The house that shagged me

More than three years and about $10 millions dollars in the making -- the highly automated digital home that Infoseek founder Steve Kirsch and his family recently moved in to, still feels like a beta site version.

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 $US12,000 plasma flat-panel display screen that does not provide continuous colour 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 colour palette of the plasma display, he says. The result is very splotchy colour.

"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 theatre system, which includes a video projector and a line quadrupler to improve image definition, is controlled by a home automation system from the PHAST (Practical Home Automation Systems Technology) subsidiary of AMX. Although the home theatre 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.

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