Knights of IOT User Quest: 4K No way! Challenges with 4K

We’ve loved writing about our own escapades with smart devices in our own homes and we really try to make it user friendly and most importantly – HUMAN. These devices have to form part of our lives and integrate with everyone in the home not just the tech lovers and developers.
With that, we sometimes get contacted for our advice or recommendations. It’s great to hear from you and we love to be involved, as every scenario is different. Here’s one below we thought we would write up

“One thing that strikes me odd/annoying is that 4k TV’s tend to have just one HDMI port that supports it and it isn’t configured by default.
With consoles coming along with 4k (and potentially 8k) functionality, I find that I could have 2 consoles and Apple TV that support it.”

Gary- The Quest Giver

Trying to think about a solution for something like this, involves a few aspects, let’s explore them. Firstly, thinking about the ecosystem(s) that are at play and how they are compatible. Secondly, thinking about the users and other members of the household and making it easy and simple for everyone.

Wait, what do you mean by 4k?

A little tangent here first on the actual problem. 4K is actually a terminology that has blended quite considerably with UHD (ultra high definition). 4K refers to movie grade things and is really only to be considered for the actual cinema and projection type equipment. UHD is the LCD or screen mirror of this but the two terms have become extremely blurred to the daily consumer (and even us! We had to unpick this knot). You’ll see lots of things advertised as 4K or 4K UHD. Check out this link for further reading https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/174221-no-tv-makers-4k-and-uhd-are-not-the-same-thing. That being said a lot of services offer UHD content which when you’ve only got 1 input port on your screen then you have to choose what gets connected…Or do you?! How do you decide which input option gets access to that luscious UHD graphics?

Keep your devices in use:

We’re a big fan of not throwing away technology until it’s really past it. A crop of UHD TVs from a few years ago (ours included) typically only have 1 port capable of true UHD content whereas current TVs and screens are certainly being fitted with more.
The first part is relatively simple; by buying a HDMI (KVM) switch like the one below, you can add UHD input capacity without buying a whole new TV. This particular model we found had ‘auto sense‘ for detecting the active input and switching to it. That’s built in smarts! It also had 3 input supports which would be enough for Gary’s specific system. We balanced this off against a full Keyboard, Video (monitor), Mouse (KVM) switch due to price levels.

UGREEN Switch- Source: Amazon

Perfect, problem solved? Well yes and no. The initial problem is solved however it’s not really smart! Another remote? Great…

It’s not smart if you need a remote…

So we went a step further here with a suggestion to install a Broadlink device as another piece of infrastructure. We first heard about these from Paul Hibbert (his review here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FUln2xMIIQ) which allows it to control any remote control device (not just the HDMI switch). We think that’s pretty cool and it could replace as many remotes in that space as required so…TV, soundbar, set-top box…the list goes on. It integrates with the smart home ecosystems too. Voice command and away you go.

Whilst this seems like a relatively large investment just to solve the first problem (and it IS!) having base infrastructure that allows you lots of connectivity choices for the future is a great thing. Also probably cheaper than a new TV.

Thanks Gary for getting in touch with us, we will love to hear how you are getting along.
Have a quest for us to take a look at? We’re always happy to hear from you!

Meshing about with Mesh Wi-Fi

A topic we get asked about relatively frequently is Mesh Wi-Fi and what to choose. Home Internet and Wireless networks are absolutely commonplace and I think you would find relatively few homes without any kind of wireless network. Whilst it will never replace the speed of a cable the right application of Mesh can really boost signal strength reliability and connectivity throughout the home.

On our move we had a house with a bigger footprint and lots more walls and brickwork. The connection point for the incoming fibre was the front corner of the house so the Internet Service Provider (ISP) router connects immediately there. This means that by the time you get to the opposite corner of the house and even outside you’re likely to have lost the signal.

I’ve been planning a major revamp of our networking since the move. I have a big concern about the future of IOT security and how I can better lockdown the home. Most ISP routers are pretty good but they don’t provide a lot of functionality that I want for the future. For example, I’d like to create a guest network for family and friends when they visit so they aren’t able to connect to our core smart home, hopefully mitigating some of the attack vectors that might come on that.

What Mesh Wi-Fi do I get?! There are so many to choose from?

A KIOT Fan

It’s a great question and probably has a few factors to it!

  • Your skill level. I’m not a network specialist but I do know a little more about what I want and I want some advanced features but I don’t want a fiddly setup. Most vendors are there to be as simple as possible
  • What other things you might want from a mesh? Some mesh access points can also have zigbee hubs built in, pretty cool if you want to deploy connectivity around your house and you aren’t bound to an ecosystem like Phillips Hue
  • How many users, where they are and what type of activities will they perform? If its lots of streaming, you’ll want a relatively high bandwidth and throughput.
  • Are there some devices you’d like to wire in? I really wanted to wire in my PC tower. The results below were most impressive (best Darth Vader impression here)
  • Cost! You can pay the earth and for me there is a fine balance about practicality

I’m not going to list a system to buy as it changes fast. Updates get released and models upgraded. Some places to start: Google Mesh WiFi, Ubiquiti, Netgear and TP Link

For my project, I decided to get the TP Link Deco S4 model (part of the Deco range they have). It suggested the below which I think fits really nice for our use cases and provides 300megabits per second (mbps) on the 2.4 Ghz and 1200mbps on the 5 Ghz. Most routers have these 2 frequency ranges available. I decided NOT to make the jump to the high end and Wi-Fi 6 yet. My reasoning was one of cost and the possibility to upgrade in the future.

Image taken from the TP Link Deco S4 page, accurate as of December 2018

What about the deployment? Well it was extremely easy. Steps as follows:

  1. Download the DECO app from TP Link onto my smart phone
  2. Unbox the units
  3. Power the primary (root) access point next to the existing router from our ISP and connect it via Ethernet
  1. Run through the setup with Deco unit using the app. It was really simple when I used it, suggested all of the modes and input parameters to work with the ISP router.
  2. Setup the other mesh points about the house in the locations required
  3. I then disabled the 2.4 and 5 Ghz on the ISP router so I only had 1 network to manage
  4. Rejoin all devices to the new mesh (the painful part!)

I’ve really enjoyed how easy this one was to deploy. It was probably one of the easiest smart home deployments in terms of setup, with the most time consuming part cutting over all my devices to the new network, particularly things like smart TVs where it’s just an onscreen keyboard.

The speed of my main PC connection went from about 35mbps to 73mbps and also the connection experienced far less drop outs or dips in quality.

What are your thoughts on Mesh Wi-Fi? Has it benefitted you? Let us know!

Consumer IoT security – guidelines, standards, laws and labels

This blog captures some recent(ish) developments in the UK IoT security space and well worth being aware of. Personal (including family) and commercial security is a fundamentally important subject if you’re dabbling or seriously integrating connected devices into your life. However, a subject I fear many neglect to give sufficient time and place.

I’m not a data or IOT security expert, these views are expressed in an exploration of a greater understanding of consumer IOT security. Seek your own professional advice if you have IOT security concerns… that aside… lets continue the discussion!

Phil – Knights of IOT

Privacy and personal security are key concerns for current and prospective IoT users, so it’s pleasing to see that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in the UK Government, is coming up with guidelines and now new laws to help protect consumers. Here’s some of the developments and links to the guidance and new regs for further reading (if you’re keen)! It’s not an exhaustive review, however provides some good insight.

  • October 2018: Code of Practice for IOT Security & Guidance

    The aim of this Code of Practice is to support all parties involved in the development, manufacturing and retail of consumer IoT with a set of guidelines to ensure that products are secure by design and to make it easier for people to stay secure in a digital world.

    Source: DCMS – 14 October 2018 (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/code-of-practice-for-consumer-iot-security)

    Self-regulation was the initial and preferred approach to improving IoT security. The CoP included 13 outcome-focused guidelines to ensure products are ‘secure-by-design’. The guidelines apply to most, if not all devices, including: connected toys, connected security systems, home ecosystems and connected appliances. Check out the Secure by Design Report and skip to the guidelines section, which adds detail to the 13 guidelines listed below:

    1. No default passwords – this is why we need to create new accounts/passwords with new devices
    2. Implement a vulnerability disclosure policy – provides a guideline for ‘ethical hackers’ to submit potentially unknown and harmful security┬ávulnerabilities┬áto organizations
    3. Keep software updated
    4. Securely store credentials and security – sensitive data
    5. Communicate securely – encrypted in transit!
    6. Minimise exposed attack surfaces – this is like locking your front door whilst you’re in the back garden.
    7. Ensure software integrity – this is about alerting you when changes occur to your account so you can give the nod of approval…
    8. Ensure that personal data is protected – no brainer.
    9. Make systems resilient to outages – this is interesting, especially when you’re running a more involved smart home!
    10. Monitor system telemetry data – if collecting data, it should be monitored for anomalies. Helps identify security breaches. Interesting to see where developers draw the line with monitoring activity here! This guideline links to number 8.
    11. Make it easy for consumers to delete personal data – you had me at make it easy.
    12. Make installation and maintenance of devices easy – next device you install…tell us if it was easy, if not, why not?
    13. Validate input data – this requires validation of data being input through user interfaces, transferred via application programming interfaces (API’s) or between networks in services.

    The guidance is aimed at device manufacturers, IoT service providers, app developers, retailers, and those with direct or indirect consumer IoT security interests. I’m pretty sure that accounts for just about everyone. It’s great that the onus is placed on those in-the-know, but should not detract from consumers making informed decisions and using devices with care. It’s relatively easy to relate to the above, with a little bit of explanation of the more techy points.

  • February 2019 – ETSI Technical Specification 103 645

    ETSI is the European Standards Organisation and they published the first globally-applicable industry standard for consumer IoT security! According to DCMS it builds upon the code of practice but with a view to European and global needs.

    This standard is especially important noting that the majority of devices are manufactured in China… these stats and infographic by @AuManufacturing help provide the global IOT context of why this standard is important.

  • May 2019 – New laws for consultation

    Guidelines in place and responsible makers of IoT working hard to act upon the code of practice and adhere to the guidelines…. or not?

    New laws released on Consumer IOT for consultation. The Government gave industry time to act responsibly, by using the 13 guidelines outlined above. However, the DCMS identified ongoing threats to IOT consumers, resulting in the need for regulation. So the DCMS looked to make the top three principles (from above) mandatory.

    1. No default passwords: All consumer internet-connected device passwords must be unique and not resettable to any universal factory setting
    2. Implement a vulnerability disclosure policy: Manufacturers of consumer IoT devices must provide a public point of contact so anyone can report a vulnerability and it will be acted on in a timely manner
    3. Keep software updated: Manufacturers of consumer IoT devices must explicitly state the minimum length of time for which the device will receive security updates at the point of sale, either in store or online
  • January 2020 – consultation concluded

    For now, just the top three principles are to be made mandatory from the code of practice, with more to come in future.

    Consultation conclusions – read them here.

  • More to come- security labels!

    This is what we need to be on the look out for and will surely make consumers life more easy when it comes to informed choices when selecting a new device. Anything that makes purchasing decisions easier is a win.

    A labelling project by DCMS is well under way and has been developed in consultation with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the Department of Business, Energy and Industry Strategy (BEIS), Home Office and external stakeholders including industry bodies, manufactures, international governments, retailer, consumer associations, academics and IoT experts… that’s a big consultation process and continues on from the research by Harris Interactive in 2019, which identified that

    “…there is a fundamental need to introduce a labelling system to
    reassure the public that the smart devices they buy are safe and secure…”

    The labelling scheme is anticipated to be launched later in 2020 as a voluntary scheme, where manufacturers self-certify that their devices meet the three principles listed above. Here’s what the labels might look like:

    Design icons
    Positive and negative style labels for IoT devices
    (source: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-regulatory-proposals-on-consumer-iot-security/consultation-on-the-governments-regulatory-proposals-regarding-consumer-internet-of-things-iot-security)

    I’ll be on the lookout for these labels for sure, however expect it to take some time to start filtering on to products on the market.

Need further reading? Check out the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – Internet of Things advice and guidance page. A few jump out straight away for a read.

This has been a useful exercise for me and hopefully an informative read for you too. There is a good amount of guidance out there and pleasing to see positive action from government departments to help keep consumers safer through codes of practice and regulation. Stay safe everyone!

What are your thoughts? What parts about IoT devices give you cause for concern? Tell us below, tweet us or email!

Moving a smart home – Q&A with Will

Got a smart home and looking to move house? That’s been the reality for 50% of Knights of IOT. Will has spent the past month, or so, packing up and moving house.

Saying goodbye to smart zonal heating, top to bottom smart lighting, multiple voice assistants and cameras…but not for long as he re-builds.

Check out a short Q&A video and find out how Will coped living without the well tuned smart home he’d become accustomed to and what’s to come!

Moving your smart home – Q&A with Phil and Will

Share your smart-move experience or tell us how Will could have done it better, we’re all ears!

Still standing by my smart plugs…

Thanks for being patient! We’ve all been standing by for that comparison I promised in my intro blog to smart plugs, so whats the verdict?

As with any experiment, time is required to collect new data. In this case I waited for my next bill period (3 months) to come to a close and receipt of a new usage breakdown. I received my next bill and usage (kwh/$$) but alas, no breakdown by application. I was chasing this novel breakdown which, in theory, estimates your energy usage by metering unique energy signatures. i.e. smart meter can differentiate energy signatures between device (fridge vs TV). On the surface this is cool, however my supplier didn’t provide this breakdown between April-June, so the wait continued. In this time i did two things:

  1. Contacted my supplier for the useage breakdown (they never responded to my query, thanks folks)
  2. Filled out an energy use questionnaire: provided insights such as number of lights, appliances, devices and estimated duration of use.

Hmm, suspicious? So the usage-breakdown may well be completely fictional and not a direct reflection of the energy signatures captured by my meter. That’s different to what I read in March… I did however, get a new usage-breakdown in last August (maybe they were listening), so we have something to compare! I’ll give you the handful of salt after the comparison below.

Feb-April 20 – Usage breakdown
Jun-Aug 20 – Usage breakdown

Standby energy is down! Just under $10 over a quarter, which over a year would pay for the two smart plugs I purchased. GREAT.

On the surface, success for the smart plug. I must have made a saving, however, I’m just not convinced by the metrics. Look how vastly different my lighting charges are and the increase in cooking costs? Even the fridge is down… maybe I had more veggies in there this month? So many questions, unanswered. Lets reflect on the important information:

The cost information and appliances in these graphs may not be accurate – this is an estimate only.

Origin Energy

We should probably draw the line under this investigation now. It’s highly likely that we made a standby energy reduction and a corresponding saving. Metered smart plugs would be a way to more accurately monitor appliance usage. Eve Energy smart plugs are an option and provide a nice looking interface/display, uses bluetooth to connect, but only intended for Apple users. Need a Google or Alexa alternative, TP-Link HS110, connected via WiFi.

What else did we learn?

A few more tidbits during this smart plug exploration:

Satisfaction: The satisfaction of controlling a lamp by voice is disproportionately enjoyable than the act of switching a switch. If you are weighing up whether to control a lamp or limiting standby power…pick the lamp…then buy another smart plug.

Does anything fit? In short no, nothing fits next to my entry level smart plugs. This was a major factor in deciding my current configuration and led to moving my voice assistant to another bank of sockets across the room and having to double up smart sockets with a power bank… it’s complicated and I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice lamp control. Top tip: buy the smallest ones you can find. You will exponentially increase the possible configurations of your smart plugs. Wifiplug.co.uk claims to be this…

  • Control: Two plugs…connected and controllable in more ways than absolutely necessary. I’ve paired the plugs pictured above, with Google Home Assistant, Alexa and the Smart Life app. I got in a mix up with multiple routines at one point and took me a while to remember what I’d set up. I 100% use the voice assistant to turn on or off. The thought of opening an app and switching off/on the sockets no longer appeals

This was intended to be a very simple application of smart plugs with a neat comparison of energy use before and after installation. In the end, a hodge-podge of inaccurate data gathered and a collection of smart-plug watch-its if you intend on entering the smart home market with the humble smart plug.

Thanks for reading, tell us your smart plug woes or novel applications!

Smart Lighting in our own homes- Philips Hue with Will

Smart lighting is something I’ve had since the beginning of being interested in Smart homes. I bought a Philips Hue starter kit (bridge and a few bulbs), LED Light Strip and an Amazon echo dot for my first house. It was very rudimentary and not in any way integrated into the house at all. Family and friends would regularly turn the switches off. It was fun for one person but not in any way liveable.

Since Sarah and I started living together in 2017, the technology was definitely something I wanted to bring with me. With a lot of forbearance from Sarah we started to install it. It’s expensive in the beginning and sometimes fixtures and fittings aren’t right for the bulbs. We actually ended up getting new light fittings for the kitchen and hallway. This meant we needed 12 new LED bulbs, pricey!! We also bought new remotes and 3D printed covers for the light fittings, the idea being these would sit over the conventional light switches.

3D printed covers. We have these on 4 different switches

It really started to integrate it into our lives. You could use the switches for multiple light control or use your voice for various settings which I’ll show a little later on.

Our setup was really easy to install. The majority of lights are downstairs in the kitchen (6 spot lights and 2 LED strips) and living room (1 main light and 2 lamps). The worktop LED Strip is a recent upgrade and is considerably brighter than the original, it really illuminates that worktop now.

Floor plan of our current house

Whilst it’s quite a big investment in bulbs, I really love it and hope Sarah does too. We haven’t had a single bulb failure in that time and they are ultra energy efficient (85% less than incandescent bulbs). The main reason for smart lighting is this: you can completely change the ambiance and feeling of a space with how you light it. Nothing revolutionary here. However the ease with which you can do so I’ll show you below.

Use Case 1: The Original TV Time

This is something I’ve implemented in 2 houses now (and very likely will in the next). It involves changing the room to an almost dark state, but with one light dim enough to back light the television. I use ‘If This Then That’ (IFTTT) as a service for doing this, so you’ll here me say ‘trigger’ which sends off my request to the IFTTT service and causes the below applets to run, turning off main sets of lights. It also sets a scene in the living room (not pictured).

And here is the effect….

Living Room – TV Time Lighting Demo

Use Case 2: Dinner Time

We also wanted a nice effect for dinner time, to really separate our living and dining space. It uses very similar settings to TV Time, however the table light is on full and the main living room light about 25%. The effect is this:

Dinner Time Lighting Demo

You know how it is though, you maybe forgot some sauce or want to top up a drink in the kitchen? Instead of turning the lights back on, we fitted a motion sensor in the kitchen. It brings the LED strip on and provides more than enough light. It also helps our 3 dogs see if they go into the kitchen and it will turn itself off after 30mins (configurable…)

Kitchen LED Strip – motion sensor demo

Other Light Examples

Finally, and rarely do I use the colour change setting in it’s current form. I’d really like to in our next house when we have some more space and colour in our living areas. However, if you are a gamer, storyteller or love a good bit of ambience you can really create a cool scene. This is just using 2 bulbs….imagine what you can achieve with more or an LED strip?

Colour Change Lighting Demo

Lighting has such an impact on the way we feel about a space. It’s that sense of warmth in our dwellings or of togetherness in a communal space. We’ve put our development of this on hold really as we are planning a house move in the very near future.
I’d love to hear your comments on this! What do you think about changing the ambiance in a room? Do you ever try to create separate spaces, maybe a snug/reading area?

Thinking Sustainability – Reduce

How do we reduce our carbon footprint now and in the future? Our second edition in the “Thinking Sustainability Series” focuses on exactly this.

2. Reducing

The discussion between Phil and Will bounces ideas from personal lifestyle choices to the selection of technology we use in our homes to help cut our carbon footprint. It’s all about the journey though, so we look down the line on how we’d like to operate in the future.

Check out the vlog below and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube Channel

Thinking Sustainability 2 – Reduce on the Knights of IOT Youtube Channel

We’d love to hear what technology you’re using to help reduce your footprint in and around the home! Next in the series we’ll be looking at some options to offset our footprint, so stay tuned!

Thinking Sustainability – Carbon

In order to meet the 1.5┬░C global warming target in the Paris Agreement, global carbon emissions should reach net zero by 2050. That’s the global vision and we want to do our part.

Here’s introducing the Knights of IOT “Thinking Sustainability Series”. This series intends to kick-start our thoughts around a sustainable and ethical organisation. The plan is to run this series in parallel with our connective devices content, guiding our thinking, raising awareness, generating debate and looking at how connected things can help us.

First up is carbon measurement.

1. Carbon Measurement

In this video blog, Will and Phil introduce the “Thinking Sustainability Series” with an initial focus on measuring their own carbon footprint using the online calculator at https://www.carbonfootprint.com/. This thought provoking process is the first essential step to becoming carbon aware and we encourage everyone to have a go – check it out!

KIOT measuring our Carbon footprint

More to come…

Follow us on our YouTube Channel for more instalments in this series. We’ll be exploring ways of reducing our carbon footprint and options for offsetting.

Heating the Home: What’s the future?

Sarah and I have been recently looking at moving house and our chosen property has an old hot air ducting heating system. At the same time, other friends were in a similar position but with an oil boiler and it lead to a great discussion that I’ll attempt to recreate in this blog.

Typically the ducted homes have a giant heating system to generate hot air, in the house we love it’s about a quarter of the utility room. It also could generate a lot of moisture and dust in the air via the ducting. That, coupled with future changes to home heating mean that this and oil is something we should look to update.

Example Air Duct heating system. Pretty old school!

Should we be thinking about Gas? I’d prefer not too. Whilst it’s common in many many homes, it certainly doesn’t feel like the right choice for a new home that’s carbon friendly, especially if we manage to get some green energy generation going at home too!
I’ve put together the below as a high level view on some options. I’ll write more in the future about how we might make a decision on this!

What are my choices?

  • Electric radiators: an option I’m excited to think about. I’m a big fan of zonal heating (check out the use case on YouTube I posted: https://youtu.be/qCy71Hu8KMM) and this provides a pretty mirrored solution of that, except without the boiler. Each room would have a radiator that could be Wi-Fi controlled, in this case I was looking at the Harmoni series.
    The big advantage with this is that as a retrofit it’s very simple and low cost. They can even run off a 13 amp standard plug socket. Pretty neat.
    Big disadvantage with this is how do you get your hot water?
  • Air Source Heat Pumps: You’ve got 2 types, Air to Air and Air to Water. Basically, it works like a reverse fridge. Air to water is pretty handy if you want to put in your classic wet heating system and radiators. They are far more efficient than gas typically giving you 3kwh of heat for every 1kwh of electricity, Gas is more like 0.90kwh of heat for every 1kwh of Gas.
Electric Radiator with local thermostat
  • Infrared panels: Something I don’t know a huge amount about but I am keen to understand more of! Sadly I didn’t get to Smart Home Expo this year where I am sure I would have seen more.
    They can be installed all over the room and you can even have mirrored or pictures over the frames!
    App based, they can be operated remotely like any other heating system. Very eco-friendly too and potentially 30-40% cost saving.
Infrared panels on the ceiling! Image from Herschel

That’s just a short run through of some different heating technologies for the home. I’ll definitely be digging deeper here as I really want to couple this with some solar panels for the future.

Let us know what you think? If you have these kinds of system or have heard of them? Any pros or cons for you?

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