The Convergence of Home Technology

General Article

How many ‘set top boxes’ do you have? Are you the proud owner of just one box that caters for your every whim, or do you have a precipitous and ‘threatening to topple at any moment’ pile of hardware that makes your living room look like a discount tech warehouse? The convergence of home technology is the subject of much debate – how integrated is our home, what could we do without, what couldn’t we even think of living without?

But home technology convergence isn’t just about home entertainment systems talking to your PC, your Xbox streaming films and programmes from your computer to your television or even switching to VoIP for your telephony. Home technology convergence covers a multitude of applications throughout the house – from automated garage doors and light switches activated from your iPhone right through to a fridge that lets you know when you need more milk.

Home media servers allow you to integrate your entire system into a DLNA network, allowing you to use your PC as your home ‘hub’ for everything technological. The very latest televisions are not only HD and 3D ready – they’re also ready to talk back to your computer too, negating the need for cables and linking up via your Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth technology. The computer is taking its rightful place at the very heart of the technological home. Now it’s not just the focal point for downloading data from the Internet or for the kids to do their homework on. It’s literally become ‘one of the family’.

The ‘black box’ fallacy

However, despite the leaps and bounds made in home technology we are still a long way from a ‘black box’ situation where the home’s entire tech is controlled through one central point or ‘black box’. Although many have tried to develop this, and despite the importance of the home PC as a control panel from which to conduct an orchestra of home technology, the closest we’ve probably come to any kind of multi-tasking central control system is the ‘universal remote control’. These are handy little gadgets that negate the need for a collection of remotes for your television/Sky box/surround sound system/DVD player (delete as applicable) and give you all the couch-control you need in one, handy remote. Although just having one remote means that it’s easier to lose down the back of the sofa, that seems to be its only real disadvantage.

Slowly but surely, we are starting to find out how all of this modern technology fits together to form the ultimate ‘smart house’. Whilst voice activated light switches are still a bit of a novelty, it does show that we are beginning to understand how a convergence of home technology on all levels could make our lives very much easier. It is possible to build a ‘smart house’ where everything works from a central computer (from the heating to the sub-woofer levels on your hi-fi). But for the majority of people, developing a smart house based on technological convergence is a case of piecing together a jigsaw of available and affordable technology over time.

The real world

The reality is far more organic. Slowly, piece by piece our homes are becoming more integrated. The advent of smart technology and in particular WiFi has given those who want to ultimately see a true convergence situation the building blocks to achieve their goal. WiFi is probably one of the most important developments in years, allowing an entire home to become one big transmitter for the movement of digital data from various sources to various outlets.

The providers are catching up too. Whereas once utilities companies provided one service such as your telephone landline, they are now embracing the concept of Multi-play marketing. Multi-play describes the provision of different telecommunication services such as telephone, mobile phone services, Broadband Internet access and television into one bundled package. It may seem like convenience to the customer, but it really does represent an aspect of home convergence technology. DLNA communications between PCs and digital media outlets such as televisions or games consoles is another aspect, all linking in and interconnecting with the WiFi foundations to be found in most modern homes.

Eventually, the convenience of one ‘black box’ system is going to be too tempting to resist for a society that is becoming obsessed with tech. Some bright spark will develop a clever algorithm that will draw all your home tech into one, easy to manage and aesthetically pleasing ‘home hub’. Indeed, the term is already being used by some providers of telephony, broadband and digital media packages, and it is certain that as we develop ever more complex binary networks in our homes, more of our everyday home technology will slot into its allotted place. The convergence home of the future is closer than we think…