If you're wondering where the next economic boom will come from, I think it will involve a central computer for your home that handles all of your entertainment, home controller, and computing needs.

Before you rush to tell me "That already exists," and then provide links to things that only do a few functions, let me assure you that it doesn't exist. But there is no reason to think it won't be developed in the future.

I came to this conclusion while searching for a home system that would deliver recorded TV shows and music (iTunes) to several rooms in the house, with each room controlling its own content. I was surprised to learn that no such thing exists.

It would be nice if this hypothetical system also controlled my lights and video games and security and heat and AC. I'd love it if all of my entertainment content could be downloaded from the Internet. And it should be networked with my home computers and automatically back itself up over the network. That would be spiffy.

The closest thing on the market is a so-called home media center that will distribute movies, music, and your own content to multiple rooms. It's not yet integrated with a whole home DVR to handle all of your normal television viewing. It doesn't handle lights, video games, security, heat, AC, or home computing. And it doesn't back itself up over the Internet. Plus it is crazy expensive. So there's a long way to go.

As an aside, the system would only need to back up a database of what movies, music, and video games you own, and not the actual content. If you ever needed to do a recovery, your record of ownership would allow you to download the content again for free.

I can imagine a system that backed up your top secret proprietary data to media in your home, so you can physically control it, while all of your non-proprietary stuff is backed up to a central depository that is also very secure.

I assume Steve Jobs will be the one to create this system if he has another act left in him. If he does it right, the only other computers you would need for your home would be laptops. The rest of your home computing would be handled by your home server. All you would need in each room of the house would be a monitor - that's the TV in most rooms - and a keyboard or mouse. Or perhaps by then your phone will act as a universal remote.

Obviously all the technology to make this happen already exists. It's a matter of getting the cost down, negotiating all of the various licenses, and building an interface that is easy to use. It's probably ten years out, but it seems inevitable.

[Update: I will acknowledge "it already exists" if you can point me to any link for a system that can do these two things:

1. Stream 3 different HD shows from a central DVR to different rooms at the same time.
2. Stream iTunes-selected songs to multiple rooms, each its own song, at the same time.]

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Apr 4, 2010
addendum about LinuxMCE, it can't really do much with iTunes... because Apple generally doesn't like it when people make things that work with it across the network so they change the protocol every year or so, sort of like what Microsoft used to do until the whole 'monopoly' thing... (In fact that didn't stop them, they only stopped when they realized they could make more money by NOT doing that...)

However if you can manage to get your music out of iTunes it can do the rest as far as I know... if LinuxMCE can't do the music stuff itself I know that there is some other pieces of software that CAN do that and you can install them on your LinuxMCE master box and add that feature to it :P (Open source is awesome that way...)

If it doesn't do everything you want (I only posted about it because it has really impressive demo videos that have most of the stuff you describe demo'd in them) there is a multitude of media centres for Linux that do cool things.

(LinuxMCE is built on top of several other projects like MythTV and Ubuntu)
Apr 4, 2010
Hey Scott it exists almost, LinuxMCE does most of that, it even has a feature where you can tell it to 'follow you' then it automatically routes whatever you're watching to the TV nearest the remote you're using. (Obviously you have to take the remote with you). It does home automation (so lights etc).

If you're not averse to mix'n'matching stuff I'm sure you could install some packages to finish the home automation stuff in it, since it's just Ubuntu with extra stuff.

There's even pre-build boxes you can buy with LinuxMCE on them, and specialized behind your LCD TV remote boxes (you have one main server with all the storage and TV capture stuff, then smaller ones that just display stuff)
May 25, 2009
Re: Mirek2
I had bought and downloaded some movies and t.v. shows from iTunes. Due to windows reassigning my external drives different letters (yes, I do have a problem with how windows works) I accidentally deleted some of them. I then tried to automatically re-download them, no go as they were marked as having been downloaded. I then went thru customer support and was told, in no uncertain terms, that the license agreement allows only one download and it was my job to insure that I had a backup copy, and that there was no way apple was going to help me.
In regards to the 5th gen vs classic iPod. I had a 30gig classic that played the above mentioned items on my Memorex iFlip. As an OTR Trucker, I found this to be much easier than lugging a ton of CD's around. The 30gig died, so I purchased an 80gig classic. Audio wise it worked great, but it would not play video on my iFlip. Took it to an Apple Genius at an Apple Store. He explained what Apple had changed, that they had eliminated one of the video outputs and some other internal changes to make the interfaces similar to the new iPod touch. This was a similar change to when they moved the audio jack and eliminated the power point for my RF audio adapter.
May 24, 2009
why. who cares. it wil ltake more time than its worth
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May 23, 2009
I tend to agree with gargamel9. We want all that functionality (maybe???) but on distributed equipment so there is always a path to a pseudo redundant device that does what is needed. As chips become cheaper than sand, the cost of redundancy is inconsequential.

To quote my father, "I need to own three cars so I can always have one running to go to the store to buy parts to fix the ones that aren't."

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May 19, 2009
May 19, 2009

Sorry, the reference to CableCards being the only "legal" way to retrieve cable channels is in ref to torrents, not standard tuner cards. A standard tuner card can only get off the air channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, etc) The "premium" channels are scrambled and not available with standard tuners. (Drat) The CableCard was the "solution" provided to us by congress so that we can have Tivo or other solutions without being locked into our cable company's box rental.

As for the Linux solution; even the Windows solution requires some (lots?) of configuration. That's why *I* came to the concusion that there isn't a specific product out there, but a collection of products that the knoweldgeable consumer (Read: me, you, Scott, and other techs) could put together.
May 18, 2009

You are correct, CableCards have no gained wide (any?!) acceptance. While I am primarily a Windows person, I do agree that CableCards or similar technology that would allow users to view the cable signals (HBO, Comedy Central, USA, SciFi, etc) with their computers or some such device (ala Tivo)

At this moment in time, the legal only solution to this issue is CableCards. (boo, hiss)

Because of this, and several other issue I wrote the second comment as I believe I had a better understanding of Scott's question (again, I BELIEVE I understand better... who knows what the reality is, but I digress. There really isn't *A* product that can be purchased. But people like you and me can configure exiting products to get what we want. The difference is symantics (and costs) But I wanted to acknowledge your statement that there are alternatives to what MS sells.

James Rose
New York City
May 18, 2009
Phew, I had articulated almost same feeling though my article < http://pjmtechspeak.blogspot.com > has 0 comments :-) (no readers) and I write poor English (non native). But it feels great that someone else in the blog echo system has thought out the same and it helps even more that the person is Scott -the famous one-, and my favourite blogger. One more quality may be we share is that it will be none of us (at least I am sure about myself) who will actually fill all the details and make this thing work or put the money in the company trying to do the same ;-)
May 17, 2009

It's going to continue to require an advanced technician, but the expensive interconnect hardware isn't quite there. AMX, for example, interfaces with thermostats just like any programmable thermostat would, interfaces with gates, fireplaces, screens, shutters, and drapes via simple relay circuits, and interfaces with pool systems, security systems, lighting, and many other things via RS232, a standard protocol that just requires a single serial connection.

There's also a huge movement towards Ethernet control. Switchers, Mixers, Media Servers are all offering ethernet connections so they just live on your network and can be controlled from a networked AMX master over the LAN.

Of course, the AMX equipment itself is prohibitively expensive, but it's a control system that doesn't need any other parts to go between it and the manufacturer's equipment.

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May 17, 2009
Before we go to a whole-house universal system I'd like to see a change to wireless everything first. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm sick to DEATH of having to crawl behind the armoire, juggle 7 pieces of equipment, and fight with 7,000 wires and connections which have to be fiddled with for a minimum of three hours to hook up any new piece of equipment. I know that there's at least one wireless system available (from Bose) but think this should all be completely standard and basic across the board. What we need is a simple, cost-effective piece of equipment to facilitate this. Or am I completely behind the times and this is available at Best Buy for $10???
May 17, 2009
One thing I sort of glossed over.

The reason you're having a problem with the iTunes is a limitation built into the iTunes software. It can only play one song at a time, and you can't run more than one instance of it on a computer at once. Therefore, the only way each room could have it's own song from iTunes is to have multiple computers. This is not a limitation of innovative people, or any indication that people aren't interested in what you're describing, just a limitation of the iTunes software itself.

Also, iTunes has a known issue (that has been reported as a bug since . . 2004? somewhere around there with no response) where you can't change the Airport express outputs via any remote control method. You can change songs, volume, lots of other stuff via the API or via keyboard shortcuts, but iTunes does not allow you to switch which rooms you are outputting to via any method other than using your mouse to do it. Glossing over the fact that this is an obvious accessibility issue (what about people who don't use mice?), this hamstrings attempts to automate music flow through a house.

If you truly want this system to work, I'd look into a system other than iTunes for your playback, and use a sync service of some sort to synchronize your iTunes library to it. That way you'd only ever have to add your music to one library (iTunes, ReQuest, Kaleidoscape, SageTV, etc) and it would be accessible everywhere.

May 17, 2009
It already exists.


AMX is a complete home control system that can be programmed to do whatever you want. To answer your two specific questions:

1) You can do this two ways.
a) SageTV or something similar can be integrated. This is a centrally located computer that serves as your DVR, and then has HD Media Extenders located in each room. Each extender controls it's own content, but it all pulls from the same source. You can have as many extenders as you want watching as many different programs as you want, and the AMX Control system can control them all. Each room would have it's own touchpanel or remote and you could access the same data everywhere
b) You have a matrix switcher located in a central location, and multiple DVRs. Each person in the house would have their own DVR, and every room could access any DVR. From the touchpanel, you choose your personal DVR, and then you can play whatever you want, while in a different room, someone else could do the same thing with their DVR.

SageTV would be closer to what you described, the multiple DVR solution is more common because Sage requires a little more knowledge on a day to day basis, while the DVR solution just runs once it is setup.

2) By requiring iTunes, you're being incredibly picky here. If you truly want iTunes, you'd have to set up multiple computers running iTunes. You could set each computer up to sync to the others, and from a user standpoint, you'd never know exactly which computer you were listening to in a room, but you could have as many different songs going in as many different rooms as you wanted.

If you're willing to get away from Mr. Jobs lock on the digital music industry, you can look into ReQuest Audio or Kaleidoscape. Both companies make wonderful media servers that allow you to select your song from a database via an AMX touchpanel and play it in any room in the house. Someone else could do the same thing and choose an entirely different song, without affecting you.

Kaleidoscape also has several other fun functions. For example, if you have multiple homes, Kaleidoscape will sync between the homes, so any DVD you load into the system in your California house will be available for viewing in your New York condo.


In addition, AMX can be programmed to control heating, lighting, your pool, fireplaces, alarm systems, security cameras, entry systems (doorbells with cameras attached), entry gates, etc. You can also include RFID control with it so that things happen based on proximity (your music could follow you from room to room, if you had an RFID chip in your wallet, for example, or the lights could turn on when your car turned in the driveway and turn off when it left). These systems DO live on your home network, and can access the internet to receive information about weather and other such nonsense. In one instance, I actually downloaded weather data from the internet, and on cloudy and partly cloudy days, I opened the blinds, and on sunny days I automatically closed the shades to prevent glare on the television.

The downside is that these systems require advanced programming knowledge to set up, and generally require a service contract should something go wrong. Also, they're prohibitively expensive for the average consumer. A whole home system like you're currently describing could run in the $400K to $500K range without too much trouble, once you've paid for equipment, programming, and installation. On the plus side, every single job is custom to exactly what you want.

If you want to know anything more about this system, or I left any important details out, my email address is jeffmcaleer at bellsouth period net. Feel free to hit me up for clarification.

May 17, 2009
"It's too late for broccoli"
Scott, what does this mean?
May 17, 2009
Hey Scott you should make a widget for the Itouch/ Iphone and maybe get it Pastis (Pearls Before Swine) and the Get Fuzzy dude to do the same thing I know I would pay $30 for just yours and probaly another 30 for the other two each
May 17, 2009
Beachton, there are two reasons for doing this: 1) so multiple people can watch multiple things and 2) for the sheer nerd-off factor of it. =D
May 17, 2009
Isn't it wasteful to have three rooms in the house that all do the same thing? Think how much simpler your life might be if you just got rid of those extra two rooms.
May 17, 2009
I actually attempted to do this, a few months back. Though I wasn't doing it the 'smart' way.

I networked a hard drive with all my movies/music in that format to my router, then networked a DVD drive to the same setup. I placed a pretty much gutted PC (HD and USB inputs only- no disk drives or anything of the kind) behind a TV in one room, and a similar rig in the other room behind -that- tv. Each could download conted to the HD, read content from the HD, and read from the disk drive, while outputting to the TV in place of a monitor. The only broblems were major lag issues (though that might be my fault, as I was trying to go wireless) and my power bill jumped harshly, so the project ended up abandoned. I guess, in a way, I made a 'macguyver' version of this idea.

I'd say that each componant, be it a TV, Stereo or whatnot, should be an independant system that can be linked into the 'hub-' think modular. It'd make life a lot easier, and if you lose your hub through something unforseen, you can still use your other componants until it's replaced.
May 17, 2009
It already exists for the technically competent & the rich. The problem is it needs to be easy and affordable.
May 17, 2009
I haven't seen anyone reference Sage TV. Sage TV meets both your requirements. I will admit that I am not yet set up to stream 3 HD shows from a central server due to not having the cash to complete the set up. I am streaming 1 HD cable and 1 digital cable signal to multiple TVs. I am also capable of streaming Itunes media to multiple TVs as well. I run Sage sever connected to 1 HD cable receiver and 1 digital cable receiver. I run the Sage HD theatre front ending my TVs. This was a simple and painless installation. I did need to run CAT 5 through the house, but installing the server was a piece of cake.
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