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Tech For Home and Work

The urge to converge is upping the entertainment value of home offices everywhere.
March 17, 2006
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/84004

Entrepreneurs aren't nine-to-five types of people. When you run a business, work shows up at all hours. Work life and home life blur together. And now work technology and home technology are teaming up to make business owners' lives more functional, conven-ient and enriching. It's the long-awaited conver-gence of computer and entertainment networks.

Imagine your computer talking to your TV and stereo, beaming your MP3 collection into the home office and recording your favorite news program for you to watch later. Putting all that technology together can seem a little daunting, but recent innovations make setup simpler than ever. We caught up with an entrepreneur who dived right in to computer/entertainment convergence. Let's check out his home system to see what sort of technology you might find useful.

Nerve Center
Ephraim Cohen founded his New York City PR firm, The Fortex Group , in 2003, and he's been plenty busy ever since. His business extends from his office to his house--and so does his entertainment.

"At the center, there's a PC with a fast processor, a 250GB hard drive and the newest version of Microsoft Media Center. It's the nerve center of everything I do," says Cohen, 35. He also fitted his PC with a TV tuner and a 19-inch flat-panel monitor so he can watch his favorite shows in comfort.

"Having one strong desktop PC to act as the central server for everything makes life easier because it's easier to back up and coordinate everything you have at home," says Cohen, whose company had $1.2 million in 2005 sales. The media center concept lets Cohen control everything from home movies to audio to photos with a remote control. He even admits to watching recorded news programs while he works. TiVo is a popular way to digitally record TV programs, and now multipurpose computers with digital video recorders are catching up to the trend.

Over at Intel , the longstanding PC media center concept is evolving into a more capable feature set called ViiV. ViiV (rhymes with five) is a combination of hardware and software in one easy-to-use PC setup. "It can run your business," says Michael Taylor, marketing man-ager for Intel Digital Home, "and you can use it for all [forms of] entertainment--music, video, pictures or accessing unique content on the internet."

ViiV is a sign of the simplification of the computing and entertainment convergence process. "Everything will be customized to work at a 10-foot user interface," says Taylor. The aim is to make managing your digital media as straightforward as changing the channel on your TV.

Networking
Every nerve center needs a network. Co-hen went with a high-speed, MIMO-fortified 802.11g router that turns his whole house into an extension of his media center PC. MIMO beams data farther and faster than 802.11g, enabling the new convergence technologies without the hassle of stringing wires between rooms.

Cohen's technology system includes VoIP. He uses his laptop, wireless network and cable internet connection to place business phone calls to Europe and Asia without racking up huge charges.

Among the other snazzy extras you can add to your network is the Netgear Storage Central SC101. This stand-alone connects to your network wirelessly, but shows up in Windows as an attached hard drive. It can handle your photos, videos, games and music, as well as your business documents and records. It also lets you make certain files private so your family can share the device. An alternative is Iomega's StorCenter Network Hard Drive, which is touted as a multimedia hub and offers a tera-byte of space. A host of other servers and storage solutions are hitting the market, so keep an eye out for the latest options.

And don't forget backup. "My files from work get backed up to the PC, and that PC gets backed up to another drive," says Cohen. He uses a Mirra backup device, as well as a program called FolderShare to sync between his home PC and laptop so he can work on either with ease. As entrepre-neurs pile up memory-hungry media files, attaching storage to your network will be a must.

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Cohen's home office doesn't look like a home office. With its comfy couch, it also doubles as a TV room. And he uses a streaming music device to play all the music on his PC through the stereo downstairs.

In the gaming realm, Cohen has the media extender software to go with his Xbox, which is in another room entirely. However, the new Xbox 360 comes with extender technology already built in. It allows users to view Windows Media Center content, including video, through their Xbox console.

It's not all fun and games in Cohen's home office--there's some serious work being done, too. His PC--which is connected to a shared multifunction laser printer and fax machine--just happens to be the hub for his home entertainment as well.

On the Go
Cohen uses the Orb Networksservice to give wings to the media he usually accesses from his home PC. The service works with any media.

"At work, I often watch the news by connecting to my home PC through My Orb," says Cohen. He can also watch on his stereo-capable SMT-5600 Audiovoxphone. "When I'm stuck in airports, I log in and watch TV on my phone." The video iPod also satisfies the demand to carry moving pictures with you. And Epsonhas jumped in with its P-4000 Multimedia Storage Viewer. With these devices, home entertainment is no longer confined to your home.

Diving In
Converging your work and entertainment technology is sure to make your life easier and more enjoyable. "My favorite [perk] is having one system for everything. I don't want it to look like a techie house," says Cohen. "I like the technology to be hidden, but to work well."

What all this innovation boils down to is control. "It's part of the entrepreneurial spirit," says Taylor. "[Entrepreneurs have] always wanted to be able to control things--their destinies and their businesses. And now they're going to be able to control their entertainment."

Windows Shopping
Longtime rivals have kissed and made up a new Treo. Palmhas shown its own OS the door and invited Windows Mobile 5.0 to come on over. Treo on Windows marries Palm's popular Treo form factor to the undeniably familiar Windows interface and applications. A pocket-size PC now powered by an Intel processor, it embraces Microsoft Office essentials like Excel, Internet Explorer Mobile, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word. It even cozies up to Exchange Server 2003. Available exclusively through Verizon, the new smartphone can tap Verizon's speedy EV-DO network, further blurring the lines between office, home, phone and computer.

Pixie Printer
If you need output on the go, the Brother MPrintMW-140BT can deliver quick black-and-white prints from the palm of your hand. This wireless thermal printer costs $399 (street), is only about a half-inch thick and weighs just 10 ounces. The MPrint uses cassettes with A7-size paper (4.1 by 2.9 inches), two-ply carbons or labels. But standard-size documents are converted to A7 in software, making this printer perfect not only for snapshots, but also for quick documents from your laptop beamed via a Bluetooth connection. The MPrint's lithium-ion battery is good for up to 100 continuous pages between recharging.

Walk This Way
What Sony once did for radios, it now wants to do for phones. Push a button on the side of the Sony Ericsson W800i Walkman Phone, and it will play your MP3s. Push twice to listen to FM radio--a rarity even among MP3 players. There are the usual radio tuning features to navigate to your favorite radio station, and a 512MB Memory Stick will bolster W800i's internal 34MB storage. Flip it sideways to get a great 2-megapixel camera with shutter button and 4x digital zoom that feels like a stand-alone digital camera. Oh, and W800i makes phone calls, too.