There are some many different aspects that are taken into account in a
digital home. You have the obvious, like the TV and A/V components, you
have the subtle, like lighting, and the invisible, like your network
interface. But at the end of the day you need a way to bring it all
together and control it, and that is where the remote comes into play.
I was talking with Corey Ferengul, executive vice president of product
management and marketing for Macrovision last night about some
interesting announcements they will be making next week (which I will
be sure to write about). We started talking about ease of use for
systems. One thing that came up was the media center PC. This is
something that offers a huge amount of capabilities within the home,
being able to stream content from the home office to the living room,
inexpensive storage capacity, web surfing capabilities, among others,
but it is not something that a lot of families have implemented. And
the reason for that is that it is not easy to set up, and it is not
easy to control.
In my home, we had no fewer than seven remotes for controlling
different things, and some of them were not even remotes. We have one
for each the TV, DVD player, set top box, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360,
stereo and HDMI splitter. And the settings had to be made for each
depending on what you were trying to watch. The TV was set up most of
the time for standard definition viewing, and it was difficult to
explain to the family that they had to turn to a specific channel,
change the input source from S-Video to HDMI, make sure the splitter
was on the right input, have the stereo tuned to Audio Input 1, and so
on. This often resulted in sub-optimal viewing in my opinion, and
frustration from my wife because I would have to take all the remotes
from her whenever we sat down to watch something and correct things.
The solution was a universal remote, in our case the Harmony 890. For
those of you that are familiar with Harmony remotes, but not the 890
specifically, it is the same as the Harmony 880 but with RF so that we
could have the components in a closed cupboard to meet her form over
function requirements. This remote lets us control everything with a
single push of a button once it was set up, which was relatively easy
through the computer as you pick your components and it pre-programs
the remote with all of the commands. And when it doesn't work quite
right there is a help button that resends the signals and then goes
through the different components one by one to make sure they are
working properly. I'm even looking forward to setting it up to control
my lighting one of these days.
What about controlling
things in the future? Our discussion turned to this idea
of laptops used to control the digital home. This could easily expand
beyond just the components in the system to the entire network. And
with the price of laptops and the connectivity capabilities,
particularly the introduction of netbooks, this could be a possibility.
What are your thoughts?
I know that things like this have been introduced, but that has been
done by hobbyists, not the general public. To me, something has to be
simple enough that your parents, or spouse, can take it and use it
without having to call for tech support. We've already got touch screen
remotes, like the Harmony One, but that is all it is a remote. New
features and functionality could be at our fingertips, allowing us
greater control over our digital home beyond what we are capable of
doing right now. The technology is there, but are people ready to make
the jump? Honestly, I won't be holding my breath for it to happen... my wife just infected our computer with a virus last night but at least I could turn to the TV while debugging. I'd hate to have to try to find all way to turn on all of the components if she infected our remote!
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.