There was a time when a TV was just a TV. It picked up images on a few different channels and relayed them to a screen, offering little versatility beyond volume control.
Those days are long gone.
Today, television is only one aspect of a multimedia integrated home entertainment system, where audio meets auditory and Internet capabilities. The 21st century of home entertainment offers programs and technologies once only dreamed of. Current technology allows audio-visual equipment to sync not only with home computer software and the Internet, but also with other controls in the house, such as lighting, climate and even security systems.
The latest technology goes one step further, providing networked systems that are both user friendly and more reliable. Many systems accomplish the feat of usability by employing systems that many users already know, especially Apple products. With an Apple smart-home system, a Mac computer serves as the brain, the central processor networking multiple media systems in the home. The central Apple system, known as Savant, collaborates with other parts of the home so they can be controlled through a single, user-friendly device.
"That's really the power behind the Savant system," says Damon Roth, owner of Airmada Smart Homes in Carbondale. "The processor is essentially an Apple computer. You've got Apples to Apples, so it works."
Savant and other home-integration systems can be set up to link to smart phones or other handheld products. With these systems, the preferred device becomes the central control station for the house. "Traditionally a home's systems were integrated and controlled by an in-wall or remote touch panel," says Casey Wood, of Paragon Technology Group in Aspen. "Control by an iPad, iPhone or Droid device is a more modern and typically more cost effective approach than a home completely controlled by touch panels."
Savant and other smart home systems like it have extensive networking capabilities. Entertainment in any room of the house can now be controlled from any other room in the house, and content can be drawn from the Internet into various home systems, including TV and stereo.
"You can choose your media from any room," says Krista Pueblo, of Summit TV in Frisco. Through audio systems, such as Sonos, music can be drawn from an iPod music library in one part of the house and played on a sound system in another part of the house as easily as music from Pandora or XM radio can be drawn off the Internet and played anywhere—all from a single control panel or touch screen.
Similarly, content such as photos or movies can be pulled from the Internet or a computer hard drive and streamed through a television screen. Networking systems connect to the home's wireless Internet and link various media, such as TV and stereo to Internet content.
"That's where everything's going now," says Andy Simpson, a system designer for Conundrum Technologies in Denver. "Everything is cloud based. We're essentially grabbing the information from the internet."
In more advanced systems, total home integration can be set up so that lights, temperature or even security systems can be controlled through one device. With the Savant system, users can brighten or dim the lights, turn on the heat or activate an alarm system from their iPad or other Apple handheld product. These systems can be placed on autopilot to reset temperature or lighting at specific times of day, and some newer technologies can even help improve home energy efficiency, Simpson says.
Fully synchronized smart homes generally run into the thousands of dollars and higher, but experts say it's possible to get a good system at a reasonable price. The Apple TV is one more cost effective option.
Described by Simpson as an "over-the-counter" smart system, the Apple TV syncs with the home computer to stream video through Netflix or iTunes to any TV. Like other smart systems, Apple TV can also connect with online content and stream photos, videos, TV shows and music from an iTunes library wirelessly. It is easier to install than more advanced systems, particularly for users who are familiar with Mac technology. The latest generation comes in a little black box, 80 percent smaller than its predecessor.
In more advanced systems, because the capability is so extensive, advanced smart home systems are generally programmed around owners' specific goals and needs. "Each home is a custom solution," Roth says.
The 21st century of home entertainment offers programs and technologies once only dreamed of.
One of the newest and arguably most exciting developments in home entertainment technology is three-dimensional TV, which harnesses the experience of a 3-D movie theater and shrinks it to living room size. Once the many components are properly coordinated, the 3-D system uses depth and shading through the interaction of a special screen and 3-D glasses to create the perception that images viewed on screen emerge into the third dimension.
But the technology is new and thus still somewhat clumsy and expensive.
"It's a novelty still," Conundrum Technologies' Andy Simpson says. "It gets kind of pricey, just because it's first generation."
Currently, an at-home 3-D experience requires extensive set up. A 3-D Blu Ray player must be matched up with a 3-D TV and, if a more complex sound system is in place, a 3-D sound receiver. The 3-D glasses are also a necessary part of the package and can cost between $100 and $300.
But some retailers, including Best Buy, have come up with a short cut: The 3-D starter kit that includes all the components of a 3-D system at a reasonable price.
Equipping a home with an advanced entertainment and networking system can be an expensive project. Advanced systems are often custom designed and need to be professionally installed. But a set up constructed from do-it-yourself products can be synchronized to secure a smart-home system that does all the jobs you need without breaking the bank.
To cut costs, start by working with an existing TV and stereo system, rather than installing a new one. Add an Apple TV device to link your TV to your computer and you'll be able to view all computer-based content such as movies, photos and music, on your TV. The device costs approximately $100.
To add music connectivity throughout the house that puts the stereo system in one room in touch with a music library in another, pick up a Sonos system for approximately $400.
Denver. 800-741-8639. www.conundrumtechnologies.com
Paragon Technology Group.
Aspen. 866-544-8494. www.paragon-usa.com
Airmada Smart Homes.
Carbondale. 970-704-9996. www.airmadatech.com
Frisco. 970-668-5774. www.summittv.com