Over 5 years have passed since my original article on my lounge room. In it, I explained how I had voice controlled most of the entertainment equipment in the room. Using the technology, even in these early stages, made it clear to me that I wanted to continue using voice control into the future, so I continued to pursue it. The system made accessing TV, movies, music and games so much simpler and easier to use. I tell the system what I want it to do and it does it.
Where my setup may have looked primitive 6 years ago; using an 17 year old TV, and even older speakers, these were purely aesthetic and the same principles have now been transferred to a newer home entertainment system. I have since purchased a house and extended it to create my lounge room as I wanted. All the components I knew would be necessary to make the system work reliably are in place. What I did not see at the time was the range of things this technology would make possible throughout the rest of the home.
While a number of voice controlled systems have come to the market in recent years, I have not found a reason to include them in my system. None of these systems are able to do all the things I want my system to do now, nor cater for me as I delve deeper into the future. To be fair, they are not designed for this purpose.
There are a number of other reasons why my system better suits my needs:
- The system does not lock me into using certain brands
- It can be modified to cater for any new features I think of into the future
- Voice recognition is mostly processed in house so it responds much faster
- It provides complete privacy as no voice or activity data is sent out of the house
- Advertising is removed from all entertainment
- No ongoing subscription fees
- It works throughout much of the house
- One command to achieve the majority of tasks
- Works when the TV is off or when the speakers are at a high volume
There is a lot of technology in use here that I have not seen elsewhere. There are a number of new concepts and products that combine to make an extremely powerful system. This article is a roundup of all the articles I have written about the technology which I have placed in my lounge room. The video below shows what you may be able to achieve in your own home.
By implementing all of the articles below, you are able to achieve a fully voice controlled entertainment system and start putting technology in place for a voice controlled home. Many of the components you will already have such as a TV and a computer. Combining these with a microphone, free software and a bit of patience, you will be able to acheive what I believe to be the most powerful control system that there will be in the foreseeable future.
|My Projects: My Home Theatre PC: I wanted a computer to look after all of my entertainment. By using a computer, the options of what I can make the system do are almost limitless. Windows Media Center works as a single place to access my music, movies and TV. To keep the system able to deliver all its power for playback and voice control, a second machine records up to four TV channels at once, removing commercials and downloading meta data. As new recordings are processed, the system synchronises and copies the recordings to the other computers in the house, making the load time almost instantaneous.|
|How-to: Voice control Windows Media Center: I came to the conclusion that voice controlling the system would be the best way to control the room. This article explains how I went about getting the computer to respond to my voice. It is based upon Windows Speech Recognition Macros and it works really well. The system also has a brain, so it knows which devices need to be turned on or off to carry out the command. There is no way that I will go back to using a traditional remote after seeing how easy it is to control the system with voice. Once I got used to it, traditional remote controls felt very dated and a hassle to use. Updated scripts coming soon.|
|My Projects: My Gadget – One button to control everything around the house: I needed a way to trigger the voice control system so that the system knew when it should start listening to my voice. Without a trigger, the computer would listen to everything, unable to decipher if I was talking to it or another family member. It also serves the purpose of turning the volume of the TV down so that the microphone would pick up my voice instead of the sound coming out of the TV itself, no matter the playback volume. To do this task, I needed a one button IR remote. I was unable to find one on the market, so I made my own by altering the open source TV-B-Gone kit. I have since created a number of other triggers, though my gadget is the only technology that works across all the rooms using the same button.|
|How to: Control TV, VCR, DVD, cable and more with voice using USB-UIRT: By using the voice control systems above, I was still lacking the means to turn on my TV and stereo with my voice. That is where the USB-UIRT comes into play. It is an infra red receiver and transmitter that can send codes as defined by the computer. By using a USB-UIRT, I am able to walk into the room, trigger the voice control and then follow that with the voice command “TV on”. This in turn will turn the TV and stereo on. An added advantage of this is that it can be programmed to control my other audio visual gear and a number of appliances. This is a fantastic, but little known piece of hardware. I have not seen it used in this capacity before, though it is perfect for the job.|
|How-to: Use an arcade controller in your chair to trigger voice control: I wanted an instant way to trigger the voice control of my home theatre PC as my gadget would have been annoying to find and use regularly, no matter it’s size and ease of use. I figured that the best way to trigger the voice control would be to have a button directly next to my hand while I was sitting in my chair. I achieved this with an arcade controller and an arcade button. The results are everything I hoped they would be. I can control everything electronic in my lounge room/house from my chair using the single button and my voice.|
|My Projects: Add lights above the TV to show when voice control is active: (Coming soon) It came clear early on that I needed to have some way of showing when voice control was listening. I tried to show an icon on the screen to show that the system was listening, but I was unable to get it to appear across all programs. I also found that I didn’t always want to turn the TV on to turn on other appliances in the room. By adding lights above the TV, I could see if the system was listening to me and see if the system had recognised my commands. It works in a similar way to a radio “on air” light.|
|My Projects: My Remote: (Coming Soon) I wanted an easy way to control the system as I entered the room. While voice control works well, it is nice to be able to set up a DVD or a game before sitting down on the lounge. My Remote serves this purpose. It gives me control of almost everything in the house through a touch screen. My Remote is simple for guests to use where the computer has not been set up to their voice yet. It also comes in handy if there is noise in the house.|
|My Projects: My Phone Remote: (Coming soon) It seems to be on trend now, that everyone wants to control their house with their phone. I have set up buttons on my Windows phone home screen to trigger voice control in various rooms, launch application, and control appliances. I very seldom use it, but it works well. I find it most useful when I am outside or away from home, i.e. if I am in the garden, I can turn the kettle on and have it boiling before I reach the room. These are places where voice control is not currently possible, or at least not yet practical.|
More to come…
- Microphone: While voice control will work with a cheap microphone, it is clearly more reliable with a high quality microphone with a noise gate. By putting in a substantial microphone network throughout the house, I am able to switch microphones from the various rooms to the appropriate computer.
- Speaker Placement: There are a number of articles online about correct speaker placement. By placing speakers correctly, media playback is improved considerably.
- HDMI switchers/splitters: These let the video and audio to be routed to the various screens in the house.
- Fast network: All the computers are connected with gigabit Ethernet, making synchronisation across computers work at an optimal speed. The network always has bandwidth available for when I need it most.
- Technology hidden away: Not only does this make the room look tidier, it reduces a great deal of the noise computers generate. It has also made the connection of computers over the network and AV signals much simpler.
Does it work?
In short, this entire system works very well. It is reliable and I am confident I will be using it in one form or another throughout the rest of my life. There is no easier way to control my lounge room than using my voice.
The scripts I have written are not yet perfect, though they have had many hundreds of hours of work done on them. Thousands of hours work have gone into this system. Each time I purchase a new game or appliance, I choose to spend some time to program it into the system. On a positive note, the time saved is far greater than the time it would take to manually turn that appliance on or off over the next 10 or so years.
When I initially setup my lounge room 7 years ago, I knew I was onto something good. Now, having invested both time and money into the project, I am very happy with the result. I use the system daily and now can’t remember how it used to be. I hope that others can benefit from the technology and experience what this technology can do for them.
While this project may be a bit geeky for some, my aim was to explain how to do this so it would be cost effective and simple enough for anyone interested enough to achieve in their home. This is why the articles go into great detail.
If you liked this article, please stick around and check out some of the other articles I have written at Inspect My Gadget.