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New affordable wireless devices from loads of manufactures are now on the market to enable you to put together your own Home Automation System easily and without breaking the bank.

I work in the home automation sector. My company is a custom installers of home automation equipment. We control everything in your home from your lights, curtains/blinds, air conditioning and doors, to your TV, HiFi and media library. It’s not cheap. And although my company is extremely competitive, our solutions are targeted at errr…. shall we say above average income earners.

Also the type of home automation solutions we install are to a degree retro installable, but mainly aimed at new build where we can run lots of lovely cable around your home before you decorate.

There will always be demand for the type of system we design and install, but new technology advances are bringing home automation into the range of normal people, with normal incomes and normal homes that they already live in. Like me.

As I arrive at my apartment my lighting knows from my phone location that I am home, and by the time I open my front door my hall lights are on to welcome me. I can walk into my living room and simply say “Alexa Living Room lights on” and presto my lights are on. Then say “Alexa play ABBA Greatest Hits” and like magic Dancing Queen starts playing through the speakers in the room.

I could go on and on about things I can do in my home. But I won’t. I think you get the idea.

The thing is the technology is starting to emerge and is affordable and useable. It’s still early days and mostly being adopted by technical enthusiasts like me. But as time moves on this will become standard in more and more non techi homes.

You can start by ordering a Phillips Hue starter kit. I got mine on Amazon and had it delivered to me here in Qatar. It costs £150 (QR 670) and includes three colour LED light

Phillips Hue Starter Kit
Phillips Hue Starter Kit

bulbs and a device called a bridge. This will allow you to control three ceiling lights from your phone. You can put them all in one room or put them in 3 different rooms. You can also screw them into floor standing or bedside light fittings. You can then create lighting scenes and control them from your phone. You can add more bulbs as your confidence grows, and like me add wireless buttons to add more traditional control by placing them on the wall next to existing light switches, or stick them on your bedside cabinet. Additional Phillips Hue LED light bulbs cost £15 (QR 67) for dimmable white, or £50 (QR 223) for a full colour dimmable bulb. Everything is wireless so no need to run cables around your home.

Next you can order yourself some Amazon Echo Dot’s. They cost £50 each (QR 223). Or if you prefer the high quality audio option Amazon Echo at £150 (QR 670) each. I personal started by ordering three Echo Dot’s and placed one in my living room, one in my bedroom and one in my bathroom.

amazon-echo-dot
Amazon Echo Dot

These little devices are just the beginning of what we can expect as being normal in homes of the near future. They sit these and listen for a command word, in my case “Alexa”. Once they here this they wait for you to give them an instruction or ask them a question. They have built in speakers that respond with your answers, confirmations and play music you have selected. All wirelessly except for a USB style power cable. And they integrate seamlessly with Phillips Hue lighting.

amazon-echo
Amazon Echo

Examples of things I can get Alexa to do are; “Alexa turn on Living Room Light”, “Alexa Dim Living Room Light”, “Alexa play the latest album by Cold Play”, “Alexa tell me a joke”, “Alexa what is 100 ounces in milligrams”, “Alexa who stared in the movie Top Gun”. You can also set reminders by saying “Alexa set timer for 10 minutes” or “Alexa set alarm for 7am”. Now you can control your home without pressing a single button or reaching for your smart phone. Which is why I love the one in the bathroom because it’s easy to change what I am listening to, or adjusting the volume while in the shower. And because Alexa has access via the internet to all TuneIn Radio stations, I like listening to radio stations back in the UK.

The good news is that more and more companies are producing more and more devices that will talk to each other and work together. Standards are being established for manufacturers to adopt and so you will be able to control more and more aspects of your home in more and more ways.

If like me you buy the Phillips Hue and Amazon Echo, you can add Samsung devices that will control wall sockets so you can turn a fan or a kettle on. You can add sensors for security or convenience, and you can check the status of devises while you are away. Add security cameras, or thermostats. You can keep building your home automation system as you identify your needs and at an affordable pace.

Trust me this is the dawning of a new age in the modern home.

Feel free to contact me if I can help you with anything.

 

 

 

 

New easy way to use your Online TV Box’s without a VPN Router!

Ok so I have written about getting UK and US TV content here in Qatar before. And to use devices like NOW TV or Amazon Fire TV here you need a VPN Router. The Routers are hard to get in Qatar, and either involve paying a lot of money or getting someone who is a tech-head to sort it out for you. And VPN Routers tend to be slow causing buffering issues in the middle of something you are watching at certain times of the day.

GOOD NEWS!!

I have now found a much better way of doing it. No VPN! Instead you use something called Magic DNS. This gives you the full bandwith ooredoo or Vodafone are supplying you with to stream your TV channels. It’s super fast with no buffering. I can’t tell you how much better than VPN it is.

Ok it’s not free, it costs $40 (QAR 142) a year. But you can get a totally free 7 day trial by following this link Magic DNS then click on the Magic DNS link at the top of the page.

It’s super quick and easy to setup with no hardware to purchase (well as long as you know the Admin password for your existing router that is). But if you are having any problems get in touch with Barzan Digital located in Al Jazeera st, Bin Mahmoud, Doha and they will sort you out. They can even register you for Magic DNS using cash if you are having problems making payments online. And can help you configure your existing router if you are having problems with that as well (but I repeat, you must know your routers Admin password).

 

I have been in Qatar nearly 6 years. For the first 2 I had no TV at all, and for the last 4 I have had OSN. I had the full OSN package to start with, then last year cut it down to a QR 200 package, because I didn’t consider it good value. 12 months on I got fed up with the English channels I had on OSN mainly being repeats over and over again. So I decided it was time to look at my options for bringing proper UK TV to me here in Qatar.

NOW TV - Amazon Fire TV

I already have a SKY subscription, an Amazon Prime subscription and also a Netflix account. But watching these on a computer/tablet, or having to plug the computer into my TV was so inconvenient I hardly ever used them. As I dearly wanted to cancel my OSN subscription and give them back their box, I decided I would bite the bullet and order an  Amazon Fire TV

Through my wonderful Aramex Shop & Ship account I received it within a week, hooked it up to my TV and my VPN router which points to the UK and voilà. I was instantly mega disappointed I hadn’t bought one of these ages ago. OMG I was shocked at how good it was. Within hours I had disconnected my OSN box and set it aside for collection. Live streaming UK Sky News, plus the opportunity to pick and choose on demand Sky News articles to watch. BBC iPlayer which on its own gives me more content than I can possibly watch in a week, Demand 5 which I really wanted for the Gadget Show and much, much more. Plus it has Netflix as well, and as soon as I entered my account details I had all that lovely Netflix content available to me. And last but not least all the Amazon Prime movies and TV shows as well. I didn’t know what to watch next.

Anyway being greedy, I then decided to order a NOW TV box from Sky. This arrived yesterday, and now I have really over done it. Seriously I am now on TV overload. All the UK terrestrials are represented. Live TV streaming and on demand content. Last night I enjoyed Britain’s Got Talent followed by Game of Thrones series 5. I was enjoying a typical UK weekend TV viewing experience along with some nice snacks, and I was loving it.

The costs:-

TV Subscriptions

Amazon Prime Membership £79 per year (£6.58 / QR 37 a month)

Netflix £5.99 a month (QR 34)

NOW TV Entertainment Pass £6.99 per month (QR 40)

TV Hardware

Fire TV Set Top Box £79 (QR 444)

NOW TV Set Top Box £34.99 including 6 month Entertainment Pass (QR 197)

VPN Subscription

Strong VPN $55 a year (QR 44 a month)

VPN Hardware

Linksys E900 QR 169

UPDATE: New easy way to use your Online TV Box’s without a VPN Router! Click Here

Ok here is the bad news; you need a VPN Router to connect these two box’s to. And VPN routers cannot be bought pre-configured here in Qatar. However you can buy a Linksys E900 from Jarir Bookstore for QR 169 and install software called Tomato or more specifically flash the routers bios with it. Tomato is free but you may struggle to install it yourself. I got a friendly Audio Visual company to set mine up for me (Barzan Digital Tel:5013 4502 ask for Joseph).

Once your configured Linksys E900 router is plugged into your existing home WiFi router you are in business. Anything you plug into the E900 appears to be located in the UK, and if you connect devices to it using its WiFi such as a tablet, that appears to be in the UK as well. Now you can connect NOW TV and Amazon Prime Set Top Box’s to your E900 and they will work just like they do back in the UK.

My total monthly cost including VPN, Netflix, NOW TV and Amazon Prime is QR 155. My rubbish OSN account was costing me QR 200 a month. I am happy big style 🙂