The smart house that Steve built
June 24, 1999
by Peggy King
(IDG) -- InfoSeek Founder Steve Kirsch and his family recently moved in to their highly automated digital home, which took more than three years and about $10 million to build but still feels like a beta site version.
Kirsch offered a short, humorous video report about some of the challenges of moving to a digital domicile at the Upside Digital Living Room conference this week in Laguna Niguel, California.
The motion detector that controls the front door lets in friend and stranger alike. The one that controls lights in the library turns the lights back on after turning them off. The battery-operated electronic safe is guaranteed to fail when its 9-volt batteries die. And no one can remember which of the 26 unmarked buttons on the remote that operates the living room drapes will open the correct drapes to the right degree.
The television in Kirsch's family room is an example of what can happen when leading-edge technologies collide. The television signal is supplied by a digital satellite system and displayed on a $12,000 Runco plasma flat-panel display screen that does not provide continuous color tones. Kirsch cannot operate this television using the infrared remote control unit because the plasma screen emits too much of its own IR. To make matters worse, the compression algorithms in the DSS happen to highlight the limited color palette of the plasma display, he says. The result is very splotchy color.
"The DSS does not provide great video compression," Kirsch says. "We can hear the fan that cools the plasma screen, and the picture quality we get is inferior to what we would get on a $100 television."
Kirsch's home theater system, which includes a Runco video projector and a Faroudja line quadrupler to improve image definition, is controlled by a home automation system from the PHAST (Practical Home Automation Systems Technology) subsidiary of AMX Corporation. Although the home theater operates with a highly integrated PHAST touch-screen remote control, the systems integration is not reliable because the individual components of the system were not designed to work together. As a result, the controller lacks awareness of which individual components on or off or on and whether or not they are performing correctly.
When conference moderator David Coursey said "Sounds like you need more technical support," the comment drew an immediate reaction from Tom Hite, chief executive editor of PHAST and general manager of residential systems at AMX. Hite, who was in the audience waiting to participate in a home networking panel, ran up to the podium and told Kirsch, "I'll come over and troubleshoot your system myself."
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