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What's your summer tech project?

Date

Gadgets on the go

Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian freelance technology journalist with a passion for gadgets and the "digital lounge room".

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Generic summer pic, woman on a floatie at the beach, pool, swimming, holidays, relaxing.

Generic summer pic, woman on a floatie at the beach, pool, swimming, holidays, relaxing.

What will you get up to in your downtime?

The summer holidays are a great chance to kick back and relax, but they also present the perfect opportunity to catch up on those high-tech projects that you've been contemplating. Your summer project might be as simple as installing a few software updates, doing a fresh install of your PC's operating system or perhaps upgrading to Windows 8. Or you might have something a little more ambitious in mind, such as updating your digital entertainment options with Catch Up TV access, online movie rentals, a home media server and maybe surround sound along with multi-room audio.

As tempting as it is to simply throw money at a shiny new gadget, I think the planning phase is the most important part of any home tech project. There's usually more than one way to solve a problem, and more than one gadget which can do the job at hand. You need to think about the big picture and how this new project will fit with your existing devices, infrastructure, services and subscriptions. To be honest I tend to overthink these things, but only because I know when I buy tech on an impulse I usually regret it later. It also pays to think about your long-term goals to ensure you're not sinking money into something you'll later abandon.

These days the most complicated tech projects tend to revolve around the digital lounge room. After spending years looking for the one home entertainment device to rule them all, I've come to the conclusion that most homes are better served by a best-of-breed approach which relies on several devices. A jack-of-all-trades device such as a Windows Media Centre PC or PlayStation 3 might completely meet some people's needs, but putting all your eggs in one basket can lead to frustration if that basket is supporting a household of viewers rather than a single user.

When planning your entertainment system it's best to start with a list of requirements rather than getting your heart set on a list of gadgets. Be wary of sales staff, not to mention overly-enthusiastic friends and fanboys, who try to tell you what to buy without assessing your needs and considering what you already own. 

The key requirements for most lounge rooms include watching and recording digital television and playing optical discs. To this you might add playing files you've downloaded, streaming audio/video around your home and streaming content from the internet. You need to decide which of these activities are the most important in your home and choose your gadgets accordingly. You should also take into account your choice of services providers as well as your Internet Service Provider's range of unmetered content.

Don't worry too much about upgrading to a new television just for the extra bells and whistles. When buying a television I'd say mostly focus on picture quality and let your various set-top boxes do the heavy lifting. This approach makes it easier to upgrade one component, such as your Blu-ray player, in the pursuit of new features. Alternatively you might find the ability to stream from a smartphone, tablet or PC satisfies your need to access new services. There's no one-size-fits-all solution, so it's worth taking the time to weigh up your options.

Which tech projects have you been putting off until the summer break? Is your digital lounge room due for an overhaul?

 

9 comments so far

  • The trade off and decision points for me are always about just how many boxes, which drives how many wall warts (power plugs) which drives how many cables . . . - key question is - Can I maintain (or better yet enhance) capability with fewer devices ?

    So far the QNAP NAS with lots of add on software, and HDHomeRun (the NAS records TV with TVheadend) handles most of the grunt work in the 'back office' (I don't believe in 'appointment TV' and time-shift pretty much everything). But the TV attached devices are still way to plentiful . . .

    Project(s) for summer
    - get all the content accessible remotely . . . and securely (VPN to home from outside).
    - organise a truly touch friendly interface for music player - so long Media Monkey.
    - reduce the count of devices at the stereo / tv end. AppleTV2 (jailbroke, of course) just doesn't quite do it all -- but haven't found anything that does.

    Commenter
    Ro
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    December 19, 2012, 11:58AM
    • I'm planning to put down all the electronic gadgets and do something outside, enjoy the sunshine

      Commenter
      Paul
      Location
      Footscray
      Date and time
      December 19, 2012, 12:21PM
      • For my money you can't go past an Apple TV. In addition to easy iTunes access, If you have an iPad 2 or above (or an iPhone 4S/5) turn on the Airplay device mirroring and the world of catch up tv is your oyster.

        Commenter
        ab77
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        December 19, 2012, 1:47PM
        • I plan on finishing the wall points in my house (built this year and cabled by myself at frame stage) and putting my rack on the wall in the garage, and patching to my patch panel. Next comes the little HP Microserver and virtualising 2 servers in VM's.
          This way I can tidy the garage up more.

          Commenter
          tempril
          Date and time
          December 19, 2012, 2:42PM
          • I will be getting around to assembling an all new desktop after NYE. Most of the components have already been bought from online tech stores like PC Case Gear.

            But I will not be upgrading to Windows 8.

            Commenter
            Steve T
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            December 19, 2012, 3:10PM
            • I'm a web designer, so I'm going to catch up on cleaning up my digital assets for the new year... get all my folders cleaned up and archived, and then maybe refresh my branding for 2013. Christmas/Easter breaks are the only time I get to do this around actually working!

              Commenter
              CindyN
              Location
              defuzz.com
              Date and time
              December 19, 2012, 3:10PM
              • Format the PCs, get a robust back-up system in place - both disgracefully overdue.

                Other than that, I'm with Paul. Enjoy the weather when it's good, enjoy the tech when it isn't.

                Commenter
                Spex
                Location
                Sydney
                Date and time
                December 19, 2012, 3:19PM
                • My summer tech project is to not touch technology! I'm going to walk the dog on the beach, interact with my wife as a human being and enjoy time with food, wine and family. The only problem is that three weeks is not long enough to stay away from a flickering screen.

                  Commenter
                  Vlax.
                  Location
                  G.
                  Date and time
                  December 19, 2012, 9:58PM
                  • I am directing a team of 3 software developers to build an enterprise quality livestock inventorying and auctions system in Ruby on Rails.

                    I personally am building a scraping piece of software in Matlab to generate 40,000 marketing leads.....and a smart locker prototype haha.

                    Commenter
                    cowsGoMoo
                    Date and time
                    December 19, 2012, 10:29PM

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