November 15, 2006
| by Gordon van Zuiden
What comes to mind when you think of home intercom systems? How about tinny-sounding speakers that are cut into the wall with clunky buttons for paging? Fortunately, those primitive setups have given way to new and much improved intercoms that work with whole-house audio systems. You can have music throughout the house—and locate and call everyone.
Once a whole-house audio system is installed, the infrastructure is also in place to provide a whole-house intercom system—and not one that sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Whole-house audio systems from companies such as Elan, Sonance and Niles allow you to pick up any phone to initiate a page over all the system’s speakers. The page temporarily interrupts the audio playing in a given room or throughout the house.
But there are limitations. You have to find the phone and remember the key commands to initiate a page. And the conversation is one-way; others can hear the page but not respond to it.
Missing from these intercom systems are small microphones in each room and the ability to select individual rooms to page. Enter Russound and its new ComPoint line. ComPoint lets you page or communicate with someone in any room from in-wall keypads designed to have the same look and feel as the company’s in-wall audio controllers. The light-switch-size plate contains a pinpoint microphone and a display, so you can choose to page by room or throughout the house. You simply walk up to the wall keypad, press the PAGE button and talk directly to the person in that room. If music from the whole-house system is playing there, the page automatically suppresses the audio and gives the person up to seven seconds to respond without having to get up and go to a wall plate.
Say you’re in the kitchen, and it’s time for dinner. You page your daughter’s room from the kitchen, and her music is automatically interrupted so she can hear you. She can respond with “In a minute” or “I’ll be down right away” or “Whatever.”
Other features allow you to set a “Do not disturb” function so no one wakes up the baby, for example. Or you can set up a “Listen” mode to hear the goings-on in a certain room, such as the kids’ room. (A privacy function prevents you from spying on your teenagers and their friends!) You can add your front doorbell to the intercom system, so when it rings it chimes over the house speakers.
Even outdoor speakers can chime so you can hear someone ringing when you’re hosting a pool party. For use with high-end home control systems, Crestron offers two-way audio and even video intercoms (think in-house videophones) between some of its touchpanels. The company also added paging capability to its own whole-house audio system with a CEN-TIA telephone interface. It works like other audio system intercom setups, though it allows paging to any zone from a telephone.
High-end rival AMX has introduced intercom features in two of its Modero touchpanels. The 8.4-inch ViewPoint MVP-8400i and 7-inch NXD-700Vi touchpanels have built-in speakers and microphones for conversing, along with an on-screen selection of rooms to page. The touchpanels can be connected with Voiceover Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, so your conversation takes place over high-speed network cabling such as Category 5.
The touchpanels will be available late this year or early next year. Intercom systems such as these are at the forefront of intelligent wholehouse electronics design. It’s not too far-fetched to envision walking up to your in-wall microphone and asking it to read your email, which you would immediately hear over the speakers in the room. Think of this service as your own private electronic butler.
Crestron’s CEN-TIA telephone interface enables paging over the phone. Some of the company’s touchpanels allow for videoconferencing.
AMX’s 8.4-inch Modero ViewPoint touchpanel has a microphone, speakers and all the necessary on-screen controls for intercom use.
Gordon van Zuiden is the founder of cyberManor in Los Gatos, CA.