Smart Home Theater: It’s Getting Even Smarter
Until recently, a home theater was a pretty self-contained system. It consisted of the following elements:
- Source. High-quality source material, usually including a Blu-ray or DVD movie player and a TV program source (cable or satellite service)
- Receiver. A surround receiver to switch between sources, decode the digital sound track and convert it to analog, then amplify the signals;
- Speakers. Three front and two or more surround speakers—plus a subwoofer—to re-create the sound; and
- Display. A video projector and large 16:9 screen, or maybe a large flat-screen TV display.
Source material was shown on a video display, while the surround sound system and speakers played the soundtrack. See An Insider’s Guide to Home Theater.
Today, home theaters have become smart theaters. They serve as a digital hub for receiving, controlling, and managing conventional audio and video content, as well as movie libraries on massive hard drives, audio and video streaming from a rapidly increasing number of internet sources, pay-per-view shows from cable and satellite providers, etc. And they can feed this content to other rooms in the home. Here are a few things that make today’s home theaters smart:
Video Streaming. Inexpensive streaming devices (from Roku, Apple TV, and others) now make streaming of video content off the internet simple. Some TV manufacturers now build streaming technology into their premium Smart TV models. This trend has dramatically increased consumer access to a very wide range of inexpensive video content. But these streaming products do have limitations. Two things to keep in mind:
- The number of online vendors for streaming video content is increasing rapidly, and few products include apps to stream from all of these sources. Whether manufacturers will provide firmware upgrades to add apps to existing products for new online streaming services is yet to be seen. Advice: before you buy a streaming device, make sure that apps are available for all your favorite streaming vendors.
- Most video streaming devices are inexpensive, one-size-fits-all products that are intended for simple systems with minimal automation. Most don’t allow for customizing their control options (like partitioning or re-naming specific online sources, like “Netflix”). This limitation can make them difficult to integrate into custom systems, but will likely be resolved as more sophisticated devices enter the marketplace. For now, recognize that challenges may exist in controlling video streaming devices. See Video Sources.
Audio Streaming. There’ve never been more music available online. And Wi-Fi technology now lets you stream the songs on your smartphone or tablet wirelessly to a surround receiver (or other Wi-Fi equipped device), eliminating the need for a docking station or hook-up cable. See Audio Sources.
Multi-Room Music. Many current surround receiver models have the ability to derive stereo signals from surround sound formats, permitting music from the home theater system to be shared throughout the house, without the need for additional sources and amplifiers in each room. See Multi-Room Music.
Multi-Room Video. Cable TV and Satellite providers have recently redesigned their DVRs (digital video recorders) so that they can simultaneously record up to five programs, and then play them back in up to five different rooms—at the same time. And at least one manufacturer (Kaleidescape) makes devices that can store hundreds of Blu-ray and DVD discs, plus download Blu-ray quality movies and shows from their own video store. Some of these video libraries can play back stored content simultaneously to multiple rooms. So stay tuned—this is just the beginning of a new era in video content management. See Sharing Video Throughout Your Home (coming soon)