Tech 101: Glossary of Terms

Tech 101: Glossary of Home Technology Terms

With all of the buzzwords floating around the tech world, it can be hard to keep up. Here are concise definitions for some of the common terminology you're likely to hear as you learn more about home technology.

Amplified Volume Control System:   An amplified volume control systems is a single-wire solution that delivers music to multiple rooms via a central control box and a remote device in each room. Most of these systems make use of twisted pair cable such as Cat5e to deliver line-level audio signal to the room module which controls the functionality of that zone and also amplifies the signal to drive the speakers.

Analog:   A signal which is "analogous" to the original source.  In the consumer electronics world, analog technologies are those that use traditional methods of receiving, recording, and/ or reproducing content or communications. Examples of analog technologies include VCRs and cassette tapes.

Architectural Speakers:   Loudspeakers designed to be installed in ceilings, walls, and floors as necessary to blend subtly with room décor. Today's in-wall and in-ceiling speakers are capable of the kind of performance associated with free standing speakers except that they can be flush-mounted or hidden almost anywhere.

Aspect Ratio:   The ratio of the width to the height of an image. Analog and Standard Definition digital television uses a 4:3  (1.33:1) ratio (slightly  wider than it is tall), while High Definition television uses 16:9 or 1.78:1 (almost twice as wide as it is tall). Even wider aspect ratios are available in projection systems, such as 2.35:1 - similar to most widescreen motion pictures.

Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL):   A form of DSL broadband service, it is called "asymmetric" because it is faster in one direction than the other. In most cases the download speed is much greater, to enable more efficient access to photos, video, and music.

Broadband:   Broadband refers to telecommunication that has a wider bandwidth (extends into higher frequencies), allowing for more data to be carried. Typical examples of consumer broadband services are high-speed internet delivered via cable, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or fiber-optic networks.

Cable Modem:   A cable modem is a device that enables connection to the internet and sends/ receives data via a local cable TV provider.

Category 5 Cable (Cat 5):  Communication cabling that consists of four twisted pairs of copper wire, usually terminated with RJ45 connectors and capable of up to 100 Mbps over distance of up to 100 meters. Commonly used for data and telephone, it is now also used for distribution of audio and video signals.

Category 5 Enhanced Cable (Cat 5e):   Supports short-run 1000baseT (1,000 Mbps) networking by utilizing all four wire pairs.

Category 6 Cable (Cat 6):   Supports 10 Gbps speeds up to 55 meters. Cat6 and Cat6a are constructed differently from Cat5 in order to enable higher speeds and less crosstalk.

Category 6 Augmented Cable (Cat 6a):   Supports 10 Gbps signals up to 100 meters.

Coaxial Cable:   A communication cable type which has a center conductor and a braided shield. There are several varieties of coax cable used in homes such as RG59 (audio, video, cameras, etc.) and RG6 (cable, satellite, and antenna).

Cogeneration (Also known as combined heat and power, CHP):   CHP is the use of a heat engine or a power station to simultaneously generate both electricity and useful heat. It is one of the most common forms of energy recycling.

Color Saturation:   A term to describe how vivid and intense colors in the display appear, independent of brightness. If the color saturation is too low, colors appear washed out, but if the color saturation is too high, colors may appear too vivid.

Communication Cabling:   Coaxial, Twisted Pair and Fiber Optic cabling.

Contrast:   The relationship between the lightest and the darkest areas on a display device or picture. A small difference means low contrast and a large difference means high contrast.

Digital:   Technology that generates, stores, or processes data in terms of two states: positive and non-positive (on/off). Positive is expressed or represented by the number 1 and non-positive by the number 0. Thus, data transmitted or stored width digital technology is expressed as a string of 0's and 1's. In the case of audio and video this method can provide a variety of advantages, including more channels, more information, higher resolution, and lower noise.

Digital Video Recorder (DVR):   A video component with an integrated hard drive for recording and time-shifting television programming. DVRs may contain an integrated tuner for receiving cable, over-the-air, satellite and/ or HDTV broadcasts. DVR functionality can also be integrated into other devices such as a home computer, television, or cable/satellite set-top box.

Home Technology Professional (AKA Electronic Systems Integrator or Electronic Systems Contractor):   Any company which specializes in the sales, design, installation, programming, and service of low-voltage electronic systems and equipment. An ESI may be one or two people or a large firm with many employees.

Electronic Systems Technician (EST):   A person who installs, upgrades, and services low-voltage electronic systems in the field.

Ethernet:   Ethernet is the most widely-installed local area network (LAN) technology.

Firewall:   Security measure (hardware and/ or software) that blocks unauthorized users from gaining access to a computer or network.

Gateway:   A device that allows customers' premise equipment which is connected to in-home networks to access and use services from any external network regardless of media.

Graphic User Interface (GUI):   A technology for interfacing with computer software by pointing (mouse) to graphic images (windows, icons, menus) instead of typing text. A properly designed GUI is easy for the end user to learn and use.

High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI):   An interface standard which utilizes a single high-bandwidth cable that can carry both digital audio and video signals between HDMI compliant devices. 

Home Network:   A home network interconnects electronic products and systems, enabling remote access to, and control of, those products and systems, as well as any other available content such as music, video, or data.

LCD television:   A video display technology that uses a liquid crystal display.  Flat panel LCD displays are thin, lightweight, and energy-efficient.

Local Area Network (LAN):   A network of personal computers and peripheral devices configured to share information over a short distance, usually within a home or building.

Media Server:   A device that stores, organizes, and distributes digital content (audio, video, etc.) to other electronic devices.

Modem:   Short for modulate/demodulate, a modem modulates outgoing digital signals from a computer or other digital device to analog signals for a conventional copper twisted pair telephone line and demodulates the incoming analog signal and converts it to a digital signal for the digital device.

Multi-Room Audio:   An audio system that distributes sound to speakers in multiple listening areas. In its most basic form, a multi-room audio setup contains a source component, like a receiver, and is connected to speakers in at least two different rooms.

Network Security:   The prevention and monitoring of unauthorized access, misuse, modification or denial of a computer network and its resources. 

Phantom Load:   Refers to the electric power consumed by electronic appliances while they are switched off or in a standby mode.

Plasma TV:   A type of flat-panel video display that uses a special gas sandwiched between layers of glass. When the gas is electrically charged, the gas moves into a "plasma" state and illuminates phosphors, which produce a picture. Plasma displays provide a very cinematic image and produce extremely accurate black levels, but are heavier than LCD and run hotter.

Radio Frequency (RF):   RF waves can be transmitted and received through walls and other physical barriers and differs from IR (infrared) technology, which requires a clear line-of-sight between transmitter and receiver.

Router:   A device used to connect two networks, and most commonly used in residential applications to connect a home network to the internet.

Standby Mode:   Refers to a low power mode for electronic devices such as computers, televisions, and remote controlled devices. These modes save significant electrical consumption compared to leaving a device fully on and idle and allow the user to avoid having to reset programming codes or wait for a machine to reboot.

Sub-System:   Any system in a whole-house system that accepts commands from another system and/ or gives feedback to that system.

Streaming Media:   Any content that is continuously received by and presented to a user while being delivered by a content provider through an IP network. With streaming media, content can be displayed before the entire file is transmitted. Some examples of streaming media are Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify.

Structured Wiring:   A system of low-voltage wires (not power line) designed to carry electronic signals throughout the home.

System Integration:   Providing easy control over multiple subsystems in the home via a single control system. Home automation systems allow for convenient control of such subsystems as lighting, HVAC, locks, media systems, blinds, security, and outdoor systems.

Surround Sound:   A multichannel audio system which provides a minimum of 6 channels of audio: Left, Center, Right, Surround Left, Surround Right, and LFE (Low Frequency Effect - AKA Subwoofer)

Twisted Pair Cabling:   Cable constructed of twisted wire pairs, each conductor having its own insulation. Most twisted pair cables used in the home, such as Cat 5 and Cat6, include four pairs of wires within an outer insulating sheathing. There are two basic types of twisted pair cables: shielded and unshielded. Most applications in the home use unshielded four-pair cable.

User Interface:   Devices such as volume controls, keypads, and LCD touchscreens that allow control (to varying degrees) of a home's electronic systems. There are a wide variety of user interfaces available and most can be mounted in the wall or are designed for the table-top or counter. Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets can also serve as the user interface in some cases.

Voice Over IP (VoIP):   Voice telephone service delivered via the internet. A major advantage of VoIP and internet telephony is that it avoids the tolls charged by ordinary telephone service.

Widescreen:   Any video software or hardware with an aspect ratio wider than 4:3; usually 16:9, which is the optimum ratio for viewing High Definition content. 

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