Digital Lifestyles
Conception. Design. Solution.

February 2009
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Observations for 2009
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 2:38 pm

We spent 3 days at the latest Consumer Electronics Tradeshow which is the largest show in North America. All of the newest and latest bleeding edge technologies are displayed and you have an opportunity to try many of them. I’ll briefly list what I think are relevant and meaningful advances as opposed to technology that has no real purpose (which if your honest is probably half of it there).

- Streaming content. Simply put all of your TV shows, games, movies in high definition are streamed to your TV directly from a service provider. Because this utilizes your broadband connection via internet it could be any of hundreds of providers, giving you a huge choice. It works now in the US but our draconian laws in Canada seem to choke out the possibility of Canadians having this choice. This is a big technology, eliminating DVD, digital boxes and any physical media. All at the touch of button. For real, honest.

- Lighting controls for your home. Eliminates conventional on/off type switches in favour of programmed dimming. This does several things really well. Running your lights at 90% saves huge amounts of energy without any noticable difference in brightness. Allows you to turn on and off any lights from anywhere in the house (like kids rooms and outdoor lights) and you can create the coolest mood and accent lighting scenes that are just not possible any other way. My guess is these systems along with other energy management options that can be added on will become compulsory in California and spread from there. These systems have been available for some time, it’s just they are now very affordable. In fact not much more that your conventional dimmers and switches. Add in the energy savings, security options and convenience and we have a winner. Ask us for a demo sometime.

- High definition movies and TV. Everything is being tooled up now for high definition in your home. Movies, audio, TV and gaming. Goodby standard definition TV (good riddance) as nothing new for that format.

- One of the coolest things we saw were door locks that were wirelessly internet enabled. Built into your front door lock (you can’t tell) is wireless internet and it allows you to connect with your door (don’t laugh) and lock or unlock or see whose key or code has been used. Looks like a good way to manage service people, contractors, visitors and kids.

- Super thin TV’s. As in 5/8″ thick. They look spectacular, every manufacturer has some and they will be on shelves this April in Canada. The only issue is there are no mounting solutions to wall mount them yet (different mounting format). these TV’s look like art. You will be wanting to think about an audio upgrade though as the sound form these TV’s might actually be worse than your clock radio. I’ve heard better sound from my kids talking toys

- LED TV technology. Using low power consumption LED technology the new LCD TV’s are unbelievably bright, energy efficient and thin. The only issue is they cost considerably more, but that will change soon enough.

- Widgets. Just Google that one. try Yahoo Widgets. It’s in everything….I don’t get it at all.

There were so many things there that just made no sense to me (I must be getting old) that I wonder how these companies make money or even get the capital to even develop some of things we saw. I say it over and over…..but it’s truer now than ever. You get what you pay for (within reason and the law of diminishing returns). I was standing with a group of major manufacturers who were lamenting the fact that they had moved production to reduce costs and price points. The warranty claims were in the stratosphere and they talked about exiting the entry level of the market as in there words “we are making garbage”. Enough said!


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Your satellite and cable TV digital boxes
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 1:04 pm

I’m writing this to address a recurring problem we have seen all too often in the last couple of months. When we design and install a system we try and leverage the best digital connections for audio and video. This assures you are getting the very best picture and sound, and quite frankly it simplifies operation so it’s easier for you to use. What you may not know is that your service providers (cable and satellite) have an always on connection to your digital box. Even when the power is “off” the unit is merely in standby, so it’s not really off. The reason for this is your provider needs to send the box information on a daily if not hourly  basis. The program guides, advertising etc. is pushed to your TV this way. There are also “software updates” not unlike the Windows updates your computer receives being transmitted and received by your box. this is where things can go haywire. If the software update being sent to your box happens to be interupted mid stream or if it glitches in any way, your system may not function, lock up or you will lose functionality until the download can complete. A month ago a certain satellite provider decided they needed to strengthen the “copy protection” on their high definition satellite boxes as the movie companies are exerting huge pressure on providers to make sure there is no way you can copy a movie or TV program to anything but the box. Their solution was to completely cut off the digital connection to the TV via HDMI and forcing the use of the analogue connections (not optimal). This was done by software update and with no warning and essentially “broke” those high definition boxes that were connected digitally. One morning your TV and system worked fine and the next it was broken until the cables were changed over. That’s why it’s always good to have a proffessional to call and sort these things out. It shouldn’t be happening but unfortunately it’s something we have absolutely no control over. All we can do is work around it.

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Power problems!
Filed under: General
Posted by: @ 11:27 am

Here in Calgary it’s becoming very common to experience power interuptions, spikes and surges. I can count on one hand the amount of times we had service calls due to these issues in the previous 5 years. I don’t have the answer as to why, but he fact is for the last 6 months we have weekly serivce calls on our installed systems due to power and electrical issues. You see, most consumer electronics (includes you computer routers and internet modems) are dependent on small microprocessor controllers and non volatile memory for operation. Essentially these contain the instructions that the component in question needs to function. Everything from your handheld remote control to the most sophisticated computer relies on these circuits. Manufacturers will tell us that power outages and small spikes should not affect these devices as they are designed to recover and return to normal operating mode when powered back on. well, we know different. Often power irregularities cause these critical components to lock up and freeze, lose their instructions or programming and generally misbehave. How often has your wireless internet settings gone south after a power issue? Digital cable boxes, music systems, clocks, computers are all affected. It can seriously reduce the lifespan and test your patience. Our advice, and I wouldn’t have recommended this even a year ago,  is to install proper battery backup, and power conditioning on all of you critical systems. If you are undergoing a new home build or renovation you have an opportunity consolidate all of these systems into one or two areas which makes them easy to protect. The cost of this protection is now very affordable. In the past it exceeded the value of the components connected to it so we rarely recommended using it. Like most electronics the cost has dropped like a rock and it now makes sense to incorporate these devices into your electonics systems. There are many good products on the market, but like anything, not all are created equal. A professional systems designer or installer can recommend and match the proper product to your application. I wouldn’t specify a system these days without it, it’s become that critical.

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