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- April 2003 -
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CAT 5 is not just for Networking Anymore
by Song Zun Huang, Home Director Inc

Even if the homeowner doesn't have a particular use for CAT 5 today, the low cost of the wire and the future uses make it easy to see why you would want to "future-proof" your house by installing CAT 5. It's exciting when new technologies become so affordable and compelling that average users can see the value they offer.


CAT 5 is traditionally associated with LANs. As many of you know, this wiring consists of four pairs of twisted copper wires, sometimes referred to as "twisted pair". The extensive use of CAT 5 over the past few years have caused it to drop way down in price. It's so cheap ($0.25/ft average) that it makes sense to install multiple runs of CAT 5 to each room in a new home. But why would you need a network connection, let alone multiple network connections in each room? Well, CAT 5 is not just for networking anymore. Imagine this scenario.

Scenario

You come home from a long day at work and relax on your couch. You pick up a remote control, flip on the TV and set the mood. Before long, there is music playing in the background and you decide to turn down the lights and turn up the heat as you prepare to watch a slide show of your family vacation from last summer. What's so unique about this scenario is that you haven't gotten up from the couch! Everything was accomplished using a remote control and your TV as an interface.

Now, if you are technically minded, you are wondering what level of customization had to be created in order for your digital music, lighting, HVAC, and digital photos to be integrated into a system that allows this level of convenience. Are we talking about a custom home of the future? How many miles and types of structured wiring was pre-installed in the walls? In fact, this kind of functionality is available today in a production home all over plain old CAT 5 wiring. Even the cost of a system like this is surprisingly low as you already have many of the components.

Many manufacturers are offering numerous applications for CAT5 wiring in the home. Homeowners could implement separate systems from different vendors to address each of the features we described in our scenario, but the ideal solution would integrate these disparate offerings into a single interface. Some think that the next generation PC will be the answer. Others feel that dedicated devices must be created to address the different needs of homeowners.

Home Director believes that there is a more elegant solution. For less than the price of a mid-range TV and stereo, the scenario described could be a reality in your home. HomeDirector has introduced numerous products in 2003 that give homebuilders and homeowners the capability to leverage analog media, digital media, and the low cost of CAT 5 wiring. With the introduction of the ControlPoint Home Server, Home Director has integrated all the functionality described in our scenario into the TV interface with an IR remote control.

In this article, we will describe the products that make our scenario a reality, and how they leverage CAT 5.

  1. AudioZone - Analog Music Distribution over CAT-5
  2. AudioPoint - Digital Music (MP3) over CAT-5
  3. Control Point - Leveraging CAT5 for home lighting and HVAC controls and integrating digital entertainment.

Of course CAT 5 still works for networking!

You should do this when you build the home! The Cost of doing it later is very high

AudioZone

The first product is the AudioZone. AudioZone gives users a dramatically cleaner way to install and distribute a traditional analog signal using CAT 5. Designed to be installed inside Home Director's Network Connection Center, AudioZone delivers audio signals to as many as 16 listening areas. The AudioZone HUB connects to the homeowners existing stereo system through a single connection and transmits audio to speakers located in each room. A simple dial controls listening levels in each room where volume controls and speakers are located.

Wiring is simple - only one CAT 5 cable is needed between the hub and the power module in each zone. Every power module has it's own amplification each zone has infinitely variable volume leaving the main system speakers sound quality unaffected. Each Cat 5 cable carries the following:

  • Full frequency audio signal
  • System power (for the amps at the keypad)
  • IR data (for remote control of main system)
  • System status (user can see on/off status)

Cable runs can be up to 150 feet and there is a speaker wire from the keypad to the in-wall or ceiling speakers. All behind wall connectors are RJ-45 sockets.

The audio signal is taken directly from the output source component and sent directly to the power module in each room. This ensures that a high quality signal gets to each room rather than via speaker cables that are known for losses of sonic quality as well as power losses over distance.

AudioPoint

You've got a PC at home and you've discovered the world of MP3. Maybe you've "ripped" some songs to your hard disk and created your own playlists and collections. Using a computer system and MP3 format, this is all so easy! But wait, your PC is in your office and you want to listen to your music using the stereo in the entertainment center that you paid lots of money for. Well, the PC has sound outputs so you could lug the entire computer over to your entertainment center every time you wanted to listen to a song. Naw, that's a terrible idea. Besides that, PC's are noisy and you would need to bring over the keyboard and monitor to be able to control it. Clearly there has to be a better solution, and there is. CAT 5 wiring to the rescue.

Welcome to the coolest way to listen to digital music over your conventional stereo equipment! The AudioPoint™ digital music distribution system is an inexpensive and unique approach to enjoying digital music on any stereo within the home. Until now, listeners have only been able to listen to digital music on the PC, using tiny computer speakers... obviously not the best listening environment. AudioPoint™ now enables you to transfer your entire music collection from cumbersome, expensive CDs and take advantage of a completely digital music library that can be accessed from anywhere in your home.

AudioPoint is a small discrete unit that sits behind your stereo converting MP3 files to analog signals so that you can play digital music on a conventional stereo. AudioPoint™ uses a hardwired Ethernet network with CAT 5 wiring to access the digital music library stored on your home PC. It maintains the song's original digital quality and with none of the signal loss associated with traditional analog signals. Imagine being able to select any song, from any networked computer within the home, and listening to digital quality music on your conventional stereo equipment. Once you've experienced the convenience of using a digital music library as the central "jukebox" you'll wonder how you ever got along without it!

The easy-to-use Desktop Control Center software included with AudioPoint™ can remotely control the digital music libraries and provide numerous users with the ability to manage the digital music library. The software comes with standard audio controls such as PLAY, STOP, PREVIOUS, NEXT, SHUFFLE and REPEAT. In addition, you can send different songs to multiple rooms, or "zones", from a single location if you have multiple AudioPoints on the network. Additionally if you're in the mood to listen to a streaming Internet radio signal... just drag and drop your favorite Shoutcast radio station directly to the Desktop Control Center software. No programming or configuration is necessary... it's really that simple!

So now you have multiple ways to distribute music in your home. Our scenario also encompasses control and in fact, that control is what makes the solution so compelling. Recognizing this fact, Home Director created the ControlPoint home server.

Control Point

ControlPoint bridges the gap between the functionality you want and the control you desire. ControlPoint comes ready with four applications that enhance a user's lifestyle.

  • The Audio application allows users to manage and playback MP3 music files and to distribute the music to any place in the home with an amplifier and speakers.
  • The Photo application organizes digital photographs into albums that can be displayed on any television in the home.
  • The Climate Control application monitors Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems and can set thermostats from a TV or remotely from a web browser.
  • The Lighting application offers the ability to monitor and set lighting levels from a TV or PC inside the home, or remotely from a web browser.

The interface is presented on a regular TV set and is controlled by an IR remote. The physical ControlPoint unit is installed in the Network Connection Center (where all the structured wiring is "home-run") in the house. Control Point sits out of sight until the user needs it. It can also be accessed from a web browser using any PC in your home network. If you have a broadband connection in the home it can even be securely accessed from any web browser in the world.

The ControlPoint is normally installed inside a Network Connection Center, the center of a structured wiring system for the home. So where does CAT 5 figure into all of this? CAT 5 wiring is used for the network connection to the various PC's that you would like to use for management. The wiring is also used for the serial connections to the lighting and the HVAC controllers. When coupled with the audio components described earlier, you can create a whole home control and entertainment system.

The ControlPoint home server comes with internal storage for your music files and your digital pictures. Users leverage their PC for moving their music files and pictures from their PC to the ControlPoint. There is enough storage for thousands of CD's and similarly thousands of pictures. The applications are so compelling that ControlPoint is being installed in Victoria Park, an Arvida community in DeLand, Florida. The scenario we described is a reality there.

Home Director is among the vendors giving customers compelling options for leveraging CAT 5 wiring. Even if the homeowner doesn't have a particular use for CAT 5 today, the low cost of the wire and the future uses make it easy to see why you would want to "future-proof" your house by installing CAT 5. It's exciting when new technologies become so affordable and compelling that average users can see the value they offer. Finally, recall that CAT 5 can always be used for regular old networking!

Home Director products are used in the Sears Connected Home Integrators Program to make the installation of CAT 5 and other networking technologies easy. If you are a builder or homeowner contact a Sears authorized integrator for fast, professional installation. If you questions about these products, please contact Home Director at 1-800-426-7144. If you are an integrator interested in offering compelling new options for CAT 5 wiring, call Sears' Connected Home Integrator Program at 1-800-893-1785.

About Home Director

Home Director is a leading home networking company that designs, manufactures, sells and installs home networking products, which it calls "the Power Behind Intelligent Living." Winner of the 2001 Innovative Technology Award from the National Association of Home Builders and Popular Science Magazine, and the 2001 Mark of Excellence Award from the Home Automation and Networking Association, the company's home networking solutions have been purchased by more than 45,000 home owners in the United States and Canada. Home Director has offices in North Carolina's Research Park Triangle and California's Silicon Valley. To learn more about Home Director, visit www.homedirector.com  or call 1-800-426-7144.

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