How to Choose a Multiroom Audio System
Consider these features when choosing a whole-house entertainment system.
Whole-house audio system manufacturer NuVo offers an app that lets you use an iPad to select a song from your music library and direct it to speakers in a particular room.
July 25, 2011 by EH Staff

High Definition
It’s no secret we live in an HD world. With the right disc, Blu-ray can make DVD look like VHS—it’s that impressive. But we’re not just talking about Blu-ray, here. HD cable and satellite services, HD camcorders, Internet-based HD video streams, you name it: HD content is everywhere.

While HD is the best way to take full advantage of your shiny flat-panel displays by delivering higher-quality pictures (and often better sound), it also means higher bandwidth requirements and larger file sizes. Make sure the system you buy can handle both. “You have to be able to distribute full 1080p video and HD audio,” says Jeff Singer, marketing communications director at Crestron. “You should also be able to access and distribute personal media such as photos and family videos.”

“Streaming media is the current must-have, because it pretty much means having anything and everything you could want,” says NuVo president David Rodarte. “Tapping nto the abundance of content available online fills your home with limitless entertainment. There are so many sources online that it increases your options a hundred-fold and negates the need for hard disk storage.”

Open Architecture
In a complex multiroom system, where you have so many devices talking to one another and sending and receiving audio, video, and a myriad of control commands, communication is key. Remote Technologies Inc. (RTI) vice president of sales and marketing Pete Baker agrees: “An open architecture that allows control from third-party devices through IP, RS-232 or IR is absolutely critical.”

Common Myths Debunked

MYTH: Multiroom A/V systems are too expensive. They’re only for owners of mansions.
FACT: Like everything in this world, there are solutions available for virtually every budget. “Saying whole-house audio systems are too expensive is like saying cars are too expensive,” says Russound’s Walt Zerbe. “Which car is too expensive, and why? And what do you need that car to do for you? Providing a standalone sound system in every room where music is desired can in many cases become more expensive than a planned system. Systems can range from simple and cost effective to expensive and complex. There are quality levels and there are feature levels, all of which contribute to the price and user experience of the system.”

MYTH: With iPod docks built into everything these days, a whole-house system is unnecessary.
FACT: “Some would say that a professionally installed system is expensive and unnecessary in today’s world of inexpensive portable music players,” says Autonomic’s Michael de Nigris. “Most homeowners who have installed and experienced a multiroom A/V system will tell you that they would no sooner go without one again than they would go without light dimmers.”

MYTH: Multiroom systems are way too complicated.
FACT: Although the ability to properly operate consumer electronics equipment has long been an acquired skill, whole-house audio and video system manufacturers recognize that simplicity equals satisfaction. “No matter how sophisticated the system becomes, that doesn’t mean it can’t be intuitive and easy for anyone in the home to operate it comfortably,” says RTI’s Pete Baker.

MYTH: Distributed A/V systems are finicky and don’t always behave.
FACT: No piece of gear is completely immune to the occasional hiccup. That said, HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) and its infamous “digital handshake” can present issues when wire runs are too long or improper switching equipment is used. And with so much content now originating on the web, a fast, secure and properly-configured data network is more important than ever. For these reasons, selecting a capable, experienced professional installer who fully supports his or her work is perhaps the most important decision you’ll make when planning for a multiroom audio/video system.

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