Folks, I am in the process of building a a new house, and the usual suspects that I am talking to about installing A/V in the house seem to be pushing approaches that I think are rooted in the past - centralized systems with keypads, HDMI switches etc... They are expensive and inflexible, and most of all, not software driven. I am thinking about a different approach, which seems to be playing out in many of the threads I see here, so I wanted to see what folks here think about it.
I have some assumptions:
1) Music services in the future are going to be numerous and change rapidly, and are going to be focused on the smartphone as the core target, and not A/V equipment per se. We've seen this play out with Apple and Google and Amazon all driving subscription based music services, and their focus has been on phones and tablets, not anything else. SONOS has been trying hard to integrate all these services, and has been modestly successful, but the vast number of subscribers to these services are not using SONOS style devices. You are already seeing Google Cast support being built into speakers and such, and Amazon getting their Music service distributed by being in the Alexa slipstream.
2) "Ambient" Voice is going to be the norm, and will be the alternative to phone/tablet control, not keypads. We clearly see this trend, and that's even before Apple weighs in with their Siri in the home solution. I see zero chance of these technologies getting integrated in the usual A/V systems for control, though you'll see skills and the equivalents being used to adapt these systems to new controls. But I don't think you are going Alexa and Google VR being embedded in keypads etc... - Amazon and Google are going to keep control of that hardware for quite a while.
3) TV's are getting smarter, and video is increasingly going to be driven by the TV, and not from external sources that have to get switched to the TV. I can see how a TV STB being sent to a TV from a centralized hub and HDMI works being integrated with whole house audio, but what happens when the TV is the STB for streaming, or you have a Chromcast or Roku plugged in locally? I don't think this switched model is going to scale particularly well as video sourcing comes from the edge from tons of sources, and not from a one room with a few sources that need to be switched. Effectively it's cheaper and more flexible to generate the video locally to the TV with lots of cheap devices than pay for the switching of a few more expensive sources. I think media room or home theater room is different here, but I mean for general video consumption through the home.
4) Amazon, Google, Apple etc... are going to focus on controlling and syncing multiple speakers (portable, wired, outdoor), but not going to delegate control to Russounds etc... Just like SONOS, they want every speaker to be driven by a Chromcast or Alexa, Apple TV, etc..., not support one of those devices that's switched by a Russound etc... So "switching" sources is always going to awkward with these systems.
So what that means is trying to drive WHA audio from these devices are directly as possible. For my house, which will have about 12 zones of audio (not counting the media room, which I think is special and can assume a different speaker and amp configuration than the rest of the house), that means driving a Chromecast or Echo Dot feeding a centralized distribution amp driving the speakers in all these rooms. It's easier with Google here, because of the Chromecast Audio puck that can be controlled by the phone and any Cast App, as well as byu the Google Home device. With Amazon, they don't decouple audio streaming from the VR device (the Echo), so you can't centralize theme like you can with Chromecast. Still, with Cat5, you could backhaul the stereo audio from the Dot to a centralized distribution amp pretty cheaply.
This is fine for music streaming, esp with the Chromecast approach because so many apps support it. But what to do about the rooms with TV's in them? It seems a shame to have the TV use the TV speakers in rooms where you have in wall speakers driven by a nice amp. Google may solve this eventually if the TV's have Cast functionality built in, but what I am thinking now is to backhaul the audio from the TV's stereo out jacks (almost all TV's have that or SPDIF) to the amp over CAT5, and use a cheap IR controlled audio switch to switch that zone away from the Chromecast input to the TV's audio out source.
Monoprice has a cheap switch like this one: https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=3027
for $20 that switches 4 sources, which if you can send the audio out of the TV to the switch over CAT5 with IR, you should be able to have a programmable remote in the room command the switch the audio input to the amp from the Chromecast to the TV audio input when it turns on, and switch it back to the Chromecast when the TV shuts off. This leaves the issue though of volume control, since many TV's have fixed output levels for their analog stereo out, which would cause the amp to play back audio at max volume!
There are cheap HDMI stereo extractors like this one: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LKF6CPG...SIN=B00LKF6CPG
that support ARC, which should modulate the output based on the TV's volume control, though I haven't tested that yet, and would require backhauling the HDMI over CAT5. That functionality is not that expensive these days, and since it's just sending the audio via ARC, the bitrates should be pretty low and you wouldn't need a cat5 extender that supported 4K etc... Many of these do also carry the IR around with them which means you just need a single CAT5 jack back from the TV.
Have folks had any experience with ARC from these extractors that can confirm the TV's volume control adjusts the line level output appropriately?
Also, if you have a home automation system that can tell when the TV is powered up, it could send IR codes automatically to do the switching, which would be nice, but I don't think the issue of using a programmable remote is that big a deal, and if you have a Roku or other video streamer plugged into the TV, you'll need that anyway.
There is also the issue of controlling the distribution amp power. If the amp senses audio and comes out of standby automatically, that should just work. Amps that don't have that capability would either be on all the time, or would need to be switched on somehow. There is a quite a nice hack using a raspberry Pi for SONOS installations that checks SONOS status and switches on a trigger or could drive a switch for the amp - see here: https://github.com/geeeyetee/SonosAmpJuicePi
If that could be adapted to Chromecasts it would open up the ability to use simpler amps that don't have audio sense sense, like an older AVR that had multichannel pre-amp inputs and can't do the kind of processing that is needed today, but had great sounding amplifiers in them.
What do people think about this overall approach? I think the days of keypad driven switched WHA are nearing an end, but we haven't moved to a purely software driven replacement either.