The notion of portability started a long time before the iPod, and customers have quickly come to embrace the concept of content portability, even as it pertains to a fixed installation like home theaters and multi-zone audio systems. Consumers watching the basketball finals or latest blockbuster in the home theater will automatically assume they can walk into their kitchen and, at the very least, keep listening to game or action sequence as they grab something to drink and slice of pizza. Similarly, when hosting the annual summer house party they will assume that the music playing throughout the house will also be piped in for guests mingling in a home theater or media room.

And naturally both these customers are likely to presume that no matter where they are in their homes, they’ll have quick access to keypad or controller that lets them pick playlists and switch sources regardless of whether the gear is connected to the home theater or in one of the music system’s zones.

But, as we know, it’s not always that simple. Traditionally, a home theater and a whole home audio system (multi-source, multi-zone) are two separate systems where integration can become a costly and complicated process. While the technology and products certainly exist to combine the two, the cost and configuration of such systems can be considerably more than most people are willing to spend. Whether you’re talking about the issues of conveying and switching signals, maintaining signal quality, or programming controllers to operate multiple devices from multiple locations, the task of integrating a home theater into a whole home audio system (or vice versa) may require more than most consumers expect or bargain for. What seems conceptually simple and affordable can quickly become surprisingly complex and expensive – particularly in providing a GUI that is both full-featured and truly simple to use – causing some customers to just say, “NO.”

This would be unfortunate and ironic, since the home theater should be the kind of entertainment experience that encourages consumers to make their entire audio collection accessible for listening in the home theater, and conversely, encourages them to distribute audio from the home theater to other rooms in their home.

Seeking the Simple Component Solutions

In an ideal scenario, integrating a home theater with a multi-room system would be accomplished by a single component; one capable not only of carrying the audio content – as digital or analog – but also equipped to convey system control signals and the metadata that frequently and increasingly accompanies the content. (Whether the source is a massive home media server, or just an iPod, consumers are growing accustomed to seeing music metadata – text and graphics – as part of a listening experience.) The component would also need to be completely transparent to users, whose only concern should be what they want to listen to, and in what room (or rooms) they wish to hear it.

Fortunately, NetStreams, the global leader in networked audio/video distribution based on Internet Protocol (IP) standards, has developed just such a product. NetStreams offers its TheaterLinX TH100, a device that creates a bridge between home theater and whole-house audio system.

Designed to connect to any home theater A/V receiver or processor, TheaterLinX features an input to and output from the multiroom audio system. Additionally, TheaterLinX provides the control features for the receiver, its connected sources, the home theater display, as well as contact closures and sense inputs – everything you need to physically tie the home theater into the multi-room system.

TheaterLinX bridges the gap in two ways. First, it converts the line level audio from the home theater A/V receiver or processor into an IP stream for playback throughout the entire home over the DigiLinX network. Secondly, the TheaterLinX also outputs line level audio from sources on the DigiLinX network for playback over the A/V receiver or processor in the home theater. The audio is completely synchronized – a key difference – with NetStreams’ patent-pending technology, StreamNet.

TheaterLinX incorporates IR and two-way RS-232 for direct control of the home theater’s A/V receiver or processor. The system enables IR learning for commands such as volume up/down, mute, audio / video mode, power on/off, source select, channel up/down, tone adjustment, surround sound, navigation buttons and more.

More than physically tying the home theater to the home theater, TheaterLinX provides a home theater control GUI that is available on a TouchLinX touch screen or any IP-enabled device in the home. Homeowners can sit in their theater with a web tablet and control their entire system!

Additional benefits of TheaterLinX include use of DigiLinX macros for automation and control of drapes, theater screens, projector lifts, etc. Macro’s can be used to automatically execute multiple functions with the press of one button. For example, a macro could be created so that from the press of one button the projector would turn on, the window drapes would close, the A/V receiver would turn on and select the DVD player and the DVD player would begin playback of the movie. With the DigiLinX system, installers can quickly and easily create macros for easy use by the homeowner.

Finally, TheaterLinX addresses the frustration that many homeowners have with their intercom system and home theater. Most systems keep the doorbell and intercom separate from the home theater; TheaterLinX seamlessly integrates the two, enabling the homeowner to pause a show when the doorbell rings, answering the door and then returning to the movie. A seemingly simple request that was previously technically cost prohibitive.

While the current state of the economy may curtail some consumer spending on custom installation, enterprising installers will use the unstoppable momentum of the DTV transition to produce new business opportunities to integrate home theaters with whole home audio systems. Working with an audio platform that best supports home theater integration will give installers the best opportunity to capitalize on this once in a lifetime technology transition.

From the end-users perspective, the convenience of the integration of both home theater and multi-zone audio systems definitely raises the desirable factor.

From the installer’s perspective, ease of installation and integration and overall system reliability will also factor into creating desirable, cost-competitive, affordable and hopefully, persuasive price proposals to their clients.

Sanjay Castelino is the vice president of marketing and business development at Austin-based NetStreams.