To the executives at Xantech Corp., multi-room control should consider not only audio distribution, but video distribution, too. The company recently addressed these and other criteria with the release of the MRC44 four-zone, four-source multi-room control system, which started shipping earlier this year. The system is comprised of a MRC44 controller, A/V preamp, four stereo amplifiers in a single chassis, four LCD keypads and four IR emitters, enabling the user to select and control audio and/or video from any source with the press of a button. Xantech’s Gatekeeper-IR sensing intelligence technology has been incorporated into the MRC44, enabling the device to discern where the user’s commands are originating. Included in the system is Xantech’s SmartPad technology, which is capable of storing commands in a central memory system. Because of this, the audio and video sources may be adjusted from the keypads, in addition to the volume and power settings. Dragon Drop-IR, Xantech’s programming software, allows the user to review the entire system at a glance and make changes with the use of a mouse.
Ray Bond, CEO of Xantech, explained that the MRC44 was inspired by the need to distribute video as well as audio through a multi-room control system. “There were other multi-room audio distribution products in the industry at the time, and we believed that there was a real need for multi-room audio and video distribution, along with the ability to access Xantech’s traditional IR control devices,” he said. “Basically, the MRC44 is a multi-room audio/video distribution and control system with a very simple way to gain access to the control of HVAC or other home entertainment systems. If you have a projector that you need to drop, blinds that you need to close or any other functions, once you are into the Xantech infrared bus, then you have all of that available to you.”
Bond said that the need that Xantech saw was multi-level. “We needed the ability to do basic plug and play,” he continued. “We needed to have the ability to do programming to provide a level of versatility for A/V control, and then we needed advanced programming to be able to integrate that with other systems. That is how we have layered our systems.”
Xantech’s Dragon Drop technology, in Bond’s opinion, also sets the MRC44 apart from its competition. “Dragon Drop is a PC-based system. You acquire all of the codes that you need to do you desired tasks, and then you download all of those codes into the MRC44,” he explained. “You not only have the ability to do that, but once you have the system operating, if you have made any changes at the site–which can be made with other codes–you can upload those into Dragon Drop. It ends up being your library of codes, controls and configurations.” Product features that are developed in the future may be downloaded into the system from the Xantech Web site (www.xantech.com) through Dragon Drop.
Larry Schatz, Xantech’s national sales manager, touts the product’s ability to perform either very simple, or very complex, functions. “With the flexibility and sophistication of our main line of products, the installer can create either a very simple, basic IR repeater system, or a very sophisticated whole-house audio/video distribution and control system with components dedicated to power management of the common source components, programmable keypads, and all kinds of things,” he said. “For the experienced and sophisticated installer, piecing these components together is possible, but for other applications, the time and process that goes into evaluating the source components and figuring out how to doall of the power management and programming can become a bit tedious. What we have done is taken some of our best technology from these various components and packaged them together in a simple, easy to use, easy to program, easy to install system.”
Much of this is achieved, according to Schatz, through the incorporation of Xantech’s Gatekeeper technology into the MRC44. “With Gatekeeper, the installer needs to figure out exactly what type of sensor they require, and they need to create sophisticated macros. All of the sensing components are built into the MRC44 controller,” he said. “All the installer needs to do is to drop a couple of power commands into some identified plots in the software, and their automatic power management source components are ready to go.” The retail price for the MRC44 $3,000 (U.S.).
Founded in 1968 by the recently retired Herb Seymour, Xantech started out by addressing the recreational vehicle market by developing automotive lighting and accessories. When the oil crisis hit during the 1970s, deeming RVs a less popular method of transport, Seymour delved into the import business, importing audio and video components such as connectors, cables, and other accessories that were used in the VCR market.
From there, Seymour and his engineers began developing the Xtralink, an IR receiver that modulated the signal on a cable electrically. Seymour felt that this solution would enable VCR users to have their VCR situated in one location while controlling it from another. The signal would travel down the wire to one room, driving an IR emitter in another room to control the device–in this case, a VCR. When satellite dishes became popular during the mid 1980s, Xtralink was used to control satellite receivers.
The 1990s saw Xantech developing its first incarnations of SmartPad keypad technology. The most current version of this product is the SmartPad 3. During this decade Xantech also developed the ZPR, a zone preamp that is able, under IR control, to control a number of different source components.
In 1999, Linear Corp., an electronics manufacturer that services the residential and commercial security market, acquired Xantech. Linear is a division of Nortek Inc., which manufactures building products for both the residential and commercial markets. Bond began his tenure at Xantech at the end of 2000, following Seymour’s retirement. Currently, Xantech employs 70 professionals in its California location, and shares with Linear a manufacturing facility based in China. When Bond joined Xantech, one of the first changes he made was to expand the company’s research and development department. “One of the many things I did over the first few months was to look at the organization and see if it was in balance,” Bond said. “It was important to have a balance between the number of people who do amplifiers, software and other things. I realized that I had to make a major investment in software engineers, because as we go into the future, the hardware becomes the platform and the software becomes the intelligence. It’s important to have a versatile, competent team creating that software.”
Bond, an engineer himself, believes in the importance of creating complex technology that is easy to use. “I know the thrill of being able to make something that does extraordinary things, but you have to make them easy to get at and intuitive,” he said.
Carolyn Heinze works from her media services firm, Punchface Propaganda Machine.