Control 4 Page 2

SETUP Just programming an advanced automation system by Crestron or AMX might take days, which can cost thousands of dollars in installation fees. In contrast, even a complex Control 4 system can be up and running in a matter of hours. Even so, Control 4 isn't meant for installation by users, and dealers must go through training before being allowed to sell the system. Control 4 sent a certified installer named Ed to help with my setup.

0602_control4_screen1We installed the Media Controller in my main system. It features an 80-gigabyte hard drive for storing MP3 files and a CD drive for ripping discs. The box has a multitude of connections to hook up almost any component imaginable, including three analog stereo inputs and one optical digital audio port for easy multizone/multisource listening around the house. Component-, composite-, and S-video as well as VGA outputs are on hand to route the controller's display interface to your TV. An Ethernet jack connects to the home network, and there's a trio of USB ports for plugging in iPods and such. Installers will find RS-232, IR, contact-closure, relay, and video-sensing control connections.

If all this is overkill for you, or your budget is tight, Control 4's $599 Home Theater Controller functions identically to the Media Controller but without the CD or hard drive and with fewer connection options. It also includes a remote handset. Once the Media Controller was installed, adding music to my master bedroom was as simple as connecting a compact Speaker Point box to my home network and using its 50-watt-per-channel digital stereo amp to power a pair of small speakers. My guest bedroom, the farthest in the house from my home theater system, got its own audio feed from a wired Mini Touch Screen.

0602_control4_screen2Ed brought along some lighting dimmer switches ($99 each) as well. They installed like regular light switches - in fact, we just replaced three of my existing switches (of course, after taking the usual precautions for working with electricity).

Programming the system is done via a PC using Control 4's Composer software. Though Composer is primarily an installer's tool, a very basic version is supplied that allows you to scan files or edit media file information. A more flexible version that lets you change lighting "scenes" and so on is also available ($199).

Since audio signals are routed from room to room over your home network, and all the components except the controllers are available in both wired and Wi-Fi versions, it's relatively easy to retrofit a full-blown system. Control and status signals travel wirelessly to and from the interfaces using a relatively new com­munication standard called ZigBee that creates a "mesh network," meaning that it actually gets stronger as more devices are connected.