To quote Janet Jackson (Ms. Jackson if you're nasty), "This is a story about control." And whether your lifestyle is Joe Schmo, Average Joe, or Joe Millionaire, control is something we can all use a little more of in our lives. Fortunately, achieving some level of control over our A/V systems is easily done. Replacing that pile of remotes with a universal model that makes movie watching or music listening a single-button affair is the first step, and it doesn't have to cost a fortune. But what about controlling your lights, the thermostat, or the blinds covering the windows? Whole-house automation systems that also perform these tasks are pricey, on the order of $20,000 to more than $50,000 for a typical installation. Should it cost so much more to turn on a light remotely than it does to open your garage door the same way?
What We Think
|A well-conceived modular system that offers music and DVD management, automation, and more at a price nearly anyone can afford.|
A basic Control 4 system provides remote control of entertainment and other devices scattered throughout the house as well as multizone audio distribution. The heart of the system is the Media Controller, a component that contains the brains and connections for the system as well as inputs for your primary music sources. Digital audio signals are transmitted via a conventional wired or wireless home network.
The Media Controller ($1,495, above, on bottom) can be operated either via the supplied handheld remote (below) and onscreen menus or a sexy, 10.5-inch Wireless Touch Screen ($1,995, above, on top). The touchpanel plugs into a wall adapter or easel-style table dock but can also run on battery power and be carried from room to room.
Remote rooms can be fed in a variety of ways. If running new wiring isn't possible, one of the company's Speaker Point boxes ($399 Ethernet, $449 Wi-Fi) can stream audio directly off the network and drive a pair of speakers with its built-in amp. Or go with the wall-mountable or tabletop Mini Touch Screen interface (page 4, $699 Ethernet, $799 Wi-Fi). The latter has a 4-inch touchscreen keypad, can stream audio off the network, and includes a stereo RCA output to feed a local amp and speakers. I used both of these, and Control 4 also makes a more traditional eight-zone distribution amplifier ($1,995) that streams audio off the network and routes speaker-level signals to selected rooms. Each zone can be controlled by either of the touchpanels or the remote handset.
Control 4 also offers a variety of add-ons, including an AM/FM/XM tuner ($799), which can stream AM and FM stations as well as XM satellite radio channels to different rooms simultaneously. Also available are controllable light switches/dimmers ($99 to $129) and a thermostat ($199), or the system can be programmed to operate any third-party control device for drapes, motorized lifts, security, etc. Other components include a 16-zone audio matrix switch ($1,295) to enable an extensive distributed-audio system plus contact/relay and serial/IR (infrared) remote extender boxes ($179 each) for expanding the system to additional rooms and devices. As both a consumer and an installer, I was really impressed by how many options the system offers and how flexible it is.