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Centralized or Local?

Integrators have strong opinions on where they place all that awesome AV gear.

No, we are not talking about a Federalist or State-centric government philosophy. We are talking about where to put all of that awesome AV gear! Does it all go in a central rack tucked away somewhere and the audio and video is distributed out from there? Does each room get the equipment local to the TV? Maybe a hybrid with the video equipment local and the audio equipment centralized? There are differing philosophies at play and some people will only do it one way. Since we have both been having lots of discussions with clients about this very topic lately, we thought it would be great to share what we have learned.

Puma - Central Rack
Where is the gear in this Todd Anthony Puma installation? Scroll down for the answer!

The Case for Centralization

This is how Todd rolls. Everything goes into the rack and the rooms are very clean and modern with just a TV on the wall and speakers in the walls and/or the ceilings. Every video system is built around Crestron NVX. Even if there are only one or two TVs in the home, the video equipment goes in the rack and NVX distributes it throughout the home. Let’s look at why Todd loves this solution

  • Aesthetics: Everything is neat and clean, which his clients demand
  • Service and Support: It is easier to service when everything is in a well-dressed rack
  • Less Tampering: It is less likely that the client will go into the rack and risk knocking wires loose or IR emitters off of the equipment
  • Fewer Devices: You do not need a cable box and AppleTV/Roku for each room, just one for each member of the family. And you do not need a Wattbox and network switch in each room either. Fewer devices usually mean fewer things that can go wrong

With the reliability, quality, and flexibility of NVX, this is a great solution for Todd, especially when there are a lot of TVs and just a few sources, or vice-versa.

Puma – Rack
The Puma-preferred method — the gear is housed in a centralized rack.

Keeping It Local

There is a growing contingent of home tech pros who are whole-heartedly ditching the rack and putting everything local at the TV location. The network gear often goes in a closet somewhere, but everything else is distributed throughout the home. This, too, has many benefits

  • Video Distribution: All you need is a coax and Cat6 to each room. There are no concerns about EDID, video resolutions, handshakes, etc., since everything is connected directly to the TV with a relatively short HDMI cable
  • No Issues with Game Consoles: With a centralized system, game consoles require another transmitter in the room to send the video and audio back to the rack, since the controllers can usually not reach back to a central location. With a local setup, the console is already in the room
  • Less Intimidating: Clients are often scared of a rack. They do not feel comfortable doing anything inside of it, even something as simple as rebooting a cable box. While our clients have self-service tools like OvrC Home and can call us, many people like to feel the level of control and self-sufficiency to be able to open the cabinet door and reboot a device
  • Control System Free: With a local system, clients often do not need a control system — it is just the source remotes (likely just a streaming device and a cable box). If there is a soundbar, then it is often connected via ARC, so no other remotes are needed

Also by Todd and Mark: Revisiting Managing Inventory and Vendor Partnerships in Times of Uncertainty

The Hybrid Approach

This is Mark’s bread and butter — it gives the best of both worlds. He will often have the network gear and whole-home AV equipment in a rack, but have cable boxes and streaming devices local at the TV. Sonos tends to be his whole-home audio system of choice, so rooms without a TV have a Sonos AMP back in the rack. Rooms with TVs get soundbars or a local AMP wired to architectural speakers.  Mark loves this solution because:

  • The setup is clean and simple. Often the hardware fits behind the TV and a two-port Wattbox provides all of the troubleshooting needed
  • All the benefits of a local system in terms of control system, intimidation factor, and simplification of video distribution
  • The larger, bulkier components are out of the way and housed in a small rack

To be fair, Todd’s work is mostly in suburban New York and New Jersey or NYC brownstones where the houses are large, there are lots of TVs, and there is plenty of space for a rack, while Mark works almost exclusively in NYC apartments with between two and four TVs and limited closet space. Mark does do a lot of centralized video as well, but he usually uses an HDMI switch and HDMI extender for each TV, as opposed to AVoIP or a traditional matrix — the systems are typically just too small and the cost does not justify the benefit of a matrixed video system. Although with some of the issues he has been facing with HDBaseT lately, he is reconsidering AVoIP as his primary video distribution model.