December 22, 2008
| by Lisa Montgomery
This new profile has made them a space-saving alternative to the massive floor-to-ceiling entertainment cabinets that were popular in the ’80s and ’90s. Another good reason to consider a lowboy is that it places the set at eye level, says Art Powers of Madison Fielding, a manufacturer of entertainment cabinets and outdoor speakers.
Adding to the appeal of the lowboy are special accommodations for electronics equipment. Madison Fielding has designed a line of cabinets with speakers and subwoofers already built in. Furniture maker Peters-Revington, meanwhile, has partnered with AC power management manufacturer Panamax to incorporate a power conditioner into its home theater media cabinets. The M8-HT conditioner, which is mounted to the back side of the cabinet, cleans and filters noise on the AC powerlines, enabling the connected A/V equipment to perform optimally. Then there’s upscale furniture company Brownstone. For an additional $1,500, the company will attach a Monster Cable power conditioner and ventilation fans to its contemporary lowboy cabinets. Furniture manufacturers like Salamander Designs have also redesigned the rear panels of their cabinets to provide easier access to the equipment inside.
Blu-ray Breaks Free
Another force accelerating the development of new technology is Blu-ray. With more and more Blu-ray discs being released and satellite and cable providers increasing their number of high-def stations, the market is ripe for systems that can deliver HD content to not just one TV but to all TVs in the house.
You’ll have lots of choices in 2009 when it comes to buying an HD-compliant video distribution system. “The idea of having access to all of your content from anywhere in the home is the ultimate goal, and in today’s world, that content includes high def,” says Neal Manowitz, director of marketing at Sony. The A/V giant has nearly all the bases covered by offering several different HD setups. The simplest and least expensive ($2,000 to $2,500) are Sony’s two new ES series A/V receivers. In addition to supporting a 7.1 surround-sound system and providing 120 watts of amplification for a home theater, the receivers can stream HD video to a second zone via Category 5 data cabling.
Of course, most homes have more than two TVs, so Sony has also developed a system, the HomeShare HD ($1,000 to $2,000 per room), that can pass HD video to as many as four zones. The system can handle music, too, routing audio to a remaining 12 zones. Again, this system utilizes Cat 5 wiring, which gives consumers the flexibility to configure the setup in a number of different ways.
Reaching homeowners who want to both distribute high-def video and automate their home’s lights, thermostats, A/V equipment and other devices is Sony’s high-end NHS system. The NHS, which runs between $40,000 and $85,000 (price includes professional installation), has all the bells and whistles you’d expect for the price. Home control software from Control4 is built in, as is an HD switcher that can transmit HD content to as many as 12 zones (plus one home theater zone). For the home theater, the system incorporates a 7.1 surround-sound receiver, 400-disc DVD/CD changer, 160-GB music server, Blu-ray disc player, AM/FM/XM/Sirius radio tuner and iPod dock.
Crossing Over to HD
Companies like Sony represent a trend where firms that once focused on a single product category are crossing over into new areas of the home electronics market. In Sony’s case, the crossover was from entertainment into home control. While Sony stakes its claim in this new territory, many home control companies are starting to develop their own solutions for distributing high-def audio and video around the house. High-capacity, high-def video switchers are now part of the product portfolios at home control companies like Crestron, Savant and Vantage, to name a few.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.