Custom-installation suppliers are trying to take some of the custom out of the business to deliver more cost-effective systems to a broader demographic.
In some cases, suppliers are leveraging IP-based technology and wireless-audio distribution to reduce the amount of programming and wire pulling needed to complete a job. Nonetheless, plenty of more traditional, higher performance systems will abound here at CES, where dealers will find suppliers such as Harman Kardon and Jamo increasing their custom commitment.
Here's what select suppliers plan to introduce at CES:
Control4: Distributed-audio, home theater, and home-control systems can be built around a $500 Home Theater Controller, a $1,495 Media Controller, or a $2,495 Home Theater Receiver Controller.
All automate a home theater system. The latter two add an 80GB HDD music server. The Receiver Controller adds a traditional home theater receiver complete with AM/FM tuner, optional XM plug-in card, surround processor, and multichannel amp.
All three components feature built-in wired Ethernet ports, wireless 802.11g, and ZigBee-compliant 802.14.5 wireless technology to communicate with other home subsystems, including lighting and thermostats, located in the same room and throughout the house. The three devices also integrate with other home systems via traditional serial ports, IR, contacts, and relays.
To distribute music from the two Controllers, Control4 uses Ethernet and 802.11g to send music to shelf-top decoding modules (one with built-in digital amplification, one delivering preamp-level signal). The amplified module can be plugged into box speakers of the consumer's choice. The preamp-level module requires external amp and speakers.
With an outboard Audio Matrix Switch or 16-channel amplifier/switch, the Controllers distribute speaker-level analog audio from any connected source, including their internal HDD.
All told, a system using either Controller simultaneously distributes up to ten separate Ethernet/802.11g streams and three analog streams.
Definitive Technology: The newest Ultimate-In-Wall speaker is the Reference Line Source (RLS) 2, an enclosed speaker engineered for vertical or horizontal in-wall installation. The sealed non-resonant medite enclosure houses a line source composed of two cast-basket 6 ½-inch bass/midrange drivers that surround a 1-inch pure aluminum-dome tweeter. Above and below these three drivers are two 6 ½-inch planar pressure-coupled bass radiators.
The RLS 2 can be used for in-wall custom install home theater systems as a left main, right main, center, or surround speaker. Their frequency response is 22Hz–30kHz. The projected retail is $625 each.
Elan: New products include the company's smallest in-wall color touchpanel at four inches, its first satellite-radio tuner, two HDD-based music servers, and a wireless 802.11b touch panel for controlling a home theater system, including lighting and motorized devices.
The Via!40 4-inch touch screen, due in the first quarter at a tentative suggested $999, controls whole-house A/V systems, lights, and other home subsystems. It will be almost half the price of other Elan in-wall touchscreen, starting at a suggested $1,799.
The XMR3 triple XM tuner, due in the second quarter at a tentative suggested $1,599, can distribute three XM stations simultaneously to three different zones. Song data can be displayed on the company's in-wall touchpanels.
The VIA! dj-S music server, due in the first quarter at a suggested $2,350, features single-output 160GB HDD. A step-up 250GB server, the multiple-output VIA!dj-HC, is due in the first quarter at a suggested $4,499. Both can be integrated with Elan touchpanels throughout the house. New features on both models include 20x CD ripping speed via its CD drive and ability to transfer music to a compressed-music portable. They store and display cover art that appears on a TV screen or Elan's color touchpanels.
The VIA!2 wireless touchpanel, at a suggested $3,700, features 802.11b, 10.4-inch color screen, battery, docking/recharging station, and system controller. They ship in the first or second quarter and are promoted as being more cost-effective than competing systems.
Harman Kardon: The brand stepped up its commitment to the A-BUS distributed-audio technology with its first A-BUS Multiroom Hub, which connects to HK's A-BUS-ready receivers to distribute audio, power, and control signals to up to four in-wall amplifier/control modules, which are connected to in-wall or in-ceiling speakers. The module is the $149-suggested flush-mount AB1, which incorporates amplifier and IR receiver. Multiple Hubs can be cascaded to add more remote listening zones. The Hub ships in the first quarter at an undetermined price.
Infinity: The brand's high-performance ERS series of in-wall speakers gets its first dual-tweeter speaker, which delivers stereo from a single unit. A dual-tweeter speaker is already available in the CS series.
The $229-suggested dual-tweeter 110DT is designed for installation in areas where space is limited, and it can be used for distributed-audio or surround-channel applications.
Also new in the series: the ERS 310 compact two-way in-wall and in-ceiling speaker sold individually at a suggested $229. It's said to be compact despite its 8-inch woofer because the 1-inch tweeter is mounted concentrically.
They ship in the first quarter.
Jamo: The company steps up its custom commitment with its first distributed-audio system, which is based on A-BUS technology. The AVD4.6 multiroom control system is a six-A/V-source, four-zone device that also distributes audio to up to four subzones. Four devices can be daisychained to distribute music to 16 zones and 16 subzones. In-wall keypads and learning remotes are included. The suggested retail is $1,299, including four keypads
MTX: 27 new in-wall and in-ceiling speakers appear in the Blueprint Home series for distributed-audio applications and in the Blueprint Home Theater series for home theater applications. The distributed-audio speakers include single-speaker stereo models and outdoor models. The in-ceiling home-theater speakers are tuned to offer wide off-axis response for listeners whose chairs aren't in the sweet spot. Most in-ceiling home theater speakers, claimed residential audio director Al Congdon, "may sound fine on-axis, but once your homeowner arranges…furniture, the listeners are off-axis, and the speakers just don't perform."
PSB: The latest speaker purpose-built for in-cabinet placement is the CHS40, which features a two-position boundary-compensation switch, a high-frequency switch to compensate for placement behind a perforated screen, and a midrange/tweeter combo on a circular plate that can be rotated to maximize dispersion for horizontal or vertical placement. The tweeter is in an eye-socket mount.
RBH: Modular CinemaSITE cabinetry is designed for use with Signature series in-wall speakers to provide an option between off-the-shelf A/V cabinetry and custom-built cabinets. The furniture-grade modules accommodate front-projection screens up to 110 inches. Surround-speaker columns are also available for RBH in-wall speakers.
Suggested retails start at $18,500 for a 5.1-channel configuration. They ship in the first quarter.
Russound: Multiple new products include the brand's first enclosed subwoofer, four distributed-audio amps, and a dual tuner incorporating two XM Satellite Radio tuners. Also new: the brand's first Uno touchscreen, which mounts in the wall and joins the Uno series of in-wall keypads.
The Uno-series touchscreen is designed to simplify the control of distributed-audio systems. The new amps, which are more compact than their predecessors, include two multichannel amps designed for placement in the main A/V component stack. Two amps are intended for local-zone applications.
The enclosed subwoofer doesn't mount in a wall but is more practical and performs better than in-wall subwoofers, the company contended.
The ST2-XM2 dual tuner ships in January at a suggested retail of $1,399. It joins the dual-AM/FM version at $699 and the AM/FM/XM version at $999.