I have a large home which came with built-in ceiling and wall speakers, including both indoor and outdoors. It's a 2.5 story house. There are 2 separate locations for the speaker terminals, one of the first floor, and one of the topmost level.
The plate downstairs has terminals for speakers for stereo pairs in 4 different rooms, plus 1 outdoor pair, plus 5 speakers in the home theater. That's 15 speakers terminals - I think one more for sub in the HT which ends nowhere, so 16 terminals on this plate (but only 12 being actually powered).
The plate upstairs includes 7 indoor pairs, plus 2 outdoor pairs, or a total of 18 speaker terminals, all powered.
Until now, I have used a few stacks of old 5.1 receivers, daisy chained through both analog and optical inputs, to drive all the speakers. I use DSP modes like 5/7 channels stereo preset, as well A/B main speaker selector, to drive 2 to 3 stereo pairs from each receiver. It was inexpensive (I picked up a few receivers for cheap on craigslist, and used some of my older ones rather than sell them). I have X10 appliance modules on each receiver for power conservation, which I can control remotely from my smartphone through a Raspberri Pi with USB to serial to PLC interfaces .
The downsides of this approach are many.
First, what I will call functional limitations :
1) very limited ability to turn rooms on/off individually . I put my outdoor speakers on the last receiver in the chain so I can just easily power those off. If I want just the speakers driven by one of the amp in the middle of the chain, I'm SOL, though.
2) no per room volume control either, for the same reasons. I can control the volume for each receiver, but that's 2-3 rooms at a time. The rooms all have the same speakers are of widely different sizes, with very different acoustics as well, even though the speakers are all identical.
3) can't play the same audio source in both the upstairs and downstairs zones - they are completely separate currently. I can play one source in all the downstairs zones, and another source in all the upstairs zones.
But there is no way to play the same source in both (say, the same CD/SACD, or same media file from either one of the HTPCs). This would be useful for house parties for example.
4) zero integration with sound from smartphones/tablets. For example, I often watch video on my tablet when cooking, but I just can't hear it even at max volume with the noise of the appliances (especially very strong hood fans). I would love to be able to use the ceiling speakers in the dining room nearby. In the ideal case, I could pair my tablet with a "dining room" bluetooth audio device and everything would just magically work.
And second, usability limitations :
5) remote controlling the amps is very challenging . I have a URC RF remote control with IR blaster attached to one receiver in each of the 2 locations of the terminals . I have a few macros programmed. I control the source from the first receiver in the chain. I can't use the IR blasters with all the receivers, because most are of the same brand (mostly Yamaha) and use the same codes .
6) remote controlling the source is another issue that I haven't solved yet. The typical source is a pair of HTPCs, one in each of the 2 locations. Both have optical audio outs connected to the first receiver of each chain. The downstairs HTPC has HDMI out in addition. I also have analog RCA in from SACD changers in each room. The main home theater receiver downstairs also has a few other HDMI sources connected (satellite, Chromecast, Amazon fireTV stick)
7) power management of sources is challenging. I can't afford to leave everything on 24/7 with California's high power rates & time of use. I can use WOL to wake either HTPC through one app on the smartphone
8) power management of receivers/amps is also challenging. I use X10 appliance modules, and I set up the Raspberri Pi recently, and haven't put a UI on it yet - so at the moment, I login to its terminal and type commands there to turn on the amps (don't laugh)
9) remote control of the source also varies widely. I can control JRiver on the HTPC from smartphone, and while it may support WOL when first connecting to the server, it doesn't integrate with X10 to power up my receivers, or allow changing volume control of the receivers
10) remote control of source selection is also challenging - it needs to be done on the top receiver in the chain . I can use the URC RF/IR remote control, but I usually end up physically running to the location to do so
The system as built sounds great, and "works", but for obvious reasons of usability/ergonomics, I rarely use it . And forget trying to explain to my husband how to use it. I use it so infrequently myself that sometimes I have to look at the wiring on the back of the receivers to get the right source & sound to a particular room
The ideal UI is probably something web-based and/or app-based, that can be controlled from any tablet or smartphone, probably running from a low-power computer like the Raspberry Pi.
What would the AVS experts suggest to try to make the system more usable and to solve some of the functionality and usability problems mentioned above ?
I prefer suggestions that don't require modifying the existing inside wiring of the home.
I have looked at speaker selector switches, but the ones I have seen either come up short when it comes to volume control, or remote control abilities, but even if I found the ideal switch, it would only solve some of the functional problems, but it still wouldn't increase the usability - in fact, it would probably decrease it even more. Rich functionality and usability are often conflicting requirements, unfortunately. I don't believe they necessarily need to be if there is a proper integration, likely highly customizable software, but that's completely lacking in my system right now.
The problems are both hardware and software related. I have about 2/3rd of the hardware pieces in place, but they are completely disparate and just don't integrate well.
I'm a software engineer by day and I'm sure I could hack things on the Raspberry Pi in terms of providing a web UI for example, though UI isn't my specialty at all and it would likely be very crude. I would probably just write a few scripts to set things up for the most common use cases. But that's still assuming I could control all the necessary pieces from the Pi . Right now it only controls X10 PLC . Ideally, if it could also control all the IR components (amps, receivers, speaker selector, etc). I haven't done research in that area yet, but it probably exists. I can probably stream audio from the Pi to receivers over the network through DLNA also (there is one DLNA receiver in the chain downstairs, not in upstairs chain yet). For streaming from mobile devices, I think the Pi has bluetooth as well - but the reach is not likely long enough for the whole house. Also it would need some fairly advanced software to expose multiple bluetooth zones and support multiple connections, and multiplex to each receiver, not sure if it's even possible . Surely someone else has been there before. Ultimately, I have more money than time to throw at the problem, but I'm just not sure what already exists on the market that could be built on to meet all requirements. And I very much dislike being locked into a single vendor, either software or hardware - I have seen too many tech companies disappear over the years. For the software parts, I have a preference for open source for this reason - at least someone can still fix it if the main developer disappears.
Am I dreaming in thinking all the above problems can be solved together in my lifetime ? All advice from AVS forum experts and pointers to further reading is greatly appreciated !