A lot has been made of the MP3 player you put in your pocket in recent years, but the future belongs to the MP3 player you live in. If you’re looking to fire up digital music in your home you have a few tiers of options: Squeezebox or Roku gets you in the game for $150, Sonos is the Rhapsody-enabled, Mossberg-approved whole home music solution, but Control 4 is the most versatile, affordable, standards-based, programmable home automation plus digital audio solution I’ve seen. I put Control 4 in my house in July with help from my homies at Control 4, Ed from Vantage, Jonathan from So Cal Smart Home, and my main man Matt Pszonak. More than a few IMs from Julie with questions like “why does the light in the hallway keep flashing off and on” will tell you it hasn’t been 100% smooth sailing, but it’s a very cool system once you get it all wired. If you’re looking for a whole-house solution, I don’t think there’s much competition on both price and flexibility.
Here’s how it works in my house: a Control 4 Home Theater Controller (HTC) sits in a rack in my closet, attached to my home network, along with a Control 4 16 channel amp (also networked), Control 4 XM/FM/AM Multi-Tuner (ditto), DirecTV TiVo, and Marantz 8500 A/V Receiver. The receiver is tied into the plasma and 5:1 surround in the living room, and the 16 channel amp is hard-wired to in-ceiling speakers in every room in the house (both living room and in-ceiling speakers are by TruAudio). The HTC has little infrared remotes so it can control the TV, receiver, and TiVo box, and it talks directly to the components on the network. Additionally I swapped all our light switches for Control 4 switches or dimmers as well as our thermostat, and these all talk to the HTC via the Zigbee RF protocol. This allows everything (lights, tv, etc) to be controlled from any Control 4 remotes, of which there are a few options: mini touch screens in the walls (like the photo above), hand-held remotes which are in a few of the rooms, or the hand-held remote + the TV. They’ve done a very good job making the interface 100% consistent across this variety of control points.
But the best part is that I can mount a share from a computer in my home office and the HTC will index all my MP3s, then allow me to pump the audio through any configuration of speakers in the house. The HTC has two analog outputs that plug directly into the amp, so you can listen to two different MP3 streams at once (Zoe can listen to Girl Talk in her room, Julie can listen to James Taylor in Lucinda’s room and the rest of the house). And you can browse by cover art, show a screen saver of the currently playing track on the touch screens in the walls, etc.
Oh I almost forgot. Richard and Jonathan helped me rig up the turntable in the living room so it slides out of the wall unit, plays through the living room system, and is route-able to any or all of the speakers in the rest of the house. Kinda nice.
Whole house music has been my dream since Zoe and I first holed up at Club D for a few weeks in the spring of 1995. I was prepared to go old school analog with little knobs in the wall until Dave Goldberg introduced me to the Control 4 guys. They really seem to be the only ones who get it, leveraging standards like IP, Wifi, Zigbee, and MP3, and creating something reasonably-priced, useful, and easily extended.
Being able to sit in the rocker with Lucinda, turn on the music, turn down the lights, and adjust the heat all from a hand-held remote control the size of the one that comes with a TV is pretty crazy.
A setup like this definitely isn’t for everyone, but I’ve had enough people ask me about what it is and how it works that I wanted to put this post up to explain the basics and have a place to point people when they ask. If you’re looking for a quote, call Jonathan at SoCal Smart Home or the kind folks at Vantage and they’ll hook you up. To be honest I wouldn’t have been able to afford it if I hadn’t gotten the bro discount, but if you’re already in the market for home automation gear you’ll probably find it to be pretty reasonably priced.
Dig the Control 4 pitch reels:
And an update on all the after-market nonsense available from the latest Control 4 trade show: