The tablet will be the center of the connected lifestyle

It’s no secret that tablets are booming, with more than 25 million iPads (s aapl) sold to date and 50 million expected to be sold this year. Tablets are taking our entertainment experience in a new direction, and in the next two to five years, the tablet could serve as your universal remote control. All of which means the future of the digital home is already here.

The tablet’s sizable screen offers a mobile alternative to watching movies and shows on a traditional TV, and touch capabilities make it the ideal remote for controlling connected TVs and stereos around the house. The tablet’s advent has shaped the direction of our industry, and with it “anytime, anywhere” entertainment is now a reality. As a result, how we experience video and music has been change forever.

A TV in your lap

The tablet isn’t going to replace our desire for a big screen TV, but with optimized video on-demand apps, like the ABC Player (s dis), BBC iPlayer and Comcast Xfinity TV (s cmcsa), it has become the preferred second screen device for watching TV shows. At the moment, there are still some drawbacks to video content apps, since not all of them are currently available for both iPad and Android (s goog) tablets — and most still have a limited amount of programming available. Also, there are plenty of heated legal battles going on regarding content rights, causing some apps to wait on permission for iPad streaming. But it seems inevitable that content limitations will lift and a more robust offering of online content (i.e., sporting events, premium movies and more) will be accessible for streaming.

Control freak

Although many tablet users have already used a tablet to watch a TV show or movie, most aren’t aware it can be used to control their TVs or Blu-ray players. Remote control apps are available from Apple, Control4, Dish (s dish), LG, Roku, Samsung, Sony (s sne) and TiVo (s tivo), and these apps allow manufacturers to provide a level of control beyond a simple handheld remote. Some are customizable and have multiple screens and even allow gesture-based commands. Imagine changing the channel by simply flicking your wrist; it’s now possible.

Another huge advantage these apps have over a traditional remote is their ability to quickly search an electronic program guide to locate a channel, making the tablet a universal remote for the connected home. For the best experience, use a tablet with an integrated IR blaster and universal remote control app. Vizio’s new VIA tablet has this and is compatible with most CE devices. One thing we’re going to see take off in the near future is “follow me” technology, or the ability to begin a show on your TV, leave the house and then pick up where you left off on your tablet.

The tablet as a digital media adapter

Digital media adapters, like the Apple TV, are no longer your only option for connecting an older TV to your network: Some of the newer tablets, like the Advent Vega or the BlackBerry PlayBook (s rimm), have HDMI jacks. This makes it easy to send media from your computer, the cloud or the tablet to your TV. It’s too early to say how well tablets will work for this application, but power management issues could be a problem if you can’t prevent your tablet from going to sleep. Even though your tablet may not have a dedicated HDMI output, you can purchase an accessory like the Apple Digital AV adapter to provide you with an HDMI out for your iPad. Toshiba’s Thrive tablet, which comes out in July, has a full-sized HDMI jack, so it doesn’t require a special cable or adapter.

Connected home software for tablets is still a relatively new technology, and we’re seeing improvements every month. Next-generation tablets will be pre-loaded with DLNA-certified or AirPlay-enabled applications, encouraging more consumers to give the software a try.

While it’s too soon to predict the extent to which tablets will replace laptops or traditional TVs, it’s certain they have an important place in the connected home and will undoubtedly be a staple in the future of consumer entertainment.

Rick Schwartz is a senior product manager for PacketVideo’s media management software for PCs and mobile devices. Prior to joining PV in 2008, Schwartz was a product manager at Liquid Audio, overseeing the team that created the first secure online music distribution system, and a product marketing lead for Gateway’s Desktop PC division.