Soon after televisions began taking up space in our sitting rooms, the 'remote' was invented, but that should surprise no one. At first it was connected via an awkward wire, but in 1955 Zenith made the first wireless remote, although it was an occasional irritant when the sun shining on the TV would change the channel randomly. That was the beginning of the idea that we could control things in the home. A little more than 50 years later and we are in a position to do a lot more than change channels on the television. AMX is a Texas-based company that has been in the business of automating homes for 25 years. The firm has had an office in Hong Kong for more than 10 years and it is run by Chris Yang, who handles the local market, China and other parts of Asia. Mr Yang said there were three areas that people normally wanted to control in the home and AMX could handle all three. 'Most people want to control devices, the environment or communications,' he said. If you have audio-video equipment, curtains, lighting, air conditioning, or anything else that could be put under some kind of digital or motorised control, you might want a single point of access and that is exactly what the firm does. 'We have user screens from five inches square to 17 inches square, depending on what the customer wants. They can talk to each other as well; that is the 'communications' part of our systems,' he said. These control panels can connect to the front door bell, to another panel in another room and even to a standard or mobile telephone. Van Baker, an analyst at research company Gartner, believes the key to the digital home is in networking. 'The consumer electronics industry sees the digital home as the key to the next generation of digital technologies to be adopted by consumers,' he said. This means that the real money for investment will be in that area for a while, but home networking is still far too difficult for most people who are not network specialists. 'The glue that binds this all together is the home network,' he said. 'Unfortunately, home-networking technology is still too complex for the average consumer and lacks the robustness to carry the next generation of high-definition video. 'However, television service providers' need to deploy multi-room personal video recorder (PVR) technologies will cause home networks to proliferate during the next few years.' One should never forget about the colossus known as Microsoft, of course. The company controls the operating systems of about 95 per cent of the world's computers and that means the firm already has something in the home and it may be able to build on that. But this is not the same kind of market as the personal computer. Many of us have experienced computers that crash several times a day and we are accustomed to it. No home network could be that fragile and last for long. Another analyst at Gartner, Elroy Jopling, believes Microsoft is in a very good position, but it remains to be seen if the company can benefit from it. 'Microsoft has the technological scope to address a number of home controllers, the scale to acquire, and financial strength to invest to ensure it has the technology and capabilities it requires,' he said. 'The success of Microsoft in these consumer endeavours is by no means a universally accepted belief. 'Many will say that Microsoft hasn't had any meaningful success - for example, scaling to millions of subscribers - despite more than 10 years in the pay-TV market. Equally, Microsoft is feared and not trusted by a number of companies within the media industry. So this remains an area to watch.' One company that already provides services that could be used to create the digital home is PCCW. Paul Berriman, the chief technology officer of PCCW, said the company was ideally suited for this. 'We have a significant presence in the home already with broadband and NowTV, and the networked connections between the gateway modem and set-top box,' he said. 'We can build on this to help the customer set up and manage his home network, connect digital devices and manage the content coming into the home, like NowTV, going out of the home, like access to family photos on a home server, or going round the home, such as distributing music or pictures.' Mr Berriman said network-connected devices in the home would increase over time. 'Cameras for monitoring the home will also be popular,' he said. 'In time we will see other devices and integration into other consumer electronics such as the proverbial refrigerator for re-ordering food. I have even seen one device for remotely feeding the cat via Wi-fi.' All of this will be driven by the consumer and it is interesting to see that there is already a considerable difference between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland. This has mainly to do with the fact that in China a lot of building is going on now and they can prepare for a digital home, whereas in Hong Kong, there are still many homes that were built quite a few years ago. Mr Yang said there was a very different emphasis in China. 'There is a lot of residential work going on in China in places such as Hangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai. They are very interested in home controls,' he said. Whatever technologies are developed over the next few years, the one thing we know for certain is that we live in an age of extraordinary control.