As the delivery of content migrates from physical media such as CDs and DVDs to digital distribution, the competition among manufacturers of whole-house entertainment systems is increasing. Among these companies is NetStreams, a relatively new kid on the block boasting the talent of several industry veterans.
Formed by Herman Cardenas, who formerly headed the Smart Corporation and GE-SMART, NetStreams counts chief technology officer Michael Braithwaite (who previously led Crestron’s residential systems group) and vice president of marketing and product management Mitch Witten (who racked up industry expertise through his work at Sonance, Pioneer and Infinity Systems) among its key personnel.
Presently, NetStreams’ product line includes Musica, a whole-house audio distribution system capable of distributing four sources to six rooms simultaneously. Musica can be expanded up to 12 rooms when necessary. Instead of placing amplifiers in one location, this system allows installers to place them in each individual room to improve sound quality and facilitate installation, as NetStreams’ flagship product, Musica 4601-the most current model-takes analog sources such as CDs, DVDs and tuners and distributes them digitally throughout the house. NetStreams (www.netstreams.biz) is currently developing Musica Digital, a system that enables both digital and analog music sources to be distributed throughout the home.
While Cardenas concedes that the home speaker market is crowded, he believes that NetStreams’ Performa in-wall speaker line differentiates itself from the competition because the product is designed specifically to play MP3 and WMA files. Performa’s “solo stereo” technology is designed to provide clean channel separation. NetStreams plans to introduce Musica Digital, a system that enables both digital and analog music sources to be distributed throughout the home, in the first quarter of 2003. “We will be able to take a stream of audio that is available in the home network-and that could be generated by a PC, laptop, an MP3 player that is available in the home network, or we can allow the consumer to select from the thousands of radio stations on the Internet -and assign it to buttons on their keypads,” Cardenas explained. Button #1, for example, would access a jazz station in Spain, while Button #3 might be programmed to receive news from BBC Radio. “The consumer really doesn’t care whether it’s an Internet source or not. They just hit the button on the keypad and they are able to listen to that digital source music,” Cardenas said. DigiLinX, NetStreams’ end-to-end digital audio distribution system, is currently in development.
Founded in August 2002, NetStreams evolved from several of Cardenas’ previous ventures. In January 2000, he partnered with General Electric to expand upon the development of SmartGear, a lighting control system. Smart Corp., headed by Cardenas and funded by GE, was formed and a new brand-GE Smart-was born. What was once exclusively a lighting control system grew into technology capable of controlling security, audio and video.
Around the same time, Smart Corp. began to develop a home server product that was capable of accommodating structured wiring. This caught the attention of Microsoft, which eventually signed on to become a GE Smart partner. With Microsoft’s help, Smart Corp. developed both home servers and structured wiring systems. GE eventually bought both Microsoft and Cardenas out of the connectivity business, taking GE-Smart back into the corporation’s larger product mix. Cardenas, who turned around and bought GE Smart’s audio business, focused his full attention on NetStreams. He relocated the business from Austin to Las Cruces, New Mexico, last year.
Because NetStreams products are built on an open architecture, dealers are able to offer a viable upgrade path to homeowners, according to Cardenas. “We have created an infrastructure that allows for going back to that customer to upgrade to our vision of a completely open architecture, IP-based network without having to rewire,” he explained. “There are not many opportunities for installers to go back and offer upgrades once a system is installed, other than adding a source. Our Performa and Musica systems offer an upgrade path that can let the installer go back to his customers and really offer them something special when the IP architecture is ready.”
Which shouldn’t be too long, based on how many consumers are embracing digital technology, Cardenas predicts. “During my tenure at GE Smart, one of the things that became obvious to us is that the home is going digital; it’s one of the last frontiers to convert over to digital,” Cardenas said. “What really drove this vision was an opportunity to bring to market products that take the digital audio experience from where it is today, which is very local where you get on your PC and connect to an Internet radio station, and take that source and distribute it around the home to multiple locations. That is what really drove this vision: insight into what is to come and the fact that what we develop in the world of audio is going to be very applicable to the world of video.”
Carolyn Heinze ([email protected]) works from her office in Vancouver, Canada.