The Short Form
|$4,885 AS REVIEWED / control4.com / 801-523-3100|
|•Amazing bang for the buck.
•Terrific-looking, consistent interface.
•Retrieves DVD/CD information from the Web.
|•Lack of customization for touchpanels.
•Only supports MP3 files.
•Manual "scanning" for some music files.
•Short battery life for wireless touchpanel.
|•Modular system for whole-house control and distribution of audio files and sources as well as environmental control (lighting, temperature, etc.)
•Media Controller ($1,495) includes 80-GB hard drive, CD drive, and wired connections to home network and A/V sources; 17 x 5.25 x 16 in; includes handheld remote control; can control optional Sony 400-disc DVD changer
•Wireless Touch Screen ($1,995) control interface with 10.5-in (diagonal) screen and Wi-Fi connectivity
•Speaker Point ($399 Ethernet, $449 Wi-Fi) remote receiver/controller to drive two speakers with built-in 50-watt/channel amplifier
•Mini Touch Screen ($699 Ethernet, $799 Wi-Fi) remote receiver/controller to feed external stereo amp or powered speakers
•Light switches/dimmers ($99 to $129)
•SYSTEM PRICE $4,885 (as reviewed)
While the touchpanels look terrific, their lack of customization is a drawback. Pages are populated with generic buttons that serve most control needs and can't be added or deleted. Buttons you can't live without - like my cable box's A, B, and C buttons - can be added in tabs that appear on the sides of the screen. And the large wireless touchpanel is a battery vampire. Unless you leave it plugged into its wall adapter or table dock, the roughly 3-hour lifespan of its rechargable battery won't survive an evening of TV viewing - more proof that style always comes at a price.
Any audio sources connected to the Media Controller - including all analog inputs and USB devices - are available to any room in the house. Think your iPod is cool now? Jack it into the Control 4 system, and you can pull multiple streams from it at once. I had three simultaneous streams going with nary a hitch or stutter. While the Pod's playlists aren't imported, you can create new playlists, browse and select files, and skip tracks using any of the control interfaces. Similarly, I connected my Sirius satellite receiver into the Speaker Point in my bedroom, and it became available to the whole house. This means your gear can be spread to the four corners of your home but still be accessed as if it were all together. Awesome!
Lighting dimmers aren't just remotely adjustable but also report their status back to the interface. At the push of a button you can see, for example, that your landscape lights are on full and your porch lights are dimmed to 50%. The wireless thermostat offers the same kind of control and reporting functions but wasn't available at the time of review.
Space doesn't permit me to delve into the vast array of automation possibilities available from the host of relay outputs and contact-closure inputs. You can control drapery, sprinkler, and security systems from any of the interfaces or use an array of sensors (motion, temperature, audio, etc.) to trigger events. There's even an astronomic clock onboard so you can trigger events based on sunrise and sunset or at specific times throughout the day.
BOTTOM LINE Control 4 promises an easy-to-use and affordable control solution, and it delivers. What the touchpanels lack in customization, the system makes up for elsewhere, not least of all by a real-world price tag and a modular approach that brings sophisticated automation to the masses.
For the first time, you don't have to be wealthy to browse your media files, dim the lights, or tweak your thermostat from one simple, centralized controller. No matter what you use it for, this system offers a far richer experience than the simple volume knobs or keypads offered by other companies in this price range. Now, that's what I call taking control!
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