Way Cool Home Electronics

A smart TV displaying different movie posters on the top row, menu options on the middle row and company logos on the bottom row.

From the people who brought you the iPad and iPhone — it's AppleTV, one of our five favorite, way-cool home electronic products and apps.

A leading technology integrator shares what's new and uber-cool for your home.

At the end of the day, technology should improve our way of life — and the homes we live in.

The ever-changing field of home electronics and the latest cool home automation tools and apps should make your life easier and better. There are many great technologies and products on the market today that do just that.

As a technology integrator, I've had the opportunity not only to see these hot new devices, but also to play with them — and many times, to install them in my client’s homes. Here are a few of my favorite way-cool home electronic products and apps:

AppleTV

Many have heard of this little device, but few understand how it can be integrated into your home. If you own any Apple devices, this baby is for you. It acts as a “bridge” from your iPhone or iPad to your TV and even your home audio system.

AppleTV has a clean look and is easy to navigate. It's my favorite way to stream movies and watch Netflix. But here's the part that makes this little “hockey puck” so great: Many of your apps already have compatibility with Apple TV, so it’s easy to play Pandora, watch videos, share pictures and more. No wires. No docks. Just one cool device!

Wireless Speakers

Do you ever long for music in the kitchen, patio, office or bedroom? With the new wireless speaker systems on the market, you can have great sound virtually anywhere in or near your home without the expense of running wires through walls. Just connect the speaker to the router, link them wirelessly and you’re done. Now you’re able to play your favorite song, artist or online station through the whole house or just the room you’re in.

Sonos is known for its wireless speakers and is more of a plug-and-play brand. Sonos offers everything for speakers that have the power and WiFi built right in (namely, a powered speaker) to solutions that would allow you to upgrade your home-run wired speakers. Another favorite audio system is made by NuVo, but it’s more for audiophiles. NuVo audio systems would be installed by a dedicated AV installer. Both companies can be found online.

Nest Thermostat

Who thought a thermostat could be both sexy and savvy? From the creator of the iPod comes this “smart” thermostat. It's maker says, “Most people leave the house at one temperature and forget to change it. So Nest learns your schedule, programs itself and can be controlled from your phone. Teach it well and Nest can lower your heating and cooling bills up to 20 percent."

Nest learns what temperatures you like and builds a schedule for you. It turns red when it's in heating mode and blue when it's cooling. A small leaf shows up when you are in energy savings mode. The best part? Most people can install it themselves in less than 30 minutes.

A Good Remote

A solid, well-programmed remote can really improve your quality of life. I’m amazed when I walk into a house and see two or three remote controls lined up on the table. That can't be any fun, and multiple remotes certainly aren’t making life better.

Today, companies are not only making “one remote that can control it all,” they're also making remotes that no longer resemble traditional remotes. For example, universal Remote Control has recently created the ability to put your remote on your iPhone and/or iPad.

There have been apps for your TV or Blu-Ray player for a while now, but not ones that could do multiple commands from one push of the button. That’s right: Open the app, press the “watch movie” button and settle back as the lights dim, your TV turns on and a DVD begins to play. Yes, I said, “lights.”

These systems can now control lighting, temperature and even cameras. And it’s fast. There is no latency or pause between the button press and the action. Products like these are game changers. This device does need to be programmed by an authorized dealer, but remember, they live and breathe this stuff. You can trust them to make your remote multifunctional.

Electronic Locks

Where are the keys? At the bottom of a purse? Stuck in a couch cushion? Did someone lock the door with the house key still inside? Worry no more. Today’s new door locks can be opened via a code or even from your smartphone. Did a friend show up early to check on pets or to house-sit? No problem. Jump on your phone and let them inside with the swipe of your finger, then use your Nest app to make sure the house is set at the perfect temp.

One of my favorite electronic locks is from Lockitron. This baby has built-in WiFi and installs right over your current lock. It works with any smartphone and can do wonderful things, such as send you a text when the kids get home from school. It’s not on the market yet, but is promised to hit this summer. Yes, I’m on the waiting list.

There are certainly other great products and technologies on the market today that could be the hot products of tomorrow — and I’ll be watching out for them for you.

There was a lot of chatter at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show about NFC (Near Field Communications), which allows owners of certain smartphones to touch their phone to a product to transfer information. Some examples: Touch your phone to a speaker and the speaker will play. Touch the phone to your door lock and the door will open. You can even transfer data with a touch, which may open many avenues on the commercial and educational side. (Imagine touching your phone to a TV to display your PowerPoint presentation.) I’m interested in seeing where NFC will go in the next few years.

So, there it is: five technology products to improve your life. I hope that one of the products mentioned makes your world and your home a better place.

Heather L. Sidorowicz is a technology integrator (tech speak for someone who knows how to install really neat tech stuff in your home and makes it look easy to do) and a blogger for a home electronics trade magazine. You can find her on Google+.

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