Multi-room Audio Embraces Digital Music World

Multi-room audio has taken a step forward into the digital music world. Niles Audio pushed the envelope for distributed digital music last month when it began shipping its long-awaited IntelliControl 7/05/2006 4:00 AM Eastern

Multi-room Audio Embraces Digital Music World

Jul 5, 2006 8:00 AM

Multi-room audio has taken a step forward into the digital music world. Niles Audio pushed the envelope for distributed digital music last month when it began shipping its long-awaited IntelliControl ICS (Integrated Control Solutions) system to custom installers. Positioned as multi-room audio for the digital age, IntelliControl ICS can send metadata including track, artist, and album information to remote interfaces enabling simple control of menu-based digital music devices including satellite radio tuners and MP3 players from any room in the house.

The ICS system is built around the 12-channel GXR2 modular multi-zone receiver. According to Niles, the 55-watt-per-channel receiver is the first to use interchangeable modules for XM and Sirius satellite radio, iPod, and AM/FM radio as well as legacy analog sources such as CD players, DVD, and satellite TV receivers. The ICS receiver accommodates any combination of up to six card modules and can be expanded to 30 zones, each with independent source selection and control.

The system is controllable by four interfaces: a wired color touchscreen display, wired wall-mountable keypads in both LCD and non-display versions, and via the iRemote, a wireless handheld remote control that operates over the ZigBee wireless communications standard.

Thanks to the module format, users don’t have to choose between Sirius or XM satellite radio. In fact, they could have both if they were willing to pony up for two subscriptions. A system could consist of six iPods to cover every portable in the family. The whole idea is flexibility, according to Frank Sterns, Niles Audio president.

“IntelliControl ICS accommodates all the modern sources which are primarily menu-driven,” Sterns says. “Previous multi-room audio sources had no way to deal with the metadata or menus that go along with the sources like an iPod.” With the card-based approach to system design, he adds, “we’re able to provide systems for customers that are custom-designed but don’t require custom programming.”

Comparing ICS to other types of distributed audio systems in the market, Sterns says typical multi-room systems stack sources including a CD player, cable box and an AM/FM tuner. In order to customize the system, installers have to write custom software for each touchpad or touchscreen to make it do what the end user wants, which can be very expensive.

Niles Audio took a more affordable route 3 years ago with its Gloria ZR4630 four-source/six-zone multi-room receiver, but it sacrificed customization in the process. “You had AM/FM as the number one source and three other IR sources,” Sterns says. “Installers didn’t have to do any programming because it wasn’t very flexible.”

IntelliControl ICS fills in the gap offering customization to the end user without extensive programming on the part of the installer. The GXR2 receiver uses web-server technology to look at what’s connected, and then it automatically draws the proper interfaces for whichever devices are attached. User interfaces are connected to the receiver over Ethernet with each assigned a unique address. The server inside the GXR2 finds all the connected devices and then serves up the proper menu structures based on the devices it identifies.

“If the GXR2 finds an XM tuner in slot 1 and six touchscreens, it automatically goes to the touchscreens and draws Button 1 as XM tuner,” Sterns says. “It gives you all the extra tuner controls specific to XM Radio and all the XM feedback that comes from the satellite over the touchscreen—that hasn’t been done before in a multi-room system.”

Homeowners will have to revert to the analog unknown when operating veteran devices such as CD or DVD players, though, and that could be confusing for many. For legacy audio sources, installers connect a card with RCA inputs and infrared outputs and then tell the receiver what’s connected. The GXR2 taps its built-in library of codes and downloads data for that component into memory. The receiver knows which basic screens to draw on the keypad for functions such as pause, stop, and track advance, but users won’t, of course, see metadata for legacy analog devices. When playing CDs, users will have to remember track numbers to retrieve the songs they want. For music channels from satellite and cable TV, they’re out of luck without a visual guide—you’ll have to turn on the TV.

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