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Control4 Planning IP-Based Systems

8/23/2004 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Start-up Control4 plans to leverage IP-based standards and no-new-wires technologies to create an integrated home-control and distributed-audio system that will expand the custom-install market because it is “easy to install, affordable and retrofittable,” said CEO Will West.

The company’s portfolio of more than 20 products for the custom-install channel will be introduced at the CEDIA Expo and will use a mix of Ethernet wiring and wireless IEEE-802.11b to distribute MP3 and PCM music throughout the house. IP-based commands for distributing music and for controlling other home systems, including Control4 lighting systems and thermostats, will be sent via a mix of wired Ethernet, wireless 802.11b, and ZigBee-compliant wireless. Control4 systems will also integrate with other-brand home systems, including security systems.

At January’s CES, Control4 will unveil less complex products that big-box retailers can sell off the shelf.

By using wireless technologies and by leveraging the economies of scale in existing IP-based technologies, said West, Control4 systems will expand opportunities for custom installers by enabling them to install systems within reach of owners of $200,000-to-$300,000 homes, West said. Simplified installation and programming will enable installers to tap the higher volume segment profitably, he said.

Installers can target the products to production-home builders and to owners of existing homes because the products are suitable for retrofits, he added.

The CEDIA channel is still targeting “rich people and new construction,” West said, or “1 percent of the 1 percent of new homes built every year.” That translates only into $400 million in annual factory-level sales of home-control products and distributed-audio infrastructure, excluding in-wall speakers, source units, and other traditional audio components but including in-wall keypads and other audio-distribution components, he said.

With Wal-Mart’s CE aggressiveness forcing other “big-box retailers” to offer installation services, West said, small custom installers must expand their market or restrict it to the “ultra-high-end jobs that a Tweeter doesn’t want to do.”

All of Control4’s products, West said, “are simple enough for electricians” to install, and custom installers that “want to scale their business to $20 million” will be able to hire people to execute “process-driven installs.”

Whereas most whole-house lighting-control systems cost about $20,000-$40,000 because a system is installed throughout a house at one time, Control4 lighting-control systems” start at a few hundred dollars for two rooms, and you can expand as you go,” West said.

For music distribution, Control4 uses Ethernet and Wi-Fi to send music to shelf-top decoding modules, one with built-in digital amplification, one delivering line-level signal. The amplified module can be plugged into box speakers of the consumer’s choice. Music distribution is controlled from multiple types of devices. One is a handheld IR remote that’s also ZigBee-compliant. Another type consists of ZigBee-compliant in-wall keypads that are also equipped with wired Ethernet ports. A third type consists of tabletop/in-wall touch screens equipped with both Ethernet and wireless 802.11b. The touch screens (but not the handheld remote or in-wall keypads) also decode MP3 and PCM audio and spit out a line-level signal for amplification by any amplifier.

All of the keypads, remotes and LCD touch screens also control other home systems, including Control4 light switches and thermostats. Some of these Control4 products are available in Ethernet or ZigBee versions, and some will possibly be available in Wi-Fi versions.

The Control4 lineup also includes products that automate a home theater system and a server to distribute music throughout the house

Details of the products will be released at the CEDIA Expo.

West and Control4 partner Eric Smith were co-founders of Phast, which was sold in the late 1990s to AMX.