Ah, the Apple iPad, that 10.1-inch window on the future, the multipurpose, multitasking slab left behind by some visiting alien race to make all our lives better. Starting at $499 and boasting a gorgeous touch-screen, this premiere tablet has had a greater impact on the home technology market than anything since, well, the iPod. In addition to being a fun and function device for reading ebooks, playing Angry Birds or watching streaming movies, the iPad can also be used as a very effective controller for your smart TV and other entertainment gear.
The iPad communicates with other devices one of two ways: It connects to the internet via Wi-Fi, the ubiquitous wireless standard of the Internet age, supporting the fastest, state-of-the-art 802.11n version. Bluetooth is the second flavor of wireless inside the iPad, typically used for connecting accessories such as earpieces or keyboards or even a new class of compact speaker systems.
Now, most of the remotes currently littering your coffee table use infrared (IR) signals to send their commands to the television or Blu-ray player or whatever. It’s an older technology which requires line-of-sight between the remote control and the component’s IR receiver. And IR is not supported by the iPad.
May smart TVs with Internet connectons take advantage of the iPad’s aforementioned Wi-Fi prowess, particularly useful in the age of the Internet-ready TV. Wi-Fi-based control applications use the iPad to access our wireless home network, the local network receives the commands that we input on the touch-screen and sends them on out in turn to the connected television, wired or wirelessly. Some manufacturers require the use of their own proprietary apps in order to operate their specific televisions, but all of those that we found–for the Samsung, LG and Panasonic brands, some exclusive to the iPad–were free, which makes perfect sense: You already paid a pretty penny for the latest in high-tech IPTVs, they want you to make the most of it, say “wow” a lot, and brag about it to your friends.
Service providers such as DISH Network, DirecTV and others as well as stalwart TiVo also offer their own free custom apps that allow us to access their set-top boxes in a variety of newfangled ways, even managing our content, scheduling new recordings and watching live TV from anywhere in the world. There are also paid third-party applications in The App Store that allow us to control a vast array of home theater components, assuming that they too are somehow internet-connected.
Taking the iPad control concept a step further, to uses such as Blu-ray playback, Deluxe Digital Studios offers the free pocket BLU app, supported by a long list of Universal Blu-ray discs with a few Fox titles as well. Included among its many features is an enhanced remote control which utilizes two-way communication to deliver a custom interface optimized for the large tablet screen, bringing an instant-access video timeline for that disc as well as a virtual QWERTY keyboard to expedite data entry. Discs from Universal, Sony and Disney also enable some variant of a “second screen” function that displays relevant, synchronized content on the iPad during a small-but-growing collection of movies, much like apicture-in-picture (Bonus View) but without obscuring the movie itself in any way. In actuality, second screen programs are sizable downloads to the iPad performed before we press Play, but the experience is all but seamless.
For the most advanced home systems, control companies such as Control4 and Savant offer iPads to not only control your TV, but also your entire home theater and whole-house audio. A control company can even integrate your lights, shades and thermostat to the system and put access to everything on an iPad.