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REMOTELY POSSIBLE

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Apr 07, 2014 0 comments
I spent a tense 30 minutes the other night huddled on the floor in the hallway outside my father’s hospital room. The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for the area, and the hospital had gone into “Weather Plan 2” mode. Everyone in the building—even the patients who couldn’t get out of bed—had to gather in the hallways. My father was one of those temporarily bed-ridden patients, and I’m sure that the mind-twisting aftereffects of anesthesia coupled with post-op morphine made the hurried, bumpy rush from his room to a hall full of two dozen other patients seem even more surreal than it was for me. It became even more surreal after all the patients were returned to their rooms following an “all clear” announcement when, within minutes, the whole process was repeated (albeit with significantly more grumbling from the patients and staff.)

As I was busily texting and tweeting about the collective predicament we were in (it’s actually not true that I caused a small riot when I ran through the hallway yelling “Morphine for all!”), the flickering of the hallway lights during the height of the storm started me thinking about how incredibly dependent we are on technology - technology that most of us take totally for granted until it doesn’t work anymore...

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Mar 25, 2014 0 comments
Even the best smart homes today aren’t much more than a cool collection of dumb gadgets managed by a controller with a good memory. Few, if any, of them aren’t intelligent enough yet to figure out when to do tasks on their own. Programming what actions should happen when and under what varying conditions or triggers is a large part of why home automation has been confined to the posh multi-thousand square foot homes of the rich and powerful or the often not-so-posh and much smaller homes of the electronic tinkerers and makers. (Of course, the cost of controllers, sensors, devices, and installation doesn’t help put home automation in the “mass market” category yet, either.)

Despite its relatively high price ($250 - or $3.2 billion, if you’re Google), the Nest thermostat is very popular (I saw one on the wall in a local Subway restaurant a couple of days ago) because - in addition to its Applish-elegance design - it “programs itself so you don’t have to.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it turns out that there are a lot of people out there who absolutely hate programming a thermostat; and hate it enough, apparently, that they’re willing to spend four-to-five times more $ on a “learning thermostat” than they would on an average 5-2 day programmable thermostat. So any smart home automation company looking to break into the big time needs to take note of this fact. Does anyone really believe that these same folks want to spend the time and effort to program an entire home of automated gadgets? “It programs itself so you don’t have to” needs to be the smart home mantra.

Recently a couple of smart home systems caught my attention because of their learning capabilities...

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Feb 18, 2014 0 comments
I’m on a quest to find the best of the affordable smart home automation systems that are available (or will be shortly). The first couple of review samples have come in, and one of the primary aspects these two systems have in common is the impressive amount of engineering and design effort put into making installation and set up as easy as possible. That’s vitally important because for home automation to really get its foot in the door (so to speak) and appeal to more than just gadget-freaks like me, the system controllers need to be smart enough that the end user doesn’t have to commit an overwhelming amount of brainpower to the process of setting them up and getting them running. If the initial installation of a smart home automation controller is anything close to the pain involved in creating a bunch of macros in a programmable universal remote control, there’s going to be a lot of product returns from unhappy customers.

The first system to arrive was...

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Feb 05, 2014 0 comments
The so-called smart home is built on a foundation of three pillars. As with the architecture of a real home, each pillar must be equally as strong, or you run the risk of the entire structure collapsing. Fortunately, the virtual-world failure of a smart home system is nowhere near as likely to result in physical injury as is the falling ceiling and walls of a real-world building. Obviously, though, having a smart home that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do is a waste of money. Having a system that only works some of the time is even worse because there’s a period of intense frustration before the homeowner finally gives up and quits using the system entirely.

The three pillars of the smart home are...

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jan 29, 2014 0 comments
A lot of the sizzling hype at CES2014 was about home automation or, if you prefer using the gussied-up term, the “Smart Home”. Not everyone’s definition of a Smart Home (or home automation) is the same, though, and - as far as I know - there’s no standardized IQ test to determine how smart your Smart Home is.
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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jan 22, 2014 0 comments
CES is just too big for any one human being - or, in our case, nine human beings - to cover completely. And, unless you’re a word-factory like my compatriot, John “The Sciacca” (who, I believe, outsources his blogs and reviews to a small company in Sri Lanka), it’s damn near impossible to write about everything you see at CES while you’re in Las Vegas. And then, of course, there are all the things you didn’t see but wished you had...
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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Dec 30, 2013 0 comments
“Use only as directed” is great advice when it comes to not taking Tylenol if you’re drinking alcohol and then not smearing Preparation H on your puffy eyes the next morning (when it’s okay to take Tylenol to relieve the effects of the previous night’s imbibing). But I don’t always do things as directed. I don’t even do a lot of things as suggested. Half the time I don’t even look at an instruction manual until I’ve encountered a near fatal error whenever I’m putting something together or learning how to operate it. (This often includes power tools. It’s a wonder I still have all my fingers…and toes.) So it’s no surprise that I forgot to put the protective dust cover on the outdoor TV sitting on my back deck before winter set in...
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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Dec 16, 2013 1 comments
On the 12 Days of Christmas, please don’t get these gifts for me…
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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Nov 08, 2013 1 comments
Several months ago, Win Jeanfreau, the Founder/Director of Aperion Audio, would take a listen to the company’s Allaire ARIS Wireless Speaker System. Technically, the Allaire ARIS isn’t a new wireless speaker system from Aperion. It’s been available for a little over a year. In fact, we ran a very favorable review of the ARIS in October of 2012. So what gives? This is an industry that thrives on the newest, the latest, and anything that can lay claim to being enhanced, upgraded, or otherwise improved.
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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 22, 2013 2 comments
Maybe I’m still suffering the aftereffects of installation overstimulation at CEDIA last month, but it seems that everywhere I turn someone’s talking up home automation. Yesterday, for example, Control4 issued a press release touting – and rightly so – the many benefits of integrating home security systems with home automation systems. While that’s definitely awesome, the more interesting buzz that I’ve noticed lately isn’t about Home Automation, where the cost of the hardware, installation, and programming is often discussed in terms of a percentage of the cost of the home it’s installed in. No, the chatter du jour is about home automation “for the rest of us” (to borrow a term from Apple that originally had nothing to do with price, nor does it now). Once again, there’s a push to bring home automation to the masses – or at least to the smaller masses who would be willing to spend a couple hundred bucks for it.

But what kind of home automation can you get for $200 or maybe, if you’re willing to splurge, $300?

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 08, 2013 0 comments
Shortly before CEDIA 2013 kicked off in Denver last month, I wrote a post about some of the things I was looking forward to seeing at this year’s EXPO. There certainly wasn’t anything earth-shattering or paradigm-shredding introduced within the confines of the Denver Convention Center. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few standout products and super-slick demos hidden amongst the hundreds of crowded EXPO booths. We covered a lot of them.
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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Sep 12, 2013 0 comments
They could have done it. The folks in the Forum could have chosen, as Brutus did with his one-time friend, Julius, to dig the knife in deep after we’d already been stabbed 1.2, 1.3, even or 1.4 times. That’s why, when the HDMI Forum announced last week that they’d come up with Version 2.0 of the HDMI Specification, I prepared myself for the pain of deciphering new nomenclature and figuring out which HDMI cables were good for what features and which gear. And, despite the fact that I know better, I couldn’t help but feel that the IOGEAR Wireless 5x2 HDMI Matrix Switcher I’ve been playing with for the last month or two was already out of date.

Such is the heartache that always comes with the announcement of any new specification or technology...

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Aug 22, 2013 0 comments
When my kids were born, the obstetrician let me cut each one’s umbilical cord. Those cords were surprisingly tough to sever, even with a pair of super-sharp surgical scissors. Still, it’s no where near as easy as that was to cut through the clutter of cables we use to connect our AV gear together. (You didn’t see that segue coming, did you?) HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) simplified things quite a bit from the multiple-cable analog way of making connections; but, at the end of the day, an HDMI cable (regardless of its version number, speed rating, or whatever confusing denomination it happens to be a member of) is still a flippin’ cable. IOGEAR says its new $399 Wireless 5x2 HD Matrix (GWHDMS52) offers a way to get rid of one of those HDMI cables in your system – specifically one of those long suckers that are both costly and annoyingly difficult to run from component A to display B. To prove it, IOGEAR recently shipped a Wireless 5x2 HD Matrix for me to give a brief tryout. Considering the fact that I needed to rejigger the cable configuration running from the main system in my theater room to the 46” outdoor SunBriteTV still battling the elements on my back deck, I figured I had the perfect scenario to put the new wireless switcher to the test.

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Aug 05, 2013 0 comments
The promise of HDBaseT is clear and compelling. With one, standard, off-the-shelf – relatively inexpensive – Cat5e/6 LAN cable, you can send full HD (3D and 2K or 4K) uncompressed video and audio (up to 10.2 Gbps), 100 Mbps Ethernet communication, various protocol control signals (RS232, for example), and up to 100W of power from one AV device to another up to 100 m (328 ft) away. (The HDBaseT Alliance refers to this set of features as “5Play”.) That means if you’re hooking up an HDBaseT-enabled flat-panel TV mounted on the wall to an HDBaseT-enabled AVR in a cabinet located in the back of the room, there’s no long, bulky HDMI cable (or HDMI extender baluns) to deal with (or spend the money on). No need for a repeater cable or wireless device to pass IR or RS232 control commands. And no separate Cat5e/6 cable to connect your TV or BD player to the internet via your home LAN. In my opinion, though, the most exciting part is that many components with integrated HDBaseT technology, including most TVs, won’t need an AC cord to plug into an outlet in the wall. It’ll get all the power it needs over that one, humble Cat5e or Cat 6 cable thanks to the magic of HDBaseT’s “5Play” technology.

Awesome, right? Absolutely…just not yet...

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jul 22, 2013 0 comments
I’ve been sampling a variety of soundbars lately, ranging in price from $300 to $3,900. Despite the generic term – “soundbar” or “surround bar” – it’s actually a very diverse and interesting category with all sorts of subcategories within the soundbar umbrella: active, passive, LCR-only, LCR plus discrete rears, and etc. It’s also a category that can arouse understandably strong emotions of disgust and disdain among purists and quite a few custom installers. For millions of people, however, simplicity usually trumps sound quality; and the soundbar tsunami continues to swell and is unlikely to crest anytime soon.

But the pencil-thin form factor of flat-panel TVs is at odds with the acoustic principles speaker engineers currently take advantage of. The result is a shotgun marriage of something that is skinny with a partner that is usually a bit bigger-boned. Both of the home-theater spouses, though, do share a common aspect. Each one performs best when viewed/listened to from a position directly in front of the it. And therein lies a problem: what do you do with the soundbar if you turn the flat-panel on its base or otherwise change the angle of the TV (if it’s mounted on a tilting, pivoting, or full-motion wall mount from, for example, companies such as OmniMount, Triple Play designs from Bell’O, or Sanus)? In a more extreme case, what’s to be done with the soundbar if the TV is mounted in a corner?

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