Build your own Digital Home

The ‘smart home’ is a regular feature in science fiction, but our real-life dwellings remain decidedly dumb. But more intelligent accommodation isn’t as distant as you might think. With a few relatively inexpensive peripherals and the help of a PC, you can automate numerous aspects of your home, help to keep the premises secure, and massively improve your enjoyment of your digital media collection.

Build your own Digital Home

The options for digitally enhancing your domicile are virtually endless. Everything from simple remote light switching to media streaming and video surveillance is possible. Not everything will require a fully fledged PC at its centre, but most functions are dramatically enhanced by having one.

Security is something else you can readily enhance with a few computer peripherals, including video surveillance or sensor-activated events. You could also use your surveillance to keep tabs on the kids when you’re working elsewhere in the house.

Over the next six pages, we’ll look at some of these options, going into detail to demonstrate how a system called HomeHub can give you control over your home appliances from your PC. We’ll also look at the PC-based CCTV system, which has become one of the most popular aspects of home automation.

So, if you’ve considered putting your PC at the centre of your home appliances, but never took the time to look at the various options open to you, read on.

Sound and vision

With the Intel Viiv platform taking Microsoft’s Media Center Edition to a new level, the first thing you’re likely to want from your digital home is more flexible access to audiovisual content. This will revolve around a home media server. Viiv is currently only available in complete systems, but you can get Windows XP MCE 2005 on its own along with the requisite remote control from a number of resellers, such as The Glow Lounge (www.theglow

Virtually any PC would do as the basis, although you’ll have to consider looks and noise if it’s destined for your lounge. Aside from using the DVD drive to play videos and rip your music into a library, you’ll probably want to record TV as well. This will require a PVR-capable TV tuner, of which there are now numerous options, although you’ll need to ensure driver compatibility if you plan to use MCE (check the manufacturer’s website).

While MCE does offer about the best remote armchair experience (or ‘ten foot interface’, as Microsoft likes to call it), it’s by no means the only option if you don’t fancy filling Microsoft’s coffers further still. There are numerous fully featured TV tuners out there, although most come with software that does require the full Windows interface for many functions. A remote able to control simple features such as immediate recording and playback will often be included, but generally you’ll need to resort to a mouse and keyboard to schedule recordings.

There are a few exceptions. Leadtek’s WinFast DTV1000 T includes software that’s almost entirely operable with the supplied remote, including the all-important Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) used to schedule recordings. But most other tuners will require extra software if you want to operate them from the sofa.

One option is SnapStream’s Beyond TV (, which has a huge range of capabilities, particularly for network media streaming and downloading recordings to portable devices. However, its built-in EPG is US and Canada only, so the software resorts to the Web-based tvtv ( for UK listings and to schedule recordings, which isn’t quite so armchair-friendly.

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