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A-BUS Driven To Expand U.S. Presence

2/23/2004 02:00:00 AM Eastern

A-BUS/direct distributed-audio technology is increasing its U.S. presence and late this year or early next, products incorporating a related technology, A-BUS/active, could hit the market.

Thirteen companies are shipping A-BUS/direct products in the U.S., up from nine a year ago, said Andrew Goldfinch, managing director of A-BUS inventor LeisureTech Electronics. Most of the Australian company's licensees are structured-wiring suppliers that incorporate A-Bus in their structured-wiring panels. Those companies are OnQ, Tyco, Channel Vision, Greyfox, Home Director, UStec and Future Smart (Honeywell Custom Products). Audio manufacturers that have included A-Bus ports in receivers or other audio components include Integra, Harman Kardon, Onkyo and Russound.

Other companies shipping product are Amp/Connect and the Opus distributed-audio system distributed by Marantz.

A-BUS/direct transmits line-level analog audio, control signals, 24-volt power and status information down a CAT-5 cable from a central stack of A/V equipment to an amplified in-wall keypad. The keypad, in turn, is wired to in-wall or in-ceiling speakers in the same room.

A-BUS systems are designed to reduce the cost of installing distributed-audio systems over traditional system architectures, in large part because fewer audio components are required, equipment costs are lower, and CAT-5 cable costs less than other types of wiring, Goldfinch said. Wiring is also simpler because separate speaker cables and data cables don't have to be home-run throughout a house, he said. "A lot of installers are losing money on labor costs, and A-BUS can help them," Goldfinch said.

A-BUS will also help expand distributed-audio's new-home penetration, he claimed. "Anyone can affordably pre-wire a home for A-BUS, like an electrician," he noted.

For now, structured-wiring panels equipped with an A-BUS hub create single-source distributed-audio systems with independent on/off and volume control in each zone, but only one source can play at a time. Later this year, a multi-source hub will be introduced that lets four sources play simultaneously through separate zones. The four-zone multi-source hub will be expandable and can be used in conjunction with A-BUS single-source hubs.

In lieu of structured-wiring solutions, companies are building A-BUS RJ-45 ports into audio components, mainly receivers, at a cost less than the cost of adding speaker-B capability to a receiver, he said. The ports, acting as second-zone outputs, are "an ideal speaker-B replacement" that delivers the additional capability of on/off and volume control from a remote room. "It's for people who don't want a mini-system in a room," he said.

An optional expansion module can be used with the receivers to create a system with more than two zones.

Another type of system architecture based on core A-BUS technology could begin appearing later this year or early next, Goldfinch said. LeisureTech is licensing the new version, called A-BUS/active, to companies that would develop active architectural speakers with built-in A-BUS amplifiers and an IR receiver that would make it possible to substitute an in-wall keypad for a handheld remote. Alternately, suppliers could provide stick-on surface-mount keypads that would essentially be infrared remotes.

The architecture would reduce costs by eliminating a keypad and by further simplifying wiring.

Russound licensed the technology, and LeisureTech is shopping it to speaker makers to "to create an audiophile version of A-BUS," Goldfinch said.

Goldfinch had hoped to entice U.S. architectural-speaker makers to show such products at last year's CEDIA Expo. Since early last year, however, LeisureTech focused on other activities that "occupied our engineering resources and slowed our development of the A-BUS/active and A-BUS/direct applications we spoke about," he said.

In part, the company was focusing "on developing our manufacturing capabilities for our various customers around the world," Goldfinch noted.

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