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Control4 Offers Mix Of Traditional, Nontraditional

9/06/2004 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Control4 is mixing traditional and nontraditional technologies to distribute audio and control multiple home systems.

The start-up's products, due in the fourth quarter, use a mix of wired Ethernet and wireless IEEE-802.11g to stream MP3 and PCM music to tabletop decoding modules from central sources, including a hard-disk-drive (HDD) music server. The company also uses traditional speaker cable to distribute multiple simultaneous audio streams to in-wall speakers and box speakers.

To control music distribution and other home systems, Control4 sends IP-based commands via a mix of wired Ethernet, wireless 802.11g and ZigBee-compliant wireless mesh-network technology, from such devices as in-wall keypads, in-wall light switches, in-wall dimmers and a battery-operated handheld touch screen, all developed by the company. Control4 also integrates with third-party home systems.

Control4 turned to IP- and Ethernet-based technologies, said CTO and co-founder Eric Smith, to lower the cost of distributed-audio and home-control hardware by a third to a half compared to systems offering similar functions. Labor costs are also far lower, he said, pointing to the use of wireless technology to eliminate wire runs, and to simple programming, which eliminates programming charges of anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000.

To control only lighting, Control4 products start at a few hundred dollars for two rooms, and consumers can expand the system over time.

For more extensive installations, consumers could build systems around one of three major components: 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 80GB HDD music server. And 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 10 separate Ethernet/802.11g streams and three analog streams, said Smith.

Music distribution is controlled from multiple types of devices. One is a handheld IR remote that also features ZigBee-compliant 802.15.4 wireless. Another is a two-way LCD-equipped keypad featuring Ethernet port and 802.15.4.

Control is also available through a portable battery-powered 10.5-inch touchscreen equipped with wireless 802.11g; through an in-wall Ethernet-equipped mini touch screen that gets power from its Ethernet connection or from electrical wiring; and through an in-wall mini touch screen equipped with 802.11g.

Three-buttons and six-button 802.15.4 keypads automate control of multiple systems in a single room, enabling consumers in one scenario to press one button to dim the lights, turn on a fireplace and play music.

Also due: dimmers equipped with either Ethernet or 802.15.4, plus 802.15.4-equipped electrical outlets, light switches, thermostats and wall warts that plug into electrical outlets to deliver wireless control of table lamps.