10 of the best gadget challenges – pt 2

The second part of our ten gadget commandments shows you how to automate your house and set up an Airplay network...

Last week we gave you the first part of our 'Ten of the best gadget challenges'. Now you've had a chance to do all of those, it's time to complete your transformation with the second half of our gadget to-do list:

6. Automate your home

Six steps to a Jetsons-like house:

1. Controller

You want true automated bliss? First you’ll need a control unit, such as the Control4 HC300 (from £860), which has to be professionally installed.

Then you'll need a controller. This could be a wall-mounted panel or Control4’s free iOS app, which allows you to monitor and manage all linked systems in your home from an iPhone or iPad. These include CCTV, video and music players, lighting, heating, your garage door and more.

2. Security

Keys are medieval. The Biolock IP-65 (£495) is a weatherproof fingerprint reader that allows for keyless entry. You can get iris or retina scanners for Demolition Man-style access, but they’re mainly for businesses – see meesons.com for details.

3. Entertainment

The seriously minted can get an Opus 500 multiroom AV system (from £5000); speakers built into the ceilings and touch panels in walls will pipe refined audio to every room, while video can be played out from a central device or server. For the rest of us, an AirPlay network will do a similar job.

4. Privacy

Silent Gliss automatic curtain rails (from £250) can be controlled by a Control4 system to open and switch on lights when anyone comes near – great for deterring burglars, but potentially terrifying for your parents if they pop round when you’re out.

An added bonus is that by timing them to open in the morning, you can give yourself a nice wake-up call, especially if you've also set your coffee machine to make you a steaming cuppa and your radio to kick into life with something suitably soothing.

5. Power

Most systems can monitor power use via an app or wall-mounted display, and because you can turn things on and off remotely, it's a lot easier to trim your bills. The wireless Z-Wave system (£poa) can detect when doors or windows are open and turn the thermostats down, to prevent heat being wasted.

6. Cleaning

A Samsung Navibot robot vacuum cleaner (£400) and a Scooba floor washing robot (£400) will do those tedious chores so you don't have to.

7. Go to a foreign music festival

Some of the world's greatest music festivals are here in Blighty, but cheaper festivals with guaranteed sun are pretty good too. Here's our top four (in no particular order):

Burning Man


Described by South Park’s Cartman as 'the biggest hippie festival in the world' (shortly before he destroys it), Burning Man is a two-hour drive into Nevada’s Black Rock desert, which makes it the only music festival held further from civilisation than Reading.

Primavera Sound


Barcelona can pretty much guarantee sun for its huge, eclectic early summer festival. Last year’s line up saw The Pixies, Pavement and Superchunk alongside upstarts such as 
The xx, Florence and The Machine, Broken Social Scene, Yeasayer and Beach House.



A Serbian festival which keeps winning awards for its superb acts, its incredible setting (in a massive fortress next to the Danube) and its genuinely anarchic atmosphere – it was founded as a political protest, rather than an excuse to sell beer. Although plenty of beer is available.

La Route du rock


A fairly small and gratifyingly cheap festival held in a ruined castle on the north coast of France, La Route du Rock draws more than its fair share of big names: it has hosted Sonic Youth, The Cure, CSS, the Flaming Lips, The National and MGMT in recent years.

8. Set up an Airplay network

Apple’s clever new Wi-Fi and Ethernet streaming system can send your iPhone’s photos to your Apple TV, whisk tunes from your iPad to your hi-fi and even form the cornerstone of a powerful multi-room music system. Like so…

1. Study

Here you could put an iMac (from £1000) running iTunes and managing your library. This is the cornerstone of your network, allowing you to select which AirPlay-connected kit you want to stream your music to.

2. Sitting room

The home of your grown-up hi-fi. Simply hook up an Apple AirPort Express (£80) to your big old analogue amp and it'll soon be playing new-fangled digital tunes as if it were a trendy youngster.

3. Bedroom

The ideal place for a Marantz Melody Media micro system (£500), which has AirPlay built in alongside CD playback, DAB and Wi-Fi radio.

4. Living room

The cornerstone of any high-end home cinema system is a good multichannel receiver, and Denon’s AVR4311 (£1895) is an AirPlay-equipped, 170Wx9-channel, 3D-ready beast of a machine.

5. Your hand

Install Apple's free Remote app on your iThing and you'll be able to control the volume of whatever you're streaming, room-by-room. Nice.

9. Turn your shed into a 3D cinema for under £2000

9. Turn your shed into a 3D cinema for under £2000

You’ve spent too long watching MTV Cribs and thinking “hmmm, I like what Kanye West has done with his second bedroom, but Snoop Dogg’s breakfast nook is to die for…”. Enough dreaming – it’s time to pimp your yard, and put 
a private (and reasonably affordable) 3D cinema in it.

1. Optoma HD67N

£600 | projectorpoint.co.uk

Mount a piece of board on one of your shed’s rafters as a sturdy, cinema-style overhead  mount for this 2000-lumen projector, which will output 3D Blu-rays and games at 720p when played out through the 3D-XL (see below).

2. Sony BDV-E370

£325 | amazon.co.uk

Its compact speakers won’t 
take up too much of your valuable shedroom, but this 5.1 system delivers a whacking great shedload of sound, and the 3D Blu-ray player is top notch.

3. Optoma 3D-XL

£250 | optoma.co.uk

A convertor that turns the output from your 3D Blu-ray player or PS3 into a signal the projector can understand and play out in 3D. Helpfully, it comes with a pair of active shutter 3D glasses too.

4. Project X paint

£75 | projectorscreenpaint.co.uk

To get the biggest possible screen in your shed-i-plex, you’ll need to build a custom screen that completely fills one wall. Cut some MDF board (£10, diy.com) to fit the space, then coat it with this highly reflective paint, creating a bright, rigid, perfectly flat screen.

5. Retro Popcorn maker

£25 | prezzybox.com

If you’re one of those people for whom the experience of seeing huge battles on alien worlds in glorious 3D just isn’t stimulating enough, try munching your way through a bucket of expanded maize. Mmmm… salty.

6. Seats

£540 | stores.ebay.co.uk/mycinemauk

Cinema seats are made in large numbers for the big chains, 
and what’s left over from the production run often ends up 
on eBay. We found proper, new cinema seats selling at £540 for 
a set of four at the time of writing.

Total: £1825

10. Migrate from laptop to tablet

Be honest: how often do you edit video in Adobe Premiere? The power latent in every modern laptop is rarely, if ever, exploited, and most people spend their time on Facebook duty while half-watching a tearful exchange on Eastenders.

Even if you use your laptop for work, that ‘work’ generally amounts to checking your calendar, answering emails and typing a line or two into a spreadsheet.

If this sounds familiar, it’s time to cut the cord and ditch the keyboard. It may lack Flash support, but the iPad 2 (£TBC, due 25th March) offers a browsing experience more entertaining than a laptop’s. You’ll find yourself playing amazing games like Rage HD (£1.19) instead of wasting your life working out who stole whose baby in the soaps.

You can create and edit Google Docs through the browser, or download a proper editor such as Documents To Go Premium (£10). You can get both personal and work email, although you will need to learn to only have one message open at a time.

'But I need the keyboard,' you might say. Add a Bluetooth-equipped key-tapper such as the aluminium-clad ZAGGmate (US$110) and you can type properly. 'But I need to show presentations,' you might counter. The Apple iPad 2 dock to VGA adaptor (£25) is up to that. “But I need an iTunes-running computer to keep the iPad up to date and to load on my media.” Well, yes. We didn’t say throw away your laptop, did we?