The Connected House: The Future Gets Real

The world of multiroom entertainment is dominated by companies whose names sound like they came out of '50s sci-fi movies. Brand names like Crestron and Xantech conjure up World of Tomorrow visions of high technology, suggesting a home where everything is wired to everything else, and it all works together seamlessly.

And to a large degree, the elaborate custom-installation systems from these companies, Elan, AMX, and others deliver on their promise. But they don't come cheap, often costing $8,000 or more for an installed six-zone system run from keypads and a wireless touchscreen controller. Those high-end price tags, combined with the perception that custom installers deal only with the very rich, have helped keep multiroom entertainment little more than a curiosity for those of us with more modest means.

That is changing - finally - as digital technology becomes tremendously more powerful and affordable. Ready access to relatively inexpensive broadband services, the proliferation and refinement of wireless devices and systems, the explosion in portable gadgets like iPods and cellphones, and the ease with which traditional components like A/V receivers have taken on computer-based functions are helping to pave the way for the Average Guy's connected house.

But the deciding factor in making multiroom entertainment not only affordable but easy to install and use could be the broad-based commitment of familiar names like Sony, Philips, Onkyo, Yamaha, B&W, Polk, and Klipsch. While early adopters have eagerly sought out tweaky gear from obscure companies that are sometimes little more than garage-based startups, a lot of people have shied away from taking their first steps toward a whole-house system for fear - often legitimate - that they'll end up with components that are hard to set up, operate, and get serviced. The big names in home entertainment bring a lot to the connected house, including massive manufacturing operations that drive down costs - and equally massive marketing and distribution operations that can spread the word and then the product to every corner of the globe. But maybe the most crucial factor these brands bring into play is customer loyalty, the comfort level that comes with having bought their products over many years and having found them affordable, reliable, and easy to use.