Distributed Audio Abounds

By Joseph Palenchar On Sep 20 2004 - 6:00am




INDIANAPOLIS – The future of the custom-installation industry might be in wireless, but new wired-distribution systems dominated the recent CEDIA Expo.

An estimated 24,500 attendees, up from last year’s 22,500, found many established custom suppliers and newcomers venturing into distributed-audio infrastructure for the first time, while other companies significantly stepped up their distributed-audio commitment.

Established suppliers showing their first distributed-audio systems included speaker supplier NHT; A/V supplier Jamo; and Boston Acoustics, which hosted an off-site technology demonstration of a system based on the automotive MOST databus standard.

For its part, Klipsch entered the distributed-audio infrastructure market through an agreement to sell and market Oxmoor’s ZON system, which sends power, music and control signals over a single CAT-5 cable to 2x30-watt amplified in-wall keypads.

Meantime, Sony and Bang & Olufsen stepped up their custom commitment. Bang & Olufsen announced that it is turning its 58 B&O-branded stores into distributors that will market B&O products to approved custom installers outside their trading areas.

Sony expanded its distributed-A/V infrastructure selection following its return to the segment earlier this year. Two new distributed-audio/home theater packages, the NHS-1000 and NHS-2000, are targeted to home builders through installers, as were three lower priced packages unveiled earlier this year.

The NHS packages are built around Sony’s first multizone amp/preamp/source selector, the ES series CAV-M1000ES. It’s an eight-source, six-zone controller/amplifier that’s also available separately at about $4,400. Each NHS package includes a two-way RF 5.1-inch color touchscreen, six in-wall LCD keypads, and select audio and video sources. Options include home theater speakers, custom-installed speakers, and HDTVs. The 1000’s included sources are an ES series A/V receiver, 400-disc CD changer, five-disc DVD/SACD Changer, and VCR. The step-up uses a 400-disc ES series DVD/SACD changer

Startup brands entering the distributed-audio infrastructure market included Meda Systems and B&W’s iCommand. Two other startups — Control4 and Sonos— incorporate wireless to distribute audio and control signals. Sonos’ system was PC-centric like a Viewsonic system shown at the Expo. Viewsonic’s system, however, adds video distribution.

Also at the show, Ethernet and TCP/IP-based solutions gained prominence. Such systems were displayed by startups iCommand and Meda and custom suppliers Crestron, Imerge, Leviton, NetStreams, and Polk.

Apple’s iPod turned up in the Sonanceand SpeakerCraft booths. Both companies plan in-wall docking/recharging stations that turn iPods into another music source in a distributed-audio system. iPod buttons on in-wall keypads and touchscreens would control the iPod, which would send one stream at a time to one or more zones in a house. Both companies hope to display iPod metadata on their in-wall keypads. Sonance also plans a rack-mount docking station for installation at the main A/V system.

Although most of the new distributed-audio systems unveiled at the show use wired networks, wireless raised its profile, and in the “very near future,” said technology futurist Nicholas Negroponte during his keynote speech, “all signals will be delivered wirelessly” in the home.

Even power is going wireless, he told attendees. Power transmitted wirelessly at low power levels over short distances is “already happening” in car dashboards, he said. In the home, wireless power could take the form of a stick-on power switch that converts the mechanical energy of the “actual throwing of a switch” into electrical energy that powers a Bluetooth radio, which would send a wireless on/off signal to a remote device.

The advent of wireless and smart plug-and-play devices, however, doesn’t signal the demise of the custom-install industry, he contended. “Your real business is not snaking wires,” he said. Installers will become system designers, much like landscape architects, he continued. “That’s the direction we’re going.”

In the meantime, most suppliers and installers focused at the show on today’s wired business, and many sought to broaden the customer base with lower priced simpler solutions.

Also at the show:

Boston Acoustics ventured further outside its core speaker business with its first-ever A/V receiver, its first CD table radio, two home-theater electronics/speaker packages and an HD Radio-equipped Receptor table radio.

• Two companies — Lexicon and Samsung — showed their first component A/V receivers, both at the high end. Lexicon’s retails for a suggested $6,995. Samsung’s pricing was unavailable.

MTXhosted its biggest architectural speaker launch in years.

NAD showed its first network client that uses wired Ethernet and wireless IEEE 802.11b/g to grab audio and video content from a networked PC for playback through an A/V system. It retails for a suggested $499.

Kenwood unveiled mock-ups of its next-generation top-end Sovereign series of home audio components, due next summer. They’ll include a Multimedia Management System that lacks HDD music storage but manages access to discs in a planned 400-disc universal DVD-Audio/SACD changer. Up to three 400-disc changers can be connected to the device.

Two multizone A/V receivers will also be included in the series, both with Ethernet ports to stream audio, video and still-image content stored on a networked PC.

The management system will be priced at about $1,000. The two three-zone receivers will be about $1,200 and $2,500. And the changer will be about $1,300-$1,500.

Versions for Kenwood’s mainstream series will also be available.

Monster Cable added two-way mirrors to its speaker-embedded Invisound frames to hide a consumer’s flat-panel video display as well as a home theater system’s speakers. They’ll be available in the first quarter in the Eleganza and Centra series of audio components and AV furniture. Three SKUs are planned starting at $4,500 to $9,000 or $10,000.

Kaleidescape upgraded its HDD-based movie server with a new Ethernet client that adds HDMI digital output for a direct digital connection to HD monitors and TVs. Movies streamed via an Ethernet network from the server, base-priced at $27,000, are upconverted to HD via the new $4,000 client’s HDMI output.

The Ethernet network is also able to simultaneously stream two to three HD movies simultaneously, and Kaleidescape is preparing at an unspecified date to supply consumers with HDDs preloaded with HD movies. For now, new systems will ship a high-definition 720p version of Joe Kane’s Digital Video Essentials video-calibration test disc.

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