Archive for the ‘Dig’ Category

Smart homes today

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Broadband internet and digital TV are seen as the first steps towards smart, networked homes, as they have the potential to be gateways into homes for a wide range of smart applications. Their take up has been rapid; by March 2006, 43 per cent of UK homes had broadband internet connections compared to two years earlier when only 15 per cent did.6 The take up of digital television is driven by government policy to switch all TV to digital by 2012 and 77.2 per cent of British homes had digital TV in some form as reported at the end of 2006.

The technology industry sees smart homes as the next big thing and many companies have smart or digital home programmes. But analysts argue that consumers’ key concerns are still simple problems, like getting all the computers in a house to link to the same printer.

Other than the most technology literate or the very wealthy, consumers do not yet seem to be demanding the advantages of networked homes. Smart homes are therefore more likely to evolve as people purchase different features that link up to each other over time, rather than through an instant technological upgrade.

Even so, many companies and groups are already looking ahead to fully smart homes. The Automated Home initiative (TAHI) aims to “promote, provide the environment for and launch large scale deployments of ‘smart houses’ and the services…for them so that people can see and experience the benefits the connected home can bring and demand them for themselves.” Their working groups look at different aspects of smart homes and want to avoid features developing in isolation, as the ability of smart features to communicate and work together through a home network will be essential to their desirability. TAHI has been feeding in to the European level development of a smart homes specification, as well as developing a mark of interoperability.

A number of BEAMA members already produce smart home technology and the association has a smart homes working group. It sets out what a smart home is, what it can offer and the technologies available on a comprehensive website that promotes their members and provides developers and homeowners with information. Such initiatives will be increasingly important to the development of smart homes, as features start to become commonplace.

Smart homes around the world
The smart homes market in most developed countries is similar to that of the UK, with some key exceptions. South Korea is a clear leader in this area and looking at their achievements illustrates the real potential of smart homes.

Smart homes in South Korea

Following a financial crisis in the 1990s South Korea invested heavily in developing innovative technology. They have introduced the world to the internet fridge, oven and washing machine and are a laboratory for developing the home of the future.

This will help to solve their domestic challenge of dealing with a greying population, as well as providing them with massive export opportunities.

In 2007 the Ministry of Information and Communication will have invested approximately £247 million in supporting the development of original information technology (IT). Part of this will support home networking, which has already received loans to develop 44,000 networked homes. The ultimate aim is to network 10 million homes, with plans to introduce a home network building certification system.

South Korea’s investment in networking is such that they are increasingly looking beyond the smart home to the smart city. The networked home strategy is now part of a larger project to network entire cities, called U-city, which is being promoted by around £11.5 million worth of subsidies to local government bodies and the construction and housing sectors. Dongtan New Town, Korea’s first U-city, is being tested and rolled out from March 2007 and all 1,010 residential units are now networked.

Home networks in South Korea are provided by LG Electronics’ HomNet product or Samsung’s HomeVita. Lotte Castle apartment complex in Seoul is an example of fully networked homes. They have wireless broadband and a HomNet environment that is controlled via TV, a remote control or a keyboard. Cameras relay real time images from other areas of the home and the outdoor playground, DVDs can be copied onto the home’s hard drive, gas and electricity use is tracked, a health monitor checks blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate and there are on-screen controls for the washing machine, the microwave, the air conditioner and the oven.

The entire home can be controlled remotely by mobile phone and residents will be notified of any problems, such as the gas being left on, and can get real time images of their home over the phone.

Other networked homes have voice activated controls, refrigerators that can update residents on their contents and mirrors that display their daily appointments, as well as toilets that send health updates to their doctor.

The focus of smart homes in South Korea is to make life easier, rather than environmental benefits. But as the environmental performance of homes becomes increasingly important in Europe, a key export market, these aspects are likely to be developed and highlighted. The UK’s pursuit of smart homes will be nowhere near as single minded but it does demonstrate what is possible and provide scope for applying South Korean innovations to our environmental ambitions.

Smart homes in the UK
Smart homes in the UK can be found at extreme ends of the housing spectrum.

Wealthy homeowners looking for the latest technology to manage their homes have been installing smart networks and smart applications are also being put into social and sheltered housing because of their healthcare and energy efficiency benefits.

Retrofitting existing homes to make them smarter and to lower their environmental impact, is also now possible.

The mass housing market is between the extremes of high-end mansions and social housing. The average homebuyer is not demanding smart features and developers have no interest in a home’s performance once it is sold, so they have no driver to install energy saving smart features. The market for smart homes, building contractors generally considered that they would remain a rarity except in high-end properties and sceptical about the potential of smart retrofitting, believing it will remain a niche area.

In contrast to this pessimism, smart home contractors and manufacturers are very positive, regarding “the forward march of the intelligent home as almost inevitable.

Everything You Need to Know About the Dig­ital Transition

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Confused about the switch to digital television coming near your?

This guide will ease your concerns.

One day soon, TV as we know it will enter a new era: the digital era. While many stations have been broadcasting in digital for the last few years, analog signals will be turned off completely, and only digital broadcasts will be delivered to your TV set. Say goodbye to the analog era of snow and static. You will have no other option as a consumer than to watch digital television, which will impact on consumers watching free, over-the-air analog broadcasts. The transition is going to be a simple affair, despite consumer trepidation. If you have cable or satellite, the transition to digital will actually be completely seamless. More on that later.

The Benefits
Let’s cover some basics first. If you’re confused about the difference between analog and digital, you are not alone. Digital Television, aka DTV, is broadcast in ones and zeros, rather than over the radio waves. Digital TV offers several benefits to the consumer, including:

• Enhanced Picture and Sound Quality. Because digital TV is broadcast in ones and zeroes “all those ones and zeros have to come back together to work, so you don’t lose picture information as the signal travels,” says Pollock. Because digital information is compressed, you also can get a lot more data in a smaller amount of bandwidth, such as 5.1 channels of surround sound for a more immersive audio experience or more lines of resolution for HDTV transmissions, which are inherently sharper, more detailed, and more lifelike.

• Multicasting. In addition to better-quality programming, with DTV, broadcasters will have the ability to multicast. On the old analog spectrum, a broadcaster might have been able to offer one channel on given bandwidth. With digital TV, broadcasters can offer more: More channels and more programming options. “Consumers really won’t have a good understanding of how great multicasting is going to be until they see it,”  “Imagine a station broadcasting in English, another station broadcasting the same content in Spanish or another language.”

• Wireless. The old analogue spectrum, now freed up by TV broadcasters, can be used in ways that we are only beginning to understand. “In addition to things like ubiquitous wireless internet in towns and cities, applications like internet in the car, and faster internet on mobile devices, the analog spectrum can be used in ways we haven’t even thought about. We are just at the beginning of realizing how exciting this could be.”

What You Need to Enjoy DTV
As we mentioned before, if you have cable or satellite TV, you are already reaping the rewards of digital TV. If you have an old analogue TV without a digital TV tuner and are watching over-the-air broadcasts, you need a digital-to-analogue converter box. Take a deep breath, this box is your friend and is very simple to find and set up. It is smaller than a cable box or DVD player, and is available at major retailers across the country. They are inexpensive. Here’s how the box works: Think of the converter as a translator. With an analogue set, the digital signal coming in is like a foreign language to your TV, the box simply translates digital to analogue so you can watch it.

Another exciting aspect of the transition, is that those with analogue sets who buy this digital-to-analogue converter box will essentially be upgrading their TV. “The box offers the ability to use a remote control, which some analogue sets don’t have, adds parental-control capability, and also closed captioning.” “People using 20 year old analogue sets may be among the demographic who now need close-captioning.”

The digital-to-analogue converter boxes are available now. As most stations are already broadcasting over-the-air in digital, you can start enjoying digital TV broadcasts immediately. The only possible drawback is that you will not receive analogue stations that are not yet broadcasting in digital, unless you purchase a digital-to-analogue converter box that passes the analogue signal through as well. This type of converter is also readily available. You will also need to keep your antenna on the roof or bunny ears atop your analogue set to continue to get free over-the-air broadcasts.

How Much Will It Cost?
The next logical question on the lips of most consumers is how much the DTV transition is going to cost. Essentially, it’s free. Over-the-air broadcasts will continue to be free, and other than the minimal cost of the digital-to-analog converter, there will be no additional costs.

Remember that DTV is not necessarily high-definition TV (HDTV). HDTV is a type of DTV with greater resolution. Of course, because the digital spectrum offers the ability to pass high-definition and surround sound, along with greater programming options, you may see more premium channels being offered by your cable or satellite provider, which most likely come at an additional cost. Check with your cable or satellite provider for more information on programming packages.

Do Your Research
As with any transition, the more information you are armed with the better. If you are an analogue TV owner looking into new TVs that include a digital TV tuner, for example, it’s important to know about the products you are considering purchasing. “For a long time, TVs were just big boxes, and the only option was colour versus black and white.”  “With all the increased options available now, it is really important to do research, just like you would before you buy a computer or an audio system. Go online or talk with your local retailer.”