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Home automation for dummies

The question of how to encourage readers to get more from their PCs comes up regularly at computer magazines’ monthly features meetings.

One topic surfaces more than most: home automation. Products that enable you to switch your lamps on and off, open and close your curtains and turn on your oven remotely, all from the discomfort of your PC, have been available for years and PC magazine journalists, at least, have thoroughly enjoyed playing with them.

But the problem is, the various products out there have never been easy to get to grips with and the best systems have come at a premium. The only way the concept is ever going to take off is if the suppliers of these products are able to make home automation a truly plug-and-play experience.

Harmony Systems came in to PC Advisor’s office yesterday promising to be that company. Representatives demonstrated the £150 Harmony Starter kit, which is designed to provide PC users with their first taste of home automation.

There are a few setup hurdles to negotiate in the current product – it’s good, but it’s not completely plug and play - but the company plans to roll out an idiot-proof version at the end of January. Take up could be boosted by Intel’s backing. PCs adhering to Intel’s Viiv standard will soon ship with a trial of Harmony’s software, keeping home automation in the minds of those that buy Intel-based media centre systems at least.

We can’t make any promises about the simplicity of the new product at this stage - look for a full review in PC Advisor in the new year – but for those of you interested in home automation at its (extremely) basic level, it might be worth trying out the £25 Bye Bye Standby kit.

This comes in the form of a plug adaptor, into which you plug one of your household devices, and a wireless switch. Place the switch somewhere convenient, hit the button and it turns off whatever’s plugged into the adaptor. I started using one last night - my TV, NTL box and DVD player are all plugged into one socket, and now I can switch them all off in one go without having to reach behind the TV. It’s not the ultimate in home automation, but it could be your first step.

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