Multiroom Entertainment Systems
These systems allow you to enjoy your music and video in more than one room. It may sound complicated, but it’s really just one or several components that sit in your central entertainment rack and route audio and video from your entertainment system to various locations in your home. It can cover two zones to six zones or more. The most complicated part is wiring your house with audio and video cabling to accomplish this—and that’s a job for an electrician or a custom electronics professional.
Be sure the system can handle all of your music sources, such as CD players, DVD players and media servers. It should also have additional inputs for future components. Look at how the system is controlled, especially from other rooms. Keypads about the size of light switches are usually the best way to operate sources from afar. Some keypads also have small LCD panels so you can scroll through selections more intelligently, which is quite useful if you have a digital media server. More expensive systems use wired and wireless LCD touchscreens. Last year, companies like Philips and Sonos introduced multiroom entertainment systems that work wirelessly or via Ethernet connectivity, making it possible to have multiroom music without the hassle and expense of completely rewiring your home.
Many systems distribute audio only, and there are a few that feed video to various rooms. While those signals may only come in standard definition today, there are schemes in development that will also pass high-definition signals to multiple areas of the home.
Digital media servers allow you to store, organize and instantly access your personal music collections. The internal hard drive stores CDs and digital music files. Virtually all media servers feature built-in hard drives ranging in size from 10 to 240 GB. Most models also include a CD drive that can “save” the recordings directly to the hard drive at speeds up to 50x. They also play back CD-R and CD-RW discs. Some models even play and store DVDs. Many allow you to access music from the Internet directly, including tuning in Internet radio.
Many models feature CD/Input Signal Start Recording, so as soon as you press play on your CD, it also “saves” directly to the hard drive. It will catalog and classify it as well. In most cases, your CDs are identified and then recorded onto the hard drive along with song titles. Artists and album covers can be downloaded from the Internet through music service providers. This makes it easy to search for songs and albums and to create customized playlists. Depending on the software utilized, some service providers allow you to purchase music online and download it directly into the server.
Most models support a smart compression mode that ranges in audio quality from linear PCM (highest) to ACC background encoding (lowest). For higher-quality audio, the recording bit rate is adjustable; the higher the bit rate, the fewer songs or CDs that can be stored on the hard drive.
An RS-232 port is normally included for connections with CD changers, touchpanel displays and multiroom audio systems. Audio connections include both analog audio digital (coaxial or optical) inputs and outputs. Other connections may include composite video, S-Video jacks and component video outputs. For direct Internet connections, some models come with a modem. Many also include connections for cable modems, DSL, Ethernet and multiple ISP.
By Dennis P. Barker for Electronic House magazine. To see more articles from the editors of Electronic House magazine about the connected home visit www.electronichouse.com.
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