A Smarter Home Can Be More Entertaining
Coming home is already a really good thing. What if you could have some smart devices enhancing that experience even more? Your smart home could help make your quality time spent at home even better in a number of ways.
Enhanced Music and Sound
The era of streaming music and on-demand audio content has revolutionized the way we listen and even think about music. Today’s smart home environment is about more than just ways to save money or live greener. It’s also about having a better quality of life while you’re inside your own four walls.
The SONOS whole-house audio system is widely considered the industry front-runner, offering a long list of compatible streaming options. SONOS only requires one smart bridge and one speaker to work (and it sounds great), but the real power of SONOS is when you start to expand your system to include additional speakers. The unique SONOS application lets you group speakers together and control the groups simultaneously; or you can have different audio streams playing in every room, if you wanted to.
The SONOS app also gives you on-board tools that help optimize the sound experience in different rooms. This means you will almost never need to spend time tinkering with the EQ settings to get the sound right. SONOS does the work for you. All you have to do is walk around the room with your mobile device while the SONOS app records the audio dynamics through the microphone and calibrates the speaker accordingly.
The list of compatible music and streaming services is long and impressive. It includes popular options such as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Google Play, Pandora, TuneIn Radio, SoundCloud, and many others. The SONOS app interface lets you link your existing accounts for each compatible service. In most cases, you will have immediate access to already-saved playlists and purchased music.
Other unique features of SONOS hardware includes the ability to pair speakers in a stereo configuration. As an example, you could position a SONOS speaker on either side of your living room, and instead of having two speakers playing the exact same output, you can configure them to essentially operate together as a single speaker, but to separate the output into left and right channels, giving the room an amazing stereo experience.
Amazon Echo, Tap and Dot
Amazon continues to make an impression in the realm of streaming audio in the smart home, first with the Echo, and now expanding to include the Tap and the Dot.
Amazon Echo was always easily compatible with Amazon’s music service, but the Echo developers continue to add new connectivity with services like Pandora and Spotify. While the Echo has impressive on-board speakers, they don’t approach the level of audio quality offered by other, high-end offerings like the SONOS. However, they are still a great value for the range of functionality offered beyond the audio quality.
For most rooms, the Amazon Echo will easily fill them with high-quality sound. Being able to simply tell the Echo what song you’re itching to hear at the moment, without ever having to open an application and search for it, is enough to set the Echo apart from the field where ease-of-use is concerned.
The Echo does not currently allow for pairing or grouping, which means there is not yet a way to stream the same content from multiple Amazon Echo devices simmulteneously.
Amazon has extended its family of Echo-esque devices to include the Tap--a portable bluetooth speaker device that piggybacks on your phone’s wireless Internet connectivity in order to provide an experience that feels a lot like having your Echo with you wherever you go. It is small enough to hold in your hand, or fit in the pocket of a backpack.
The Dot is a less portable device that operates off of the same principle. It has a tiny form factor (the same footprint as the Echo, but significantly shorter) because it does not have an on-board speaker system. It has an excellent “far-field” microphone in order to process commands the same way the Echo does, but it pairs with your existing bluetooth speaker for all audio output.
Since both the Tap and the Dot don’t have the same level of tech packaged together in one bundle as Echo, they are significantly less expensive, and potentially a great option for your lifestyle.
Building a Better Television
The non-traditional, on-demand television experience has been prolific for many years now, thanks to the arrival of broadband Internet services. Once connection speeds became fast enough to allow for the transport of HD-quality video without requiring a download, it was easy to begin imagining the new era of smart devices that would come about as a result.
Smart TV Devices
Most smart TV devices are similar in form factor, offering either a small box or a stick that connect to one of your television’s HDMI ports. The boxes require a separate HDMI cable, while the sticks have an integrated HDMI output plug as part of their compact design. Each smart TV device will usually come with it’s own battery-powered remote control (usually RF, so line-of-sight is not required), as well as a mobile application that will run on your smart phone and allow you to control your watching experience as long as you’re connected to the same network as the smart TV device.
The most popular smart TV devices include Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Google Chromecast.
The interfaces of these devices, while having some obvious differences, generally operate off the same principle of allowing you to add applications which represent the various content providers you want to include. While many applications will require a paid subscription to an existing broadband or satellite service provider; some premium providers, such as HBO, have begun offering standalone content packages to viewers who are not subscribed to any television content provider. In addition, services like Sling have begun bundling some of the same channels you might already see on your traditional cable television provider’s programming guide, and are offering them via an application that can be access from your smart TV device.
The smarter home is the home that offers more customizable entertainment options. Being able to “cut the cord” and only pay for the programming you choose is quickly becoming the standard, and is the key driver behind the ever-growing popularity of smart TV devices.
Many manufacturers have begun partnering with services like Netflix and Hulu, and are shipping their televisions with on-board operating systems to allow for a seamless experience that also lets users pair their TVs with compatible content providers. The most popular services included with these TVs are Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, and VUDU.
While smart TVs offer a similar interface experience to the other, “off-board” smart TV devices, they are generally not as good of an experience. The reasons for this vary, but can generally be boiled down to the simple fact that televisions are usually manufactured by companies that are obsessed with moving on to the next big hardware thing. This means more pixels, or faster refresh rates, etc. It is rarely the case that a television manufacturer will ever care as much about keeping their smart TV experience optimized and updated to be compatible with the newest and best apps out there. In most cases, updates to native operating systems on televisions are rare; and, for TVs more than a couple of years old, almost non-existent.
Since those aforementioned “off-board” smart TV devices are produced with the sole purpose of delivering content, they are usually the result of much more focused attention on things like adding new services and continuing to improve the experience for users.
Set the Mood with Smart Lighting
Many of the money-saving aspects of smart lighting are pretty obvious. Not having to remember to turn off lights when a room is not in use has a positive effect on your financial bottom line.
Consider a different type of energy, though--the energy of the vibes your room gives off. What if you could tweak that energy just a little bit and set the mood, making everyone feel just a little more at home and cozy? It just another one of the possibilities offered by smart lighting.
The Philips HUE system is one of the most sophisticated offerings in this space today. It has a large family of lighting products that includes the HUE bridge, the LED bulbs designed to fit spaces currently occupied by traditional form factor bulbs, as well as the Friends of HUE products. Friends of HUE include the Bloom--a highly-configurable indoor spotlight--and Lightstrip--a flexible, adhesive lighting strip that can be extended up to 33 feet.
The HUE system is, more or less, the SONOS of home lighting. It lets you create groups of lights, and to set and save configurations as presets--tap once for “Movie Night” mode. The combinations are as unlimited as the number of colors available (and that’s in the millions).
Set your lighting up to complement your home decorating choices. Make your favorite room just a little more cozy. Give your seasonal holiday parties just a little more pop. All of these are simple when you add smart mood lighting to your smart home.