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By Gordon Van Zuiden May 2,2013
The analog-to-digital transformation of
networked home audio video and control
equipment over the last decade has
dramatically changed the “fire breathing
AV rack” of yesterday, as my integrator
peer Rich Green fondly used to name this
tower of integrated electronic equipment.
A rack that used to contain large audio
and video matrix switches, a total home
control central processor, banks of TV settop
boxes, and CD and DVD players has
shrunk to a small fraction of its original
size because entertainment content can
now be streamed over the home network
from local hard drive sources or the cloud.
Home control can be accomplished from
a number of smart phone applications
written by companies like Lutron, NEST,
and LiftMaster for their own product lines,
communicating directly with their processors distributed throughout the home.
The Prevalence of “Hockey Puck” Electronic Client Devices
When Apple introduced the second generation of the Apple TV in 2010
it was more than just a revolutionary idea to stream all of Apple’s iTunes
content to any TV, it set the standard for a form factor that was so small
that it was easy to place (or strap onto) each TV and priced so that it was
very affordable to purchase one for every TV in the home. The service
of centralizing TV content at a head end AV rack and distributing this
content throughout the home was now pushed to the edge of the AV
network and placed right next to the TV, with no switching necessary.
As good as the Apple TV product is for enjoying a wide range of content,
it is still limited in its ability to broadcast live sporting events and premium
entertainment content (for licensing reasons). This content is still best
served by the cable or satellite companies, and a set-top box needs to be
provided for this entertainment content for each TV in the home. And we
also have seen the same Apple TV-like evolution in the products released
for cable or satellite TV consumption. All of these smaller TV “client”
products now connect to one larger multi-terabyte, multi-tuner box that
can digitally stream high-definition content to all the TVs that have these
small, TV client boxes attached to them. TiVO has its Premiere/Mini
TiVo server/client combination, DIRECTV has its HD DVR and Genie
server/client set, and DISH has the Hopper and the Joey product suite. All
of these set-top boxes that used to be housed in a large centralized AV rack
are now dispersed throughout the home next to the TV that they serve.
|A rack that used to contain large audio and video matrix switches, a total home control central processor, banks of TV set-top boxes, and CD and DVD players now has shrunk to a small fraction of its original size because entertainment content can now be streamed over the home network from local hard drive sources or the internet cloud. Pictured is a Middle Atlantic SRSR Series sliding rotating rack in an install performed by Intra Home Systems.|
Typically, the last content source that our clients want at the TV is the
Blu-ray player. While this need has been mitigated over the years because
of higher quality movie download services, there are still times when the
superior content and quality of a locally played back Blu-ray Disc is desired
in the home. But even in the Blu-ray player market, manufacturers have
shrunk down the form factor and the price to the point where they can
easily be located next to each TV that requires this content.
So What is Left in the AV Rack?
Almost all that is left in the AV rack of significant size are the amplifiers
needed for the distribution of whole-house music to all of the in-ceiling
or externally mounted speakers. But if you use products like the Lexicon
Digital DD8 amplifier coupled with a few Sonos Connect audio input
products, then even the whole-house audio amplifier AV rack space can
be significantly reduced.
The rack will still house networking gear–the router, the gigabit
switch, the network attached storage drive for the home, and an IP-based
power conditioner and plug strip–but that is about all. For a 5,000- to
6,000-square-foot home, all of these AV and data components can easily
fit into a single half-height AV rack.
But what about the receivers for the surround sound zones and the
video source switching? Well, those are disappearing as well. It’s not that
they are gone by any means, but products like the Sonos Playbar, with its
high-quality audio output from the optical audio output of most new TVs,
have forced us to rethink the need for a 5.1 receiver in many of our clients’
rooms. Couple this with the HDMI source switching on most new TVs,
and you have many of the feature sets that a traditional receiver would
It’s clear that the digital transformation of the networked AV and
control equipment that we now integrate and distribute throughout our
clients’ homes has dramatically altered
the traditional AV and home
control architecture and infrastructure.
networking architecture has never
been more critical for the successful
custom electronic integrator.