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Archive of: Home Electronics & Automation

Title Issue

TV Goes High Tech

Television has never been easier to watch. But a visit to any home electronics store shows that choosing which new television to buy has never been more complicated.

Over half a century, television has evolved as a portal for information and entertainment. Despite the Internet, it remains the primary window to the world for most people. But if you're in the market for a new television and haven't shopped for one in a few years, we're here to help.

You're going to need to learn a few new terms and some acronyms. You don't have to be fluent just the basics.

July 2004

Take Away That Toggle Switch

If you're like most homeowners, when you walk into a dark room, you reach for the light switch and turn it on. That's so 20th century.

Increasingly, homes are being outfitted with advanced lighting controls. At the top end, there are systems that can automatically illuminate areas, to varying degrees, indoors and out, based on time of day or the homeowner's wishes. The most sophisticated systems turn off lights when no one is in a room, or can be activated remotely from a cell phone, for instance. You can control audio systems, heating and air conditioning, too.

January 2004

The Un-Wired Lifestyle

Multiple computers sharing one printer, family photos stored on a PC shown on a large-screen TV, music files stored on a computer but played through a stereo system, no more waiting to go online until someone else finishes, digital images displayed on any PC in the house showing the view from a wireless camera aimed at the baby's crib or the front door - the possibilities for work, play and security that are offered by wireless networking at home are extensive and expanding rapidly.

November 2003

The Home RF Alternative

You may have heard of another wireless networking technology called HomeRF. HomeRF uses the 2.4-GHz band just like Wi-Fi, but the standard is squarely aimed at the home and has had a slow start due to late approval from the FCC for a faster version that closely matches Wi-Fi's speed. Wi-Fi has built up momentum due to a rapid drop in price during 2001. Prices fell for most equipment by 50 to 70 percent, while HomeRF's fast version just started appearing in electronics stores last summer. If you expect to use a laptop or other portable device, Wi-Fi is the only way to go.

September 2003

Where Wi-Fi Operates

Wi-Fi uses part of the radio spectrum - the 2.4-gigahertz (GHz) band reserved by the Federal Communications Commission for unlicensed use. This means that although the equipment you purchase has been approved by the FCC (and its regulatory counterparts if you're outside the United States), you don't need a license to operate it. Nor are you assured of exclusive use of the band. Wi-Fi uses a transmission technique called spread spectrum, which broadcasts over a swath of different frequencies at different times.

September 2003

A guide to the language of cellular technology

CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) - The most common digital technology in which information is digitized, assigned a unique code and spread over the entire bandwidth available to the phone. The receiver uses the same code to reassemble the signal. CDMA allows as many as 10 separate calls to occupy the same amount of space as an analog call. TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) - The first digital cellular technology to hit the market.

May 2003

X10 Explained: Controlling Your Home Without Re-wiring

X10 is a popular technology that allows you to control electrical devices throughout your house with existing 110-volt wiring, eliminating the need to run new wires - a costly enterprise in some cases. Because X10 equipment simply plugs into wall outlets, it's usually simple to install and use. But it's far from simple in its design. For those who want to understand what's going on inside those little boxes, here's a quick tutorial. X10 is both a patented line of home automation products and a communications protocol for remote control of electrical devices.

March 2003

The Case For Pre-Wiring

If you're interested in home automation and you're building or renovating your house, give serious thought to pre-wiring it for the future. Installing an advanced cable system will serve your needs now and well into the future, and it's a lot easier to do before the drywall goes up. Cabling needs to run from the area in which you'll place your hub - the signal-distribution center - to every room in which you'll have equipment or controls. Remember to be generous with your estimates and run more cable than you think you'll need.

March 2003

The Lowdown on High-Definition TV

If you want the best picture money can buy, high-definition television (HDTV) offers jaw-dropping clarity. But when you start making decisions about which set to buy, that picture looks muddy. As with any new technology, the prices are falling - they already dropped about 40 percent over the last three years, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, and are likely to fall further. And the bells and whistles are becoming more sophisticated as competition increases. So there's a lot to be said for waiting.

July 2002

A Household 'Fuel Gauge'

Home automation systems can sometimes seem a bit, well, superfluous. It's nice to be able to control lights all over the house or pre-program the heat, but is it really all that useful? Smart Systems Technologies has developed an automation system that it insists really is useful. Its Em-Power system does all the things you'd expect, like controlling lighting and HVAC and home security, all by transmitting signals over the home's power lines.

May 2002
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