The Connected House: Room Service Page 3

The system is impressive - particularly given its price. The controller/amp can handle up to eight A/V sources in up to six zones. But since it's likely to be used with a more powerful A/V receiver in a home theater, you can actually get six zones plus the home theater. Along with substantial switching capabilities, the controller has a 30-watts-per-channel, 12-channel amplifier with line-level A/V outputs. Add another main unit and you can have a total of 13 zones (12 zones plus a home theater). There are also RS-232 ports for operating the system with touchscreen controllers like those from Crestron or AMX, or even operate a Lutron custom lighting system.

If the CAV-M1000ES is the brains of the system, the attractive RM-TP100 remote is its heart. Sporting a 5-inch backlit touchscreen, the remote sits in a charging cradle when not in use and has an RS-232 connector so it can be configured via a PC (there's no Mac support). Since it's an RF (radio-frequency) remote with a rated range of 100 feet, it enjoys two-way communication with the CAV-M1000ES without the "line of sight" needed for IR remotes. You make most of your selections using the LCD panel's icons, but there are also "hard" buttons for controlling volume, changing channels, muting, and turning the system on and off. There's also a small joystick for navigating onscreen menus like electronic programming guides or DVD menus.

While the RM-TP100 serves as the remote for the main entertainment area - here, a home theater - you control the system in other rooms by the in-wall LCD keypads and the companion IR remote. The keypad shows the selected source, the volume, and the zone and system status. It also has buttons for disc playback, volume, muting, and power. You can use two keypads per zone, up to a maximum of 12 keypads.

The real star of this show is its simplified installation, setup, and operation. And while it will work with components from other companies - it comes with an exhaustive library of IR codes - there are clear advantages to going with an all-Sony setup. I was able to use the main remote and the keypads to browse DVDs and CDs by title, see station names for tuner presets, view volume levels, and check the status of each source. But using non-Sony components means you lose the two-way communication, which is important if your gear is stored out of sight in a closet. Using the RF remote's icon-driven menu, I could easily select any source, from CDs to satellite TV, and have it play in any zone. I could adjust the volume in each zone, mute individual zones or the entire system, or play the same song in every zone. And almost all the info I needed was always onscreen - I rarely had to "flip" back through menu pages to find a control.

The supplied PC software makes it easy to set up the system and the remote, and the keypads are automatically programmed once they're activated. While high-end control systems from companies like Elan and Xantech can take up to a week of extensive programming, Sony claims that an experienced installer can get the system up and working in about half a day.

I was impressed by both companies' dramatically different efforts to send entertainment around the house. The Philips WACS700 Wireless Music Center offers the promise of an easy way to enjoy music in various rooms. And while there are other companies working in this area - Yamaha's MusicCAST system comes to mind - the Philips system has a striking design, is comparatively affordable, and will appeal to anyone who's not already using his PC as an entertainment hub. But I wish it had a larger hard drive, and I'd like to see it support AAC and "lossless" codecs such as FLAC for CD-quality sound.

Sony's CAV-M1000ES delivers on its promise of offering a sophisticated system at a price that will allow many more people to enjoy whole-house A/V. While it might not be right for everyone - for instance, if you have more than eight sources, need to power more than 13 zones, or want two-way communication with different brands of gear - it does provide the key elements of more exotic systems at a fraction of their price.

It's time to clear the floor of chickens - the elephants are ready to dance.