The importance of considering the control aspects of any combination of devices cannot be overestimated. What most people fail to consider when purchasing plasmas and home theatre receivers and hard drive recorders is that somehow this has all got to be connected together and made to work.
Not only must all of the items work harmoniously together, but they must be easily understandable by the family.
Control Systems are solutions that are more intuitive than the 9 remotes on the coffee table. They treat your devices as an integrated whole.
There are numerous ways to control devices in your home. The most basic of which involves getting up and manually changing something. Most commonly it's an infrared remote control that does the walking for us.
IR control is a one-way street. The remote blasts out a code as a series of rapid near invisible flashes. If there is a line of sight to your device, and the signal is clear and strong enough, your device should respond. The only way you know that it worked it when you see the change you requested occur (ie change channels). IR is not a simple, reliable robust system for use on boats (where scattered reflections from the water can play havoc) or in multiroom systems, or where devices controlled have no feedback. For instance turning up the garden speakers from the loungeroom - you have no idea exactly how loud they are actually set till you go out there and listen.
RF or radio frequency is the next stage of control. Many proprietary systems exist including those of Bose for their lifestyle systems. The advantages of RF include greater range, no requirement for line of sight and much more portability of control as a result.
For instance you can take the Bose control to bed with you and still control the loungeroom or house music levels or change radio stations or CD's from your bed.
The major disadvantage of these systems is that they tend to control their own devices perfectly well, but don't necessarily play nice with others. Their ability to control other devices is often more limited. In addition to this, the dip switches so often used to "pair" a remote to a device are all too often left set by unwary users at the default setting. More than once we have been called to troubleshoot a device that turns itself on in the middle of the night only to find that someone living 3 doors down had the same system (also still set to default encryption setting) which was controlling the distant system.
Depending on the brand and product, the RF remotes may or may not have feedback information about the status of the system, or other data, such as track and artist name. This is a potentially more powerful reason for using RF control as part of a solution than any other.
Serial control is the standardised connection to a serial communications port (available on better devices) Serial control enables the two way flow of information between device and touchscreen. This is ideal for where feedback as to system status is required. There are many flavours of serial control known as protocols. Knowing the right one for the job is our contribution.
Network control is becoming increasingly more popular. In this scenario, devices are placed on a regular ethernet network, assigned an IP address and become controllable through regular TCP/IP or internet style communication.
It is this extremely high level of control that makes these devices desirable and powerful when integrated into a whole solution. Network control is the ultimate in terms of feedback. It allows touchscreens to call up the picture of the album cover when playing your favourite songs, the temperature set v the actual temperature to be displayed for any given room and so much more.
Hybrid solutions are the mongrel sons of necessity. It is currently almost impossible to complete a budget conscious whole home AV solution without resorting to a hybrid control model. In this example it is not uncommon to use touchscreens connected via network connections talking to a IP to IR converter which in turn uses small mouselike Infra Red emitters attached to legacy control devices such as CD players or radio tuners. Here the control impulse starts life as a TCP/IP packet, gets converted into the equivalent IR code (looked up from a database of matching control codes to IR codes), then get interpreted by the source device
Learning Remotes are the easiest most common way of simplifying control in most homes. These remotes learn the codes flashed out by your existing remotes as you press each button. You assign these controls to matching buttons on the learning remote. Once complete it is common to select the device you wish to control first by pressing a device button, then pressing any desired function as though you were using the original remote.
Until recently it has been this device oriented approach that has been almost exclusively the norm. Unfortunately, this is not the most elegant solution and does not satisfy the desire to simplify the operation of the system to it's fullest. For instance, operation of the system still requires conducting often a lengthy series of commands for different devices to achieve a desired result, such as watching the news.
The ability to record commonly used multiple command strings has wedged open the door to the world of truly simple operation. To program a macro into most learning remotes with the facility, you usually press a learn button, followed by a macro button to tell the device to expect more than one command. Then you press the sequence of buttons in the order you would normally press them to achieve the desired result. To end recording of the keystrokes you are often then required to press the macro button (or some other button) again to end.
You then assign this macro string to a button. Now whenever you wish to do the same thing simply press a button and it all occurs. Bear in mind that you have to point the remote at the devices for just as long as you would have had to if you were pressing all the device buttons yourself (well, maybe a little less), otherwise incomplete sequences may be transmitted, leaving you in limbo partway through the procedure.
Most recently there has been a few new products released that have adopted a wholly new approach to controlling your devices. They are task oriented devices. In this case you are able to follow an onscreen selection process with changing icons to familiar tasks. Examples might include "Watch TV" or a "Watch a Movie" button which performs all the tasks required to set up the system to watch a DVD. Much simpler than having to remember all the steps, much more easily adopted because of it's strong visual content, and much more obvious to anyone who has to use the system these controls will become the norm.
Each manufacturer has assigned a nearly unique IR code sequence to each of it's commands, such that the button for play on a Denon CD player doesn't also press Max Volume on a Marantz amplifier.
While these codes are often the same within brand product families, this is not always the case, and all codes should be tested before assuming they will work. Audio Junction has built for itself a large code library of regularly used devices, but there is an enormous pool of information about codes available on the web. Some manufacturers publish these code lists, others bury the information deep in service manuals.
Either walkabout wireless or wall mounted, touchscreens are the way of the future. Features including feedback make this a popular choice for a control solution.
Audio Junction carries a range of touchscreen remotes and control solutions to suit all budgets.
The level of custom programmability is usually the prime price driver in this category.
Basic models offer the same sort of functionality as standard learning remotes - only with a touch screen replacing the buttons. The graphics (and often colours) are limited and normally programming is accomplished by teaching the ir pulses of the orignal remotes.
The more expensive products feature completely customisable interfaces using proprietary or standard graphics protocols.
Nothing sets a mood in a room more effectively than control over the lighting. With the lights arranged in control groups it makes selective dimming of areas within the room possible, to create the intimacy and coziness of a small puddle of warm light, to washing the walls alone with puddles of light, emphasizing the featured art.
Lighting control can be local to a single room or control the entire house and grounds. Systems are available to suit any size solution.
Once lights in a room are arranged into control groups (of as few as 1 light per group) you can begin to alter the light levels set for each group creating different settings for different times of the day or night or for movie watching etc. These are known as scenes.
Most systems on the market these days allow you to customise scenes from the wall plate as you like and store at least a few different scenes for later recall.
Typically wallplates have buttons for the instant recall of several scenes as well as an all on/off button.
The use of dimmers has become common in many homes built in the last 30 years. Most of these dimmers are the simple rheostatic type that convert some power off into heat instead of light. The amount of heat they generate is directly proportional to the load and the amount of dimming dialed up.
Modern electronic dimmers work by modifying the waveform to "chop out" either the leading or the trailing edge of AC waves. This means that when set on 30% brightness you are using approximately 30% of the power. You can also set maximum power levels to be say 90%, this means that your bulbs last much much longer and the 10% difference in max brightness in a room with scene control and multiple downlights is almost imperceptible. Hey presto an instant 10% saving in power use.
Systems integration is the combining of many disparate technologies into a coherent functioning whole. It is making a super system out of many smaller systems.
Audio Junction has been combining devices into systems for many years and has extensive field experience in the problems than can occur in trying to coax a frankensteined solution to life. There is definitely a black art or enchanted voodoo associated with the ability to perform these feats, and it's the reason why our installations are so sought after. Our premier solutions have intelligence, fault tolerance, reporting, security and possibly even a soul - you never know.