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Streaming services are nudging cable television aside as single device technology is taking over the market. Early adapters of smart tech will remember the iPhone emergence; a first of its kind encapsulating phone, music and camera in one pocket sized device. Televisions have followed suit, fast forwarding past the need of dvd’s, cables and dvr. Audiences ranging from Millennials to Baby Boomers are now buying smart tv’s to bring music, video, and live television to their screens while keeping both form and function in mind. 

Home Technology Experts tackles a question most people are asking: What is better, cable or streaming?

“Homeowners are on a mission to streamline household technology on the least amount of devices, and have every viewing option in one place. Smart tv’s own the market and continue to break the mold with options and picture quality,” states Alex Karoussos, President of HTE. New products have even tackled the issue of aesthetics, where a Sunday sports fan and a discerning interior designer may share a wall without compromise, with mounted tv’s that display fine art or mimic a mirror when not in use. 

While quality of picture progressively increases (4K) streaming content has yet to keep pace. While streaming is undeniably convenient, it can be limiting to image quality and the number of tv’s in a home. “Your tv may have the capacity to emit a 4K image but the quality of your service will always depend on your internet connection. With a poor connection, your investment in a high-end device will suffer if the picture is not great. We see this happen often. It’s incredibly visible when streaming sports or highly detailed productions; the picture quality just does not compare to hard-wired cable,” says Alex. “Streaming is usually limited to a certain number of devices, as well. Say, three devices on a subscription and five tv’s, laptops and tablets in your home. You will only be able to watch on three at a time.”

Cable has less limitations and delivers a better picture through 1080i or 1080p, depending on connection. A direct connection to the tv delivers high-end video output for a less pixelated and clearer picture. “Live action sports always stream better when connected to cable,” says Alex. “The only downside to cable is apparent, the tv must be connected to wires and a cable box.”

While TIVO has become all but forgotten, Karoussos is still a believer, “It’s worth a look. TIVO offers solutions for free over-the-air stations with an antenna that delivers amazing picture quality and networks such as NBC, ABC plus streaming.” Apple has announced they will mix it up and become the ‘cable box of streaming.’ Karoussos is a fan, “You can use Apple TV for everything." HTE determines the best solutions based on discussion, customizing the audio video project to a client’s wants and needs. “Cable isn’t dead yet.”

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We are often asked to explain the different options available when it comes to lighting control systems. Nine times out of ten, shortly after we begin the explanation, most people are already thoroughly confused. Maybe we’re not explaining it correctly, or maybe it’s just something you need to see to understand… At any rate, we were very pleased to stumble on the diagrams below from Lutron. These diagrams clearly show everything you need to know about Localized, Centralized, and Hybrid lighting control system designs. Rather than re-writing it all, we figured we’d just copy it all here for your viewing pleasure. If you're still unclear, give us a call or come visit our showroom and see it in action! 

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Amazon Echo, powered by Alexa, now has a skill for Savant Pro. In addition to the award-winning voice control options on the Savant Pro Remote, Savant customers now have the ability to control their Savant Home through Amazon's far-field voice technology.

You can now use Alexa voice control to activate a Savant Scene for single room or entire home control. In addition, you can dynamically control room lighting and a suite of entertainment services. Any Savant Pro system running Savant 8.4 or later can have Alexa voice services added to the system through the Alexa App and any Alexa-enabled device.
 

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WannaCry is a current global ransomware cyber-attack that is taking advantage of a Window’s vulnerability known as Elite Blue.   What Is Malware?

Malware is short for malicious software which can be used to interfere with computer or mobile operating systems (Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, etc.) Malware can do anything from gathering sensitive (usually financial) information to holding your files ransom to just displaying annoying ads.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts your information and demands payment to decrypt it Ransomware can encrypt individual files, a computer’s Master File Table, or a hard drive. Hackers create malware to extort money often demanding the victims pay via Bitcoin, an online global money transaction system where identities are anonymous.  Ultimately the victim decides if the hostage information is worth the ransom.

About WannaCry

Typically users have to do something to become infected.  They click on a link, open a file, or connect external hardware.  The WannaCry malware attack is different because it travels through the internet searching for machines that are vulnerable (Elite Blue).  Although Microsoft pushed a fix for the vulnerability last month, not all users have installed the update.  When the malware detects that a machine does not have the update it executes a cryptoviral extortion attack.  Users then get a screen informing them of what happened demanding $300 to decrypt the files.  

So far WannaCry has attacked tens of thousands of computers in over 100 countries and caused a hospital in England to cancel medical procedures.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM WANNACRYUpdate Your Computer

Yes, the update notifications can be annoying, and they always pop up at the most inconvenient time, but they are important. Try setting your computer to automatically update on your off hours.  

If you are using an unsupported OS such as Windows7 or Windows XP, Home Technology Experts highly suggests you update.

Back Up Information

There are many non-malicious ways you can lose valuable files.  Backing them up to the cloud is the easiest way to ensure your important documents and beloved photos are safe.

Enable Your Firewalls and Disable Server Message Block

If you don’t feel comfortable doing this on your own, Home Technology Experts or your IT guy can help you.

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There is an overwhelming notion that projectors belong in theaters and conference rooms.  Since televisions are available in larger sizes at lower price points, it is easy to understand why projectors are often overlooked, but don’t count them out just yet. At Home Technology Experts, we like to consider all of our options and then choose the best solution for the project.  Now and then projectors do trump televisions. When should a projector be considered?

WHEN SIZE MATTERS

Yes, the ability to manufacture enormous televisions does exist.  If you’re in the market for a 370-inch display for $1.7 million, give us a call, HTE would love to sell it to you!  If not, consider a projector.

Projectors allow the characters you’re watching to literally become larger than life. Especially when watching in HD or UHD, small details that often cannot be seen on televisions due to their limited size become noticeable on a larger surface.

We often have clients who want to make a BIG statement with their video.  While we typically use projector screens, a blank wall can be used as the projection surface. We once used a large retaining wall to create a beautiful outdoor theater.

WHEN LIGHT ISN’T AN ISSUE

When comparing a television and projector of the same quality, the television will always have the brighter image.  Even though televisions are bright, ambient light, especially sunshine, can cause the image to look faded or dull.  This problem is even more noticeable with projectors.  However, many homes have shades or curtains which solve the issue.

If you’re not competing with ambient light, projectors can look just as good as some displays. At Home Technology Experts, we have found that clients prefer projectors in areas such as basements, recreation rooms, and man-caves. These rooms are typically found on the lower level where there is less light and are designed for socialization where a larger screen comes in handy.

WHEN YOU KNOW NOT ALL PROJECTORS CREATE SHADOWS

Shadows occur when an object comes between the projector and the screen.  The best solution, use an ultra-short throw projector.  Sony’s 4K HDR Home Theater Projector is installed less than a foot from the wall and can create a 100-120 inch image.  Not only does it eliminate shadows, but it also creates a beautiful high contrast image with TRILIMINOS™ Color. 

While rarely used for residential use, rear projection is always an option.  This design sets the projector behind a translucent screen.  A very popular option in corporate settings or on stages since it allows for presenters to stand in front of the screen without creating shadows.

A properly designed system also makes a huge difference.  At Home Technology Experts, we have taken over jobs where high-end homes have projectors sitting on half walls, or in cabinets instead of being mounted to the ceiling.  Standard projectors must be set back a distance to fill the screen. The lower the projector, the greater chance of shadows. There are applications when a properly mounted projector reduces the occurrence of shadows so much that it is no longer an issue.

WHEN YOU KNOW, HD & UHD LOOK GREAT

It’s true back in the early days of single-chip DLP projectors you could “see the rainbow” but times have changed. Let’s be clear if you want the sharpest most dynamic image on the market, a projector isn’t for you, but HTE does have an array of OLED and QLED displays for you to pick from.  However, if you are just looking for a crisp vibrant image that looks great, you might want to think about a projector.

As big screen TVs began dropping in price, the projector world took notice and stepped up their game.  An off-brand LCD or LED projector isn’t going to give you a great image.  But a quality DLP or laser projector will produce brilliant video.

If you are buying a High Definition (4k) or Ultra High Def (8k) projector, it is going to produce a stunning image. The video will look sharp with vibrant colors.

WHEN YOU KNOW, THE BLUR IS GONE

When LCD TVs first hit the market, sports fans hated them!  The displays had a low refresh rate so even when you put them in “Sports Mode,” when images went speeding across the screen they would get blurry or leave artifacts. The same was true with projectors at the time; you would walk into a sports bar, see a wall with huge video of your favorite game, only for it to get blurry when the action got good.

Just like the refresh rates increased in LCD TVs as they evolved, eliminating the issue, the same happened with projectors.

WHEN YOU KNOW, THE SOURCES ARE THE SAME

Any source (cable box, TiVo, Kaleidescape, Apple TV, Roku, etc.) you can connect to a television can also be connected to a projector.  Now and then our system designers are asked if there is such thing as a smart projector, the answer is yes, but why would you need one?  Since we can connect any video source to the projector, your TiVo, streaming device or even your computer gives you all the capability of a smart projector.  

If you have a Savant system, you can even add Savant Tiling.  With multiple sources on a single screen, the extra real-estate gained by using a projector is greatly noticed.  

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This Earth Day we at Home Technology Experts are looking at how automation and other home devices can help reduce electricity, saving you money and helping the environment.

TIVO

People are often shocked to learn that cable boxes rented from Verizon and Optimum are serious energy hogs.  According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC) Americans are spending $2 billion in energy costs to power set top boxes that are sitting idle.  These “power vampires” as NBC called them use as much energy when they are not in use as they do when active, that’s as much energy as your washing machine uses to clean your clothes.

Now think about how many cable boxes you have.  A three-bedroom apartment can easily have five cable boxes. Come out to the Hamptons with guest rooms, pool houses, and outdoor televisions and see the energy (and money) trickle away. 

TiVo’s all in one distributed video system allows for a single top box to serve as a cable box/DVR, streaming device (such as Apple TV or Roku), and Sling Box for up to five TiVo Minis.  The TiVo Minis consume significantly less electricity and because they don’t need to be in standby mode when not in use they can truly be turned off.  By serving as streaming media players you save on both the purchasing cost and additional energy costs associated with extra devices. 

DIMMERS, SENSORS, AND LIGHTING CONTROL SYSTEMS

Lighting control systems reduce energy usage through scheduling, dimming, and sensors.

Dimming LEDs saves electricity, creates ambiance, and even extends the bulb’s life. According to Lutron, the average person cannot tell the difference between a light at 100% versus one dimmed to 80%. The savings quickly add up when using dimmers throughout your home.

Sensors can be used to take dimming a step further.  Day light sensors measure the ambient sunlight in a room and adjusts artificial light’s output accordingly.  On sunny days, the Day Light Sensors automatically dim the lights and may even turn them off if the room is adequately lit by sunshine.

LEDS AND LOW VOLTAGE LIGHTING

The less energy needed to power a fixture to reach a desired brightness the greater the savings.  While any LED consumes less energy than an incandescent bulb, not all LEDs are the same.  Prominent companies in the industry such as Lutron will tout numerous energy and environmental benefits such as limited UV admissions, energy star ratings, and more.

Low lighting fixtures are made for both indoor and outdoor applications.  At Home Technology Experts we offer a variety of low voltage options that are popular in home theaters.  Our exterior illumination division, Hamptons Landscape Lighting, exclusively uses low voltage fixture in all of their designs.  

MOTORIZED SHADES

Motorized shades are not only a convenience, but they can help cut down on your heating and cooling costs.  Via programming shades automatically rise in the winter to allow the warmth of the sun in, or lowered during summer months to keep the heat out.

WIRELESS THERMOSTATS

Especially in the Hamptons, heating and cooling a home can be a big expense. Wireless thermostats can help.  Many large homes have HVAC zones, using wireless thermostats and home automation software entire zones can be turned off when not in use.  Additionally wireless thermostats can be programmed so it automatically adjusts to your life style, saving on gas and electricity when you’re not home.

 

 

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At Home Technology Experts we have learned that a black screen hanging on a wall can be the bane of a designer’s existence. Until now options have been limited to hiding displays using TV Lifts and Media Décor, or purchasing a mirror television.  Fuseproject is introducing a new solution that HTE is excited to offer.

The studio created a Samsung television concealment that is identical to framed artwork. When the television isn’t playing content, it goes into artwork mode as opposed to displaying a black screen. Homeowners can select from a variety of artists and genres, or they can choose to display custom work or photos. The television uses sensors to adjust the artwork’s brightness, so it gives the appearance of physical art as opposed to a digital image.

Yves Béhar designs Samsung television as a framed work of art - YouTube
While these televisions will not be available until summer of 2017 Samsung has told home technology experts the tvs will have the following features:
  • Available in two sizes: 55" and 65"

  • A no gap wall mount has been designed for the display

  • Ships with a black frame but three custom frame color are available for purchase

 STAY IN THE KNOWAs per Samsung, pricing will be announced at the end of April and shipping begins in June. sign up below to Receive updates.  Name * Name First Name Last Name Email Address * Phone * Phone (###) ### #### Site Address (City and State) I am interested in * Samsung 55" Artwork TV Samsung 65" Artwork TV Thank you!  

For more information click here.

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Headquartered in Southampton, at Home Technology Experts we have been designing and installing luxury outdoor systems since our inception.

Our system designers are sometimes asked if outdoor products are necessary. These solutions are more expensive than their interior counterparts, and it is understandable that prospective clients want to understand why. Below are the four reasons to use products designed for exterior use.

SAFETY

The most important reason is for the safety of your family and property.  Using products designed for interior use outdoors can be dangerous.  Interior products are not held to the same safety ratings.  If water gets into the casing of a powered electronic, it can become a fire hazard.

Outdoor products meet building code requirements for external use.

  WEATHERPROOF

Waterproof is not weatherproof. Many of our manufacturers make both waterproof and weatherproof products.  Waterproof means it can withstand water from a nozzle in any direction hitting the device without causing damage.  These products usually have an IP65- IP67 rating. Weatherproof products often have an IP68 or IP69 rating meaning that it can handle high-pressure water (rain/wind mix), extreme temperatures and can prevent dirt, sand, and dust from entering the unit. Weatherproof products can withstand the extreme temperatures, storms, and pollen in the Hamptons that waterproof products cannot.

  DESIGN

Many products are used differently in exterior systems, and thus the outdoor versions are designed differently.  Think about outdoor speakers. Typically, speakers are found in the wall or ceiling throughout a home, so audio is coming from above.  While HTE does offer surface mount outdoor speakers for covered patios, this solution is not an option for certain applications. Landscape speakers are designed to project audio upwards while blending into the foliage. 

 

Televisions are rarely placed in front of an open window or directly under a skylight.  If done as a last resort our system designers heavily advise blackout shades to prevent the sun’s rays from interfering with the perceived picture.  In our article, Do I Really Need an Outdoor TV, we discuss the fact that outdoor televisions are designed to be incredibly bright to compensate for sunlight.  The screens on outdoor displays are also coated to prevent glare and fog.

  WARRANTY

Not using a product as recommended, voids the warranty. Outdoor electronics are more expensive but typically have impressive warranties.  Many of our exterior audio and lighting manufacturers offer lifetime warranties.

 LEARN MORE

Click on the product groups below to view the manufacturers tested and selected by our engineers.


OUTDOOR AUDIO
OUTDOOR TV
OUTDOOR LIGHTING Don’t want technology to be your yard’s focal point?  Read our article on Designing to Disguise Outdoors.
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With the proliferation of connected devices, home networks have become a necessity. Over 275 million Americans have the internet in their home, yet many users have a limited understanding of how it works.

The Internet into the Home

Internet Service Providers (ISP) such as Fios and Comcast send a signal via a cable into your home where it connects to your modem.  ISPs understand that when it comes to the internet, there is no one size fits all solution, so their options range in bandwidth and speed.

Speed describes the number of bytes per second traveling between the internet and your computer or device. Bandwidth describes the capacity for speed. Think of bandwidth as a pipe and speed as water.  Water can trickle through pipes, or it can gush. However, you can never get more water out of your faucet than your pipes can hold.

The signal from the modem is sent to a router allowing both wired and wireless (Wi-Fi) connections which is how computers and devices gain internet access.

The Internet in Smart Homes

Home technology systems are a series of computerized devices that communicate via the internet. If the internet is down or not performing correctly, it will negatively impact your home automation. Ensuring that you have the proper bandwidth and are receiving the speed, you pay for is important when evaluating your home network.

Optimal Performance

Home Technology Experts was an early adopter of residential IP control systems and one of the first Control4 integrators in the world.  Over a decade working with these systems has repeatedly proved that a sub-par internet connection can bring down a perfectly engineered automation system.   

What to Watch Out For  BUFFERING

When streaming video or audio, data is preloaded to a reserved area of memory (the buffer) before playing.  This allows for continuous streaming. Slow internet speeds will cause the video to catch up with the preloaded data causing interruptions as the new data loads.

   Poor Video Quality When Streaming

If you are watching a homemade YouTube video, poor video quality may be a production issue and not a reflection of your network.  However, if you notice poor video quality when streaming from a source such at Netflix, TiVo, or Kaleidescape, there is an issue. A poor internet signal can result in blurry, pixilated, or choppy images.  Remember many sources are now streaming 4k if you have a UHD television your streamed content should look like ultra-high-definition video.

   Unreliable Connections

At Home Technology Experts we hardwire every product with an Ethernet connection.  We then use top of the line equipment to create a secure and reliable Wi-Fi network.  In fact, the equipment we use even adjusts to avoid interference from your neighbors’ Wi-Fi signals, an important feature in Manhattan.  Our clients are not working off a plug and play ISP router/modem combo. There should never be an unreliable connection.  If the internet is skipping out, there is a problem.

  Poor Roaming & Dead Zones

The technology used in our designs allows for overlapping wireless signals. Basic consumer equipment requires you to disconnect from one wireless booster before connecting to another. By contrast, our equipment allows for overlapping booster ranges, automatically connecting to the strongest signal.  As a result roaming or dead zones should never be a problem. If there is suddenly a connection problem in a specific area of your home, this indicates a larger issue.

 Easy Fixes

Technology is constantly advancing, the best way to avoid problems with your internet is to verify your network is equipped to handle your needs.  Below are a few things we check when clients experience internet issues.

ISP Speed Check

HTE will first verify that you’ve chosen an ISP package that can support your online needs.  Next, we check that you are receiving the speed you are paying for.

  Local Area Network (LAN) Evaluation

By looking for issues such as packet loss and latency we can determine if your network is experiencing congestion.  There are homes where the demand on the Wi-Fi have doubled or tripled in the past five years. In situations like this, simply upgrading one or two pieces of equipment will make all the difference.

  Monitoring & Trouble Shooting

Home Technology Experts offers client care packages that monitor your internet service, network, and connected devices.  Many times we can identify potential issues and proactively prevent them through remote support.  Learn More

 

 

LINKS

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/09/07/some-americans-dont-use-the-internet-who-are-they/

https://phys.org/news/2014-11-reveals-people-internet.html

http://www.networkworld.com/article/2227224/data-center/bandwidth-is-not-speed.html

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What is Google Home?

Google Home is a smart speaker similar to Amazon Echo.  While Echo is powered by Amazon’s proprietary software and trigger word “Alexa”, Google Home’s software Google Assistant, is often referred to by its trigger phrase “Ok Google”.

Google Home VS Amazon Echo (Alexa)Winner: Google HomeSoftware Comparison

The main component of both devices is their software.  In this category, we looked at how well the software performs basic built-in functions and excluded additional apps or skills which have to be installed.

Accounts

Both speakers require signing into an accompanying account during setup. Google offers free accounts while Echo (Alexa) must be linked with an Amazon Prime account for $99 a year.

It’s important to remember that while smart speakers are relatively new both Ok Google and Alexa have been staples on Droid and Fire products for years constantly learning and evolving. Both accounts used for this comparison have previously been used on other devices.

Assistant: Knowledge Base

When it came to answering questions there was no comparing the two with Google being far superior.  Both could give the weather forecast, recite news headlines, tell jokes, and reply with witty answers to philosophical questions, but we were testing for practical applications.

It comes as no surprise that since Google Assistant can access the vast knowledge of Google’s search engine (which has been cultivating information since 1996) it can answer more questions than Alexa.  Alexa can give basic information such as who is the president, where Boston is, and how many ounces are in a cup.  However, its knowledge is very limited and always fails to answer specific questions about broad topics.

Google Assistant searches the entire internet for an answer and will cite the source.  If it is not a basic knowing question, the response will begin with “According to (insert website or publication source)” and will proceed to provide the answer. We then installed the Wikipedia skill in the Alexa app and asked the question again.  Even using the Wikipedia skill, Alexa struggled to answer questions that Ok Google could answer citing Wikipedia as the source.

Voice Recognition

Since Alexa struggled to answer knowledge questions, we tested voice recognition using basic commands such as turning lights on and off, dimming, and playing different music sources in different rooms.  While Alexa does a good job of understanding, she wasn’t perfect. During the test, Google Assistant did not falter. 

 

Integration Comparison Winner: Amazon Echo

Compatible devices and services increase the smart speakers’ versatility.  Amazon had a year’s head start on Google and they used that time wisely. There is no question that Amazon by far has more integration than Google.  While both are constantly expanding their partner lists, Google has a lot of catching up to do.

As of February 2017, Amazon Echo has official skills (integration) for Lutron and Control 4. Google Home has a driver for Control 4 which must be installed by a Custom Integrator.

UPDATE: As of April 2017, Google Home has a Lutron integration.

Physical Comparison Winner: Amazon Echo

This was a close one and the deciding factor really depends on how you want to use the smart speaker.  If you plan on using it to play music, go with Google Home since it produces higher quality audio. 

Amazon Echo is a bit sleeker with a tall and slender design, whereas the Google Home is a bit wider and shorter.  If you’re purchasing the device for voice control, Echo is the better choice. Amazon also sells the Echo Dot, a significantly smaller version of the original Echo, which is the perfect option for users who want the functionality of Alexa in a low profile device.

Since the majority of our clients have high-end speakers and use these devices as a means for voice control, we selected Amazon as the winner based on the Echo Dot’s discreet form.

 

Conclusion

Since we are high-end custom integrator we are going on the assumption that our clients are interested in smart speakers not to play music, but to control their automation systems.  For Lutron control, the choice is clear, they should go with the Echo.

If a client wants to use the smart speaker for Control 4 command we then have to decide which is the right fitfor them.  If they have an accent or children in the house, they may want to consider going with Google since it is better at recognizing commands.

We also ask the client if they plan on using the smart speaker as an assistant. If not, we would recommend they go Echo Dots allowing for inconspicuous multi-room control.  If they do plan on asking the smart speaker questions Google Home would be the best fit.  

 

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