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
If you have enough money, anything can be done. See plutohome.com for the best integration device I've seen, and it can acomplish all this.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2009
I absolutely agree that this is coming. In commercial real estate building automation exists and is a very competitive industry. Google the term building automation. If you think your home needs a lot of automation, imagine the automation needed for a modern high rise. The technology exists it just needs to be scaled way down and target the residential market.
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May 15, 2009
I absolutely agree that this is coming. In commercial real estate building automation exists and is a very competitive industry. Google the term building automation. If you think your home needs a lot of automation, imagine the automation needed for a modern high rise. The technology exists it just needs to be scaled way down and target the residential market.
May 15, 2009
One thing to keep in mind is that you will likely need to pay some sort of subscription fee for a true backup feature. Raid is not enough since if you have a fire or theft, you still lose all your content. Therefore, this needs to be integrated with an online backup service, because most people won't take the time to make their own backups and store them "off-site".
May 15, 2009
I actually came up with a rather detailed description for a product like this called "The Man-Savant".

Wire your house with mics fed into a central computer. The system will be able to tell which room you are in by the mic location. Using some keyword, like "Jeeves" will get the system's attention.

"Jeeves, play me a little light jazz" would cause the system to start up a light jazz playlist. You would be able to edit the list with more voice commands "Jeeves, skip this song", etc. and it would remember your preferences.

As you say, it's all doable with modern technology. Some open source guys have even started a project that could be used for the basis of the Man-Savant: http://openremote.org
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2009
I don't quite have all of this, but close enough for my needs.
I use Microsoft throughout the home as Windows has one of the best systems to handle my media serving needs in the Windows Media Center products.
My central server is a Microsoft Windows Home Server (WHS). My living room has a Home Theater PC (HTPC) running Windows Vista Ultimate with 2 TV tuners installed for a total of 4 channels to watch/record at once [2 cable feeds and 2 over the air HD feeds). The HTPC, being a full computer can also run boxee, Netflix, and stream video from websites like Hulu and TV.com. A recorded show is saved to my Windows Home Server which also hosts all my saved videos and music. I also have the ability to serve DVDs from the WHS using the My Movies add-in.
In other rooms I have Windows Media Center Extenders (MCE). Some of these are Linksys MCE boxes and one is an Xbox 360.
The end result is that I have all of my media - Videos, Television, Music, Movies, Photos, etc - available from every room in my house that has a television. Using WebGuide, whose developer has a contract with Microsoft, I can view the same media through the Internet (like a Slingbox).

While my system doesn't handle the lights (I've experimented with X10 in the past and was not impressed) there are add-ins that allow for this configuration. It is likely the same for security, heat, and AC.
Some Video Games do work on the Media Center interface, but I have my Xbox 360 for gaming which doubles as a Media Center Extender.
The Windows Home Server handles backups of the individual PCs in the house and with the proper Add-in some files can be backed up over the internet.

While this is not your perfect solution it is a functioning one that I have been using for several years [Media Center was first released with Windows XP Media Center Edition]

May 15, 2009
Ok, so I've seen all the comments from people who claim such a device exists. And, of course, they are wrong.
I have a media server, and a PS3, which allows me to listen to music and watch videos, and view photos. I can also backup my data from any of the PCs in my house. But Scott also wants a home controller - something to set the lights to go on and off, maybe check the alarm system, view security cameras, etc.

And Steve Jobs won't invent it. There's Apple TV - but that's just a "media extender" which can pull audio and video from your PC (or Mac, or media server) and display it on your TV. And, just like my PS3, it's heavily DRM'd - so I can't watch any of the ripped DVDs (that I legally own) because none of the media extenders (PS3, XBOX, Apple TV) will play VOB files. And if the MPAA gets its way, they never will.

While we're at it, why hasn't Steve Jobs invented a version of iTunes that will run on an XBOX or PS3 ?
May 15, 2009
XBMC or Boxee already do most of what you asking except the home environment controls. And both of those are free apps. All you need is a home fileshare (which is really cheap) and a home network. The best way to go is to install XBMC or Boxee on a Mac Mini (or original Xbox, if you have one). Then hook the Mac up to your TV, and BAM. Got everything you need (except heat and AC controls).
May 15, 2009
A friend of mine has a cool set up. With one remote, he can access any movie they own, photos, music and the lights in his media room. All his computers (family and his and hers laptops) are connected to the same server that houses their media. He also has a button upstairs to turn off all sound downstairs for whenever the kids get rowdy. He's a mechanical engineer, though, so I'm not sure how much of this was personal improvisation.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2009
I have a friend who was working for a company making exactly this product. It was apparently started by an ex Microsoft VP who wanted to do this sort of thing for his own home and couldn't find it on the market. They've done one or two of Bill Gates' houses, I think.

I'll ask him the name of the company next time I see him.
May 15, 2009
I've been wishing for something like this for years, and you're right - it's ripe for Apple to do it. There's nothing to be 'invented' just integrated. Here's what it needs:

*A cable modem, so you plug in your broadband connection from whatever provider is available in your area

*Multiple wireless radios (2 are now common in WiFi routers, this should have at least three or four)
-1 for computers / phones / personal devices
-1 for home entertainment/media streaming
-1 for connecting to wireless home phones, or providing a home hot-spot for cell phone voice connections

*A multiple-hard drive system with RAID, so your data is secure beyond 1 single hard disk failure; this provides storage for your audio, video, and backup files

*An onboard UPS system with enough battery capacity to gracefully shutdown the system

*A standardized economy of wireless connection points; that is your server lives in one place, and you plug these in (like an Airport Express) to connect things that don't have wireless support built in, like your DVR or Blue-Ray player. This could plug into HVAC, security, or home automation controls.

Wireless home phones (like the Uniden ones) are great for using at home; while cell phones are expanding, if you spend a lot of time on a phone at home, it's nice to have a larger, more comfortable form factor. You don't want to put one of these in your pocket as you roll around town all day, but at home, it's the better choice. Service is another matter - the home server should connect your phones via VOIP to the service provider of your choice.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
May 15, 2009
You forgot about the master password. That's the only part about this system that really appeals to me. Two years ago, we had no tv, no video games (except gameboys) and two easily controlled computers. Today, for reasons I don't fully understand, we have a Wii, multiple computers with large screens and all kinds of appealing games, and netflix - for the tv (no cable or reception, though).

I'm not a complete luddite.. I know enough to make myself administrator on all the computers. If the kids step out of line, I change their password. They have to be really, really nice to me to regain access.

Honestly, I don't have much trouble handling the lights on my own, but then we have a relatively small house. The heat? My kids don't care about the thermostat and my husband doesn't understand that it is programmable. He chops and stacks chords of wood for our use during the day. I have the thermostat programmed to go on after he leaves and turn off before he gets home. I don't really see a need for more control than that.

May 15, 2009
The problem I see is that media companies want to re-sell you content.
May 15, 2009

Actually Microsoft has developed and is continuing to develop the home of the future. With everything integrated including the doorbell that recognizes when family members arrive and drive up by the signal from their cell phone. Doors automatically unlock with facial recognition. Science channel got to go inside this home once and do a story on it, it has things in it I bet you never thought of, like a camera in the bathroom integrated into a monitor in the mirror with zoom capability so that you you can style the hair in back without holding up mirrors and so on to see the back of your head. Your shower reads the news to you and so on.
May 15, 2009
Yeah, my computer does all that and a bag of chips. I use Beyond TV, firefly, X10, and am working on integrating the security through a USB digital I/O and dedicated capture software for the cameras. It's kind of pointless to control HVAC through it since most homes only have a single system so should only be controlled from a single input. And the purchase price was less than six bills not counting software. And since I'm not such a screen junkie and sociophobe that I need a TV in every room it works very well for the three media outlets (screens) I use.
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