Latest and Greatest Tech Toys For the Home

Electrolux’s front-loading washer/dryer from AUTCOHome does an entire load of laundry…wash and dry cycles…in 36 minutes. Photo courtesy of AUTCOHome

   Those of us who haven’t outgrown toys are in luck. These days, a dazzling variety of innovative gadgets are on the market, designed to make our lives easier, more creative…and more fun. Here, a trio of local experts tell us what’s new.

Joan Hart, AUTCOHome

    “One of the newest, most exciting things out there is induction cooking, where heat is produced by magnetic technology that creates a force between the pot or pan and the cooktop surface,” Hart says. Although it’s been around for a while in Europe and in restaurant kitchens, it’s been too expensive for home use, until recently. “Most manufacturers, including Wolf and Electrolux, now offer some form of induction cooking, and competition is driving down prices,” she says.

    Induction cooking is even more responsive than gas, Hart notes. “You can bring ice cubes to a boil in just over a minute, or take liquid from a boil to a simmer immediately,” she says. “It’s 100 percent energy efficient and green because the energy goes into the pan and the food, no heat circulates outside the vessel. You can’t accidently set a towel or potholder on fire, because there’s no heating element as such. You can remove the pan and the cooking surface won’t be hot, the burner doesn’t conduct heat without a pan on it.”

    Hart also is impressed by the innovative 18-minute wash-and-dry cycles in Eloctrolux’s new frontloading washer/dryer. “You can do an entire load of laundry in 36 minutes,” she says. “It’s what technology promises but doesn’t always deliver, a tool that saves time and makes our lives easier.”

Brian Morris, Imagine Multimedia Systems

    “One of the strongest trends I’m seeing is integrated, whole-house remote control systems becoming much more powerful at a lower price point,” Morris says. “You can now integrate and operate your heating, cooling, lights, whatever, from the same system. That’s nothing new, but it’s becoming more affordable. Systems that once cost tens of thousands of dollars are now available for a few thousand. Across the board, we’re seeing more features for less money.”

       Morris cites Crestron’s new Prodigy line as an example. “It’s targeted at the entry-level, lower-price-point client, but the quality is still top-of-the-line,” he says. “It’s not a ‘plug and play’ system, you still need to get it custom installed, but it’s incredibly user-friendly.”

    Whole-house entertainment systems may be the biggest trend of all. “Five years ago, everyone wanted a home theater or a media room; today, whole-house accessibility is the key,” Morris says. “People want real-world solutions, they want to access through a single system their DVR box, music servers, DVDs and MP3 players, whatever. We’re mobile these days. No one wants to congregate in designated rooms to watch movies or listen to music. Media needs to follow us, whether we’re in the bedroom or on the patio.”

Phil McHenry, The Screening Room

    “Green is the thing right now,” McHenry says. “We’re designing and installing energy-efficient lighting systems that can be controlled and accessed from anywhere in the house. When we calibrate the system, we set it at 80 percent instead of 100, then use dimmer keypads instead of a standard, one-size-fits-all light switch. This adds up to a savings of anywhere from 7 to 14 percent on your electric bill, depending on the size of your home, and your light bulbs last three times as long.”

    Consumers also can save energy by using a whole-house heating-and-cooling system, he adds. “If you know you’ll be home at 5:30 p.m., you can set the air-conditioning to stay at 78 degrees for most of the day and gradually switch to 74, so the house is cooler by the time you get home,” he says. “You can easily program it to respond differently Monday through Friday than it does on weekends.”

    But his favorite new ‘toy’ is the ‘flick and float’ portable movie screen by Open Air Cinemas. “It’s like those bouncy houses you see at kids’ birthday parties,” he explains. “You blow it up into a 9-foot screen and set it up outdoors, by the pool or in the yard. It comes with two speakers and a projector, and you can either buy it or arrange for a weekend rental. The sound and image quality are outstanding.”