, they had to look great, too. Here are some of our favorite finds:
Automated window treatments are, without question, one of the most convenient and useful products available in today’s integrated home. For years they were also one of the most difficult to install. Battery powered options make installation significantly easier, especially in existing homes, but come with their own set of drawbacks, such as limited size options, and the headaches associated with frequent battery changes.
Taking center stage at Lutron’s booth this year was the company’s answer to these common tradeoffs: the Sivoia QS Triathlon WIDR series. Now available in sizes from 20 ½” wide x 12” tall all the way up to 12’ x 12’, you’d be hard pressed to find a window the WIDR series couldn’t handle. Starting at $1,065, these shades are available in a variety of fabrics. For an additional $70 buyers can opt for the “Battery Boost” option, increasing battery life by up to 80%, and resulting in a battery lifespan of up to six years. See the WIDR shade in action:
If you tend to talk with your hands, the Swipe from Fibaro could be the home control device of your dreams. First and foremost, it’s a slick looking touchpanel that attaches to the wall from which you can command lights, thermostats, security devices, and more. But unlike a traditional touchpanel that responds to a tap of a finger on its display, the Swipe reacts to six different hand gestures. Wave your hand left to right across the screen and the Swipe issues a command to a group of lights, for example. Move your hand in a circle, and a different series of commands can be dispatched. If mounting a touchpanel to the wall doesn’t appeal to your decorative eye, the Swipe can be mounted behind drywall, underneath granite, or behind artwork for a completely invisible installation. It will still “see” your hand motions. Pricing information was unavailable at press time. www.fibaro.com/us
Dolby Atmos is the hottest thing happening in home audio today. The newly developed “object-based” surround-sound format features speakers that provide a sense of 3D realism where sounds project from overhead (think rain showers and aircraft). Typically, setting up a Dolby Atmos system required mounting several speakers in the ceiling or positioning specially engineered “upfiring” speakers on the floor. Now SpeakerCraft offers another installation option: in-wall Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers. According to SpeakerCraft, the product introduction marks the industry’s first architectural in-wall speaker system that meets all of the Atmos standards set by Dolby, and are ideal for situations where mounting speakers in the ceiling isn’t possible. Pricing information was unavailable at press time. www.speakercraft.com
You can dress up a lighting control keypad with a fancy faceplate, but at the end of the day it’s still a keypad. Eschewing tradition, Belgium company Basalte has completely reinvented the lighting control keypad with its touch-sensitive, decorative, square-shape Sentido. Its unique style will make you wonder exactly what its purpose is, other than that of an eye-catching element on the wall. But graze your fingers over the smooth, high-grade metal finish (several colors and finishes are available, including brushed aluminum, satin white, brushed black, and others), and your entire home environment can change in an instant, as groups of lights brighten and dim to preset intensity levels. The square-shape Sentido switch can be divided into two or four equal surfaces; each surface can be set up to issue a different series of commands. The switch also functions as a temperature sensor that discretely reports the room temperature to a home automation system. Contact email@example.com for pricing information. www.basalte.be/en
One hundred and twenty inches of ultra-high-definition video: It doesn’t get much bigger or better than that. A combination of impressive display real estate at the highest resolution available equals an unparalleled viewing experience. What makes the Vizio premium 120-inch Reference Series (a 65-inch model is also available) so special is the incorporation of technology like Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range (HDR). HDR TVs are able to render fantastic contrast and color accuracy, so images are more lifelike and engaging. The picture is pristinely pretty, but be ready to part with a huge chunk of change. The 120-incher retails for close to $130,000. Settle for the 60-incher and you’ll set yourself back $60,000. www.vizio.com
Homeowners shopping for a video surveillance solution have generally been faced with two options. DIY products like DropCam (now Nest Cam) offer an easy set-up experience and very intuitive controls, but are limited in terms of a true security solution (outdoor model anyone?). Then there are professionally installed solutions that offer more horsepower and flexibility, but create a far more complicated, and often clunky, end-user experience. Developed from the ground up with customer feedback in mind, the Luma user interface is a complete refresh, and significant improvement, over the company’s previous camera control software. The interface provides a clean and intuitive user experience while retaining plenty of functionality. Noteworthy on the camera side are Luma’s HD-TVI enabled analog cameras capable of full 1080p resolution. SnapAV’s new line of Luma surveillance products offers all the horsepower you’d expect from a pro solution, with a sleek end-user experience that rivals any DIY solution on the market. Cameras start at $199.95. www.snapav.com
Who knew the back of a TV could look so, well, beautiful? Frankly, the people at MantelMount didn’t. When the company designed a mount that allows a TV to be moved from the top of a fireplace mantel down to a more comfortable viewing position, it considered the hardware that secures the TV to the wall and hides the cabling important, but definitely not something that would inspire creativity from homeowners. A decorative eye took over in the homes of several MantelMount customers, who painted the white cabling cover to match the wall surface precisely. This do-it-yourself color-matching solution ensures that the structural hardware and cabling aren’t eyesores when the TV is moved away from its above-mantel position. Even unpainted though, the MantelMount offers some impressive features: It can be lowered two feet from its resting position above the fireplace mantel (or anywhere in between) and positioned eye-level; it can be tilted and swiveled; it sports heat sensors that turn red if the temperature above the fireplace exceeds 110 degrees F; and it has a universal attachment for a soundbar. The price is hard to beat, too. At $399, it can hold TVs from 48 to 80 inches and 25 to 125 pounds. Check out the video at www.mantelmount.com
Tired of waiting for 4K video content? There are scads of 4K Ultra High-Definition TVs available, but simply not all that much 4K programming available to enjoy. If you’re ready and willing to pay for the pristine resolution that’s 4K, check out the new line of 4K video players from Kaleidescape. The centerpiece of the Encore line is the Strato Movie Player, which can download and store up to 100 4K Ultra HD movies for playback on a 4K TV or projection system. Currently, the 4K content available to the Strato through the Kaleidescape online Movie Store is from Sony Pictures. Each downloadable title will cost about $30. As for the price of the Strato: $4,000. It’s expected to be available early next year. www.kaleidescape.com
In the past, altering the shape of a projection screen—from a 2.35:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio to a 16:9 high-definition aspect ratio, for example—required the installation of motorized fabric masking panels that rolled over the sides of the screen. It’s a solid solution, but Screen Innovations now offers a sleeker, sexier way to modify the aspect ratio of a projection screen. This “non-masking masking system,” the Intellimask, transforms its frame size rather than covering the screen surface. The effect is akin to the squeeze-and-expand gestures used to adjust the size of images displayed on a smartphone. When the video source’s aspect ratio changes, the screen also changes size on the fly (requires additional programming of a home automation system). Another benefit: the Intellimask can be installed by a professional home systems integrator in less than 30 minutes. You’ll have to wait until next year for this product; no word on pricing. www.screeninnovations.com
Nothing will spoil Thanksgiving dinner quite like a burnt turkey. (Okay, an undercooked turkey may have that beat.) Instead of spending the day neglecting friends and family to monitor your main course, a pair of new smart kitchen gadgets can do that for you.
Char-Broil just introduced the Simple Smoker and the Digital Electric Smoker. These smart kitchen gadgets take the guesswork out of preparing a big meal, by allowing you to monitor and control the smoking process from all of your favorite iOS and Android devices.
Looking to build the best home automation system possible? Get expert guidance in this FREE special report, Smart Home Automation: Planning Guide for Every Budget.
Both of these mighty, smart kitchen machines can sync to your smart device over WiFi via the Char-Broil app. This app allows users to adjust meat and chamber temperatures, get info on the cook time and estimated done time, and even access a preprogrammed library of recipes. Users can even receive notifications at key cooking times, so you never have to peek in or worry about overcooking a meal.
The Digital Electric Smoker has 725 square inches of cooking space, with four racks and a four-cup capacity wood chip box that will smoke up to 6.5 hours at 225 degrees. The Simple Smoker can smoke at low temperatures or roast with high heat. Both models also come with an integrated meat probe. No oil is necessary!
“Although smoked food is universally loved, the complexity and time commitment of the smoking process has always been a barrier,” said Brendan Anderson, VP of marketing and product management for Char-Broil. “The two new connected Char-Broil SmartChef smokers make it easier than ever to make perfectly cooked smoked meals without being time consuming. We want to inspire a new generation of smoker consumers who want to monitor their smoker, anytime and anywhere on their connected devices.”
Any day now, you’ll start to see news reports filled with people shunning family gatherings, curling up in sleeping bags, and doing special stretching exercises out in front of some big-box store. Another Black Friday is upon us, and all of those people are making preparations to find the best deals that the biggest shopping day of the year has to offer.
If you’re seeking a bargain, you should be making preparations of your own. I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to leave the house to save less than $50. Are there decent discounts to be had this Black Friday? The answer is “yes,” but finding the biggest and the best deals can be super confusing and even a little scary.
Looking to build the best home automation system possible? Get expert guidance in this FREE special report, Smart Home Automation: Planning Guide for Every Budget.
So we here at Electronic House wanted to present you with the best deals—the really good ones. We combed through some of the circulars and other pre-Black Friday announcements to see which stores would be offering the best discounts. Check out our slideshow for 12 of the Best Deals on Electronics for Black Friday 2015. Happy hunting!
A lot of people assume you buy a router and you have it for life. Of course, accidents happen. More often, better technology happens. If you want the best WiFi coverage, you may need to upgrade some of your networking equipment.
The HomePlug Alliance is backing Netgear’s Nighthawk DST AC1900 Wireless-AC Gigabit Router with DST Adapter. That’s because this new release packs WiFi 802.11ac and embedded HomePlug AV2 technology into a package that includes a router and one DST wireless extender.
Looking to build the best home automation system possible? Get expert guidance in this FREE special report, Smart Home Automation: Planning Guide for Every Budget.
The hook on this option is that it boasts the best WiFi coverage possible, using powerline technology. That means it uses the existing electrical outlets in your house to eliminate those dreaded dead spots—hence, the “DST” part of the product name, which stands for “Dead Spot Terminator.”
It may be tough enough to tackle those dead spots, but this package is pretty easy to set up. Just plug in the router and add the included DST extender to any outlet where you have a weak WiFi signal. Then, push the button on top. To get the best WiFi connection in an extra large home, you may need additional DST extenders, which can be purchased separately for $69.99 each.
Other features on the router include a 1GHz dual-core processor, speeds up to 600+1300 Mbps, DLNA, ReadySHARE, WPA/WPA2, and much more.
Netgear’s Nighthawk DST AC1900 Wireless-AC Gigabit Router with DST Adapter is currently an exclusive at Best Buy, priced at $299.99. That cost includes set up and one year of support from Best Buy’s Geek Squad.
“Everyone knows the pain of slow network speeds, limited range, and lack of help when we need it most, yet we tend to ignore the care and feeding of our routers,” said Sean Stephens, senior director of Geek Squad Services at Best Buy. “By combining Wireless-AC and HomePlug AV2 technology with easily accessible support, we are looking to provide customers with the best whole-home networking available.”
Still trying to achieve the best WiFi network possible? Check out our article on “7 Ways to Beef Up Your WiFi Coverage.”
The winter season conjures up visions of parties, sugar plums, snowfall, and hot chocolate. However, it also brings the winter blues—and that has nothing to do with music or even a decorative color scheme. The lack of daylight can cause severe depression in some people.
Technically, it’s called “seasonal affective disorder,” and it can affect people who don’t get enough light during the year’s coldest, darkest months. Of course, you don’t need a clinical diagnosis to know that smart lighting can brighten up those dull winter days and nights.
Looking for New Lighting Control Options? Get expert guidance FREE in this special report, Lighting Control: Smart Upgrades For Today's Connected Home.
While you’re stocking up on canned goods and firewood, we here at Electronic House are loading up on smart lighting solutions for the season. This type of technology can brighten up any room to keep you out of that winter funk. Still not enough to justify the cost? Here are five reasons you need to have a smart lighting system in place this winter.
It Gets Dark! Those short days and long nights are a good reason to install a smart lighting system. The end of each day shouldn’t have to involve a dance to the front door to avoid ice, lawn ornaments, and other obstacles. With a key fob in your car or even your smartphone, you can trigger smart bulbs or an entire whole-house system right from your driveway. Connect that controller to outdoor lights, lights in the garage, lights by the front door, and/or lights inside the house.
Many smart lighting systems also have options for motion sensors and/or scheduling, so you never have to enter a dark house without even lifting a finger.
It’s Party Time. Gift giving, cookie swaps, family dinners, and other festivities; smart lighting can add a little something special to that gathering. Scenes work great here, allowing you to control specific lights and set specific dimming levels so that you get the same results every time you push a single button.
For instance, a PARTY scene can dim lighting in the living room and brighten up hallways or walkways. To make the occasion a little more joyous, create a HOLIDAY scene that will display several shades of red, green, or any other color of lighting you can imagine.
Also, consider smart lighting for the outdoors. Nothing kills a party more than someone slipping on the front steps. Think about setting up motion detectors to trigger the perfect path to the front door or putting lighting in the backyard to highlight stairs, decks, or even architectural elements.
You Go Away. This is the time of year when you’re constantly visiting someone. Friends, family, ski slopes, beaches; people are constantly coming and going during the winter months. If Home Alone taught us anything, it’s that ’tis the season for break-ins!
Use a smart lighting system as an added security measure. It can make your house look occupied, even when you’re away. However, it goes beyond just lighting up a porch or side light when someone approaches. Smart lighting allows users to set schedules that will mimic a daily routine. If you want to mix things up, some systems allow for more customization—or you can opt to control lighting manually from a remote location using a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
You’re Already Spending Enough. Holiday gifts, hostess gifts, travel expenses, and heating the house can chip away at your winter budget. Instead of adding to those costs with excessive, unnecessary lighting, you can use a smart lighting system to save a few bucks on electric bills. The remote control aspect of smart lighting allows you to turn off the lights you accidentally left on or turn on lights you need at night but didn’t want running all day. Of course, you could also use scheduling to make sure lights are only on when they need to be.
According to Lutron, even adding in smart lighting dimmers can save energy—which saves you money. If you have family members who are always forgetting to turn off bathroom and hallway lights, also think about adding occupancy sensors.
It Can Do This:
Sure, it’s not quite as elaborate as the Light-O-Rama displays that we see every year, but this type of smart lighting can add a decorative element and a little ambiance throughout the holiday season and beyond.
No technology has created more buzz in the world of home theater than the Dolby Atmos format over the past few years. Bringing this state-of-the-art surround sound format to the soundbar category, the popular electronics manufacturer Yamaha has introduced its YSP-5600 to the home theater market.
Yamaha says the YSP-5600 provides homeowners the ability to play back Dolby Atmos content without the need of an A/V receiver, preamplifier/processor or specific speakers, including in-ceiling height speakers. The company explains the soundbar utilizes its Digital Sound Projector technologies to produce a multi-dimensional listening experience.
“As multiple speaker systems are not always feasible or desirable in some rooms, the YSP-5600 represents the simplest, most elegant solution for introducing Dolby Atmos and DTS:X into the home,” says Bob Goedken, general manager, A/V division, Yamaha Corporation of America. “And since it is equipped with MusicCast, this impressive soundbar doubles as an entertainment hub that can stream audio content to other MusicCast products throughout the home.”
The soundbar incorporates a total of 44 small drivers, including 12 drivers that are used to reproduce Dolby Atmos’ and DTS:X’s height channels to produce a total 7.1.2 channel soundstage. Yamaha says it will also offer a DTS:X firmware update for the YSP-5600 to enable it to reproduce DTS’ object-based X format, and it through its app is offering its MusicCast wireless whole-house audio platform.
Yamaha points out that homeowners that employ MusicCast can stream digital audio files stored on their network and services such as Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify and SiriusXM Internet Radio. The product also includes Bluetooth to allow users to stream content from their smart devices, and its Bluetooth output option enables users to stream MusicCast content to Bluetooth devices such as portable speakers and headphones.
Other features include HDMI with HDCP 2.2 connectivity to support 4K at 60Hz, and provisions for wired and wireless subwoofer connections via its optional SWK-W16 wireless subwoofer kit.
Yamaha will start selling the YSP-5600 soundbar in December, priced at $1,699.95.
Just in time for your holiday wish list, Lowe’s has debuted a brand new smart home system that’s specifically designed for the masses. The second-generation Lowe’s Iris is available now.
The hook on this latest smart home solution is that it was built using Microsoft Azure’s cloud technology. With that type of technology and few other tweaks, the new Lowe’s Iris system can deliver new features, a faster performance, and more personalization than ever before.
Lowe’s also says that the new Iris will work with more than 75 devices. That lineup includes Lowe’s-branded products and plenty of third-party options. New or redesigned products include the Contact Sensor ($22.99), Smart Plug ($34.99), Motion Sensor ($29.99), Help Pendant ($29.99), Smart Button ($24.99), Smart Fob ($24.99), and Smart Keypad ($39.99). There are also cameras, thermostats, smoke detectors, garage door controllers, and much more. A complete list of compatible devices can be found on IrisbyLowes.com.
Another new product is the new Smart Hub (pictured), which was manufactured by CentraLite. As the cornerstone of the Iris setup, this $59.99 product is more compact, but packs in a more powerful processor, additional memory, a local app engine, and battery backup. It’s compatible with Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-Wave, WiFi, and AllJoyn enabled devices.
Lowe’s is offering a few of the new products packaged up into two separate starter kits. Just know that you will need to purchase the Smart Hub separately. The Security Pack ($99) comes with two Iris Contact sensors, a Motion Sensor, and a Smart Keypad. The Home Automation Pack ($129) has two Contact Sensors, a Motion Sensor, a Smart Plug, and a Smart Button.
Lowe’s also has a new Iris app for iOS and Android devices. Besides a totally new look, the app features customization perks, including the option to upload photos of your family, your home, and even your connected devices.
“This year’s Iris by Lowe’s Smart Home Survey revealed that more than half (57%) of Americans prefer DIY smart home solutions, and home improvement stores are the No. 1 place they are turning to for purchase,” said Mick Koster, vice president and general manager of Iris Home Systems. “As consumers increasingly become interested in home automation, Iris will continue evolving to meet the needs of each customer’s lifestyle. This next generation of Iris delivers on the promise of the smart home today—in a way that is immediately and easily accessible and affordable for consumers across America.”
Not familiar with the Iris? Check out our hands-on review of the original Lowe’s Iris smart home system.
With so many affordable security cameras these days, there’s really no excuse not to have some type of security system in place. And because so many of them are wireless security cameras, you don’t need long wire runs, add-ons or monthly fees.
However, just because you can install wireless security cameras doesn’t mean that you should. You can still mess it up. That’s because despite the plug-and-play nature of wireless security cameras, there are plenty of mistakes to be made during the installation process. Let’s take a peek at some of the most common mistakes you can make when installing wireless security cameras—so you can avoid them!
Not Enough Cameras
Wireless security cameras are affordable enough that you should be able to splurge on more than one. Yes, that new PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) camera does provide a wide view, but it probably won’t cover the lower level of your house. And every time you zoom out, the image may get a bit more pixelated. Instead of squinting, make sure you have enough cameras to scope out the different areas in and outside of the home. Also remember that because you are choosing this type of setup versus a monitoring service, you will be the one doing the monitoring. You can’t rely on one zoomed out camera to deliver an accurate (or easy-to-view) peek at a large space.
Just like when you take photos, you need to make sure your wireless security cameras are pointed at the proper angle in order to get the best images. Don’t point the camera at the ground, think about obstructions, and make sure it won’t be exposed to too much light (which causes the images to get washed out). It’s also really important to make sure you put those cameras in an area that has access to a reliable WiFi signal.
“Consumers often make the mistake of placing cameras in a remote location lacking a strong WiFi signal—this translates to choppy video streams and connection issues,” says Carissa Blegen, product content manager at D-Link. “Plan ahead by testing the area. Check WiFi strength using a mobile device or running a WiFi speed test online.”
Blegen says you can also add in a WiFi extender or purchase a camera that has one built in. Of course, you could also move the camera to an area with better coverage.
It’s Not Totally Wireless
With wireless security cameras, you don’t need to be tethered to your router or an Ethernet port. That said, you will need power. There are a select crop of cameras that operate on batteries. However, if the cameras are placed high or you’re just lazy, you probably want something that’s more of a permanent fixture. Most wireless security cameras can connect to your existing WiFi network, but they do need to be plugged in. Make sure to pick a spot that’s close to an electrical outlet.
Forgetting the Password
You have a lot of passwords to remember. However, when installing wireless security cameras, you may want to add on two more—yes, two.
“Before WiFi camera setup, users must ensure the network they are connecting cameras to have a secure encryption configuration and a complex SSID/password,” says Blegen. “For additional security, choose a camera that requires the user to enter the camera’s specific password during setup—double encryption. Many cameras come pre-configured, but remember to customize all WiFi device passwords. Think of something complex and include a variety of numbers and letters.”
No Remote Access
Most likely, if you’re installing wireless security cameras yourself, you want the option to view them remotely. Not all cameras provide remote control and sneak peeks. It’s easy enough to make sure that you are buying a camera that includes remote access. However, one thing you should look into is how you’re going to actually access that camera. Looking to view real-time video from a web browser? Make sure that’s an option. Even more importantly, check to see if that camera supports your smartphone/tablet platform. Some cameras work with iOS devices, some work with Android, and some work with both. Unfortunately, not as many work with BlackBerry and the Windows Phone. Make sure to read the fine print!
To get the full scoop on all home security cameras, get the Electronic House Home Security Camera Buying Guide.
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Last month on October 2015 Los Angeles VIA International announced that they going out of Business.
Knowing the fact that this leave some of their customers with open project that needs to be completed, we’re here to help if you are a VIA customer or trade partner, like builder, architect or an interior designer that have a project that needs to be completed feel free to contact us we will be more than happy to help you complete your project seamlessly as much as possible.
Contact us today to setup your fee consultation 877.744.1477 or email us from the contact page
This is the year of Dolby Atmos. It’s not just because we’ve seen more Dolby Atmos-enabled products than ever before, but we’re actually getting the type of content that could make the extra equipment a worthy purchase.
In case you haven’t been following, Dolby Atmos is a sound format that can add a new dimension to your home theater experience. It actually delivers sound from above, so you can experience those birds, planes, helicopters, explosions and other content flying overhead.
To experience Dolby Atmos, you will need an AV receiver that can decode the content, as well as additional speakers. You can opt to mount those speakers to the ceiling, but there are Atmos-enabled speakers that can process the format and project the audio to make it sound like it’s overhead—without it actually being overhead.
The good news is that your old Blu-ray player will support Blu-rays with a Dolby Atmos track. And if you haven’t made the move to a more advanced audio setup yet, there’s no need to hold off on buying the Blu-rays. Without all of the equipment in place, each Dolby Atmos track will default to a Dolby TrueHD mix.
Need a few reasons to buy that new equipment? Take a peek at seven Blu-rays worth the upgrade to Dolby Atmos in our slideshow.
A home theater is one room you can turn into virtually any type of space you want. Typically set apart from the rest of the house in a basement or a bonus room, it benefits from having no visual tie-ins with your art deco living room or Country French style kitchen. This means you can give it a design all its own, whether it’s ultramodern or a throwback from the roaring twenties. All it takes is a good imagination, a bit of inspiration and an accommodating home theater designer to create a unique, eye-popping entertainment escape.
An Inspiration Item
Maybe you picked up a great piece of table art during a vacation in Morocco years ago. Or perhaps you’ve had your eye on a scarlet red chaise at your favorite furniture store. And then there are those great gothic wall sconces you stumbled upon during your last antiquing trip. In other areas of your house, these unusual pieces might stick out like a sore thumb, but in a theater, they can become the building blocks of a whole new decorating scheme. Take that beautiful Moroccan vase: You can carry that style through to the couches, the lamps and other decorative accents, giving the space the look and feel of a Moroccan palace. Cabinets adorned with ornate finials and moldings can hold your big-screen TV, speakers and components while complementing the decor.
Inspiration can also come in the form of hobbies, pastimes, even something as simple as a favorite color. If your passion is downhill skiing, for example, you could give your theater the appearance of a mountain lodge, complete with overstuffed couches and wooden beams. Broadway buffs, meanwhile, could add a proscenium underneath the movie screen and hang adjustable velvet draperies across the top and sides.
Seats and Screens
The two parts of a home theater that probably best reflect the personality of the space are the seats and the video screen. Large, comfortable couches, piles of pillows and plenty of space to stretch out on the floor says this is a home theater that’s comfortable and casual, where it’s okay to hand the remote over to the kids and to talk during a movie.
Tiered rows of flip-down style seats, on the other hand, suggest a more serious movie-viewing environment where the goal is to become totally immersed in the movie action. Because the seats resemble those used in commercial cinemas, they’ll make you feel like pulling out your ticket every time you step into the room.
The video screen can also set the tone for your theater. For example, a 110-inch display that sits out in the open is bound to be the focal point of the room, which is a good idea for a dedicated home theater. But when a screen stays hidden above the ceiling or behind cabinet doors, it evokes a completely different atmosphere where the room can function just as nicely as a family room, a place to host cocktail parties or a spot to relax with a good book.
Add Sizzle to the Standards
Like any room, your home theater will have walls, a ceiling and a floor. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for regular old paint, carpeting and ceiling tiles. You can dress up the space with specialty carpeting featuring inlays that fit a particular theme. For example, if you’ve decided to model your theater after a drive-in, you could choose a fabric ceiling pinpricked with fiber-optic lights to emulate a starlit night. Hand-painted murals could evoke old-world charm, while fabric wall panels could complement a contemporary design. A carpet with turquoise- and terra-cotta-colored inlays could add flavor to a Tex-Mex design. The sky truly is the limit on how you can use special decorative touches to enhance the overall effect of your home theater.
There’s nothing wrong with admitting to a lack of creativity. You can still design a unique space; you just might need a push in the right direction. A number of companies, including Acoustic Innovations, Cinema Design Group, Cinematech, and First Impressions Theme Theatres, offer made-to-order theaters that can be tailored to the dimensions and acoustical characteristics of a space. You pick a style from the company’s portfolio, and they’ll put together all the pieces you need from architectural details like columns and sconces to necessities like chairs and carpeting. You can get the same great-looking theater by working with an interior designer and home theater designer, but these prefabricated styles are great for homeowners who need to get their creative juices flowing a bit before delving into a project.
Recently, we were praising the Logitech Harmony Elite as a controller that’s pretty perfect for the Electronic House. That said, it is sort of limited in the number of smart home systems it can control.
Of course, the Harmony Elite can control an unlimited number of smart home systems and devices, but the list of what’s actually compatible is still on the short side. Want to add more devices into that lineup today? Think about adding in the Harmony Hub Extender.
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The Harmony Hub Extender is a newly announced box that can add ZigBee and Z-Wave support to your Harmony Hub. So in addition to all of the previously announced smart home systems that the Harmony is compatible with, you can add in all sorts of other connected options.
Adding the Extender to the Harmony Hub allows for direct control over smart home systems from as Osram Lightify, GE Link, Cree, Kwikset, Schlage, Yale, Aeotec, Jasco, Nortek Security & Control, NYCE, ADT Pulse, Vera (formerly Mi Casa Verde), Nexia Home Intelligence, and more.
In addition to web access and the Harmony app, you will need the Harmony Ultimate Home, Harmony Home Control, Harmony Home Hub, Harmony Ultimate, Harmony Smart Control, Harmony Smart Keyboard, or Harmony Ultimate Hub to use this product. (Each one is available now as a separate purchase.) Once everything is hooked up, all of the above devices and more can be added into your programmed schedules and one-touch activities. Of course, you can also use your Harmony remote or app to control devices connected to one of the smart home platforms mentioned, such as ADT, Vera and Nexia.
Of course, as with all Harmony devices, the new Harmony Hub Extender is compatible with over 270,000 devices with new devices being added every month.
Logitech is selling the Harmony Hub Extender now, with an MSRP of $99.99.
Well, for starters, the Sonos products are very good (this editor has them in several rooms of his house). They set up simply (after a 2014 software update they don’t even require the Sonos Bridge to work), work easily and sound good.
But competition is a good thing. It makes companies work harder to create better, more innovative and (sometimes) less expensive products. For a few years Sonos didn’t really have much in the way of competition (unless you count Bluetooth wireless speakers, which aren’t really in the same category). Now there’s competition all over the place, some from major speakers brands, and some from companies you may not have heard of before now.
When looking at these Sonos alternatives, it’s important to consider the whys and hows of how the products differ from Sonos. Some distinquish themselves by their capabilities (BlueSound, for instance, offers a hard-drive vault that rips CDs), by their wireless technologies, by their audio performance (or perceived audio performance), and by their design. Picking the system that’s right for you depends on matching your needs with the features of the product. While Sonos might be the company all theses other products get compared too, there’s no one product or brand that’s right for every user, which again, is why we have competition.
One big distinguing feature of Sonos is the music choice you get. Last time I looked, the Sonos app offered about 35 different internet streaming music services. Most of the other products here offer 5 to 10. Does that difference really matter? That depends. If you only use Spotify and Pandora, then those other 30 or so services don’t matter to you. If you use a paid service (like Spotify or Sirius XM) then you’re going to be more likely to focus your listening on that anyway (otherwise, why pay?), so the Slacker or Songza (my current favorite) feature won’t matter. If on the other hand, you like to try new things, a lot, then a large number of music options will be meaningful.
All of the wireless speakers and audio systems discussed here are controlled by apps which provide volume control, track selection, room or zone selection and music streaming service options. Unless noted, they all are compatible with both iOS and Android.
Let’s check out these alternatives to Sonos wireless speakers and audio system.
BlueSound by Lenbook
The Bluesound wireless audio system comes from the Lenbook company, which also makes PSB speakers and NAD components. The system was heavily influenced by Paul Barton, founder of PSB speakers and an expert speaker designer. In the Bluesound family there’s one integrated wireless speaker called the Pulse, plus there’s a wireless amp called the Power Node (for connecting your own speakers to) and a wireless component (the Node) that connects to your stereo (or home theater) amp. Bluesound also offers the Vault, which is a hard drive based server that can rip your CDs and make them available on your network for other Bluesound components. One feature that makes the whole system stand out is its support for 24-bit/192kHz high-resolution audio. Bluesound doesn’t support nearly as many music streaming services as Sonos, but the 11 it does support include Tidal and Deezer, which offer lossless audio. Bluesound streams music over your own WiFi network, whereas Sonos creates its own WiFi network. More about Bluesound here.
It’s not a very creative name, but the Definitive Technologies wireless audio system looks elagent and is designed with the venerable speaker company’s high performance standards. The speakers and wireless amps use the DTS Play-Fi system which sends music from your smart phone or tablet to the speakers via WiFi, which makes is more like AirPlay than Bluetooth, but with Play-Fi you can play music on multiple speakers, not just one (but you can’t send different music to different speakers from one smart phone). A benefit of Play-Fi is that you’re not stuck with one company—multiple companies make Play-Fi speakers and products, and they all work together. Also, you’re not restricted by streaming services. Any music app you can download to your phone will be able to play on this system. More info here.
The Samsung Shape wireless speaker system is very similar to the Sonos family. The Samsung WiFi speakers are similarly priced as Sonos as well. One thing that makes the Shape system stand out is that it will also work with a selection of Samsung home theater systems, Blu-ray players and TVs, bringing all those products into the home audio ecosystem. The latest addition to the Shape Wireless Audio-Multiroom lineup also happens to be the smallest. The new Shape $199 M3 speaker (WAM350) can work on its own, as well as with the Shape M5 and M7 Wireless Speakers, the HW-H750 Soundbar, the HT-H6500WM and HT-H7730WM home theater systems, and the BD-H6500 Blu-ray player. More info here. Also available on Amazon.
The Denon HEOS family includes three wireless speakers, a wireless amp and a component (the Link) to connect to your own audio receiver. Each one can deliver music in any room, all without wires. The speakers operate on dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, in conjunction with the DenonController app. The HEOS speakers include MaxxAudio by Waves digital signal processing (DSP). HEOS can be used with a variety of digital selections, from streaming online services and smart devices to connected PCs, Macs and NAS drives. At the moment only six streaming services are on the HEOS app: Spotify, Rhapsody, TuneIn, and Pandora, iHeart and SiriusXM. HEOS uses your WiFi network and doesn’t require a network bridge, though a wireless extender is available if your home needs it. More info here. Also available on Amazon.
Also check out these affordable audiophile speakers here.
Also check out our 2015 Wireless Speaker Buying Guide here.
This article was originally published on February 23, 2015 and updated on October 7, 2015.
TiVo has been around since the dawn of the DVR. The company is still kicking—and now they are fighting their way back to the top of the category as well.
The company just debuted the 4K TiVo Bolt, a brand-new box that promises to get “viewers to and through their content faster than ever.” That’s because the TiVo Bolt has an interesting feature that can skip over entire commercial breaks on recorded TV shows with the push of one button.
This new perk is called SkipMode. Unlike DISH Network’s commercial-skipping AutoHop, SkipMode does require your involvement. (And like the AutoHop, it’s not available for all recorded shows.)
Even more important, this new TiVo is a 4K TiVo. Like the recently announced Amazon Fire TV, this box will allow you to stream all sorts of 4K content from Netflix and YouTube. It also has HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 support.
There’s also something called QuickMode, which boasts 30-percent faster viewing of recorded shows. Confused? Think about shows that seem to drag, such as the news, sports and super-lengthy awards shows. This option can cut the crap and save a bit of time—all with pitch-corrected audio.
Like every TiVo box, the Bolt does feature universal search and consumption across all of your channels, as well as streaming providers. It works with cable, video on demand, OTA (over the air), and OTT (over the top) content. Other features include a new design and color, TiVo’s OnePass, TiVo Collections, and more.
TiVo also plans to add new personalization features to the Bolt in the coming months. This will include a “What to Watch” screen, options for sharing favorites with friends and family, and a new way to create OnePass selections using TiVo Online with OnePass Quick Select.
“Bolt was designed to meet the requirements of a new generation of TV viewers,” said Ira Bahr, TiVo’s chief marketing and retail sales officer. “Smaller form factor, 4K compatibility, single-screen integration of cable or over-the-air, plus streaming apps, the ability to take your content anywhere—and for the first time, the ability to precisely jump commercial breaks at the touch of a button.”
The TiVo Bolt is available now at TiVo.com, BestBuy.com and Amazon.com, with stores getting the goods starting October 4. A 500GB 4K TiVo Bolt is listed with an MSRP of $299.99, with the 1TB 4K TiVo Bolt box going for an extra $100. Each purchase includes the first year of service. After that, expect to pay $149.99 per year.