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EXPLAINING WANNACRY AND HOW TO PROTECT YOUR COMPUTER

EXPLAINING WANNACRY AND HOW TO PROTECT YOUR COMPUTER

WannaCry is a current global ransomware cyber-attack that is taking advantage of a Window’s vulnerability known as Elite Blue.   

What Is Malware?

Malware is short for malicious software which can be used to interfere with computer or mobile operating systems (Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, etc.) Malware can do anything from gathering sensitive (usually financial) information to holding your files ransom to just displaying annoying ads.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts your information and demands payment to decrypt it Ransomware can encrypt individual files, a computer’s Master File Table, or a hard drive. Hackers create malware to extort money often demanding the victims pay via Bitcoin, an online global money transaction system where identities are anonymous.  Ultimately the victim decides if the hostage information is worth the ransom.

About WannaCry

Typically users have to do something to become infected.  They click on a link, open a file, or connect external hardware.  The WannaCry malware attack is different because it travels through the internet searching for machines that are vulnerable (Elite Blue).  Although Microsoft pushed a fix for the vulnerability last month, not all users have installed the update.  When the malware detects that a machine does not have the update it executes a cryptoviral extortion attack.  Users then get a screen informing them of what happened demanding $300 to decrypt the files.  

So far WannaCry has attacked tens of thousands of computers in over 100 countries and caused a hospital in England to cancel medical procedures.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM WANNACRY

Update Your Computer

Yes, the update notifications can be annoying, and they always pop up at the most inconvenient time, but they are important. Try setting your computer to automatically update on your off hours.  

If you are using an unsupported OS such as Windows7 or Windows XP, Home Technology Experts highly suggests you update.

Back Up Information

There are many non-malicious ways you can lose valuable files.  Backing them up to the cloud is the easiest way to ensure your important documents and beloved photos are safe.

Enable Your Firewalls and Disable Server Message Block

If you don’t feel comfortable doing this on your own, Home Technology Experts or your IT guy can help you.

THE POWER OF PROJECTION

THE POWER OF PROJECTION

There is an overwhelming notion that projectors belong in theaters and conference rooms.  Since televisions are available in larger sizes at lower price points, it is easy to understand why projectors are often overlooked, but don’t count them out just yet. At Home Technology Experts, we like to consider all of our options and then choose the best solution for the project.  Now and then projectors do trump televisions. When should a projector be considered?

WHEN SIZE MATTERS

Yes, the ability to manufacture enormous televisions does exist.  If you’re in the market for a 370-inch display for $1.7 million, give us a call, HTE would love to sell it to you!  If not, consider a projector.

Projectors allow the characters you’re watching to literally become larger than life. Especially when watching in HD or UHD, small details that often cannot be seen on televisions due to their limited size become noticeable on a larger surface.

We often have clients who want to make a BIG statement with their video.  While we typically use projector screens, a blank wall can be used as the projection surface. We once used a large retaining wall to create a beautiful outdoor theater.

WHEN LIGHT ISN’T AN ISSUE

When comparing a television and projector of the same quality, the television will always have the brighter image.  Even though televisions are bright, ambient light, especially sunshine, can cause the image to look faded or dull.  This problem is even more noticeable with projectors.  However, many homes have shades or curtains which solve the issue.

If you’re not competing with ambient light, projectors can look just as good as some displays. At Home Technology Experts, we have found that clients prefer projectors in areas such as basements, recreation rooms, and man-caves. These rooms are typically found on the lower level where there is less light and are designed for socialization where a larger screen comes in handy.

WHEN YOU KNOW NOT ALL PROJECTORS CREATE SHADOWS

Shadows occur when an object comes between the projector and the screen.  The best solution, use an ultra-short throw projector.  Sony’s 4K HDR Home Theater Projector is installed less than a foot from the wall and can create a 100-120 inch image.  Not only does it eliminate shadows, but it also creates a beautiful high contrast image with TRILIMINOS™ Color. 

While rarely used for residential use, rear projection is always an option.  This design sets the projector behind a translucent screen.  A very popular option in corporate settings or on stages since it allows for presenters to stand in front of the screen without creating shadows.

A properly designed system also makes a huge difference.  At Home Technology Experts, we have taken over jobs where high-end homes have projectors sitting on half walls, or in cabinets instead of being mounted to the ceiling.  Standard projectors must be set back a distance to fill the screen. The lower the projector, the greater chance of shadows. There are applications when a properly mounted projector reduces the occurrence of shadows so much that it is no longer an issue.

WHEN YOU KNOW, HD & UHD LOOK GREAT

It’s true back in the early days of single-chip DLP projectors you could “see the rainbow” but times have changed. Let’s be clear if you want the sharpest most dynamic image on the market, a projector isn’t for you, but HTE does have an array of OLED and QLED displays for you to pick from.  However, if you are just looking for a crisp vibrant image that looks great, you might want to think about a projector.

As big screen TVs began dropping in price, the projector world took notice and stepped up their game.  An off-brand LCD or LED projector isn’t going to give you a great image.  But a quality DLP or laser projector will produce brilliant video.

If you are buying a High Definition (4k) or Ultra High Def (8k) projector, it is going to produce a stunning image. The video will look sharp with vibrant colors.

WHEN YOU KNOW, THE BLUR IS GONE

When LCD TVs first hit the market, sports fans hated them!  The displays had a low refresh rate so even when you put them in “Sports Mode,” when images went speeding across the screen they would get blurry or leave artifacts. The same was true with projectors at the time; you would walk into a sports bar, see a wall with huge video of your favorite game, only for it to get blurry when the action got good.

Just like the refresh rates increased in LCD TVs as they evolved, eliminating the issue, the same happened with projectors.

WHEN YOU KNOW, THE SOURCES ARE THE SAME

Any source (cable box, TiVo, Kaleidescape, Apple TV, Roku, etc.) you can connect to a television can also be connected to a projector.  Now and then our system designers are asked if there is such thing as a smart projector, the answer is yes, but why would you need one?  Since we can connect any video source to the projector, your TiVo, streaming device or even your computer gives you all the capability of a smart projector.  

If you have a Savant system, you can even add Savant Tiling.  With multiple sources on a single screen, the extra real-estate gained by using a projector is greatly noticed.  

SAVE MONEY, SAVE ENERGY, SAVE THE EARTH

SAVE MONEY, SAVE ENERGY, SAVE THE EARTH

This Earth Day we at Home Technology Experts are looking at how automation and other home devices can help reduce electricity, saving you money and helping the environment.

TIVO

People are often shocked to learn that cable boxes rented from Verizon and Optimum are serious energy hogs.  According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC) Americans are spending $2 billion in energy costs to power set top boxes that are sitting idle.  These “power vampires” as NBC called them use as much energy when they are not in use as they do when active, that’s as much energy as your washing machine uses to clean your clothes.

Now think about how many cable boxes you have.  A three-bedroom apartment can easily have five cable boxes. Come out to the Hamptons with guest rooms, pool houses, and outdoor televisions and see the energy (and money) trickle away. 

TiVo’s all in one distributed video system allows for a single top box to serve as a cable box/DVR, streaming device (such as Apple TV or Roku), and Sling Box for up to five TiVo Minis.  The TiVo Minis consume significantly less electricity and because they don’t need to be in standby mode when not in use they can truly be turned off.  By serving as streaming media players you save on both the purchasing cost and additional energy costs associated with extra devices. 

DIMMERS, SENSORS, AND LIGHTING CONTROL SYSTEMS

Lighting control systems reduce energy usage through scheduling, dimming, and sensors.

Dimming LEDs saves electricity, creates ambiance, and even extends the bulb’s life. According to Lutron, the average person cannot tell the difference between a light at 100% versus one dimmed to 80%. The savings quickly add up when using dimmers throughout your home.

Sensors can be used to take dimming a step further.  Day light sensors measure the ambient sunlight in a room and adjusts artificial light’s output accordingly.  On sunny days, the Day Light Sensors automatically dim the lights and may even turn them off if the room is adequately lit by sunshine.

LEDS AND LOW VOLTAGE LIGHTING

The less energy needed to power a fixture to reach a desired brightness the greater the savings.  While any LED consumes less energy than an incandescent bulb, not all LEDs are the same.  Prominent companies in the industry such as Lutron will tout numerous energy and environmental benefits such as limited UV admissions, energy star ratings, and more.

Low lighting fixtures are made for both indoor and outdoor applications.  At Home Technology Experts we offer a variety of low voltage options that are popular in home theaters.  Our exterior illumination division, Hamptons Landscape Lighting, exclusively uses low voltage fixture in all of their designs.  

MOTORIZED SHADES

Motorized shades are not only a convenience, but they can help cut down on your heating and cooling costs.  Via programming shades automatically rise in the winter to allow the warmth of the sun in, or lowered during summer months to keep the heat out.

WIRELESS THERMOSTATS

Especially in the Hamptons, heating and cooling a home can be a big expense. Wireless thermostats can help.  Many large homes have HVAC zones, using wireless thermostats and home automation software entire zones can be turned off when not in use.  Additionally wireless thermostats can be programmed so it automatically adjusts to your life style, saving on gas and electricity when you’re not home.

 

 

TV’s New Disguise

TV’s New Disguise

At Home Technology Experts we have learned that a black screen hanging on a wall can be the bane of a designer’s existence. Until now options have been limited to hiding displays using TV Lifts and Media Décor, or purchasing a mirror television.  Fuseproject is introducing a new solution that HTE is excited to offer.

The studio created a Samsung television concealment that is identical to framed artwork. When the television isn’t playing content, it goes into artwork mode as opposed to displaying a black screen. Homeowners can select from a variety of artists and genres, or they can choose to display custom work or photos. The television uses sensors to adjust the artwork’s brightness, so it gives the appearance of physical art as opposed to a digital image.

While these televisions will not be available until summer of 2017 Samsung has told home technology experts the tvs will have the following features:

  • Available in two sizes: 55" and 65"

  • A no gap wall mount has been designed for the display

  • Ships with a black frame but three custom frame color are available for purchase

 

STAY IN THE KNOW

As per Samsung, pricing will be announced at the end of April and shipping begins in June. sign up below to Receive updates. 

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Enjoy Luxury Technology Outdoors

Enjoy Luxury Technology Outdoors

Headquartered in Southampton, at Home Technology Experts we have been designing and installing luxury outdoor systems since our inception.

Our system designers are sometimes asked if outdoor products are necessary. These solutions are more expensive than their interior counterparts, and it is understandable that prospective clients want to understand why. Below are the four reasons to use products designed for exterior use.

SAFETY

The most important reason is for the safety of your family and property.  Using products designed for interior use outdoors can be dangerous.  Interior products are not held to the same safety ratings.  If water gets into the casing of a powered electronic, it can become a fire hazard.

Outdoor products meet building code requirements for external use.

 

WEATHERPROOF

Waterproof is not weatherproof. Many of our manufacturers make both waterproof and weatherproof products.  Waterproof means it can withstand water from a nozzle in any direction hitting the device without causing damage.  These products usually have an IP65- IP67 rating. Weatherproof products often have an IP68 or IP69 rating meaning that it can handle high-pressure water (rain/wind mix), extreme temperatures and can prevent dirt, sand, and dust from entering the unit. Weatherproof products can withstand the extreme temperatures, storms, and pollen in the Hamptons that waterproof products cannot.

 

DESIGN

Many products are used differently in exterior systems, and thus the outdoor versions are designed differently.  Think about outdoor speakers. Typically, speakers are found in the wall or ceiling throughout a home, so audio is coming from above.  While HTE does offer surface mount outdoor speakers for covered patios, this solution is not an option for certain applications. Landscape speakers are designed to project audio upwards while blending into the foliage. 

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Televisions are rarely placed in front of an open window or directly under a skylight.  If done as a last resort our system designers heavily advise blackout shades to prevent the sun’s rays from interfering with the perceived picture.  In our article, Do I Really Need an Outdoor TV, we discuss the fact that outdoor televisions are designed to be incredibly bright to compensate for sunlight.  The screens on outdoor displays are also coated to prevent glare and fog.

 
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WARRANTY

Not using a product as recommended, voids the warranty. Outdoor electronics are more expensive but typically have impressive warranties.  Many of our exterior audio and lighting manufacturers offer lifetime warranties.

 

LEARN MORE

Click on the product groups below to view the manufacturers tested and selected by our engineers.

Don’t want technology to be your yard’s focal point?  Read our article on Designing to Disguise Outdoors.

UNDERSTANDING THE INTERNET & HOW IT IMPACTS HOME AUTOMATION

UNDERSTANDING THE INTERNET & HOW IT IMPACTS HOME AUTOMATION

With the proliferation of connected devices, home networks have become a necessity. Over 275 million Americans have the internet in their home, yet many users have a limited understanding of how it works.

The Internet into the Home

Internet Service Providers (ISP) such as Fios and Comcast send a signal via a cable into your home where it connects to your modem.  ISPs understand that when it comes to the internet, there is no one size fits all solution, so their options range in bandwidth and speed.

Speed describes the number of bytes per second traveling between the internet and your computer or device. Bandwidth describes the capacity for speed. Think of bandwidth as a pipe and speed as water.  Water can trickle through pipes, or it can gush. However, you can never get more water out of your faucet than your pipes can hold.

The signal from the modem is sent to a router allowing both wired and wireless (Wi-Fi) connections which is how computers and devices gain internet access.

The Internet in Smart Homes

Home technology systems are a series of computerized devices that communicate via the internet. If the internet is down or not performing correctly, it will negatively impact your home automation. Ensuring that you have the proper bandwidth and are receiving the speed, you pay for is important when evaluating your home network.

Optimal Performance

Home Technology Experts was an early adopter of residential IP control systems and one of the first Control4 integrators in the world.  Over a decade working with these systems has repeatedly proved that a sub-par internet connection can bring down a perfectly engineered automation system.   

What to Watch Out For

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BUFFERING

When streaming video or audio, data is preloaded to a reserved area of memory (the buffer) before playing.  This allows for continuous streaming. Slow internet speeds will cause the video to catch up with the preloaded data causing interruptions as the new data loads.

 

 

Poor Video Quality When Streaming

If you are watching a homemade YouTube video, poor video quality may be a production issue and not a reflection of your network.  However, if you notice poor video quality when streaming from a source such at Netflix, TiVo, or Kaleidescape, there is an issue. A poor internet signal can result in blurry, pixilated, or choppy images.  Remember many sources are now streaming 4k if you have a UHD television your streamed content should look like ultra-high-definition video.

 
 
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Unreliable Connections

At Home Technology Experts we hardwire every product with an Ethernet connection.  We then use top of the line equipment to create a secure and reliable Wi-Fi network.  In fact, the equipment we use even adjusts to avoid interference from your neighbors’ Wi-Fi signals, an important feature in Manhattan.  Our clients are not working off a plug and play ISP router/modem combo. There should never be an unreliable connection.  If the internet is skipping out, there is a problem.

 
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Poor Roaming & Dead Zones

The technology used in our designs allows for overlapping wireless signals. Basic consumer equipment requires you to disconnect from one wireless booster before connecting to another. By contrast, our equipment allows for overlapping booster ranges, automatically connecting to the strongest signal.  As a result roaming or dead zones should never be a problem. If there is suddenly a connection problem in a specific area of your home, this indicates a larger issue.

 

Easy Fixes

Technology is constantly advancing, the best way to avoid problems with your internet is to verify your network is equipped to handle your needs.  Below are a few things we check when clients experience internet issues.

ISP Speed Check

HTE will first verify that you’ve chosen an ISP package that can support your online needs.  Next, we check that you are receiving the speed you are paying for.

 

Local Area Network (LAN) Evaluation

By looking for issues such as packet loss and latency we can determine if your network is experiencing congestion.  There are homes where the demand on the Wi-Fi have doubled or tripled in the past five years. In situations like this, simply upgrading one or two pieces of equipment will make all the difference.

 

Monitoring & Trouble Shooting

Home Technology Experts offers client care packages that monitor your internet service, network, and connected devices.  Many times we can identify potential issues and proactively prevent them through remote support.  Learn More

 

 

Comparing Google Home and Amazon Echo

Comparing Google Home and Amazon Echo

What is Google Home?

Google Home is a smart speaker similar to Amazon Echo.  While Echo is powered by Amazon’s proprietary software and trigger word “Alexa”, Google Home’s software Google Assistant, is often referred to by its trigger phrase “Ok Google”.

Google Home VS Amazon Echo (Alexa)

Winner: Google Home

Software Comparison

The main component of both devices is their software.  In this category, we looked at how well the software performs basic built-in functions and excluded additional apps or skills which have to be installed.

Accounts

Both speakers require signing into an accompanying account during setup. Google offers free accounts while Echo (Alexa) must be linked with an Amazon Prime account for $99 a year.

It’s important to remember that while smart speakers are relatively new both Ok Google and Alexa have been staples on Droid and Fire products for years constantly learning and evolving. Both accounts used for this comparison have previously been used on other devices.

Assistant: Knowledge Base

When it came to answering questions there was no comparing the two with Google being far superior.  Both could give the weather forecast, recite news headlines, tell jokes, and reply with witty answers to philosophical questions, but we were testing for practical applications.

It comes as no surprise that since Google Assistant can access the vast knowledge of Google’s search engine (which has been cultivating information since 1996) it can answer more questions than Alexa.  Alexa can give basic information such as who is the president, where Boston is, and how many ounces are in a cup.  However, its knowledge is very limited and always fails to answer specific questions about broad topics.

Google Assistant searches the entire internet for an answer and will cite the source.  If it is not a basic knowing question, the response will begin with “According to (insert website or publication source)” and will proceed to provide the answer. We then installed the Wikipedia skill in the Alexa app and asked the question again.  Even using the Wikipedia skill, Alexa struggled to answer questions that Ok Google could answer citing Wikipedia as the source.

Voice Recognition

Since Alexa struggled to answer knowledge questions, we tested voice recognition using basic commands such as turning lights on and off, dimming, and playing different music sources in different rooms.  While Alexa does a good job of understanding, she wasn’t perfect. During the test, Google Assistant did not falter. 

 

Integration Comparison

Winner: Amazon Echo

Compatible devices and services increase the smart speakers’ versatility.  Amazon had a year’s head start on Google and they used that time wisely. There is no question that Amazon by far has more integration than Google.  While both are constantly expanding their partner lists, Google has a lot of catching up to do.

As of February 2017, Amazon Echo has official skills (integration) for Lutron and Control 4. Google Home has a driver for Control 4 which must be installed by a Custom Integrator.

UPDATE: As of April 2017, Google Home has a Lutron integration.

Physical Comparison

Winner: Amazon Echo

This was a close one and the deciding factor really depends on how you want to use the smart speaker.  If you plan on using it to play music, go with Google Home since it produces higher quality audio. 

Amazon Echo is a bit sleeker with a tall and slender design, whereas the Google Home is a bit wider and shorter.  If you’re purchasing the device for voice control, Echo is the better choice. Amazon also sells the Echo Dot, a significantly smaller version of the original Echo, which is the perfect option for users who want the functionality of Alexa in a low profile device.

Since the majority of our clients have high-end speakers and use these devices as a means for voice control, we selected Amazon as the winner based on the Echo Dot’s discreet form.

 

Conclusion

Since we are high-end custom integrator we are going on the assumption that our clients are interested in smart speakers not to play music, but to control their automation systems.  For Lutron control, the choice is clear, they should go with the Echo.

If a client wants to use the smart speaker for Control 4 command we then have to decide which is the right fitfor them.  If they have an accent or children in the house, they may want to consider going with Google since it is better at recognizing commands.

We also ask the client if they plan on using the smart speaker as an assistant. If not, we would recommend they go Echo Dots allowing for inconspicuous multi-room control.  If they do plan on asking the smart speaker questions Google Home would be the best fit.  

 

CES 2017 RECAP

CES 2017 RECAP

As expected artificial intelligence was the star of CES.  While there were physical robots on the show floor the most practical applications were with virtual assistants and connected cars.  Of course televisions were on display, it wouldn’t be CES if it wasn’t.  Products on display ranged from as a robotic lawnmower to Wi-Fi connected hairbrush.

Virtual Assistants

Alexa, the voice recognition software that comes standard on Amazon’s tech products  showed up in Ford cars this week.  This surprising move expands Alexa’s profile positioning the assistant to be on par with rivals Google Assistant and Siri.

Amazon Echo, the device that made Alexa a house hold name introduced a slew of new partners and accompanying skills. The list includes both LG and Whirlpool appliances to Dish Hopper DVR.  Other manufacturers such as Klipsch includes a built in speaker with a spot for an Alexa dot on top. 

We were really excited to see what Google Home was going to reveal especially since it has so much catching up to do. While they did announce a few partners we were really expecting much more. In fairness Google Home is still in its infant stages and further along than Amazon Echo was this time last year.

Electric and Connected Cars

This year CES was filled with a ton of Electric self-driving cars. While we're not sure if automakers see electric cars as the future or as the only way to show off their vehicle in a convention center (you can't run fuel vehicles indoors because of CO2) it is clear that the race for the best smart car is on and everybody from Google to AT&T is in it. Since there were so many types of smart cars we broke them out by category.

Electric

Ford announced they will have a fully electric SUV hit the market in 2020; until now the largest fully electric vehicle was a crossover. They also announced that they're working on Mustang and pickup hybrids. Chrysler did one better unveiling the Portal which is the world's first fully electric minivan. 

Connected

Nissan and BMW showed off Microsoft's Cortana virtual assistant in their new cars while Chrysler teamed up with Google creating a new Android based infotainment system.  The new format allows the carmaker to keep it's essential applications while adding Google features such as Maps and Google Assistant as well as third party Android apps such as Spotify and Pandora. Google Home (powered by Google Assistant) teamed up with Hyundai.  Now drivers can simply tell the start speaker to autostart their car. Meanwhile, Ford opted to integrate Alexa

Self Driving

Toyota introduced "Yui" the virtual assistant they want you to think of as a person in their Concept-i self-driving vehicle.  He even greats you when you touch the handle on the car door. The BMW, Intel and Mobileye team went the traditional route, allowing drivers to be impressed by the technology instead of bonding with it.  They hope to have their self-driving car on the road by the end of 2017.  Nvidia debuted its self-driving car, BB8 (yes, that's a Starwars nod).  They are working with Audi and hope to have their collaboration on the road by 2020. 

Hyundai introduced  Ioniq, another self-driving car, at a price point much lower than their competitors, but what has everybody talking is their "Mobility Vision" concept.  Their vision is to blur the line between car and smart home, having the vehicle attach as part of the home via a portal essentially turning the car into additional home seating. 

While not at CES, Tesla is still the one to beat, as evident when Chinese start up Faraday showed video of their car racing the Model S and Model X. 

 

Wireless Charging

In a world where everybody wants to be connected, nobody wants to be tethered by a cord.  So it makes perfect sense why so many companies at CES were talking about wireless charging.

Dell unveiled their new convertible two-in-one, the Latitude 7285, which can be charged via a wireless charging pad.  Although not physically connected, the laptop must rest on the charging pad, rending it immobile. Ford announced that they are testing wireless charging for electric cars, but the details were limited.

The most exciting announcement was from Energous who revealed a system that allows mobile devices to remain mobile while charging.  The current technology in wireless charging pads uses magnetic induction which severely limits the charging range.  By contrast, Energous's WattUp uses radio waves, allowing for a further charging distance. The system works by attaching a small portable receiver to the device, users can then move up to 15 feet away while simultaneously charging.  

 

Samsung Introduces QLED

Samsung introduced a new TV technology QLED that uses a refined metal quantum dot material. This results in a larger color gamut, claims of blacker blacks, and most importantly color saturation regardless of brightness.  Typically color gets blown out when the brightness is enhanced, thus appearing white.

 

BlackBerry is Back

Seventeen years ago BlackBerry took the business world by storm, but the past few years has been rocky for the brand to say the least who turned over production of their phones to an overseas partner in September.  In 2017 the BlackBerry is back along with its signature keyboard. 

The new BlackBerry phone, Mercury, runs Android 7.0 but comes with the traditional BlackBerry apps.  The smart phone will also recognize gestures on the keyboard and the space bar doubles as a fingerprint reader. The phone will have a front and back camera as well as two physical buttons on the side.  Additional specifications, along with cost and release date are unknown.  Furthere details are expected to be announced next month. 

WHAT IS QLED?

WHAT IS QLED?

CES 2017 kicked off today and Samsung has everybody talking about their new QLED televisions. With yet another display format hitting the market, the best way to explain QLED is to look at the evolution of the flat screen. 

 

Plasma

Now considered a dead technology, plasmas set our expectations for what black should look like on a screen. Plasma TVs worked by passing electrical currents through ionized gas (plasma) essentially turning specific pixels on and off. Since certain pixels could be off while others were on, it created incredible black levels and did a good job of displaying low light video.

When cheaper and lighter LCD/LED televisions hit the market, plasma sales fell despite being the superior technology.  The introduction of OLED, which can produce images of equal color saturation marked the end of plasma technology.

 

LCD/ LED

LCD stands for liquid crystal display. Constructed of two polarized sheets with a liquid crystal solution in the middle, LCDs need a backlight to function. Once lit, electrical currents are sent through the liquid causing it to move, acting like shutters, either allowing light to pass through or block the back light.  Since the technology isn’t pixel specific, it can’t achieve true black. LCD also struggles to reproduce low light images, has less vibrant colors, can have motion artifacts, and has viewing angle issues.

LED TVs are LCD displays that use LEDs as backlighting.  The term was created by Samsung’s marketing department to create hype, but the science is the same.

While LCD/LED televisions don’t create the highest quality image, it is still a very nice picture.  The lower price point allows customers to purchase larger screen sizes which is an additional selling feature.  LCD/LED technology is by far the most popular television technology.

 

OLED

OLED stands for organic light emitting diodes and is a mix between the two technologies. OLED TVs have a similar construction to LCDs but they don’t need a back light, which means individual pixels can be turned on and off like plasmas. This produces greater color saturation and the ability to achieve true black. This technology is popular in cell phones due to its brightness and low power usage. OLEDs are significantly smaller allowing for super thin displays. While OLED is superior to LED in every way, quality comes at a price, making OLED TVs much more expensive.

 

QLED

QLED uses the same technology as OLED but uses a refined metal quantum dot material. This results in a larger color gamut, claims of blacker blacks, and most importantly color saturation regardless of brightness.  Typically color gets blown out when the brightness is enhanced, thus appearing white.

There is currently no information on price or release date available on QLED TVs.

2016 Tech Year In Review

2016 Tech Year In Review

Apple Vs FBI

The year started with a standoff when Apple challenged over 11 orders issued by US district courts requesting software that would allow the FBI to unlock an iPhone 5C.  The phone belonged to one of the terrorist who committed the San Bernardino attack that killed 14 people and injured another 22. Apple challenged the orders citing privacy concerns and fear of setting a precedent.  The rest of the tech world publically backed Apple.  Eventually the FBI used a 3rd party to gain access to the phone avoiding legal hearings. 

 

2016 New Phones

The three major tech companies in the US phone market made headlines this year.  Samsung released its Note 7 which critics were hailing as the best phone ever… until they started to spontaneously combust.  Samsung issued a massive recall giving customers a replacement phone which ultimately proved to be unsafe as well. Eventually cell phone carriers pushed updates that prevent the phones from charging.

Apple’s new iPhone is fully water proof with enhanced front and back cameras. The iPhone 7 Plus features a second back lens allowing for depth of field photos that rival low end DSLR cameras. However not everybody was thrilled about the disappearance of the headphone jack.  Apple announced their new headphones would connect via the lighting cable port or users could opt to go wireless with AirPods.

Google, the leader in smart phone software (Android), announced their first smart phone, the Google Pixel. Despite positive reviews across the board, the hardware has yet to gain mass popularity.

 

Social Media

Social media was in the news all year long. Vine was purchased by Twitter, however nobody is sure why since they essentially killed the service after buying it. Facebook introduced live streaming which wasn’t the instant trend they hoped it would be, but is slowly growing in popularity over the course of the year.

Twitter played a major role in all of the candidates’ campaigns, with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump leading their respective parties in retweets. So did fake news.  Facebook came under fire for allowing fake news articles to trend on their site.  The company has teamed up with legitimate news organizations to help identify fictitious articles.  

 

Amazon Echo Powered By Alexa

“Alexa” became a house hold name this year as the virtual assistant integrated with more and more smart home devices. Not only can Amazon Echo control DIY devices, but it integrates with Lutron and Control 4 as well. By the end of 2016 Alexa was no longer the only game in town with Google Home entering the market.

 

Pokémon Go

This summer, Pokémon Go proved that the world wanted augmented reality games.  The widely popular app was played by approximately 21 million users across the globe overloading servers.  While the game got people out and about and created a sense of unity among players it also led to trespassing, distracted drivers, and criminals using the Pokémon lures to lure unsuspecting victims. The fad quickly faded out toward the end of the summer.

 

VR Headsets

We had heard about virtual reality headsets for years and in 2016 they finally hit the market. However, there is a big price variation with the Samsung Gear VR starting at $97.98, the Play Station VR coming in at $399, Oculus Rift at $599.99, and HTC Vive topping out the list at $799. 

 

Self-Driving Cars

The race is on to see who can create the best self-driving car.  Industry leaders such as Tesla, Google, and Uber already have working prototypes in the field. Tesla announced that cars with a full autopilot feature will be available in 2017.

 

Amazon Go

Amazon Go is a test store in Settle Washington that is upgrading the grocery shopping experience. Customers tap their phones at the terminal, releasing the product while digitally adding it to their electronic tab. We’ll have to wait until next year to find out if there will be an Amazon Go coming to New York.  

 HOME TECHNOLOGY EXPERTS’ 2016 MUST HAVE TECH GIFTS LIST

HOME TECHNOLOGY EXPERTS’ 2016 MUST HAVE TECH GIFTS LIST

1. Guest Wi-Fi Network

Price: Varies

Many of our clients already have one and while it’s most likely the least exciting item on our list, it is also the number one must have item. There are a lot of incredible tech gadgets that we know you want to use, we love them too, but they come with huge security risks. Luckily protecting your home network and the personal information stored on your computers is really easy to do.  Just connect your Wi-Fi devices to your guest network.

 

2. VR Headset

Price: $98- $800

We have been talking about virtual reality headsets for over two years and this holiday season they have finally arrived.  Note they vary in price with Samsung Gear VR starting at $97.98, Oculus Rift at $599.99, and HTC Vive topping out the list at $799.  In our 2016 Top Tech Toys list we went with PlayStation VR which costs $399 since it works with an established gaming system. We suggest checking out this article from wearable.com as to which VR headset is best for you.

 

3. Amazon Echo (Powered By Alexa)

Price: $179, Dot: $49.99

This is really the first DIY smart home device that integrates with professionally installed systems. Through the use of Alexa (the name of the software, similar to Siri) high end homeowners can control their Lutron or Control 4 systems with their voice. While users can connect anddownload Lutron or Control 4 "skills" and connectEcho to their systems themselves, we do offer an Amazon Echo set up service, for clients who would like us to verify the integration and make any adjustments. To request set up you can email service@hteny.com.

 

Back in the day we took photographs that produced actual prints.  Whether you stored them in a well-documented album or kept them in a container, there was always a tangible copy of your memories.  That all changed with digital cameras and smart phones.  The majority of our pictures are being uploaded to various clouds but never exist as a physical photo. HP is looking to change that with its' line of mobile printers that work with iOS and Android devices. 

 

5. RFID Blocking Clothes

Price: $168

In an attempt to keep our financial information more secure, banks have been sending out new credit cards with chips in them.  While these chips may protect us at check out, they actually make us more vulnerable the rest of the time.  Identity thieves are using devices that can capture card information simply by standing next to us while our cards are in our purse or wallet.  Since this discovery, numerous RFID blocking wallets and bags hit the market varying greatly in price depending on designer. Now there is a solution for those who like to keep their card in their pocket. Fashion Company Betabrand has introduced READY Jeans.  These Norton protected trousers are lined with RFID blocking fabric while looking like classic denim.

 

6. Like a Glove

Price: $79.99

yoga pants.jpg

A new company, Likeaglove is aiming to do the impossible, help woman find the perfect pair of jeans. Likeaglove sells technology infused yoga pants that connect to their accompanying app. Simply put on the yoga pants and the sensors will take your measurements. It then compares your measurements to a database of denim manufactures to find which jeans will fit you perfectly.   

 

7. Nintendo NES

Price: $60

Although this is not cutting edge technology,  it made our must have list this year due to nostalgia. According to a recent ESA Report the average gamer is 38 years old, meaning they were first introduced to the original Nintendo during their youth.  Now grownup gamers can relive their childhood memories with Nintendo NES, a smaller replica of the original that comes loaded with 30 classic games.

What makes this technology different from all the other products we have ever written about is that users are excited to DOWNGRADE the quality of their experience opting for a display mode called CRT filter.  The filter makes HD and UHD television looks like old school CRT TVs with scan lines and all.

 

8. HTE Gift Card

Price: $50 and up

Are you thinking about getting a gift card for that one person who is impossible to shop for? Change it up a bit and give the gift of automation.  HTE gift cards can be used for any Home Technology Experts service and on the majority of our product. 

2016 TECH TOYS

2016 TECH TOYS

HOME TECHNOLOGY EXPERTS' 2016 TOP TECH TOYS

At Home Technology Experts, we geek out over all types of tech, not just the devices we use in our home designs. We like to share our finds with our clients and keep them informed of what's on the market.  This year we have created two separate gift guides, our Tech Toys list for the little ones and our Smart Gifts list, which is basically tech toys for adults.

WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT ALL WI-FI ENABLED TOYS AND DEVICES BE CONNECTED TO YOUR GUEST WIRELESS TO MAINTAIN THE SECURITY OF YOUR HOME NETWORK. 

IF YOU ARE UNSURE IF YOU HAVE A GUEST NETWORK PLEASE EMAIL SUPPORT@HTENY.COM AND ASK.

 
Hello Barbie Dreamhouse

1. Barbie Hello Dream House

$300

Admittedly, we are a bit biased, but what child wouldn’t love a voice controlled doll house?  Simply connect the toy to Wi-Fi and use the activation command “Hello Dreamhouse” to open and close doors, control the elevator, turn on the shower and transform the stairs into a slide (we are still waiting on that integration for our projects). Whether you use voice control for your Control4 and Lutron systems, or edit scenes via your Savant app, your little ones can be just like Mommy and Daddy.

 

2. PLAYSTATION VR

$399

The race for virtual reality has been on for the past two years.  It's no wonder that numerous companies all came out with headsets this holiday.  While they are all pretty cool, it looks like the ultimate deciding factor in the virtual reality experience will be hand controls.  At the moment, none of them have the perfect solution.  When choosing a Virtual Reality Headset, we chose the Playstation model since it already works with a well establish gaming system.

Play Station VR Home Technology Expetrs HTE Tech Toys.jpg
 

3. Osmo Coding

$49 (Additional $79 for Osmo Starter Kit)

We have been following Osmo since it was a prototype. Connect the Osmos attachment over an iPad lens, download the app, and your tablet allows your kids to interact with tangible objects that are recognized on screen.  Their newest game, Coding, allows children to snap coding blocks together to control creatures on the screen.

 
Sphero Battle-Worn BB-8

4. Sphero Battle-Worn BB-8 with Force Band

$200, Optional $80 Wearable

It may seem like deja vu, but the new and improved (and intentionally scuffed up) toy has made it through battle and is on the list again this year. With the SPRK+ app kids can write and run code for BB-8.  Add the wearable and they can control the robot with flicks of the wrist. When not controlling BB-8 the watch allows users to take part in an augmented reality collecting game which is a cross between the traditional card collecting and Pokémon Go.

 

5. Flybrix

$190, Optional Controller $80

Legos have been a Christmas list staple for decades, but this year they’re flying in like Santa’s reindeer. The kit comes with motors, sensors, propellers, and batteries. Kids can fly their creations by app, or an R/C remote.  If their piloting skills are a bit rusty, they can simply reconstruct their creation after the crash.  It’s so easy it’s child’s play.

 

6. Wilson X Connected Football (Jr Size)

$200

This Bluetooth football connects to an iOS app, tracking information from the sensors inside the ball to the app.  It has the ability to track a throw's distance, speed, and spiral tightness.  It also has a two-minute drill option as well as a game option.  When in game mode your kids will get personalized play by plays from the voice of announcer Gus Johnson.  The best part of game mode is the built in referee created by the sensors which can detect drops and gauge completed passes. 

 
Hatchanimals

7. Hatchanimals

$69.99

While not at the top of our tech toys list, Hatchanimals is arguably the hottest toy of the season.  The toy puts a new twist, or should we say shell, on a Christmas throwback, the Furbie. While the creature only hatches once, it can learn new skills and be reset and trained as many times as needed. 

 

 

8. Wiggy Piggy Bank

$60

This one is more of a lesson disguised as a cute pig and accompanying app.  The talking Bluetooth bank encourages kids to earn monetary rewards to reach their savings goals.  Have your child set a goal (perhaps the cost of the latest accessory for their new holiday gift) and then assign chores or accomplishments with a monetary value.  When your child completes the task the “money” goes into their “account”.  They even have the option of requesting additional tasks.