|May 2004 - page 2
Jumping up to the next level involves incorporating a separate component or components to handle the switching and routing of independent audio sources throughout the home the brains or hub of the system, if you will. There are also two different levels of this type of system. One involves simple volume controls and alpha-numeric keypads to control sources, and the other incorporates LCD touch screens that access not only your audio/video devices, but also your HVAC and security system. (Keypads can also do this, but admittedly on a much more basic level.) The first level will typically house everything in one component, including processing, audio/video switching, amplification, IR and RS-232 inputs, etc. This component accepts all of the inputs from your various sources, i.e., DVD player, tuner, satellite, music server, etc., and routes those signals so that they can be played independently throughout the various rooms (often referred to as zones) in your home. Now youve taken it to that next level, allowing yourself access to several different music sources at the touch of a button. Companies like Niles, Russound, Sonance and newcomer Z_N offer packages of whole-house audio distribution systems, including the hub, speakers, volume controls, amplifiers and keypads. Venerable audiophile manufacturers are even jumping into the foray with their own multi-zone products. In fact, Audio Design Associates (ADA) has been innovating the custom install field for years with solidly-built products that offer outstanding performance, which are the benchmark for many custom installers. ADA products are also featured at Disney Worlds Ultimate Home Theater Experience in Orlando, Florida.
The next level I mentioned above is usually reserved for larger homes with six or more zones, or 24+ channels of amplification, with 12+ pairs of speakers dotting the drywall landscape of your home. This type of system involves several of those sometimes-temperamental black boxes that not only distribute audio into each zone, but also send video as well. Video sources such as CCTV, satellite, or even the video output from a music server that displays cover art, can be routed to each zone and displayed on an LCD screen. This type of system also typically handles your lights, as well as your HVAC and security systems. Believe it or not, there are also two levels to this type of system as well. I refer to them as open architecture and closed architecture systems.
Ill start with open architecture systems. Open architecture usually refers to software that is open to the user. That is, as the homeowner, you can dial into your system and manipulate it as you see fit. In other words, you dont have to call your installer for every little change you want to make. Open architecture systems run off software that is accessed through your LAN or remotely by accessing your systems unique IP address. From there you can add new components, teach the system that new components IR codes, initiate timing sequences, or simply turn on and of the lights at random from your office and freak out the nanny. Some open architecture systems come with their own components, as is the case with Xplore Solutions. Others like SYS software from Premise Systems are just that software. You build the vehicle to house the software with all the input and output cards you need to connect the various devices and the SYS software makes everything talk (well, almost). In my home, I have a traditional closed architecture system installed, but starting looking to these open architecture systems when I grew frustrated at the limitations and closed nature of my current system. The problem I have found is this: not all systems (lighting, security and some A/V devices) can be controlled by these various software programs. This is a very new category in this industry and one that is not fully supported yet. Many of these software programs require that device protocols be written to control other devices. Without those protocols, they cannot talk to one another, which means you have no control over the second device. This is where the advantage of a closed architecture system comes in.