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.]

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +6
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 17, 2009
I am aware of a system as integrated and versatile as the one you described, whereby numerous electrical facilities including lighting effects and swimming pool waves as well as computer and internet tasks can be handled via a single control unit. I don't know if the system can stream different HD shows simultaneously but since the hardware is available and this is a unique design it is up to the client if he wants that. I'm not trying to trump you however - it got made because the client thought of it and went to a specialist. The highly customised setup isn't easily available on the market and probably won't be widespread because replacing or suplementing wiring throughout the house and routing it all through a server with custom-made software is such a big job. Perhaps we will all be on wireless-only electricity as well as comms before most people find it viable.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 16, 2009
"Anyone with any experience with Apple/iTunes knows that:
A) Once you download something, that's it. Don't care that you bought it, Apple is done with you. to get a new copy, you must buy it again.
B) They will change the internal configuration of the product to you need to buy new accessories. See 5th gen iPod vs iPod classic video outputs.
Microsoft is at least honest about what they do."
:) I got a kick out of this one.
Personally, I have had experience with the iTunes store, having to redownload some stuff, and it worked perfectly -- I could redownload EVERYTHING I needed to (if you didn't, try going to the store, scrolling all the way down, clicking "Purchase history," and individually asking for redownloads).
Microsoft is not honest AT ALL. That's why they have all the antitrust troubles. There are many examples of this, but the once I most recently read that come to mind are the letters from Keith Curtis' (free) book: http://www.lulu.com/content/4964815 . And they have a track record of betraying their partners: look at Apple, IBM, Sun, PlaysForSure partners, MTV's Urge, etc. They're not good people, believe me, and no better than Apple. It's just those prejudiced MS fanboys (I used to be one, honestly) that make it seem different. Apple's an OK company -- it's pretty green and Steve Jobs (the vegetarian!) is cool, but, like krimsonking, I'm also an opensource advocate.
May 16, 2009
It pains me to say this being an open source advocate, but I agree with you that Steve Jobs and Apple will be the first to do this effectively, and they are really not that far off. The biggest problem I have at home is my mismatching of formats(Mac and iTunes as desktop and music solution, Playstation 3 in living room to recieve streamed music/video and play dvd/blu ray, and a third party media server on a NAS trying to move everything from one place to another). With a purely Apple enviroment I could store all media on a Mac pro and stream to Mac mini's or Apple TV's strategically placed in various rooms, and control all of it from my iPhone. All they would need to do is write an interface to some common plc type controllers and you could easily be controlling lighting and AC as well.
May 16, 2009
Anyone with any experience with Apple/iTunes knows that:
A) Once you download something, that's it. Don't care that you bought it, Apple is done with you. to get a new copy, you must buy it again.
B) They will change the internal configuration of the product to you need to buy new accessories. See 5th gen iPod vs iPod classic video outputs.
Microsoft is at least honest about what they do.
May 16, 2009
Additional to my original post.

After reviewing other posts (LinuxMCE does not support Cable Cards, bummer) and thinking about my post and the efforts I have been researching solutions for the last few years (years?!) I'm a software developer with 20 years in IT. So I;m comfortable doing research and configuring the devices (wireless routers, add-ins, etc) and then I realize at least part of your statement.

There is not a single device that the average consumer can walk into Best Buy and purchase. Certified Cable Card/Windows Media Center computers are only available through a few vendors and then there is the config and a series of steps that have to be done with your cable provider. It's not an easy task. So, really, there is not "A" solution, but a collection of pieces that CAN be put together into a solution that will give you want you mentioned. It's a symantic difference to what you were saying, so I have to conceed the issue.
May 16, 2009

It has been mentioned a few times in the past few posts. But I thought it might be worth clarifing.

The MS Windows Media Center product (Comes with XP, Vista Ultimate and Windows 7 Ultimate) To get full DVR abilities that allow you to record anything from cable/sat providers you have to purchase a premade system that accepts Cable Cards (brand name) The cable company rents the Cable Card for approx $2 a month (each)

The WMC can have 4 cards that can record diff channels at once. It can also stream other content while recording.

There is an iTunes plug in for it: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-10185413-1.html

A central server can hold as much data as you wish and each room would have a WMC Extender (approx $100 to $500, depending on abilities)

For a lot more details see: www.thegreenbutton.com
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 16, 2009
It already exists, but not as a system on the commercial market.

Bill Gates has implemented a system in his house where each person wears an RFID tag that wireless tells the computers in each room of the house that he's there and logs him in, adjusts the room temperature to his preferred setting, automatically provides his preferred media on the displays in that room, etc. Pretty much everything you described and then some.

Just google "Bill Gates' house" or "Bill Gates' house technology"....pretty cool.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 16, 2009
Unless you can get the !$%* industry involved, it's unlikely to ever be affordable. For better or for worse, consumers of !$%* made all of the VCR's, internet, and camcorders affordable for the masses. And, even in a recession, the !$%* industry has the capital to back such a project. So, quick, brainstorm how THEY could move your project along!
May 16, 2009
The system you are thinking is a vendor locking trap.

- What you really want is a home file server that houses all your media files. No streaming and especially on iTunes on this point.
- Then you want a Gigabit Ethernet all over the house in addition to Wifi.
- Then you want an identical book size HTPC next to each TV in the house. Since they are identical, automated updating and backup is easy.
- Those HTPC:s connect to the file server and play what ever anyone in any room wants.
-Since the system is based on standard network accessible storage system, you can easily copy your media files on a laptop for taking with you.

0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 16, 2009
I see two business opportunities in this, and since I'm not likely to do either one, I'll throw this out there for someone else to run with. (Besides, I'm sure someone's already doing it.)

The first business would be a company that does this setup for you. It appears from all of the posting that the pieces all individually exist, but integrating them is (currently and for the near future) beyond the capabilities of the average inDUHvidual. So, you get a few folks together, figure out multiple methods of putting the pieces together under various hardware configurations, and charge for the service. Doesn't seem like that much of a stretch, but maybe it would still be too expensive, I don't know.

The second business would be building microcontrollers / hardware interfaces to connect the huge variety of home environmental controls and entertainment systems to the very few existing home network solutions. I know, I make this sound trivial, and it's not, but I think it's doable. Look at the way USB revolutionized wired connections. Now EVERYTHING has a USB connection.

Put these two businesses together, and you're set.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 16, 2009
In order for this to be a 'BOOM' it will have to feasible to a LOT of people and not just wealthy cartoonists ;) The version for wealthy cartoonists is not far off as the technology does exist (I have seen demos of things that can stream multiple HD streams from one DVR to many rooms - streaming music is so trivial compared to that it's not much of an ask).

The problem is if you want it to control your whole house, all the electronics in the house has to be made by the same company. Unless someone can come up with a useful protocol. And the companies that work on these sorts of things all have to look out for number one.

The interface will be by far the biggest stumbling block. As a bunch of small companies will come up with a really good open interface that works well. And then Sony (substitute any other mega-corporation here) will come along and muscle them out with a crappy proprietary interface and squash all the competition. Don't believe me, see HD-DVD vs BluRay.
May 15, 2009
I tried to make something this before (wireless Sega Genesis broadcasted to the upstairs TV) but failed due to a lack of knowledge...knowledge always seems to be my shortfall dammit!
May 15, 2009
Until it becomes self-aware....

I'm sure it has already been said...I just didn't feel like going through all the comments
May 15, 2009
Look I dig Scott Adams from a generally Libertarian POV, but this argument falls on deaf eyes. As in I imagine that our dorkwad Scott listens to tripe like Bon Jovi and considers the useless Killers cutting edge. So having a networked sound system in his "crib" is like Hefner having a a living version of the SI swimsuit edition at his pool. IE: Way behind the times and redundant. After all, mainstream folk like Scott who is building a boring uber home in absurd Cali is one who should not try to shape the ways of the future of anything.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2009
I see some Amahi & Dilbert fans here!

Streaming of iTunes? Check! (AmahiTunes is the name of the app you are looking for)

Streaming of 3 HD channels? Check!

I *record* two HD channels every night (two of them simultaneously - Letterman & Leno) and stream one from the previous night, at the same time without breaking a sweat while my wife is streaming a movie from my home server or via Netflix.

Amahi has a one-click install of apps that is virtually ready for primetime. MythTV (open source, with a $20/year subscription for the TV guide data) will make this for you, though it's no Tivo to set up. Yet.

In addition to that, Amahi is extensible, so other applications are being packaged all the time.

May 15, 2009
Well old analog tuner tv's would work, all you need is to change your wireless network to use the same band and effectively become your own broadcaster, broadcasting different shows on different channels just like the tv towers do, but there are laws against that, and your neighbours would complain. Your remote would be best as a wireless transmitter too with a localised gps type thing to tell the server which room it is in therefore which channel to change the transmit for.

I don't know if there are UHF frequencies you are allowed to use that no other station is using, then you just need to broadcast on that frequency. (and your wireless router isn't designed to broadcast analog tv anyway, but it wouldn't be hard to make one that did I expect). Iphones do a similar thing where they can broadcast on FM channels so you can listen to them on any radio.

Otherwise what you need is a network capable digital computerised chip that can put tv out, and those cost more than doing it the above way at present.

But otherwise you are stuck with the big 'digital is better' con, which fools most people into spending more and doing it the hard way with software.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2009
People keep hoping that what happened to PCs or MP3 players will happen here: that the market will undergo a phase change from "hobbyist - tinkerer" to mass-market acceptance. The prerequisites for such a phase change are (a) a standardized product, (b) a low-enough cost, (c) easy installation, and (d) near-zero learning curve. The key test is: "can I go to the mall, buy this thing, pay for it, bring it home, set it up and get it working before my wife comes home and tells me I'm a money-wasting idiot?" I would say that if anything needs to be "integrated" then the battle is already lost.

The closest to a turnkey solution is Sonos, but so far they are audio-only and wireless-only.
May 15, 2009
Whoa - what a monumentally optimistic statement you make, Scott, "you record of ownership will let you download another copy for free".

I have the license for DR/DOS I got back in 1987. In fact, I have lots of licenses for software and other soft goods I obtained on floppy or downloaded - and some cannot be replicated. The company went away, enemy lawyers descended and redefined the landscape, and Microsoft changed their fine print are just a few of the reasons I cannot recover a lost download.

I have a rack of VHS tapes that my new player won't play. I have a box of LaserDiscs that I cannot find a (working) player for. Etc., etc.

Especially with MPAA in courts with their aggressive trained-lawyer acts, anything can and will be redefined. I would never count on the vendor carrying last month's hot sellers in inventory next week.
May 15, 2009
My comments are in a totally different direction. What level of intellect will it take to "command" this all knowing, all encompassing system? I watch my wife struggle with figuring out what remotes to use and what to select to switch from watching cable on our TV to watching a DVD on that same TV and I know that there is no way she would ever figure out this nightmare of a complex system that you want for yourself. And my wife is no dummy. EVERYTHING is too complicated today and the only company that has come even close to getting through the morass of choices in our complex systems to make a decent user interface is Apple. And they don't always get it right either. Remember when a phone was simply lift, dial, talk and hang up? Now they are more complicated to use than a PC running DOS! I offer the following dated, but still applicable parable:

Engineering vs. Computer Science : a Perspective

Once upon a time, in a kingdom not far from here, a king summoned two of his advisors for a test. he showed them both a shiny metal box with two slots in the top, a control knob and a lever. "What do you think this is?"

One advisor, an engineer, answered first. "It is a toaster," he said. The king asked, "How would you design an embedded computer for it?" The engineer replied, "Using a four-bit microcontroller, I would write a simple program that reads the darkness knob and quantizes its position to one of 16 shades of darkness, from snow white to coal black. The program would use that darkness level as the index to a 16 element table of initial timer values. Then it would turn on the heating elements and start the timer, with the initial value selected from the table. At the end of the time delay, it would turn off the heat and pop up the toast. Come back in a week and I'll show you a working prototype."

The second advisor, a computer scientist, immediately recognized the danger of such short-sighted thinking. He said, "Toasters don't just turn bread into toast, they are also used to warm frozen waffles. What you see before you is really a breakfast food cooker. As the subjects of your kingdom become more sophisticated, they will demand more capabilities. They will need a breakfast food cooker that can also cook sausage, fry bacon and make scrambled eggs. A toaster that only makes toast will soon be obsolete. If we don't look to the future, we will have to completely redesign the toaster in just a few years."

"With this in mind, we can formulate a more intelligent solution to the problem. First, create a class of breakfast foods. Specialize this class into subclasses: grains, pork, poultry. the specialization process should be repeated with grains divided into toast, muffins, pancakes and waffles; pork divided into sausages links and bacon; and poultry divided into scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, poached eggs, fried eggs and various omelet classes."

"The ham and cheese omelet class is worth special attention because it must inherit characteristics from the pork, dairy and poultry classes. Thus, we see that the problem cannot be properly solved without multiple inheritance. At run time, the program must create the proper object, and send a message to the object that says, 'Cook yourself.' The semantics of this message depend, of course, on the kind of object, so they have a different meaning to a piece of toast than to scrambled eggs."

"Reviewing the process so far, we see that the analysis phase has revealed that the primary requirement is to cook any kind of breakfast food. In the design phase, we have discovered some derived requirements. Specifically, we need an object-oriented language with multiple inheritance. Of course, users don't want the eggs to get cold while the bacon is frying, so concurrent processing is required also."

We must not forget the user interface. The lever that lowers the food lacks versatility, and the darkness knob is confusing. Users won't buy the product unless it has a user friendly, graphical interface. When the breakfast cooker is plugged in, users should see a cowboy boot on the screen. Users click on it, and the message, 'Booting UNIX v.8.3' appears on the screen (UNIX 8.3 should be out by the time the product gets to market.) Users can pull down a menu and click on the foods they want to cook."

"Having made the wise decision of specifying the software first in the design phase, all that remains is to pick an adequate hardware platform for the implementation phase. An Intel Pentium Pro with 32 Mb of memory and a 2Gb hard disk and a 17" super VGA monitor should be sufficient. If you select a multitasking, object oriented language that supports multiple inheritance and has a built-in GUI, writing the program will be a snap. (Imagine the difficulty we would have had if we had foolishly allowed a hardware-first design strategy to lock us into a four-bit microcontroller!)"

The king wisely had the computer scientist beheaded, and they lived happily ever after.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2009
Yes this already exists. Its called networked computers. And yes there are programs and hardware which you can get in order to integrate it into your heating, AC, and lights, I've seen it already. It is expensive and every home is different, so requires custom setup. Also games consoles in each room.

Also are you paid by Apple/Itunes? You refer to it quite a lot - as if it invented music. There is a program called Spotify, which can stream a larger number of FULL songs over the net, much better than paying for music or 30 second streams.
"and music (iTunes)" && "2. Stream iTunes" && "I assume Steve Jobs will be the one..."

What a ridiculous blog post today..
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog