Denver – Five major custom-installation suppliers owned by Linear LLC have banded together to develop a multiroom-audio platform that they contend will expand the entry-level market and create an industry standard that other suppliers will want to license.
All five companies – Elan, Niles, SpeakerCraft, Xantech, and Linear – plan to offer multiroom-audio systems based on the Digi5 platform, promoted as enabling builders of moderately priced homes to offer high-quality multiroom audio. The first Digi5 products are due in November from Elan’s new Aton division, and they will be followed early next year by products from the other four companies.
The Linear companies made the announcement here at the CEDIA Expo.
Digi5 technology, promoted as the companies’ first major collaborative development effort, will create four-source, four-zone multiroom-audio systems for about $3,000 and deliver 10 times the performance of other systems at around that price, company executives said. Digi5-based components will interoperate regardless of brand, but they will allow suppliers the flexibility to develop their own user interfaces. The price includes all Digi5 equipment but excludes source components, architectural speakers, and installation costs.
Digi5 will expand the market, said Elan president Bob Farinelli, because of the performance it achieves at an entry-level price and because of the combined marketing clout and market share of the Linear companies that will promote the platform. The number of companies promoting Digi5 will expand once Linear begins to actively license the technology next year, he added.
Affordability is achieved in part by plug-and-play compatibility that makes installer programming unnecessary and by simplified wire runs that use a single CAT-5 cable to deliver power, two-way communication, and balanced differential digital audio to in-wall keypads. The keypads in turn incorporate 2x30-watt digital amplifier to drive in-wall or in-ceiling speakers. The keypads also use digital signal processors to perform bass, treble, and balance s functions in the digital domain.
Digi5 systems could be the first to send digital audio in balanced differential form throughout the house, Farinelli said. Balanced differential digital technology delivers a noise-immune audio signal over long cable runs without signal loss, he said.
The keypads’ amplifiers are capable of deliver 60 watts of total power because of a new Texas Instruments chipset incorporating amps and DSP and because Digi5 delivers power and ground to the amps over four CAT-5 conductors rather than two, the companies said. The amps are said to deliver their 60-watt output with 0.06 percent THD at 1kHz with 96dB S/N and 20Hz-20kHz frequency response.
First-generation systems due from Linear companies this year and early next will come with keypads that let users select sources, control volume/mute, and adjust bass, treble and balance from the keypads’ hard buttons. The playback functions of a source, however, will be controlled from a supplied handheld IR remote aimed at the keypad’s IR passthrough. Second-generation systems due in about a year will include some preprogrammed IR codes and such enhancements as intercom/paging functions, said Farinelli.
The hub of a Digi5 system will be available in two basic forms: a structured-wiring hub and a rack-style hub that fits in an A/V equipment rack. All will be expandable to 16 zones.
Multiroom systems using amplified in-wall keypads are nothing new to the industry. Some of these systems deliver line-level analog audio to analog amps, but these systems deliver only about 7 watts of total power per keypad even though system prices are close to the price of a Digi5 system, Linear said.
A handful of other multiroom-audio systems send audio in digital form to amplified in-wall keypads and touchscreens, but they are more expensive than Digi5 systems, in part because they use more expensive LCD touchscreens or because they use Internet Protocol technology to send audio and control signals over CAT-5, Linear said. “It’s more costly to overcome latency and other problems [in an IP-based system],” Farinelli contended. Digi5 systems will probably cost about 30 percent less than current IP-based systems, he noted.