CEPro just posted an article about Control4 and its attempt to become the operating system for the automated home.  It’s definitely an interesting concept and I think putting Control4’s operating system inside of everyday consumer electronics equipment could enable widespread adoption of home automation technology.  Home automation is still a new concept to most people at this point and Control4 is the control company most focused on putting home automation into every home in the world.  Most other control companies are ignoring the masses and that’s exactly why I believe that Control4 is going to make it stick.

The potential created from electronics with “Control4 Inside” is huge.  Imagine having an A/V receiver that automatically knows how to connect to your DVD player that automatically knows how to connect to your TV.  You just plug them into the network and that’s that.  Oh, and they’re all tied into your home control system too without you lifting a finger.  This is done to a certain extent already on computers using technologies like USB and Firewire but it has yet to come to the consumer electronics equipment that people use away from their computer.

It’s only a matter of time before every device that we use in our home is connected via some type of network enabled control system and that is a good thing.  You should want your equipment to just work and forget about the details of how and why.  Just plug it in and use it.

Read the original article at http://www.cepro.com/article/control4_aims_to_be_os_of_the_automated_home/

Everyone is in the recycling business these days and it’s not a bad thing.  Sam’s Club has created a program that will help its members dispose of used electronics equipment the right way.  They’ve made it very easy for consumers (that are members of the club) to participate in the program as it’s entirely web-based.  The web site allows you to choose the type of product you’d like to recycle from a very user-friendly interface.  The site also tells you if the product that you’re recycling has any trade-in value.  The best part is that they’ll still recycle your equipment for free even if it doesn’t have any trade-in value!

The only downside to the program is that you’re limited in the types of equipment that you’re allowed to recycle.  They accept desktop and laptop computers, video game consoles, LCD monitors, printers, camcorders, digital cameras and MP3 players.  You’ll have to check out additional recycling resources for more information if you’re looking to recycle items like A/V receivers and DVD players.  I blogged about some electronics recycling programs a few weeks ago, all of which are excellent options.

Sam’s Club Trade-In and Recycle Program

Electronic House Magazine has chosen “The Loft”, our most unique project to date, as the winner of the Gold Award for Best “Wow” Factor for the 2008 Electronic House Home of the Year Awards. The Electronic House Home of the Year Awards are some of the most prestigious awards in our industry and we are honored to have been selected as a winner. We were on hand at the Spring Electronic House Expo in Orlando, Florida to accept the award at the Electronic House Home of the Year Luncheon. The oohs and aahs of our peers during the slideshow said it all!

Write-ups of this year’s Home of the Year Awards can be seen in the May 2008 issue of Electronic House and contain a full spread including photos, equipment and a special feature about the project. This marks the first time that we have been featured in a national publication and we couldn’t be more excited to see the fruits of our labor in print. The Loft was also featured in Houstrends Cleveland Magazine in August 2007 in its Building Trends section.

The Loft is unique all around and it’s not just because of our technology. The design of every detail was painstakingly planned. From the kitchen counters to the artwork, the metalwork to the lighting. It truly is a one of a kind space.

We offer our sincerest gratitude to the owner and to the contractor, Amazing Design, for giving us the opportunity to work with them on such a special project. We’re humbled that a single project has gotten so much recognition and are extremely excited for our entire team. It certainly was a team effort and we wouldn’t be where we are without such a great group of people. The project was definitely our most challenging to date and has been a great experience for us all.

Check out page 108 in the May 2008 issue of Electronic House, aptly titled Cleveland Rocks. Take a look and tell us what you think!

Control4 Featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show

April 28th, 2008 - 9:48 am

You know smart home technology is definitely growing up once it gets facetime The Oprah Winfrey ShowControl4 was featured in a segment dedicated to smart home technology that aired April 25th, 2008.  Oprah’s Home Editor and Designer Nate Berkus demonstrated a few features including IP Camera control/monitoring, an All Off button and Mulit-room music.   His demonstration definitely highlighted Control4’s ease of use.  Each of the features he showed only took a few clicks on a 10.5” Wireless Touch Screen and were pretty much instantaneous.  There were oohs and ahs when he demonstrated the IP camera feature which let him remotely control an IP camera that was aimed at the audience.

I know, I know, it’s a staged demonstration on tape-delay so they can make it do whatever they want.  That could be true but I’d be willing to be that it’s not.  The features they showed are available pretty much right out of the box and can be setup very quickly.  Copying the music to the controller for the audio demonstration would have taken longer than setting up the rest of the demo.

Overall it was a good demonstration and is excellent for Control4.  Also mentioned was the fact that you could start small for a little over $700 and add to the system over time which I think is the most important thing he said during the demonstration.  Smart home technology is not just for the wealthy or the technophiles anymore, it’s for everyone.  Pretty soon you won’t know how you lived without it.

Smart Thermostats Are Dumb

April 21st, 2008 - 2:11 pm

Smart thermostats have been around for years.  They’re programmable, can heat and cool your home to your exact specifications and they’re affordable.  You definitely have to read the instruction manual to operate them properly but they aren’t rocket science.  There are a few fundamental problems with smart thermostats though.  They operate independently of any other system in your home and they only do what you tell them to do, when you tell them to do it.  They really aren’t that smart at all, they just know how to follow directions.  How can this be the answer to helping you save money on energy?

The answer is that the thermostat needs to be more in tune with what’s going on inside and outside your home on a real-time basis.  If it was integrated with various other systems in your home it would be able to do things like adjust the temperature accordingly based on room occupancy.  Raise or lower the temperature based on outdoor temperature to conserve energy.  Open or close the shades to increase or decrease temperature.  This list goes on.  The point is that your home could do all of this for you without your interaction.  No two days are the same when it comes to temperature, clouds, wind, etc.  Not to mention the fact that warm to me is cold to my wife.  How does it help you to program a thermostat to set your home to a specified temperature range based on the time of day?

The thermostat shouldn’t be independent.  Brian McConnell suggests making thermostats a piece of Wi-Fi equipment that could hook into your home network with no additional configuration.  Plug and play.  This is a start.  A truly smart thermostat that could read data from external weather web sites that could control your home more efficiently.  Smart, easy and cost-effective.

Another method is to integrate a home control system that lets your home think on its own when it comes to energy.  You could give your home a brain that would behave based on guidelines set for your part of the country by NOAA or another reliable source of weather information.  A system that is smart enough to understand all of the factors that contribute to energy consumption in your home.  It knows when you’re home, when you’re sleeping, when it’s hot outside, if it’s cloudy or if it’s raining.  You’re not there to babysit your energy all day and somebody needs to do it.  Let your home do it for you. 

These types of systems are becoming a reality and the technology to make it happen is available from a company called Agilewaves whose Resource Monitor product integrates all your home’s internal systems.  Electric, gas, water, you name it.  Resource Monitor properly integrated with a home control system like Control4 gives your home complete autonomy based on your specifications.  Now if someone could just solve the NOAA part we’d be all set.

People will argue that the expense of such systems isn’t worth it because you can program things on your own with cheap devices like smart thermostats.  We couldn’t disagree more.  It’s just not effective.  People could do it if they wanted to because the functionality is there but they just don’t do it because they forget or because it’s inconvienent.  A smart home can’t forget.

It’s time to get a new TV.  The DTV transition is ramping up as consumers buy new TVs in droves.  This naturally is great for companies like ours but it obviously leads to a problem: what do you do with your old TV?  Put it on the curb?

You have some options.  Recycle it.  There are a few excellent places to start if you’d like to recycle your TV, DVD player, old cell phone batteries or any other piece of consumer electronics equipment.  Donate them to a charitable organization if they are still in working order.  If not, check out the EPA’s eCycling web site and choose the recycling option that’s best for you.

Another option is to trade it in.  Imagine that, you can get some money out of your old equipment.  Dealtree.com has partnered with over twenty companies including Best Buy, Circuit City, Sony and Toshiba that allow you to trade in your old equipment.  You’re not going to get a huge return but something in this case is better than nothing.

Whichever option you choose, just make sure that you don’t throw it out.

Mention alternative energy as it relates to a home and you’ll hear a few predominant words: solar and wind.  The excitement surrounding these technologies has exploded over the past few years thanks to oil prices, the economy and Al Gore.  Regardless of cost, it seems that consumers are willing to invest in renewable energy technology at a rapid rate.  That is, a certain kind of consumer. 

It’s been said that consumers will pay more for renewably sourced products because of the positive impacts on the planet.  That’s all well and good but certain consumers obviously have more means than others to pursue these new technologies.  It’s excellent that those consumers with high spending power can invest in new technologies like solar and wind power but they remain a small percentage of the population.  Imagine if everyone had access to technologies that could incrementally improve the environment and save them money at the same time.  That’s the holy grail of all renewable energy technologies and is something that everyone can grab a hold of if it is affordable.  Enter Home Automation.

Home automation is an easy way to get started if your ultimate goal is disconnecting from the grid.  Home automation controllers can be had for under $800 and can get you started on your way to energy independence.  They won’t pay for themselves immediately and that’s my point.  For this concept to work people have to realize that it’s going to take time to eliminate the need of purchased power.  The majority of America isn’t comprised of wealthy individuals that can disconnect from the grid tomorrow and never bat an eye at the cost.  The solution is long term and must be worked at over time.

Control4 may be the company most well positioned to make this concept a reality with their affordable line of products.  Start with a controller and a few light switches.  Upgrade to more light switches, a thermostat and automated shade control.  Allow your home to be programmed to know when you’re awake, when you’re sleeping and even when you’re away.  Let the automation sysytem do the heavy lifting for you based on your lifestyle.  You might only see a few pennies difference on your electric bill when you start but you’ll soon realize how easy home automation makes your life all while saving you money and it will grow from there.

Home automation must be easy and affordable for it to be widely adopted by everyone.  Control4 is exaclty that.  There will come a day when home automation is as ubiqutous as indoor plumbing and telephone service and that day will see a more prosperous family environment due to products like those offered by Control4.

You’ve got to hand it to the Consumer Electronics Association.  Not only do they put on one hell of a tradeshow but they also provide everyone and their Grandma with educational resources that cover just about every aspect of the consumer electronics industry.  They have just relaunched a new and improved DigitalTips.org web site dedicated to consumer electronics education.  The site is aimed at anyone in need of “Technology 101” lessons covering topics including audio, digital imaging, digital television and wireless, to name a few.  It’s a great resource for tons of useful information, straight from the horses’ mouth.

The CEA also offers myGreenElectronics.org, a site dedicated to the understanding of the responsible use, reuse and recycling of consumer electronics.  You can use the site to do things like find a nearby recycling facility or research energy efficient consumer electronics products for use in your home.  The site even has a Save Energy with Electronics calculator that allows you to calculate the impact that electronics equipment has on your monthly electric bill.  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink!

And last but not least is TechHome.com, a site dedicated to the benefits of having technology installed in your home.  You can use the site to find a qualified systems integrator (look us up, we’re in there!), learn about things like Multi-Room Audio & Video and Complete Home Control or just about any other topic related to technology in your home.  It’s a great starting point for anyone interested in integrating technology into their home and we’re happy to be a part of it.

Use these resources to your advantage.  They’ll definitely help you ask great questions and truly get exactly what you want from your systems integrator.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way.  High gas prices are bad for all of us because they affect everything around us driving costs of all goods through the roof.  Increased costs equal low consumer confidence, low spending, etc.  It’s all bad news all the time.  That is of course if you don’t see the silver lining.  High gas prices are a wake up call.

From our perspective, high gas prices have made us look at every aspect of our business.  What we pay to our suppliers, how much we charge our customers, what kind of service vehicles we buy; it’s endless.  This is exactly what all businesses must to do on a frequent basis to ensure their future.  Not only must businesses take a hard look at themselves from top to bottom constantly, so too must consumers.  Where to save money, how to be more efficient, how to ensure their family’s future are a few important problems everyone faces.  We sat down and asked ourselves these questions and realized that there’s a ton that we can do to help our customers solve their problems even though we’ll never physically be able to lower gas prices.

To start, disconnect from the grid as much as possible, slowly, over time.  Not everyone can afford to outfit their home with all of the latest technology that will enable them to cut the cord.  What everyone can do is make improvements little by little until eventually every home in America is 100% independent of manufactured energy.  Combine the efficiency of home automation, solar power, wind power and various other new technologies to come up with a solution that will make you energy independent.  Start somewhere, start anywhere.  We can help.

We’ll post more information about our plans and how we can help you become energy independent over the coming weeks and months.  There’s so much to say that I could write a book about it but that wouldn’t get us anywhere today.  Keep your eyes on Connecting Tomorrow for simple and affordable solutions for your energy indepedence.

Back from Hibernation

April 15th, 2008 - 9:49 am

It’s been a long while since we’ve blogged about anything but that is about to change.  Starting today, Connecting Tomorrow will be alive and well once more.

There’s a ton of things to tell, many opinions to share and lots for us to teach.  We’ve grown up a bit since our last conversation and we’re not slowing down.

Stay tuned.

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