Welcome to ‘Kagoo Explains’ - a series of short articles de-mystifying some of the confusing terminology used to describe tech. Today we’re continuing our investigation into Smart Homes, moving to look at smart tech you’ll find in the living room.
If you’ve read our Introduction to Smart Homes, you’ll know that smart-enabled devices & appliances have seen a massive boom in the last decade. There is now a wide selection of devices able to connect to the internet, ready to be automated and work together as part of a futuristic Smart Home! The living room is the central hub of most houses, and there are already a multitude of different products aimed at streamlining everyday life, and making it more convenient. Let’s take a look at some of the technology making your home smarter!
Smart Home Features
Smart devices aimed for the living room concentrate strongly on automation, remote control & media streaming, allowing you to tie multiple devices together into a coherent system - activating appliances at the press of a button, or setting automatic triggers which will allow you to sit back as your house runs itself! Some of these features include:
Wi-Fi - Wi-Fi functionality allows your appliances to wirelessly connect to the internet and to other devices. This is the lifeblood of any modern smart device - wireless communication means no wires cluttering up your house, and no limit to the range or complexity of the network of smart devices you want to build into your house.
Smart Hub Integration - If wi-fi is the lifeblood of a smart house, then smart hubs are the brains. They work as a central controller of all smart devices in your home - tracking the status of devices, receiving data and sending out instructions as necessary. This centralised approach allows compatible devices to utilise advanced behaviours such as automation, voice control and more - normally using your smartphone as the controller. Many current models of smart hubs are designed to also serve as speakers - so they can play music as well as controlling everything. A helpful gadget to have in the center of your living room!
Smartphone Companion Apps - Smartphone apps are a large part of a connected home. Many of the smart-enabled appliances we will highlight come with companion apps, which connect either to the device directly, or via the smart hub. Using these, you can monitor and control devices, stream movies or music to them, and instantly troubleshoot any errors. Most modern smart devices work with any Android or iOS phone, though a select few require certain models to unlock full functionality.
Automation - Automation is one of the powerful tools for a Smart Home: this allows devices to automatically react to changes or triggers from other smart devices or the main hub. For instance, a motion sensor can sense when you enter a room and send a signal to turn the lights on. A more complicated example: a smart-enabled smoke alarm can be automated to rapidly turn the lights on/off and play a loud tone from speakers when it detects a fire - creating a warning that is hard to miss. This is especially useful for elderly people, or those with reduced sight or hearing.
Remote Monitoring/Activation - Companion apps allow you to quickly and effortlessly check the status of connected devices simply by looking at your phone, and remotely control them too. This could be viewing the feed from your smart doorbell to see who is at the door, or triggering the smart thermometer to turn the heating on as you get close to home, so it’s nice and toasty warm when you return.
Sensors - Smart Home systems make heavy use of sensors to track and collect data, such as motion or temperature sensors. These can be placed throughout your home, and used as part of automation chains. So a temperature sensor could be placed in your bedroom, and the data it collects would be used to automatically change the temperature of the house as it rises and falls.
Music/Video Streaming - For smart TVs, speakers and soundbars, companions apps allow you to stream your choice of media directly to them via wi-fi or bluetooth. This is extremely helpful - you can continue listening to music from headphones to speaker, or seamlessly transfer a YouTube video from phone to TV with a single button.
Voice Control - Smart hubs and companion apps both allow natural voice control, meaning spoken commands can be used to control every element of your smart home. The systems normally listen for a specific phrase (such as “Hey Siri”) and then interpret whatever comes afterwards (i.e - “Hey Siri, turn the living room lights to 40%”). Most smart hubs come with a wide library of such voice commands, and you can create custom commands for anything they’ve missed.
All of the above elements can be linked together and customised to create powerful automation chains that will let you control your life exactly how you like it. Systems like IFTTT (If This Then That) allow you to homebrew and tweak every part of a smart home interaction. If you want it, a single voice command to your smart hub could set your lights down low, turn the heating up, and put a selected album to play on your speaker system. Or you could use your phone’s GPS as a trigger for an ‘alarm activate’ mode, so that whenever you left home, any motion detected within the house would immediately send a warning to your phone. These can get as inventive and complex as you want - and the more devices you wire into your smart home, the more options you have available!
What devices are smart-enabled?
Now let’s take a look at the types of devices that you can currently buy for your high-tech living room, and the sorts of smart capabilities they could possess:
Hubs/Smart Speakers - The nerve-center of your Smart Home, a smart hub will primarily allow you to control and monitor any other smart devices in the immediate area. However many also have a microphone & speakers built into them. This allows the smart hub to understand voice commands, and the system can relay info back through the speakers. Of course, you can also use it to play your music as well! Because of these functions, smart hubs can work solo, but really come into their own when paired with other devices it can control
Soundbars/Sound systems - As well as the smart speakers mentioned above, dedicated audio gear is also gaining smart features. Wi-fi & Bluetooth support allows you to stream music from anywhere direct to your sound system, and voice control lets you alter the volume and play specific tracks with a word. The newest models even have Smart Assistants like Siri or Alexa, meaning they start to become similar to smart hubs or smart speakers - except they normally possess far better sound quality.
TVs - Smart TVs are now commonplace, and most modern models will have some form of smart features enabled. This normally involves wi-fi/bluetooth support, to allow the TV to stream video and audio from multiple sources. Other features may include voice commands (turning it on/off and changing channels with your voice), controlling connected soundbars or lights, or the ability to function as its own smart hub, so you can monitor or control your house while you binge Netflix!
Lighting - Numerous smart lighting systems have appeared over the last few years - these wi-fi enabled bulbs can be controlled remotely, allowing you to turn them on/off via a companion app or smart hub. They naturally lend themselves to all sorts of clever automation scenarios, as well as making use of light/motion sensors. Some smart bulbs can change colour as well - meaning they can automatically shift hue to make the room seem warmer (https://kagoo.co.uk/latest-articles/pc-monitors/kagoo-explains-colour-temperature), and can pull of some really funky tricks, like automatically shifting to match the colours displayed on your TV!
Robot Vacuums - Robovacs are small autonomous vacuums that clean your house automatically - they build up a ‘map’ of the floor of each room, using that to avoid obstacles and clean efficiently. The newest generation of robot vacuums are heavily integrated into smart homes, allowing you to set the vacuum going via a voice command to your smart hub, or use a companion app to monitor and alter the path of the device - no more vacuuming for you!
Thermostat - Smart thermostats and heating systems make heavy use of automation, as smart sensors around your house can measure and alter heating levels for optimal temperature. However they really become helpful when you start working with remote control, allowing you to control the heat from your phone wherever you are - perfect for making sure your house is toasty warm on the commute home! Many of these systems are designed to plug into smart hubs for best effect, though they can be used solo via dedicated apps.
Security & Safety - It’s unsurprising that home security has embraced smart technology - it has a lot of potential to make your home safer and more secure. Many of these techs are still relatively new, they generate revolve around a variety of sensors that will detect any potential problems, and send a warning to your smart hub or phone. These could include motion, sound fire or carbon monoxide alarms sensors - paired with video cameras to give you an instant liveview of whatever’s going on.
Doorbells - Finally, smart-enabled doorbells are a niche, but rapidly growing subsection of smart devices. These usually have a small video camera built into the doorbell, which allows you to view a live-stream from your phone. More powerful models also have a built-in speaker, allowing you to talk to whoever comes to the door remotely. That’s super-helpful for making sure you don’t miss packages if you’re out, and can also be part of a smart security system mentioned above.