Control 4

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.
Control 4 doesn't think so. This new company hopes to change the way we think about automation, audio distribution, and control. And while its system doesn't do anything revolutionary, the promise of affordability is what makes Control 4 so exciting. But can the company hold up its end, or is it out of control?

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.

0602_control4_remoteRemote 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.

the list