While the computer-controlled home is probably still a few years off due to the cost and complexity of whole-house control systems, the machines are rapidly working their way from the home office into entertainment spaces. You'll be seeing a lot more about computers and entertainment in the months to come because big media companies are offering their hit programs over the Internet. Consumers are going to want to get those shows from their computer onto their TV set, and they are not going to do it by burning DVDs. The way to do this is to use a PC as a central media server throughout the home.
To date, media servers are found only in the most high-end, technologically advanced digital homes. They are still constrained by the bandwidth requirements of video, particularly high-definition video, and the copyright protection that is built into DVDs and programs that are available legally over the air, on cable or satellite, or on the Web. Wireless technology cannot handle HD video; nor can CAT 5 or CAT 6 when copy-protection protocols are taken into account. Even standard definition video is not at its best when transmitted over even a high-speed wireless network. Currently, there are three ways to go: fiber, coax, or DVI/HDMI cables over short runs.
Audio is another matter. Lennar Homes Southern California Division has built a program around Apple's 14-inch G4 iBook lap-top, which, as any user of Apple's OS X operating system will tell you, is a media machine that will not only play your music and movies, it will help you make them from scratch, should you be so inclined. Windows Media Center Edition notwithstanding, there's a reason moviemakers use Macs and accountants use PCs.
From the laptop, music can be directed to any room in the house. The family room, dining room, and an outdoor entertainment space are all pre-wired with speakers (the family room is wired and fitted with speakers for surround sound). Other rooms can be added. The systems are standard in all homes in six of the eight neighborhoods (of the other two, one is income-restricted and another is being done with custom homes from Barratt American Homes). Coupled with Apple's iTunes Music Store, home buyers can pretty much buy any music they want (except for Led Zeppelin and the Beatles), organize it and play it all over the house without leaving the laptop.
A factor in making the decision to offer the G4-based program? “Lennar's regional vice president, Mike Levesque enjoyed using his Apple computer at home,” said Lennar Division president Jennifer Bonasia.
Apple has introduced its new MacBook laptop, which runs on an Intel Dual Core processor that is reported by impartial reviewers to be twice as fast as the G4. And it will run Windows. For any builder interested in a flexible wireless way to port audio around a house, this setup might be of interest.