Help please: upgrade flaky A/V systems - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 15 Old 04-26-2014, 03:40 PM - Thread Starter
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We've got a mess. Current audio and video distribution/control system is complex, creaky, hard to maintain and less than fully functional. We have a 15-year old home, with an existing Crestron system for audio distribution and TV control. Would like to upgrade to something less flaky and more user-friendly (we're Apple-centric) and not waste too much money in the process (duh!). Don't want to integrate with lighting or add HVAC control or security, etc., just A/V. The situation is as follows ...

Audio
  • Music sources: Sonos ZP90, iMerge S2000 music server, iMacs with iTunes, Crestron AM/FM tuner
  • In-ceiling speakers in all audio zones; family room adds speakers for 5.1 surround sound
  • Crestron Pro2 controller, PAD8 amps, Elan power amp
  • 8 audio zones with Crestron CT-1000 keypads

Video
  • Video sources: 2 DirecTV HR24 DVRs, Samsung DVD player, Roku, Apple TV
  • Samsung TVs in Family Room, kitchen and two offices, and 2 old CRT SD TVs
  • 6 URC MX500 remotes send IR to Crestron, which controls other video devices
  • Geffen 4x4 HDMI 1.3 switch
  • Integra DTR 30.1 receiver
  • Family Room TV served through Integra via HDMI, other HD TVs served by component over CAT-5
  • Lousy component-to-S-video converters and an RF modulator for video to SD TVs over coax

Network
  • WiFi throughout, with multiple access points
  • CAT5 in most locations, near TVs, but not on wall at site of CT1000s (Cresnet wiring)
  • Two Apple Airport Express routers with audio output connected to Crestron
  • Little/no ability to re-wire any locations

Our equipment requirements/needs/wishes
  • Willing to ditch the MX500s, iMerge and the CT-1000s and the SD TVs, possibly Crestron controller
  • Need to (?) replace Gefen matrix switch with 4x8 or add another 4x4 (?)
  • Would like to keep investment in other Crestron gear, but could consider selling (at big loss) on eBay
  • Use iPad minis (?) via WiFi to replace CT-1000s; also control with portable iPads & iPhones
  • Want hand-held remotes to control video sources, with icons for TV channels, graphics for other devices

Our audio requirements/needs/wishes
  • A very user-friendly interface on the keypads, with good music search functionality, via the Sonos
  • Each audio zone to be able to play any audio source (possibly add second Sonos?)
  • At most two different sources playing at any time anywhere in the house
  • Each zone to be able to turn on/off the "Whole House" to same audio source (nice to have)
  • Sometimes like to use AirPlay from iPads, iPhones or iMacs to send music to Airports

Our video requirements/needs/wishes
  • Family room TV (only) needs to be able to play and control any video source
  • All other TVs must be able to display and control either DVR (no requirement to use other sources)

Our A/V guy has suggested a URC Total Control system, using the Extra Vegetables Sonos integration kit. I think he'd replace all the Crestron gear, but that seems a waste.
  • Is it possible to use the Crestron amps (PAD8) with the URC Total Control controller?
  • URC Total Control or Complete Control?
  • Or other control system and remote, perhaps Savant or RTI?
  • Keep any of the other gear?
  • What are we giving up or gaining if we replace Crestron with URC?
  • User-level programmability a significant plus

Other suggestions?

Your advice and suggestions and warnings (!) are very much appreciated!
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post #2 of 15 Old 04-27-2014, 09:21 AM
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Sounds like another poorly designed and poorly programmed Crestron system. Crestron is the most capable and the nicest control system on the market, but it is only as good as the people who install and program it for the end user.

I am not a Crestron guy, so I have no suggestions that include keeping your old gear as the backbone of your system. You have had someone propose a URC system; I ask you to at least give Control4 a look.

A properly designed Control4 system could easily meet all of your requirements and allow for future expansion such as lighting control etc. if you change your mind. I would propose a C4 HC-800 main controller, a C4 8-zone amp (which is also an audio matrix that can handle 8 sources), either a C4 8X8 or a Binary 4x8 HDMI matrix, and a couple wireless music bridges. The C4 music bridge is an AirPlay device that would be a source on the audio matrix. The nice thing about them is that song info & album art from AirPlay songs will show on C4 touchpanels and the interface on your TVs if you wish.

Of course you can use iPads & iPhones as touchpanels for full control of the system. Control4 also has 7" in-wall touchpanels that give full control but can also function as whole-house intercom stations with both audio & video communications. There are also more simple keypads. As far as handheld remotes for your video zones, the system could be set up such that every TV could have an on-screen interface that looks exactly like the one on the touchpanels/iPads. From there you would have your source icons & favorite channel logos.
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post #3 of 15 Old 04-27-2014, 12:14 PM
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A couple of things.
The Crestron PAD8 is not an amplifier but a 8 source/8 zone audio matrix system. The PAD8 feeds an amplifier, probably a multi-channel amp to power the house music speakers around you house.

You either need to complete the Crestron system or replace it all together. The URC Total Control is a very viable option as it integrates well with Sonos.

I would look at a complete overhaul if you don't have access to the original Crestron program as it is only available by the programmer or dealer because the program dose not sit in the processor. Unless you want to invest in a Crestron programmer to start from scratch, keeping the Crestron gear is a great option to control all your gear. iPad minis would be a great option to control your music but you need to streamline the sources. Going to a complete Sonos system for the distributed music system is a great option. Getting a Sonos ConnectAmp for every zone would eliminate the Crestron PAD8 and offer you complete control via iPads or any other Android or iOS device. Getting a new 8x8 hdmi matrix system with dual hdmi and HDBaseT outputs would offer you the most options for distributing video throughout your house.

You can choose URC or Crestron for your control options, but the programmer is the more important thing in choosing either one. A good programmer can make your system easy to use or a nightmare depending on skill level and experience.
Either way, you will want to talk to an integrator who will wind up doing the installation and programming to make sure the system is engineered and designed correctly to work with your wants and needs.
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post #4 of 15 Old 04-27-2014, 12:16 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for your replay, cshepard. To be fair to the (various) guys who did the work on the Crestron, the system has evolved over the years. The sad truth is the current setup is a complete replacement of what we installed many years ago, pre HD days. Then, we used Prontos (which I could program), had fewer SD-only TVs over coax, and a worse music server than the iMerge (and an AudioEase (?) controller with no feedback, only numbers, etc.). That was horrible, and this current situation is only miserable. ;-)

Part of our dissatisfaction with the current system is due to limitations of the hardware, not just the Crestron. The Crestron CT1000 panels (while very expensive, when they were new) have limited functionality, and the iMerge is a bit outdated too. We've had to replace failing bits (e.g., Crestron power supplies), and accommodate the move to HD when there really was inadequate wiring. Newer things like Sonos and iTunes and iOS are much preferable to older technologies.

All that said, yes, crappy Crestron programming has been part of the problem too. There are some small irritating bugs in the system, and changing out a failed component (like a DVD player) requires paying big bucks for a programmer. The programmer is a flake, and has not provided me with a copy of the program, won't fix the bugs, and no longer even responds to requests to provide service. A prima donna, I guess. We'd have to start over with the Crestron programming even if we keep the hardware, since we don't have the current program and so many other components would change.

So, here we are. I'm willing to look at Control 4, but I am not sure whether or not it is superior to Total Control from URC. The current A/V guy, who's been helpful keeping this mess working when things go bad (which they always seem to do), is not a Control 4 dealer, and will not take on RTI which we use in my other home (and which I can program). Savant might be another approach, because it is Apple-centric like me.

This will probably be the last time we do an overhaul of our AV system, so I want to do it right, even if it costs more than it should (which it undoubtably will!). I'm tempted to have a completely different company come take a look and make recommendations, even if I go with my current a/v guy (who is a one-person shop).

I am sure I'm not the only homeowner who has dealt with a situation like this, but it sure is frustrating. Again, thanks for your reply and your sympathy!
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post #5 of 15 Old 04-27-2014, 12:23 PM
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Your not the only one in your boat, but I sympathize with your situation.

RTI and URC TT are very similar but URC is the only current one working with EV to offer seamless Sonos control in one app via URC. You would have to keep switching between apps to control video, audio and anything else.

The nice thing about URC, is that they partnered up with Lutron to offer lighting keypads and control, so you can easily change a few switches to control lighting in a room or rooms. It's also nice to remove them at a later date if you so wish, plus they are fairly cheap compared to Crestron.
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post #6 of 15 Old 04-27-2014, 01:25 PM - Thread Starter
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Thank you, ifor, for your comments (and the clarification re the PAD8, which must feed the Elan power amp in my case). What you say overall makes good sense, so please bear with me for some followup.

That the Crestron doesn't keep the program in the system is part of my frustration with Crestron. I've worked with several integrators over time, and while some might provide the program to me, others come in and say they don't want to work with someone else's program. I agree that a good a/v integrator/engineer is key to satisfaction. I don't have the program now by the way, and with all these changes, we might as well start over.

Re Sonos ... I am under the impression that integrating Sonos and either URC or Crestron is not a perfectly smooth solution, relying on a third-party product (software and/or hardware?) that is not supported by Sonos. From what I've read (and I am no expert) the Control 4 and Total Control systems can use the Extra Vegetables software to provide a nice integration, with a customized UI that handles all the requirements, rather than have to switch between the native Sonos control app and the Crestron controller (for volume and zone control, etc.). Am I mistaken? I've just learned about the Sire solution for Sonos-Crestron integration, which might be an alternative if we keep the Crestron.

It seems that only the Extra Vegetables approach allows you to use either the Total Control custom UI or the native Sonos controller app. That could be a small advantage if I'm controlling it with the iPhone rather than the wall panel. I hope I could have two Sonos ZP90s with either Sire or EV, so my wife and I can play different things in different zones.

So, perhaps it comes down to URC's Total Control with Extra Vegetables or Crestron with Sire. With URC and EV, maybe I get better Sonos integration (?), but with Crestron and Sire I don't have to replace the PAD8s and controller, etc., but I would have to find a different a/v integrator, since my guy doesn't do Crestron. I would have to overcome my frustrations with Crestron if I go that route, but I'm not sure the URC solution would be any less frustrating.

I suppose I'm not really giving anything up by using only the Sonos for music sourcing. Local stations and our two iTunes libraries are accessible there, I guess, and getting rid of the iMerge would be acceptable. Could I still use our iPhones/iPads as music sources via the AppleTV/Airpport Express as via AirPlay with either of the approaches? That is handy if a friend comes over or the wife has music on her iDevice that is not (yet) on iTunes.

As to video, I was not aware of HDBase T (including the latest new version), so thanks for the tip. It seems like the right solution (almost a holy grail!), but I wonder if it will work over my existing Cat5 wiring? (It's probably not Cat5e, since the house was built in 2000). Is there any way to test the existing wiring for compatibility before we go with this approach? I don't think it will be possible/economical to replace all the Cat5 with Cat5e or Cat6.

Re the remotes ... I haven't looked into the differences between Crestron and URC remotes in terms of price and usability. I'd appreciate your recommendations as to which remotes to use. If I went with Crestron, could I use URC remotes if they are cheaper and as or more use-friendly? Would I use IR or RF? (It sounds like HDBaseT can transmit IR, which might be best given the size of the house and since it would allow use of any IR remote with either Crestron or URC Total Control.)

Thanks again for your cogent reply and looking forward to your further thoughts.
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post #7 of 15 Old 04-27-2014, 01:36 PM - Thread Starter
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On your second comment, ifor, thanks for the sympathy! ;-)

I would not expect to use the wall panels to control video, as a handheld remote is much preferable for controlling the TV, and likewise, I'd use the wall panel only for audio. This should mean I don't have to switch between panels if I use EV (or perhaps Sire), right?

I have no need or desire to integrate lighting or HVAC or security with the system. Not only are the systems we have sufficient for our needs, but I am a little skeptical have having too many eggs in one basket. Though we do travel, and having HVAC and lighting accessible remotely might be nice, I think we could live without it. I could see installing Nest thermostats, though, as they seem to have all the functionality I need. Lighting is not a concern, as I can program the installed Vantage system.

Thanks again!
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post #8 of 15 Old 04-27-2014, 02:41 PM
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Pull a plate off the wall and look at the wire. it should say what the wire is on the jacket.

As for Sonos, you will want to either use the Sonos or get rid of Crestron hardware (pad8s, iMerge and elan amps) for the distributed music in your house. I would get a few Sonos ConnectAmps to power the speakers in your house. I don't know how many zones you have now but the nice thing about Sonos is that it is expandable. You could even plug a Apple Airport Express into the aux input of the Sonos to be able to play other peoples music via Airplay.

Getting iPort Launchports to wall mount the iPads around the house would be better than using the CT1000s. You could remove the CT1000s and put a bank plate over the hole or patch the drywall.

Crestron uses URC remotes for their basic remote, ML600. URC has more TC options and I would definitely use RF and not ir as RF is much more reliable.

Definitely look at Nest, they are fantastic and I have one in my home right now.
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post #9 of 15 Old 04-27-2014, 02:44 PM
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Can you ask your integrator to show you some other projects they have done similar to your setup? That would be the only way to see if you will like what they are able to offer.
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post #10 of 15 Old 04-27-2014, 02:52 PM
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I just read you other post back in January, I would look at replacing the ethernet and wifi in your house as well.

See if your integrator works with Ubiquiti. It's my favorite for networking. I would do a router with AP around the house depending on coverage. Set to the same channel so you can roam around your house without the device constantly seeking for a signal. Use one router, a gigabit switch that can handle all the APs and port through the house and you will be set. You will have faster speeds, faster transfer speeds and a more solid and stable connection.
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post #11 of 15 Old 04-27-2014, 04:27 PM - Thread Starter
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Gosh, ifor, you are really helpful! Thank you so much!

I'm in luck ... the cabling is CAT5e, Belden 1538A label on the wire. So the HDBaseT should work!

We have 8 audio zones. I like the Sonos quite a bit, but I'm following your suggestion re Connect:AMPs. Maybe you can expand on your reasoning? How would I control the various Sonos Connect:AMPs, and the speaker volume in each room? Could I get all the Connect:AMPs playing the same thing in all zones (whole house?) I think I'd still need a control system to distribute/control video, right, so why not use it for audio as well? What would be the cost implications?

Thanks for the reminder about the AUX input for the Sonos. That solves the AirPlay issue (but couldI play AirPlay on any/all zones with multiple Connect:AMPs?)

Also thanks for the tip re Launchports. I was wondering how to deal with that. I found the Crestron IDOC-PAD2-DSWC, which would charge the iPad using the existing Cresent wiring (assuming I kept the Crestron), and not require new holes in the drywall. That would be cleaner than a wall wart and wiring to the dock with the Launchport. I'd rather use iPad Minis, so hopefully they will eventually come out with the long-ago announced wall-mounted dock for that.

I gather it is possible to use URC remotes with the Crestron, so it will come down to price and usability (including not having to put the remote in a dock). I guess we can leave the IR vs RF decision till later. Depends on distances, I guess. The HBaseT can repeat the IR so I wouldn't have to worry about the RF signal getting from one end of the house to the other.

I am going to see a customer's home where my integrator has used the URC Total Control system. I'm a little concerned he is a one-man company, though. Been through too many situations with guys who leave the scene ....

My January post was about our other home, in Utah. It's actually larger than this one, and we haven't done anything since then. Someday, perhaps, and the issues are rather similar as they are here in our California home. There we have a worse much server (Arrakis), with less functionality than the iMerge. But at least I've got the video (sort of) under control, with an RTI system I can program myself. The audio and video distribution are completely separate.

I'll look into Ubiquiti too, as we do have WiFi performance issues. Thanks for that tip as well.


As an aside, the wife put the kibosh on Nests, and I did find a lot of issues reading reviews. Maybe I'll wait for Gen 3 of the Nest ...

Thanks again!
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post #12 of 15 Old 04-27-2014, 06:03 PM
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My 2 cents: Control4 is absolutely more capable than Total Control. Also Extra Vegetables has a Sonos driver for Control4. Like the one available for Total Control, it is not 100% perfect but works very well for what the average person would do with it.
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post #13 of 15 Old 04-28-2014, 01:58 AM
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If you want 8 ConnectAmps, then you can do it very easily. The Sonos app gives you complete control of all the zones independently, as well as being able to combine any zone with one another. You could also get the Playbar for any tv that you want better audio as well as having the ability to stream music without having to install ceiling speakers.
Here is a vid about Airplay an Sonos.

If you replace the Crestron PAD8s and amps, then you have to ask yourself what you would be using the Crestron for? If you wanted to go the less expensive route, you could go with ir and use the it on each HDBaseT matrix switcher receiver to control the video. Then I would sell all the Crestron to offset the cost of the other pieces.

Look at the iDocx for another iPad or iTouch inwall dock option. If you go with the Launchport, you could use the Crestnet wiring to power the iPad and place the power transformer at the other end of the Crestnet line.

I like using and selling the URC MX850 remote as it fits very well in the hand, is very durable and uses regular batteries. It can also be configured for either ir of rf.

Can I ask where you have your house in Cali? You can pm me if you don't want to say on here.
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post #14 of 15 Old 04-28-2014, 10:41 AM
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Like CShepard I'd also recommend going down a Control4 route.  A big longer term benefit is that the code is stored on the system.  While the UI is fixed compared to the UI of a Crestron system it is a good UI and the slight loss of flexibility in UI is made up for in the ability to switch dealer, have work done remotely etc freely.

 

Control. You'll want an HC800 to give good zigbee range and have the processor power.

http://www.control4.com/products/controllers/C4-HC800-BL-1

 

Audio, you have potentially two options here.

1) as mentioned, get the 8x8 matrix C4 amp and connect your Sonos into it.  For airplay get a C4 Wireless music bridge.  You will also have access to TuneIn radio (which replaces the Crestron AM/FM tuner) and Rhapsody (subscription) from the Control4 as well as any locally stored MP3/MP4 digital media.  Extra Vegetables driver for Sonos

http://www.control4.com/products/audio-video/C4-16AMP3-B

 

Seems it would not be to hard to keep the s2000 in the mix if someone writes (or searches for an IR driver)

http://www.spalinger.ch/Download/imerge/S2000-control.pdf someone has mapped out the control codes already.

 

2) maybe you can get the C4 16x16 matrix and then keep the Elan Power amps driven from that.  Similar setup, just not replacing the amps but the switching (replacing the PAD8s for the 16x16 matrix.

http://www.control4.com/products/audio-video/C4-16ZAMSv3-B

 

 

Video.

Family Room - Keep the Integra and control by Serial or Ethernet with Control4.  I'm guessing that the Roku, Apple, DVD are all hooked directly into that.

Get a Control4 or other suitable 8x8 HDMI matrix.  Plug the two DVRs into this and then matrix out to the AVR and the TVs (ditch the CRT TVs it will be cheaper than downscaling to conect to those TVs).  Or see if the Geffen matrix you have can be recycled in.  That would only give access to 4 TVs though.  Not the CRTs.

http://www.control4.com/products/audio-video/C4-8x8HDMIVSW-B

 

Note where you cannot replace the COAX you can send MOCA down that.  If you were not using Direct TV I would suggest using TiVo Roamio and Tivo Mini at the destination ends of those CRTs.

The Direct TV Joey / Hoppa may keep those CRTs and the Joey/Hopper can be controlled over IP by Control4.

 

Our equipment requirements/needs/wishes
 

  • Willing to ditch the MX500s, iMerge and the CT-1000s and the SD TVs, possibly Crestron controller
  • Need to (?) replace Gefen matrix switch with 4x8 or add another 4x4 (?)
  • Would like to keep investment in other Crestron gear, but could consider selling (at big loss) on eBay
  • Use iPad minis (?) via WiFi to replace CT-1000s; also control with portable iPads & iPhones
  • Want hand-held remotes to control video sources, with icons for TV channels, graphics for other devices

 

The MX 500s would be replaced by SR250 remotes for each TV.

The Matrix replacement depends on what / how you want to hook up all 6 tvs incuding the CRTs.  Clearly you can't easily connect 6 TVs to a x4 matrix.

You can matrix the output of the HC800 into the mix so putting an OSD on each of the TVs (shared) individually will require some HC200s or HC250s for each of those screens.

Control4 now comes with the site licence for connecting as many iPads  /Phones / Andorids to the system.

See the SR250s at the top of this block of text.

 

Our audio requirements/needs/wishes

 

  • A very user-friendly interface on the keypads, with good music search functionality, via the Sonos
  • Each audio zone to be able to play any audio source (possibly add second Sonos?)
  • At most two different sources playing at any time anywhere in the house
  • Each zone to be able to turn on/off the "Whole House" to same audio source (nice to have)
  • Sometimes like to use AirPlay from iPads, iPhones or iMacs to send music to Airports

 

C4 has a good GUI.  The Sonos EV app still allows

"One of the real keys to the driver is that it enables the customer to still use the Sonos iOS and Android apps which include features such as searching that are not currently available through the Control4 UI."

The matrix and the Elans or the 8x8 Control 4 will allow any source any location and adding / turning off whole house audio.

Airplay will be best achieved by adding the Control4 Wireless Music bridge.  Also adding Bluetooth and DLNA http://www.control4.com/products/audio-video/C4-WMB-B

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post #15 of 15 Old 04-28-2014, 10:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kayrjay View Post

Gosh, ifor, you are really helpful! Thank you so much!

I'm in luck ... the cabling is CAT5e, Belden 1538A label on the wire. So the HDBaseT should work!

We have 8 audio zones. I like the Sonos quite a bit, but I'm following your suggestion re Connect:AMPs. Maybe you can expand on your reasoning? How would I control the various Sonos Connect:AMPs, and the speaker volume in each room? Could I get all the Connect:AMPs playing the same thing in all zones (whole house?) I think I'd still need a control system to distribute/control video, right, so why not use it for audio as well? What would be the cost implications?

I think you hit the nail on the head there.  If you are keeping video control, then the Sonos AMP is not a good solution for you as it sorts the audio without the video.  Doing combined audio video also gives you the ability to link the TV audio to the speakers in those rooms improving the audio quality from the TV screens.

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