We live in the future. These days, a few $30 Zigbee light switches, a $50 program on my PC, and a $10 dollar iPhone app pretty much deliver a reasonably comparable experience to what was only available via multithousand- dollar lighting control systems just a few years ago. Is that a serious threat to the custom integration market? Maybe. But that’s the future we live in. The VOCO V-Zone system rather smacks of that same notion.
The VOCO system consists of a simple receiver with a Wi-Fi antenna, Ethernet port, optical digital output, HDMI port that’s covered up with a sticker reading “Future,” and a 1/8-inch minijack AV output (along with a minijack-to-RCA adapter cable); server software to install on a PC; and an Android app that actually does all of the controlling.
V-Zone is touted as the world’s first voicecontrolled multi-room music system. “Simply speak a song title or artist name into your Android smart phone,” the marketing materials promise, “and VOCO searches your phone, PC, or internet radio for the music you want.”
In today’s more smart phone-driven home technology world, sooner or later one of your Androidobsessed clients is bound to ask about it. There are two reasons you shouldn’t view this thing as a threat, though, no matter how scary it sounds in terms of everdiminishing profit margins and do-it-yourself-ability. First, VOCO doesn’t include speakers. It won’t run wires through walls for you. It won’t replace back boxes and labor costs and the like. Second, installing one of these things in a client’s home may well be the best replacement/up-sale opportunity you’ll have in a long, long time. Bonus points also for the fact that it won’t take you long to install.
The VOCO system consists of a simple receiver with a Wi-Fi antenna, Ethernet port, optical digital output, HDMI port that’s covered up with a sticker reading “Future,” and a 1/8-inch minijack AV output (along with a minijack-to-RCA adapter cable); server software to install on a PC; and an Android app that actually does all of the controlling. If you do go the Wi-Fi route, setting the receiver up is a snap, since the Android app recognizes it and walks you through the very easy process of joining the same wireless network. If you opt for a hardwired Ethernet connection, it’s even easier. Either way, within minutes you’ll have a completely networked system capable of beaming music from your iTunes library at Point A to whatever Point B you decide to attach the receiver to.
If only operating the system were as easy as setting it up. On paper, it sounds simple enough: Press a button, say the name of the artist or song you’re in the mood to listen to, and the app searches your phone or computer-based music library (and I do mean “or” there; it won’t search both at the same time, and switching between them is a bit of a hassle with my big Wookiee paws). It then gives you a list, and lets you start playing music at the poke of a few buttons. It’ll also scour a massive number of internet radio stations for the same artist or song, which is also cool in theory.
The problem is, Siri this ain’t. The first artist I searched for was Björk–not to be difficult, but because that’s literally the first artist that popped into my head that matched my mood. That experience went a little something like this:
Me: [holding down the Press and Speak button]: “Björk.”
VOCO: [in textual list form]: “3 Artists with ‘George.’”
Me: “No! Not George. Björk!”
VOCO: “0 Artists with ‘North.’ 0 Artists with ‘Jordu.’”
Me: “[Expletive deleted]”
VOCO: “0 Artists with ‘Bach’. 4 Songs with ‘Fox.’”
VOCO: “5 Songs with ‘The Lord.’”
Figuring that either my light southern accent or deep voice or maybe my choice of search terms was the problem, I did a search for Adele. Which VOCO interpreted as either “The Dell” or “The Tao.” A search for Joanna Newsom turned up “No songs with Avenues,” which is convenient, because I wasn’t looking for songs about avenues.
To be fair, VOCO fared better with the likes of Lyle Lovett and Beastie Boys, but even at that, the app merely comes up with a list of literally every song by that artist in my collection, in alphabetical order. Clicking on a song and selecting “Show Album” does indeed take you to a list of songs on said album… also in alphabetical order. Which might not be a problem if the only album in your collection is “I” by The Magnetic Fields, but it’s incredibly frustrating for album aficionados like myself, who want to, you know, listen to the album in its proper running order. While you’re sorting songs, you can also click a button and search YouTube for the music video at the click of a button, but the novelty of that wears off quickly.
There’s also the fact that the only voice function is literally the Artist/Song search. Even if you’re just searching for one song, you still have to scroll and dig before you start playing any actual music. And given how iffy the voice recognition is, at least with my voice, you sort of end up spending more time searching for tunes than if you had just started scrolling and digging in the first place.
If this is the future of home audio, I seriously understand why vacuum tubes and vinyl are making such a comeback.
The VOCO V-Zone voicecontrolled wireless multiroom music system is neat in concept and really easy to set up.
The voice recognition really only works some of the time, and even once you’ve found an artist, you still have to hunt and scroll and peck to actually play your music.
• PC running Windows XP, Vista, 7 and at least 500 MB available disk space
• 802.11 b/g access point or Ethernet
• Broadband internet connection
• Android mobile internet device with OS 1.6 or greater
• Wi-Fi enabled
• SD card
• Digital Music Library