In the future, it is likely that multi-room entertainment systems will become our primary means of accessing entertainment over the internet.


Matthew Bramble | Opus Technologies.

By Matthew Bramble, Technical Director
Opus Technologies.

In the future, it is likely that multi-room entertainment systems will become our primary means of accessing entertainment over the internet.

A multi-room system is a new concept in home entertainment which allows you to centralise all your hi-fi equipment and then listen to, watch and control that equipment from every room in the house simultaneously or independently. All without the black boxes and trailing cables usually associated with entertainment technology.

The market for multi-room began with the concept of 'muzak' where ceiling speakers provided 'piped' music that you could simply turn on and off in each room. Taking this one stage further, aspiring hi-fi buffs ran speaker cable between rooms and then added independent volume controls in each room. At a later stage, technology allowed infra-red control to be added so that the connected source equipment could be controlled from another room. With all these disparate control systems being used, numerous cables and handsets were required. This is a far cry from modern multi-room audio systems which now provide 'hub' units which can now distribute audio and control of audio via a SINGLE cable to a SINGLE control unit in MULTIPLE rooms. The latest multi-room systems even have a video distribution option which allows you not only to enjoy audio from a central source but video sources like DVD and satellite TV in every room as well.

Due to this evolution, multi-room audio offers a wide range of choices and levels of sophistication. With so many choices available, it is important to consider what you want your multi-room system to do for you BEFORE you commit to purchasing a system. By doing this, you will make sure that you are not disappointed with the results. A few of the questions to ask yourself include:

  • Is the system easy to use and will you remember how to use the keypad?
  • What is your budget?
  • How many rooms do you want the system in?
  • How many pieces of audio/video source equipment do you plan on connecting?
  • If you are using existing source equipment is this compatible with the multi-room system and if you add new equipment will it have to be from the same manufacturer as the multi-room system?
  • Would you prefer a system with a display panel on the keypad so that you can see what you are listening to and what the system is doing?
  • Can you add a music server which will allow you to search by artist, album and track?
  • Do you want to add video functionality?

By thinking about these questions and then talking them over with your local dealer-installer, your system will provide years of trouble-free enjoyment. In fact, many systems are scaleable, so even if you started off with a system in three or four rooms (also called zones), as long as you have additional cables installed to the other rooms, you can very easily add additional 'zones' and equipment at a later date.

A typical multi-room audio system consists of a hub unit which source equipment is plugged into. Cables in the walls and ceilings connect this central hub with multiple rooms of the house where a wall control keypad and speakers deliver audio. Remote controls also provide armchair control over the entertainment in that room as well as volume, bass, treble and source equipment functions.

With sophisticated systems, the cables are able to pass data back-and-forth between each room and the hub unit, in this case multi-room audio system acts as an intelligent home automation system which not only simplifies and eliminates many of the problems associated with modern entertainment, including the large black boxes and trailing cables we mentioned at the beginning of this article, but can also integrate with the alarm system, telephones, lighting etc.

The difference between many systems is in terms of wiring configuration. Many systems on the market use a wiring pattern called 'star-wiring' or 'home-run' where Cat5e and speaker cables are run back to a central source where the amplifiers and hub are located. The alternative to this is 'local amplification', in this wiring pattern a single cable is run to each room and an amplifier located in that room. This is then connected to a pair of speakers which are typically located in the ceiling or the wall. The amplifier can be located in the keypad as with A-BUS products e.g. OCTOPUS Multi-Room, or provided as a separate unit with different amp powers e.g. OPUS 500 Series. Opus Technologies believes that locating the amplifier locally ensures that optimum sound quality is delivered due to short speaker cable runs. We would recommend that when considering a multi-room entertainment system you ask your dealer-installer for a demonstration of the system they have recommended so that you can check the sound quality.

To stay true to the concept of multi-room being a hidden system we generally recommend that the 'hub' unit and source equipment are located underneath the stairs or in an out of the way location. However, we find that many people like their hi-fi and video equipment to be located in a main room, for instance the living room. So, when you discuss your system with your dealer-installer, you should agree your preferred hub location.

A multi-room entertainment system typically provides stereo sound to each room, however a common requirement is to also have a surround sound system in the front/main room. In this case choose a hub which has audio (and if required, video) 'loop outputs'. By situating the hub next to a surround system the installer can 'loop' sources between an AV receiver and the multi-room system. It will now be possible to watch a DVD in the main room in surround-sound and in the other rooms in stereo.

In summary, a multi-room audio (and video) system delivers years of enjoyment and a clutter-free entertainment experience in every room of your home. It can also add to the resale value of your property and differentiate it from other local properties for sale, two key factors which are becoming more important in the current property market.

In the future, it is likely that multi-room entertainment systems will become our primary means of accessing entertainment over the internet. Whilst this is still some distance off, as technology and services are yet to be standardised and proven, it is not hard to imagine the day when we have on-demand access to television, music, radio and films in every room of our homes all thanks to our multi-room entertainment system.

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