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Easy living

Home technology trends shape the future

by Molly Cinquemani


The latest trends in home technology would make even the Jetsons blush. Music, movies, lights, security cameras and locked doors all at the push of a button? Forget waiting around for it - the future of home entertainment is now.


Several area businesses specialize in installing home automation systems, giving homeowners the convenience of controlling their homes with a single remote. Not only is this type of system convenient, but it also can be customized to suit each family's specific needs.


"It's a scalable system, so you don't have to break the bank to do something. You can do a little or more, or add on as time goes by," says Ken Henke, owner of Secur-Tek in Apex.


"In today's marketplace, automation is all about convenience, well-being and fun," says Judy Pickett, owner and principal designer of Design Lines Ltd. in Raleigh.


"It's being able to turn your security system on from your iPhone, being able to monitor your beach house from your desktop, being able to turn on your interior house lights from your car, and being able to have hundreds of thousands of music and video tracks at the touch of a button."


The digital age

Digital media has made home automation systems even more personal. Imagine having access to your entire music and movie collections on one remote that pipes sound throughout your home, inside and out. On-Demand cable options that allow for whole-house viewing of programs and movies also are making these systems an optimal choice.


"Digital media lets us watch TV shows and entertainment streamed from the Internet into high-definition surround-sound systems or into multiple rooms," says Rich Dlesk, managing partner with Audio Video One-Chapel Hill.


"It creates the ability to take the photos you have and the music you own from your computer and watch, listen to, or display it on a nice HD video screen or audio system," he adds. "It's exciting because the technical piece is inexpensive - almost to the point of the cost of an iPod - to add capabilities and open up a whole new range of digital media."


"It's really exciting to get the music out of your mp3 player and put it into your whole-house system," echoes Phil Melton of Audio Advice in Raleigh.


"People want to listen to their music on a system that's easy to use."


These days, it's all about accommodating customers' busy lives, says Melissa Buscher of Time Warner Cable, which serves the Triangle marketplace.


"Customers no longer want to be tied to the TV at eight o'clock if that's when a show is on that they want to watch," she says.


"Customers want to watch what they want to watch, when they want to watch it."


Safe and sound

Home automation systems offer more than simply entertainment at the touch of a button. For example, the Control4 system integrates security features such as a wireless deadbolt, which can be controlled online or through an iPod application. Door cameras let clients monitor their homes from work or see who's at the door from the second floor. According to Henke, the system can send an e-mail when it's disarmed or when a gun safe or jewelry box has been opened.


These systems also increase energy efficiency by controlling temperature settings.


"Home automation is a way to make houses go green because it controls lights and heat, so you're not leaving it all on during the day," says Troy Patterson, a partner with InControl Custom Electronic Integration in Raleigh.


"There also are systems with temperature and wind sensors on the outside of the home so it adjusts automatically."


The big picture

Even home entertainment products are getting more proficient these days. As an example, the bulky, energy-draining TVs of the past have been replaced with sleek, energy-efficient models.


"People are looking to buy products that will save them money on their energy bills and are good for the environment," says Tanya Phillips, operations manager of Integrated Audio Video in Durham.


"LED TVs don't use as much electricity, they don't get as hot and they have a better picture."


And just because home theaters can be green doesn't mean they can't also hold massive screens and thundering sound systems.


"People are installing TVs up to 127 inches, with full surround sound in their home theater media rooms," Patterson says.


"Depending on the client and screen size, there's everything from a 52-inch LED screen to a 120-inch front-projection screen."


Homeowners without the option of converting a spare room into a home theater also are taking advantage of this trend. According to Patterson, special speakers can be hidden in a family room so that a typical living space during the day can be transformed into a media room at the flip of a switch at night. Slim flat-panel TVs make it possible to keep a home's style in check without sacrificing the latest technology.


"Homeowners can use a piece of furniture ... and achieve a great look by placing a widescreen on the top and adapting the area behind the doors for components, supplies, CDs, or DVDs," says Dianne Thompson, an interior designer and partner with Affordable Chic Shops in Raleigh.


They also can hide the technology without sacrificing a room's overall aesthetic.


"There are TVs that are mirrors when they're off," Phillips says.


"Or lifts can be installed to hide a TV in a custom-made cabinet."


Al fresco living

Many Triangle families are moving their home entertainment outdoors, continuing the party on the patio or around the pool. Speakers can be installed to blend in with landscaping, and underground subwoofers give off incredible sound, Melton says.


"Weatherproof TVs are coming down in price; they are extremely bright so they counteract the sun during the daytime," says Jeremy Shaffer, owner of Chatham Audio.


"A lot of folks are going for outdoor surround sound systems so you can watch movies outside on the patio."


According to Henke, these now-affordable systems - considered luxuries not long ago - appear to be spurring homeowners' interest.


"People aren't moving to the bigger house down the street. They're staying in their homes longer, so now people are investing more in their current homes," he says.


"It's a choice. It's a want, not a need," Patterson adds.


"There's certain technology that makes their home lives more enjoyable when they come home from the daily grind."


Melton agrees, noting that technology upgrades are a sound yet entertaining investment.


"Life needs to be fun, and what we do is a ton of fun."


Molly Cinquemani is a freelance writer based in Raleigh.