Installers didn't have to look hard during the CEDIA Expo to figure out where the custom industry is going.
Suppliers leveraged Ethernet and Internet Protocol (IP) technologies to add flexibility or capacity to their distributed-A/V systems and leverage the technologies' economies of scale. Suppliers also continued to drive down the cost of entry into distributed-audio systems by launching more multizone receivers and some of the first distributed-audio-in-a-box (DAiB) systems.
For installation simplicity in big homes, dealers also found 16-channel amps from SpeakerCraft and Sonance and a 32-channel amp from ADA.
Digital amps also turned up in greater quantity, with SpeakerCraft, Elan and Yamaha showing their first component models, and NetStreams and NuVo showing their first digital amps, sold as integrated parts of their distributed-audio systems.
Here are the details on some of the key trends:
More multizone receivers: SpeakerCraft showed its first, and Sonance showed its second, joining Niles in the category (see p. 23).
More AM/FM multituners: Russound and Elan showed their first dual-tuner AM/FM tuners, and SpeakerCraft showed its first dual-tuner multizone receiver. AudioAccess showed a mock-up two-tuner 7.1-channel A-Bus-ready receiver. Already on the market: Sonance's Triple Tuner, NuVo's T3 triple tuner and Niles' dual-tuner multizone receiver.
First distributed-audio-in-a-box (DAiB) systems: Sonance and SpeakerCraft bundled multizone receivers with multiple in-wall keypads at suggested retails below $2,000 (see p. 23). AudioAccess will include speakers in its planned six-zone package, consisting of its first receiver (7.1-channel) and A-Bus-equipped amplified in-wall keypads.
For its part, NuVo expanded its selection of packages from one to three, all with keypads and multizone controller/preamp/amp. NuVo's systems are priced at $3,000 for a six-source/eight-zone system with six powered zones, $2,000 for a six-source/six-zone system, and $999 for a two-source/four-zone system.
The companies' intent is to drive down prices to attract tract-home buyers.
IP-based systems: IP-based systems can be controlled from any browser-equipped touchpad, PC or PDA or from a custom supplier's own browser-equipped touch screen, reducing system costs compared to control systems based on proprietary standards. IntelliNet, Vantage and Imerge showed new products in this segment.
Xabler also showed its server, which houses IR and RS232 macros and is controlled from standard wired or wireless touch screens, PDAs and PCs.
Vantage's new IP Enabler connects to any Vantage controller to let any browser-equipped device control lighting and other home systems, even from a remote PC.
Imerge showed application software for PocketPC 2003 handhelds, enabling Imerge music servers to be controlled by WiFi-equipped PDAs.
IntelliNet showed its own-brand browser-based WiFi touch screen. It controls the company's browser-controllable distributed-audio system, which sends control signals, but not audio, over an Ethernet network.
Ethernet-connected audio: In many cases, music and control signals are streaming over wired and wireless Ethernet networks to in-room clients. New products with these capabilities came from ADA, Integra, Imerge and Fosgate Audionics.
Integra showed its first Ethernet-connected two-channel AM/FM receiver, which streams compressed music files from a central HDD server via Ethernet. Integra also unveiled two replacement multichannel receivers with that capability.
Imerge launched its second Ethernet-equipped HDD server series, the M2000 series, to join the S2000 series. The companion Ethernet client is the NP200 two-channel AM/FM receiver at $599. The M2000 increases storage capacity to a maximum 480GB from 160GB and the number of zones to a maximum 16 from three. M2000 prices range from $7,600 to $28,600.
Fosgate Audionics introduced the HDD-based $999-suggested FAP-S1 Digital Media Streamer, due in the spring. It downloads content for local HDD storage from a PC via wireless 54Mbps 802.11g (although it was demonstrated with 802.11b). Multiple lossless and lossy audio-compression codecs are supported, as are the uncompressed WAV and PCM formats. The 120GB device can be used with $299-suggested OmniFi clients to stream MP3 and WMA files via compatible 802.11b to audio systems in other rooms. It also stores video for playback (see below).
ADA unveiled Ethernet bridges for its existing distributed-A/V systems, enabling system control from three tabletop keypads that plug into local Ethernet ports.
Ethernet-connected video: Denon and startup Kaleidescape showed systems that distribute video content, not just control signals, over an Ethernet network. Kaleidescape's system starts at around $30,000 and stores DVD movies ripped to multiple HDDs with a capacity up to about 3.3-3.6 terabytes. (TWICE, Sept. 1, p. 34)
The Fosgate Audionics FAP-S1 stores video as well as music that has been transferred via wireless 802.11g from a PC. It decodes MPEG-2 (DVD) and MPEG-4 video. A consumer can use other-brand PC software to rip DVDs, convert them to MPEG-4, and transfer 120 two-hour movies (with full Dolby Digital 5.1) to the FAP-S1's 120GB HDD, the company said. Higher capacity HDDs can be installed in the device or linked to it for additional storage. The OmniFi clients currently don't decode MPEG-4, but MPEG-4-decoding models might be available in 2005, the company said.
In MPEG-2 form, the device could store DVD content only from about two dozen discs.
High-tech, high-touch screens: Companies unveiling their first in-wall touch screens include Niles and Xantech, which showed four in-wall color models at $740 (3.9-inch) to $2,000 (6.4-inch). AudioAccess showed its first color in-wall model, complementing a black-and-white model, and Elan showed its first tabletop/handheld wireless model.
AMX converted to 802.11b from proprietary 2.4GHz technology in its new MVP Viewpoint touch screens to take advantage of 802.11b's economies of scale. The screens are now available in larger 7.5- and 8.4-inch sizes.
Plasma speakers: B&W, M&K, Sonance and Thiel were among the latest to show them. Thiel's, still under development, will come in powered and unpowered versions.
Rock speakers: Niles showed its first, and SpeakerCraft expanded its selection.