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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May 15, 2009
Did I miss the link to Tivo? Or has that comment just not been approved yet?

Each box has 2 tuners for recording multiple streams and can pull content from other Tivos that they can see on the network.
They can play your music and also view your photos. There also apps you can run on you computer that can serve up media on your computer to the Tivo network. Your shows can also be loaded onto your handlheld media devices like Ipods, phones and PSPs.

I know it doesn't work with iTunes but then nothing thats not Apple does, so this is an artificial limit to a specific company. It does just fine with non DRM music.

May 15, 2009
so far this month you have made 3 people billionaires, if those three peopl would pick on these ideas and create them.
I would but i am too busy trying to find a job.
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May 15, 2009
I think I'm there. Your question might have me on a technicality, but:

MythTV is capable of streaming pretty much anything you want anywhere you want it. I have a couple analog tuners and a couple digital tuners, and can watch any combination of live and recorded video on various PC's in the house. If you meant plain AV output (like straight from the central box to a TV) then you got me, but I think that's a minor difference. The system allows me to watch as many different programs as I have tuners, and allows viewing the same recording at different places with distinct timelines (i.e. the viewing is not in sync). HD programming is problematic, as the content providers encrypt most channels. No one is going to come up with a computer system on their own that overcomes that part -- it'll either involve licensing, legislation, or limits, and will certainly have a higher cost than the hobby systems we have now. MythTV is mostly in the "limits" category, where I can view unencrypted (i.e. the main networks) content only. I have only my cable company to thank for that.

MythTV will also handle music and photos, but you specified iTunes, which is a proprietary system. If you really want to stick with that, you've got me again, but it works for me. I rip my music collection, save it on the server, and browse it from those same computers throughout the house. MythTV provides a standard uPnP interface, compatible with most streaming clients.

I won't say the system is perfect, but the TV part in particular is really slick. It does require a "computer" at the viewing end -- but there are numerous specialized cases and systems to choose from (and after all, even a DVD player is a dedicated computer nowadays). It has a normal remote control system, and allows me to set up recordings through the TV or a web browser. Give access outside the house, and you can manage recordings from anywhere.

The music system is the least-polished, and I admit I don't use it all that often. But it is there and it does work.

I could go on about home automation software (X-10, 1-wire, etc...) but I really just play with those. I agree that the systems for doing that are not integrated well or are quite costly for the average user. I can program, so I've enjoyed working on the integration part.

Does that satisfy your existence requirements?

May 15, 2009
All of your requirements can be met with a properly configured PC, networking components, and a few different programs to take care of each individual need. The drawback is that you'd have to configure it all yourself, or contact the maker of each program instead of having it all in one place. I'm sure that it'll all be consolidated into one package eventually, but that doesn't necessarily mean it'll work as well or be any easier.
May 15, 2009
@chuck.milner: You should at least check the webpages of the previously mentioned 'devices' before poopoo'ing them. Home Automation is the very first bullet point on the LinuxMCE page:

Smart Home
• Home Automation: Control lighting, climate, security, camera surveillance, and more
• Communication: Phone system with auto-attendant, voice mail, call forwarding/routing for VOIP and POTS lines
• Security: Uses your existing home alarm, surveillance cameras, lights, phones and tv's to notify you on your mobile phone of any security alerts with the option of reseting the alarm or broadcasting your voice in the house over the tv's
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2009
>>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.] <<

Serious question: Why would you want your family breaking up into three different rooms so that everyone can watch their own movie in their own private cave? I realize every family is different. Your family might spend hours together on the tennis court or in another venue and then want to come home and separate for a while. I do get that. I CERTAINLY understand the desire to keep the music selections separate....

What disturbs me is the image of the "home of the future" in which everyone separates into their own custom-controlled pod. Yeah, part of it is the "mom" thing. "You can't watch x-men, dear. I have this lovely documentary on Wildflowers of the Aleutian Chain that I thought we could all enjoy this evening." On the other hand, I'll bet you didn't know that the monks head flower produces a powerful neuro-toxin that native Alaskan's used to bring down whales. You don't get THAT kind of useful life knowledge from ogling the wolverine.

Of course, if I retained ultimate control of what played in each of those pods I might see more possibilities in the system. The power over passwords would be nothing compared to the power of streaming Sunny and Cher, unbidden into my teenage son's bed room. I'm starting to warm to the idea....

May 15, 2009
I know that here in Canada, the government is currently rolling out a program to install smart thermostats in homes. These are not only programmable, but can be controlled online, solving the heat/AC problem.
May 15, 2009
Three letters, my friend, DRM. The content providers will never allow what you envision to happen. Also if Steve Jobs is behind it, the system will tell you which movies are Apple approved and all others will be banned.

Seriously, however, the HR20 from DirecTV can handle most of your requirements. It can stream 3 HD shows to computers over your network (assuming you have the bandwidth to handle it, and WiFi doesn't cut it), while you are watching another at the original TV. It can also handle streamed music (iTunes or whatever, it all depends on your PC's streaming capabilities, but I have a ViiV server and it works well) to any of your HR2x series DVRs (I have 2 of them). You can stream multiple different songs, of course. I can stream them to my Treo at the same time via 3G, but that's another matter...

-1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2009
Slightly off topic, but since we're sort of discussing combining existing technologies/applications, let's take gps, visual recognition software, variable cruise control and make a car that drives itself. It can't possibly drive any worse than my mother-in-law.
May 15, 2009
Yeah, and first thing you know, some hacker will break in, steal all your content, your ID, AND shut down your house completely in the middle of winter. Have fun with that.

And no one start yammering about Linux, with its 0.9% desktop market, and no unified direction.
May 15, 2009
Who did your research? They obviously didn't look to open source products such as the Amahi Home Server project. There are multiple applications that can stream programs such as Ampache, Squeeze center, subsonic, and Jinzora to name a few. We have a UPnP program to stream movies to your Xbox360 or PS3 (or your windows media center PC such as Vista Home Premium (Is your researcher reading this?)). There is also MythTV that can be accessed via MythWeb.

Fire your researcher or pay them more, maybe they would do a better job.
May 15, 2009
AT&T Uverse has the DVR part handled, plus "satellite" music offerings, but they don't have the iTunes on demand functionality.

I suppose one problem is that no one company is really in both the hardware and software space to make this work. You spend all your marketing effort to build an installed customer base, and then someone comes along and steals them by charging a nickel less per month.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2009
There is an open source solution targeted EXACTLY at this problem. The Amahi home server (http://www.amahi.org) enables one-click application installation. To meet your requirements simply install the FIrefly media server (one-click) and MythTV backend (the centralized DVR - the one-click installer is in beta).

May 15, 2009
That's what http://www.control4.com/ tries to do, at least. But yes, quite expensive.
May 15, 2009
"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 think this is my favorite part of your whole suggestion!!!!
May 15, 2009
If every room has it's own speakers playing it's own entertainment (or playing the "house music", so that walking from room to room is seamless), then add "Intercom" and "Telephony" to your wishlist of things the system should handle.

The system becomes your iButler (TM). It delivers everything to you except a cold beer.

As voice recognition gets better, it would answer your phone, interrupt you if the call was "important", or take a message (voicemail) if not. Call 911 in an emergency (integrated with security), turn lights/music on/off as you change rooms (motion sensors, also part of security).

Bill Gates experimented with this when he built HIS mansion. Everyone had to wear RFID pins so the system could apply the custom settings as you moved about. Never heard how well that worked.
May 15, 2009
Dude - send me some seed money so I can quit my day job and I'm on it.
May 15, 2009
Wait Scott! This already exists! It really does all the things you describe. It's easy to install and set up (Hold-your-hand wizard type of thing)

All you need is the hardware: home power/automation controllers, pc/monitors in each room, av equipment, etc. They even have a very nice hardware compatibility list, as in "go buy 4 of those and 2 of these"

Check out the INCREDIBLE demo video.

May 15, 2009
Here is the main issue that this presents because the technology capabilities are pretty much in existence:

1. It has to be extremely simple to set up or even better self-set up. All demos I have seen so far are a pain in the neck to set up or even impossible. It needs to be so simple the people who can't set the time and date on their computer can get it working.

2. To make it simple there would need to be a standard way of communicating between a huge variety of electronic equipment. Since TV companies seem to have issues on agreeing on a proper code system to allow universal remotes to work properly, getting a proper standard is going to be hard. Especially since there will no doubt be about 20 companies all trying to promote 'their' standard and the success rate of these sorts of efforts in the past isn't exactly encouraging.

3. How to handle backwards compatibility. I am not going to go out and buy a whole new set of stuff - it is too expensive. IIt is going to be a slow, slow process of replacing things with compatible goods.

Otherwise it will just be the small % of the population who are currently willing to adopt complicated technology. I have found as I get older and older, I find myself less and less tolerant of technology that is hard to use or impossible to set up.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2009
If you have lots of time (and money?) you can build up this sort of thing. My home media system is a MythTV central server backend with front ends scattered around the house. Two downsides though, you can't play iTunes files (DRM) and MythTV assumes quite a bit of tech savvy to install and set up. On this same box I run an X10 controller to do things like turn outside lights on and off, control the pumps for my small fountain out back and control my fish tank lights.

There is a project out there now called LinuxMCE that attempts to do many of the things you talk about but again, it assumes a lot of tech savvy on the part of the user. It integrates MythTV, an X10 controller, security camera recording and other bells and whistles. I believe they even have a climate control widget in there somewhere. Very complex to set up though.
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