Just by virtue of their locations, home offices are already straddling the line between business and personal life. Some home-office entrepreneurs may let their children surf on a work computer or may spend some time with their feet up and a laptop in the living room. A host of new product offerings from major hardware manufacturers is blurring the line even more. Companies like Gateway, Samsung and Sony are throwing their weight behind items such as LCD TVs that can double as computer monitors. Even Epson has introduced a widescreen-TV and photo-printer combination.
The convergence of home-entertainment consumer electronics and business hardware is fertile ground. It's also a new area for most home-office users. The goal is to make both your personal and work lives easier, more convenient and more enjoyable. Going this route isn't necessarily suitable for entrepreneurs who like to keep a tall wall up between the two. But those who go in for a more flexible work and personal lifestyle could get a lot of use out of a media server, entertainment PC or TV-enabled monitor.
Naturally, there are devices that can help hook everything up and make them all talk over a network. Theoretically, that sounds great: Your LCD TV could display your PC desktop in the living room, while your stereo plays MP3s so you can work with your wireless keyboard and mouse on your couch for a few hours. The main piece of hardware that enables this is the media server. One example is HP's $129 Digital Media Receiver EW500, which uses 802.11b to pull music and picture files from networked computers to a TV and stereo.
Jon Peddie, president of technology marketing and management consulting firm Jon Peddie Research in Tiburon, California, has been studying home-entertainment convergence for years. With so many different standards and types of consumer electronics and computer systems, the reality of dealing with media servers is that they can be very difficult to set up. Says Peddie, "It's an absolute pain. It sometimes takes days and often requires phone calls to the factory." Still, with an investment of less than $200, some home-office users may feel up to the challenge.
Other devices on the market also take advantage of the connected-home concept. Gateway has been trailblazing in this area for some time. Their $199 Wireless Connected DVD Player uses 802.11g to stream photos, music and video files to your TV. Home-office users who work with these formats may enjoy the ability to access them on a larger-format display or higher-fidelity speakers.
Besides beaming your work onto your TV, Peddie sees even more room for beaming TV onto your PC monitor. LCD computer monitors with built-in TV tuners fill this niche. "If you want a quick CNN or Oprah hit, you can pop open that window and [watch]," says Peddie. Prices have come down quite a bit on these monitors; and, best of all, you won't have to leave your desk to get caught up on news, stocks or Antiques Roadshow.
Entertainment PCs are another approach. These machines are specialized to handle multimedia files and are best suited for entrepreneurs who want to keep their entertainment files and programs separate from their business files and programs. "A home office will embrace [an entertainment PC] to the point that it doesn't interfere with the primary business computer and that the home-office operator can afford to have a stand-alone system," says Peddie. If you need another computer for your family anyway, an entertainment PC can pull double duty to bring you music or multimedia while you're working.
Home-office entrepreneurs who adopt these convergence technologies may not end up with a radical alteration of their current work and entertainment lifestyles, but rather a more convenient and flexible way to go about it. It certainly doesn't have to be a distraction to your business. If done right, it can be a real boon to your productivity. After all, as Peddie says, "We all sneak a little entertainment in from time to time, don't we?"