August 08, 2008
| by Rebecca Day
What if you took a 275-pound, $45,000 stack of audio, video and control gear with 330 connections and reduced it to a 110-pound, $25,000 box of integrated electronics with just 30 connections? You’d save about 80 hours of expensive labor, says SE2 Labs, the company behind the ITC One Integrated Theater Console.
That’s just the beginning. The ITC One is a complete home theater plug-and-play system made up of high-end components from well-known manufacturers engineered to work together in a chassis designed by custom installers. You get a high-performance system. Installers get a system that works the same way every time.
The ITC One was first shown in prototype form last year and has received several upgrades before beginning to ship last month. At a demo during a dealer tour in New York this week, SE2 president Mike Pyle showed a near-final version of the product using a scene from “Lost” downloaded to an integrated Apple TV. The demo was impressive despite the low resolution of the iTunes video file which was scaled to 480p using the onboard Vidikron video processor. Likewise, iTunes music files get a boost from a dedicated analog sound board. It gets better. SE2 is planning a digital option built around the Wadia iPod transport that takes music directly from the high-quality S/PDIF output.
The unit has all the surround-sound processing (thanks, Bryston) and amplification (from modified Bang & Olufsen Class D amplifiers) you need for home theater. It also comes with an HD DVR from your video provider of choice: DirecTV, DISH, Comcast or Cox Cable. A built-in Xbox spins games, DVDs and CDs and it too has been upgraded with a digital output to step up sound quality. There’s a bay for Wii fans who want that option. The iPod dock accepts standard iPods as well as the iPhone and iTouch. In fact, in the future the system will use the iTouch as the front-panel interface.
Built like a tank, the ITC One has an extensive cooling system combining four 4 ½-inch fans and airflow baffles. Heat is the biggest threat to a smooth-running home theater system and is often the cause of DVR and Xbox shutdowns. SE2 isolated the Xbox drive from the rest of the system to minimize heat buildup. The company also engineered in extensive noise and mechanical isolation features to ensure top-end performance. “The majority of the industrial design is around air flow because heat is the biggest problem we face,” Pyle said.
The little things that come from experience are one of the things that set the ITC One apart from standard electronics. Pyle and his crew built in features important to custom installers based on 15 years in the business. Task lights on the back and front panels eliminate the need for an external light when plugging in cables. A power outlet on the front panel allows you to add power for a camcorder so you don’t have to worry about it running out of juice. Or, you could use the outlet to power a VUDU box your friend brings over, which can also tap into the Ethernet connection on the front of the chassis.
If the cable goes out and you lose the Internet connection or if there’s a storm and rain fade affects your satellite signal, a message comes on screen informing you to call the cable or satellite provider for more information. That’s a favor to installers who typically get all service calls regardless of the source of the problem. “We’re trying to help with all those silly service calls that aren’t the dealer’s fault,” Pyle said.
If you lose the remote control, tap a button on the unit’s touchscreen and a beep from the remote will signal its location. The remote control’s buttons are etched with labels rather than silk-screened on the face of the unit so you can see the illuminated buttons in the dark. Pick up the remote and the backlit buttons light up but only to a level appropriate for the light in the room. If the room is dark for theater viewing, the buttons will remain at a dim level. Don’t know what -20 means when it comes to volume? You don’t have to. The volume buttons on the front panel cycle through a rainbow of colors as you raise or lower the volume. Red = very loud.