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Does your tech play nicely with others?

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A hacker in your living room: researchers have shown how internet-connected TVs can be remotely manipulated.

A hacker in your living room: researchers have shown how internet-connected TVs can be remotely manipulated.

Do you inflict new technology on the rest of your household?

Most of us have to share our lounge room with someone, which means you need to show a little consideration when it comes to introducing new tech. As a tech reviewer my family puts up with a lot, but I try to make sure that at least the DVD/Blu-ray player is always hooked up to the television – even if I've disconnected and/or broken everything else.

It's not that my wife and young children aren't tech-savvy enough to navigate their way through our sea of devices and pile of remote controls, it's more that they shouldn't have to. If my wife disconnected the car battery every time she parked in the driveway I'd be rightly annoyed, even though I could fix the problem. It's just rude to regularly cripple something which everyone in the house relies on.

The new Xbox One is a classic example of this phenomenon, because it's designed to reside at the very heart of your lounge room. It's actually meant to sit between your PVR and your television, supposedly enhancing your viewing experience – although few features work in Australia yet. Meanwhile it's almost certainly going to get in the way when someone flops down on the couch and just wants to watch something. Scott Stein's hassles with the Xbox One in his family lounge room really struck a chord with me, because most tech reviews tend to gloss over the fact that any lounge room upgrade is actually a change management project – at least if you value household harmony. If you've ever supplied emergency over-the-phone tech support to someone shouting "I just want to watch bloody television!" then you'll know what I'm talking about.

Every lounge room device I've tested with voice or gesture control has been more trouble than it's worth, particularly because it's too easy to accidentally trigger voice commands. One minute you're watching Homeland, the next minute your so-called Smart TV is firing up the Twitter client for no apparent reason. It's even worse if your kids discover they can shout "Skype!" from the next room and launch the app over the top of the movie you're watching. Just today my wife was on the phone in the lounge room and suddenly the Xbox One started blaring out music. I'd left it running while I went to the next room and she somehow launched a game with a voice command, even though she didn't use "the X-word".

Once you own voice-activated home entertainment gear you're forced to tip-top around it like a sleeping baby, afraid to use "the X-word" or anything that could be mistaken for it. Gadgets like Microsoft's Xbox One and Samsung's Smart TVs need a "TV mode" which tells it to go away and leave you alone until you deliberately wake it with a button on the remote or use a long and specific voice command. I know it goes against the idea of an always-on device at your beck and call, but the truth is that most homes don't want that. You might be excited about your shiny new console, but the rest of the house doesn't want to fight with it when they're sitting back to watch television.

The most important gadget in my lounge room is the aptly named Logitech Harmony universal remote control. I can program it to execute a complicated string of commands with a single button press – for example the Watch TV button powers up my television, switches it to the right channel, turns on the HDMI switch, sets it to the right input and then configures all the buttons to control the TiVo. There are similar buttons for watching the Blu-ray player, Windows 7 media centre or Apple TV.

The Logitech remote is fantastic because anyone can drive my lounge room, no matter how complicated I make it. I recently upgraded my home theatre amplifier to one with HDMI switching and now the Blu-ray player runs through it, which means the amp needs to be on if you want to watch a disc. Normally this would be a major disruption to a lounge room, but it was business as usual once I added that extra step to the Watch DVD/Blu-ray button on the remote control. It's not that my family is stupid, I know they could go through all these steps manually, but they shouldn't need to go to all that trouble just to watch television in their own home. It's our lounge room, not my lounge room.

That brings us to a problem with games consoles, they don't always play nicely with infrared universal remote controls. PlayStations rely on Bluetooth, although there's an IR adaptors for the PS3 (but apparently not the PS4). Thankfully Microsoft is a bit more considerate and builds an IR receiver into the Xbox One. The new console is already in Logitech's database, so I can configure my Harmony remote to switch on the Xbox One and then drive it from the stick. Strangely the "Power On" command won't wake the console but the "Power Toggle" command will, so there's a bit of fine-tuning required.

Even though I can tell the Logitech remote to wake up the Xbox One, I have no intention of leaving my TiVo connected to the game console's HDMI input. If all you want to do is watch television it doesn't actually add anything to the experience, at least not in Australia. All it does is add the likelihood that the Xbox One will misinterpret a word or gesture and get in everyone's way.

How do you handle high-tech change in your lounge room? Are your loved ones sick of your gadgets?

0 comment so far

  • Got my Xbox One in the man cave here so not having to share it with anyone. The Foxtel I have in here also is an older, non IQ box, so it connects only via component. so the HDMI IN is of no use to me either.

    The HDMI IN port seems like an inspired idea, but it's just as easy for me to press the input button a few times to check the cricket score anyway. Without proper guide integration, the IR Blaster features actually working properly, well, Xbox One is just for playing games and really, that's all I bought the thing for anyway.

    Commenter
    Shane B
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    November 27, 2013, 12:30PM
    • I could only get the HDMI throughput to work on 720p as the Austar HD has a max resolution 1080i max and the Xbox One does only 720p or 1080p. I thought it was a fault with the HDMI pass thru until I tried that option. Then there is the DLNA issue which regularly fails to recognise the new Xbox One to stream Movies or MP3 from the main server in the house now that the ability for the xbox to stream local network content is gone... So plenty of head scratching still happening here. I have the Harmony Ultimate managing it all, which seems to appease the masses most of the time Very much First World problems though...

      Commenter
      wheels
      Date and time
      November 27, 2013, 4:46PM
      • Haha I know what you know. Turn on the Media Centre. Turn on the AV Receiver. Turn on the TV.

        Set all the output correctly for the AV receiver. Open Windows Media Centre. Select your preferred channel.

        My wife says...but I just want to watch TV, and she has a good point too. Its all far too confusing when others need to start it up.

        Commenter
        Wooandwowme
        Location
        Scullin
        Date and time
        November 27, 2013, 5:07PM
        • Every technology device that treats the customer as an idiot means you have to put extra effort into fixing the problem. The iPhones autocorrect is one example, though word has been autocorrecting things wrongly for more than a decade but not as badly.

          Just keep it as simple as possible to do the things we want and we will use it. Bad designers make it hard to do things you want then think it is because we are idiots and then make it even worse.

          Commenter
          Flingebunt
          Location
          Brisbane
          Date and time
          November 27, 2013, 6:04PM
          • Great article. We've had several people stay in our house whilst we were away and I had to write a procedural manual! TV, CD, DVD, Blue Ray, PS, Apple TV and then if you want surround sound for each of those + radio arrgh. Then there are music and videos on a World Book. And I would like PVR

            My problem is they are were all individual purchases and so aren't necessarily the best bedfellows. Starting to really like Apple only approach.

            Commenter
            Ken
            Date and time
            November 27, 2013, 6:09PM
            • The logitech remote sounds really good- I bought a sony universal remote and it doesn't even operate other sony gadgets very well.

              Every time I turn on the sony tv only, the remote then automatically turns on the separate sony surround sound system, which then cuts the sound from the tv altogether. Then I have to shut down the surround sound and set the remote for tv only. It's all an annoying pain.

              sony universal remotes are quite crap.

              Commenter
              Alex
              Location
              Finley
              Date and time
              November 27, 2013, 6:40PM
              • Haven't figured out how to reconfigure a harmony remote without software provided by Bill or Steve's flagships. It will be nice when a standard browser on a tablet or phone can be used, not willing to replace dead windows machines or buy a mac. As above 1st world problem ...

                Commenter
                pierre
                Location
                coughs
                Date and time
                November 27, 2013, 8:28PM
                • Upstairs Downstairs- We have a TV room with TV PVR and Bluray Downstairs and upstairs a games room with 2 x monitors 1 for the x box 1 for ps

                  Commenter
                  gamer
                  Date and time
                  November 27, 2013, 9:26PM
                  • My Logitech harmony just froze up one day. Nothing could reboot it, nothing ! battery out in out in . Connect to PC fault find, Pressing special keys in special order as advised by Logitech phone helpdesk guy did nothing. After about 2 hours on phone Logitech guy said it's broken. You will have to buy a new one as we don't repair them after 12 months. Good remote when working very expensive paperweight when not.

                    Commenter
                    ripped off
                    Date and time
                    November 27, 2013, 10:56PM
                    • Many people like to have conversations in the lounge room, a voice activated device in such an environment is about as retarded as it gets for most households.

                      Commenter
                      davidb
                      Date and time
                      November 28, 2013, 7:06AM

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