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It’s All About the Control; the iTV Control!

by John Sciacca Was at a client’s house this morning and after walking through his home discussing the various this and that’s of what he wanted us to do, we get into a discussion about his lighting control. It turns out that he has an old lighting control system that has never really worked properly, it’s confusi

by John Sciacca

Was at a client’s house this morning and after walking through his home discussing the various this and that’s of what he wanted us to do, we get into a discussion about his lighting control. It turns out that he has an old lighting control system that has never really worked properly, it’s confusing and no one in the house likes it. Its sends the control protocols over powerline and will require some investigation into how it is wired and connected and then how it can be systematically dismantled, ripped out and replaced with something both new and awesome and that John can sell and make his pint of flesh from. (In a terrible twist of cruel fate, apparently there was but one single, solitary lighting plan for the home. This was a new system that the company was installing, and the electrician who did the majority of the electrical work and lighting design got into a horrible – fatal – car accident and the lighting plan was lost! This is the stuff of fictional CIA mystery documents and Roswell alien bodies to be sure, but in this case, it is just an actual homeowner with a mystery lighting system whose wiring schematic is lost to the grave. Sciacca to the hopeful forensic rescue.)

So we start talking about what I can offer him in the way of lighting control, possibly removing all of his old stuff and replacing it with either Lutron’s RadioRA2 or HomeWorks RF system. (Until we start pulling switches and panels and see exactly what kinds of wiring shenanigans are in place, we won’t know exactly what is possible. The existing wiring; it sounds like she no is wired like normal.) As I’m explaining this, my man says it isn’t really lighting control that he cares about. Oh, sure, it would be nice if the lights in the house worked in some kind of predictable and intuitive manner, and that the rest of his family could turn the lights on and off without asking him for help, but that would just really be the icing; the cake is all about being able to remotely monitor his thermostat. He has heard about Lutron’s new thermostat — possibly from me; I can’t remember. Hey, I talk about a lot of things, you can’t expect me to keep them all straight! — and thus his real interest in the Lutron system.

Great, says, I. That’s no problem. We can totally do it. But if the only thing he wants is remote thermostat control and monitoring, I suggest Control4. For like $400 for a processor and $250 for thermostats and the $199 iPad/Phone app and the $99 4Sight remote access (yes, it DOES kind of seem like nickel and dollaring my man when you keep stringing out the “and add the…and then with…and then with the one more couple of few things…” ) where he could monitor his thermostats from anywhere in the world. Feel like punishing your renters in the height of summer by turning on the heat at two in the morning? Have at it!

(Funny aside…when Dana and I were living in California, we would do a lot of house/pet sitting for members of the country club. So, we’re at this one house and they have a his and hers electric blanket, one for either side of the bed. But, the controls for both are on the his – my – side. So, I think it will be funny to crank that thing up to maximum on Dana’s side. I’m picturing that in a few minutes Dana will realize my tomfoolery and then say, “Hey! What’s going on?! Ha, ha! Very funny!” and then we’ll have a chuckle. And then a sweaty-sweaty sexy fun time cuddle. Except, she never says anything about it, I forget that it’s on and we both go to sleep. So it is like 3 in the morning and Dana wakes up just DRENCHED in sweat. She’s disoriented, she’s confused. She’s probably dehydrated from her bout of bedroom malaria. And she says, “I think something is wrong with me. I’m totally burning up and I’m just pouring sweat. I just can’t get cooled down. I think I’m really sick.” So I say, “Oh, honey. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Just go back to sleep,” and then discreetly turn the heating pad off. I know; I’m a totally amazing husband.)

So my man says he has a Control4 system at his current home. He likes it, he doesn’t love it. He knows like 24 other people that have it; same thing. Likey, but no lovey. That’s 0 for 25 in his book and he doesn’t feel like taking a gamble on being unlikey #26. The crux of his argument is the interface and GUI that Control4 uses. He says it’s clumsy and awkward and takes too many button pushes to get to where you want to go. Now, I have to say that I disagree with him here. I actually think that Control4’s interface is pretty stupid-simple to use. In fact for our more, umm, what’s the nice way to put this… For our, uh, more functionally retarded clients that you can just tell never, ever, NEVER get the hang of using a regular non-safety-scissor-edged remote, they can grasp the concept of “just push the big red button with the number 4 on it.” That’s the kind of take it nice and slow and easy instructions that people can really hang their hats on.

Then once they push the button they can struggle with the decision of whether they felt like watching or listening to something. But my man says that interface is too crude. And it takes too long to come on. You have to wait for the TV to come on, probably for the receiver to turn on, the display to hit the screen. These are all precious seconds when he couldn’t be missing some big of hilarity on a Seinfeld repeat.

We then segue into the topic of control and interface and he starts talking about how Apple is going to change the world with their new TV. And, well, here I’m afraid that I probably agree with my man.

Apple has already changed the music delivery market, the MP3 player market, the mobile phone market and the tablet market. Why would this time around be any different? If anything, they’re Obi-Wan struck down by Vader…they’ve returned more powerful than we could ever imagine!

First, with Apple interface brains built directly INTO the TV it will be stepping several levels of control logic up the ladder. There will be no IR or RS-232 or IP interface from an external processor telling a third party TV to turn on and telling it to go to a specific input and then telling a different third party receiver to turn on and then going to a specific input so that the GUI can be displayed. No. That’s clumsy, old-school, totally non-Apple way of thinking. That kind of clunk has PC-sauce smothered all over it. The gross kind that’s been lying around in the walk-in for weeks that makes Ramsay puke in the trashcan. It will be in the DNA of the set itself and it will just be there. Probably with some really slick transition that will make us all just turn it on and off several times a day to marvel at how it has single-handedly made the world a better, happier place to live in. And that control with be there. Waiting. Ready. Slick and shiny and cool and summer rain. And if they can get a TV to turn on with the speed of an iPad – and, hey, it’s Apple we’re talking about here, like the frickin’ biggest company in the worldiverse driven by a guy that would make God himself scrap and rework something that was only 99.9 percent of the way there. “You’re close. Very close. It’s just…there’s one more thing…” And if El Jobso says you WILL make a TV that turns on as fast as an iPad and be controlled with no buttons whatsoever then by God, brother! You had best get to working on shortening your power on cycle and with a quickness because you do NOT want Steve to show you what he keeps hidden away beneath that turtleneck! It is not going to be gentle or over quickly and you are not going to like it… So, if they basically bundle Apple TV, Airplay, Remote, iTunes, a hard drive and some kind of iPad integration experience that we mere mortals can’t even dream about during our sweetest of slumbers into a 50 or 60-inch flat panel TV it could be a total game changer for the entertainment market.

Now, granted, this isn’t actually an automation solution; it’s a streaming entertainment platform. This doesn’t address any kind of lighting or thermostat or security or other kind of control and integration, but when you get right down to it, those are all really pretty small pieces of the giant CE pie. (And, seriously, can you not see Apple licensing some kind of AirPlay-esque bit of interface or chippy into a lightswitch or thermostat or security panel or what have you? I mean, you pay an extra $1-5 for your iLight lightswitch and your iTemp thermostat voila! It’s instantly recognized and controlled by your Apple eco-verse. TV, iPad, iTunes, Remote, what-have-you. It shows up, it’s immediately recognized, you type in a name like “Hall Lights” or “Living T’stat” and then congratulations…you just automated your home! Now, can you spare a dime for poor old John who is just been pushed that much closer to the joblessness curb because of your new-fangled easy to install, DIY automation solutions?) Also, this doesn’t take into account working your cable box or Blu-ray or whatever, but, that’s fine because with iCloud, you probably won’t need them anyhow. You’ll just stream whatever content you want. With some kind of integrated app – and for the record, I totally call dibs on iTV! — it will just know where to find whatever you want. Think about a “smart” TV Guide app that you access via your iPad that then just tunes into the show wherever it is, or just streams it out of the cloud. Integrated with all Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon, and whatever other content has popped up.

Also, this would sure be a giant wallop in the pants to any company that offers distributed entertainment. With an Apple TV in every room, you have the basis for easy, streaming audio and video throughout the house. Select from your library of EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD in each room or just port whatever you’re watching from your big screen right onto your iPad for remote or private or mobile viewing. You get iCloud all sorted out and Apple knocking heads around in Hollywood and not having to go through the whole mess and growing pains nightmare of Google TV (“Look, I’m going to make this real simple. You give us full access to all of your content or I will see to it that not one second of programming from your network/studio EVER sees the light of day on an Apple product. Do I make myself clear? Now, someone bring me my afternoon powdered unicorn horn and crushed-intern’s-dream smoothie!”) and you’ve reinvented entertainment. All music, all movies, all TV, all photos, virtually all content beaming right into your set. With an interface that will undoubtedly revolutionize everything we thought we knew about TV and be simple enough for a 3 year old to use.

Now that’s control. Real control.