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Live the digital lifestyle with DTV

Posted: 01 Mar 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:home network? DTV? digital home? home control systems? digital home network?

The automated home has been a stalwart in science-fiction productions for years. Doors whoosh open and intelligent systems blink red and yellow lights on nearby walls. Lights rise in response to presence. The ideas have flowed creatively for years, while their realization has lagged well behind.

While we hope for technology to perfectly complement the natural rhythm and breadth of our daily lives, we seem content to adopt advances in pieces. Yet, it is only when technology has become ubiquitous and anonymous that we experience its benefits inherently. Compelling technologies have not been successfully integrated in an intelligent, seamless way that improves the quality of our lives.

Consider the automobile. From your driver's seat, you experience at arm's length individual climate zones, complete audio, headlights that come on and off automatically based on the environment, and remotely controlled locks and windows. These conveniences have become such an integral part of our driving experienceswe can transition between cars and still comfortably and easily manipulate the climate, entertainment and other controls without issue. Smart cars mean easier living.

In the home, however, adoption of such conveniences has been slow. We go to a keypad in one room to check or adjust our thermostat and to a keypad in a different room to arm the security system. We use one system to record TV programs and watch them only on that specific screen. Music is enjoyed on a variety of different devices that are rarely integrated together, and lighting control tends to top out at dimmer switches. What's perhaps most perplexing to this idea of the dumb house is that the core foundational pieces needed to provide a smart-car-like experience are in place, waiting for the solution that ties them together simply and seamlessly.

In a smart home, the TV screen transcends its traditional entertainment-only roll and becomes a full-fledged family portal, a point of control across systems and media.

The key to this is the DTV, a flat panel, high-definition experience provider that contains the on-screen real estate needed to become the dashboard of the home. In a smart home, the TV screen transcends its traditional entertainment-only roll and becomes a full-fledged family portal, a point of control across systems and media. It is the environment in which home automation, digital entertainment and productivity enhancements all converge.

Imagine you're watching TV and the doorbell rings. In the corner of the screen, an image from your front-door camera appears instantly. You're upstairs watching a show you recorded on a Media Center PC downstairsyour proximity to the box on which the content is stored is irrelevant. A message box appears, telling you the dryer has finished drying a load. With the click of a remote, you tell it to fluff the clothes for another 5mins. Or you're conducting your morning routine and the touch panel in your bathroom is showing you the day's schedule of everyone in the home. In a digital home, where these calendar items were entered or stored is irrelevant. The need for information in a specific place and time, and the ability to interact with the needed information are more important.

To achieve this vision, three key elements must come together: a robust network, a reliable standard and a proven platform.

The network is perhaps furthest along. Each week, new statistics are published showing the fantastically growing numbers of households with broadband Internet access or home networks. The effort in setting up a wired or wireless network is consistently decreasing, and mesh networking technologies like Z-Wave are making lightweight, easily-retrofitted products that communicate wirelessly a reality.

A robust network is also critical to the ability to push the digital-home experience around the home. While the TV becomes a central portal of entertainment and control, it's important that access to it needs to be around the home and via mobile devices like ultramobile PCs or PDAs.

While a robust network is critical, devices cannot communicate with each other without a reliable standard. Moreover, the entire effort to integrate them becomes a complicated mess. It is here, perhaps, that home automation has traditionally fallen short. Companies built entire solutions on proprietary, non-extensible technologies that tied homeowners into a single branded solution. As a result, prices were kept high and adoption was limited.

In developing Life|ware, we turned to a standard called Web Services for Devices (WSD) to change things. WSD is based on Web services, a proven standard that is the predominant computing paradigm on the Internet today. WSD takes the benefits of Web services and applies them to devices connected to a network. In doing so, they define a standard interface for devices such as thermostats, light switches, security keypads etc. In this way, Life|ware is hardware-neutral. Moreover, Life|ware integrators can offer their customers more choices among the subsystems they want than ever before.

WSD devices are discoverableLife|ware sees them as soon as they are plugged into the network in the same way a PC discovers a new printer plugged into a USB port. Thus, we also refer to WSD as "USB for Ethernet."

The final piece of this puzzle is the platform, a reliable, standards-based platform that provides management and control of digital entertainment and automation products. The platform must provide a consistent, seamless interface across different access devices, such as TVs, PCs and mobile devices. To date, we have found Microsoft's Windows Media Center Edition to be the closest single platform that meets these requirements.

With a combination of network, standard and platform, we can transition the DTV from entertainment device to family portal. The TV can become the center of daily living. It can be an accessible, available and central dashboard for your digital entertainment, home-control systems and productivity applications, thus serving you what you need, when you need it. That's the vision of digital living, and its time has come.

- Michael Seamons
Founding Partner and VP of Marketing, Exceptional Innovation

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