CasaTunes is a relatively new, ingenious software tool that lets any Windows computer with an Explorer or Media Center interface control any of the Russound or NuVo whole-house audio systems that have a serial interface. You point your browser window to the IP address of the computer in your home where the CasaTunes software is located, and a graphical interface screen appears that allows you to control each of a home’s media zones-from volume control, to source selection, and transport control. The source selection even includes the ability to show album art and description. Or, if your Windows computer is loaded with Microsoft’s Media Center interface, the CasaTunes software can serve as a whole-house audio control extension of the Media Center environment.
A Beautiful Solution
From my company’s perspective, this inexpensive software tool ($249, www.casatools.com) is another way you can use computer platforms and displays that are on your customer’s home network as control points for a whole-house audio system. If one of those computer platforms is the new HP Touchscreen, for example, you can use this computer to provide a high-resolution 19-inch touch-screen control for under $2,500.
We will often sell the Sonos solution as a desktop computer interface to control whole-house audio music with either a complete Sonos solution or as an input to a Russound whole-house audio system. The main drawback with this solution is that you can only control Sonos source music (not the Russound XM, Media Center music, or AM/FM input sources, for example) and you need to load their client software on each computer that you want to use as a control point.
Of course, there are other control interfaces that can use Russound or NuVo’s serial port on their whole-house multi-room receivers but most of those are total home control packages, like those from HomeLogic, Life-ware, HAI, Crestron, or AMX. The beauty of CasaTunes is that it provides only whole-house audio control from your PC platform, so you don’t need any extra software or control platform overhead if all you want is an elegant graphical interface for your whole-house music system. Think of this solution as one that can provide a large, always on, touch screen whole-house audio control to complement the push-button audio keypads around the home.
CasaTunes also supports the Barix Exstreamer product ($195), so if the source PC containing all the digital music is located in the office you can stream that music and the CasaTunes Russound or NuVo control codes from this computer over the home’s network Cat-5e wiring to the head end where the Russound or NuVo receivers are located. At this point the Exstreamer converts the digital stream to an analog audio source to the Russound or NuVo receiver and a serial stream to provide the necessary control codes.
This is where CasaTunes shines as a very elegant solution for the network connected home. It basically uses a generic browser or Media Center interface for access to a whole-house audio control portal and together with Barix allows digital audio streams and control codes to flow freely through the home network until they find the IP address of the Barix Exstreamer where they are converted into analog information for the local Russound and NuVo receivers.
This AV network transport logic could simplify a lot of our installations, especially if high-definition video could be streamed in the same way. For example, all of our distributed HD set-top boxes could stream video and audio content along with serial control information to a head end audio/video matrix switcher that could move audio/video from any TV in the home to any other TV in the home from the control of a browser or Windows Media Center PC screen.
I would equate the CasaTunes/Barix Exstreamer solution as the audio control equivalent of the HomeLogic Climate or Irrigation Brick. These are basically IP to serial bridges that support browser compatible software to control legacy analog systems, like thermostats, sprinkler systems, or whole-house audio receivers. They are the a la carte solution to IP control of these home subsystems. When your client doesn’t have the budget for a full whole-house control system these offerings might just target their specific control need. At the very least, you can install the Russound or NuVo offerings and let your client know that they can easily
upgrade to CasaTunes control without paying the higher price of a more customized whole-house control or touchscreen system. They can leverage the PC investment that they have already made.