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$20,000 Theater-in-a-Box Has High-End A/V Components, AMX Automation, Xbox 360+HD DVD, iPod Dock

The ITC One from SE2 Labs packs Vidikron, Bryston and Transparent A/V components, Xbox 360s, iPod docks, and AMX controller, and more into one compact box just 21 inches tall.


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(Edited: Original story said dual Xbox 360s. In fact, it includes one Xbox 360 and one Xbox 360 HD DVD Player)

The ITC One from SE2 Labs combines name-brand A/V components, Xbox 360s, iPod dock, AMX automation, TV tuners and more into one compact box that puts most home theater equipment racks to shame.

It's like a six-foot-tall A/V rack boiled down to a single box measuring 18 x 21 x 19 inches, or 11 rack units high (although it's not rack-mountable CORRECTION: Rack ears are available).

Weighing 100 to 125 pounds, the ITC is packed with everything needed to operate an elaborate home theater, including motorized drapes and lights.

Inside the snazzy console are all of the electronics that typically comprise an A/V rack, but without the extraneous cases, buttons and connectors. You get a surround-sound receiver, preamp, amplifier, video processor, video iPod dock, power conditioning, cable and satellite TV tuners, a PVR, A/V cables, an Xbox 360 + Xbox HD DVD player, and a control system to manage it all.

And these aren't run-of-the-mill components. The pieces come from name-brand, high-end manufacturers like Vidikron, Bryston, Transparent Audio and AMX.

The ITC is configured and programmed to order at the SE2 Labs. Just take it out of the box, connect the speakers, a display, and maybe a couple of contacts, plug in the power cord, and go.

All of this for the low price of about $20,000 (for starters). Not bad, if you consider that all of the gear separately, plus a rack, plus the cabling could cost three or four times that much. And that doesn't include the extra time for installation and programming, and the repeat service calls (always during holidays and in the middle of the night) that a traditional system entails.

The Little Things That Make ITC Cool


Before getting to the nitty gritty -- like how SE2 can cram so much stuff into one box without it blowing up -- let's get right to the good stuff.

In his previous life as an integrator, SE2 founder Mike Pyle spent months in various home theaters researching things that drive consumers batty. "We had a list of about 300 problems concerning usability, serviceability, installation, etc.," he says. Many of those problems are solved with the ITC.

Here are some of the little things that make the product especially lovable:


  • A system-wide on/off button is located at the front of the unit so all of the gear can easily be turned off. "One issue we found is when people have a problem with something like a satellite receiver, they [tech support] tell you to unplug the receiver," Pyle says. "If it's mounted in a rack, how do you get back there?"

  • A power outlet is located on the front of the ITC. If you want to plug in a camcorder that is probably dead because you used up the batteries on your vacation, you don't have to hunt for a power outlet and extension cord. Duh. If the video inputs are there, why shouldn't the power be, too?

  • A plaque on the front of the unit shows the serial number and contact information. You don't have to pull out any components to find it.

  • There are four status lights on the front of the chassis monitoring connections to the Internet, telephone service, television service and the local network. If the system goes awry, you know where to look. "If Comcast loses a signal, you get real-time feedback that it [the problem] is external," Pyle says. Not that that ever happens.

  • Press a button on the front of the ITC if you lose the remote and follow the beeps.


How Does it All Fit into One Small Box?


First, a little history: Pyle has been in the home systems industry for about 14 years. He owned a home systems installation business in Salt Lake City, which eventually became Aurant, a leading integration firm in the area.

Naturally, during that time, he became cozy with many of the leading manufacturers in the home theater and automation business.

He was able to get them to supply the boards for the ITC -- no cases, no individual remote controls, no fans, no nothing, just the boards.

SE2 at CEDIA
Since Vidikron supplies the video processors, SE2 will be shown at the Vidikron/Runco booth, #510.


"We went to manufacturers like Vidikron and said, 'You have a great video processor, but I'm not going to pay six grand for it,'" Pyle says.

He thinks it's a little silly to have piles of boxes stacked on top of each other taking up so much real estate when so much of the stuff is redundant. And it's sillier still to have to pay for it all.

"Every component is a universal box," he says. "Each box has to have its own user interface, buttons, inputs and outputs and remote controls. In a home theater there might be 400 possible buttons and 300 inputs and outputs. Why pay for all of these if you're not using them?"

It isn't the DVD player, for example, that costs so much. It's the trappings -- the case, the buttons, the connectors, the remote control.

SE2 eliminated all of that by using only the PCB boards from Vidikron, Bryston and AMX, among others. Transparent Audio built a customized wiring harness for the innards, and provides power management for the ITC. As for Xbox, Pyle just buys those and strips off the plastic and other extraneous parts. It's amazing how small a machine you can build with a little bit of consolidation.

With ITC, Pyle says, "You're only buying one box that has one user interface and one set of inputs and outputs."

He likens his solution to a PC, where everything you need is in a single box. If computers were built like home theater systems, you'd have one box for storage, one for audio processing, one for video, one for the operating system, etc. People would have to mix and match and assemble the parts and buy a costly rack to put them in.

"We [the home systems industry] are asking people to buy a bunch of pieces that don't go together, and we end up with a clunky mess."

Why Doesn't it Overheat?


The very first and most complicated problem in developing the ITC was overheating. Back when Pyle was researching all those home theaters, he sought the causes of system failures.

"It turns out that heat is a major reason for product failure," he says.

And one major reason for overheating -- regardless of how many fans you stick in your A/V rack -- is the horizontal orientation of the components. With components stacked on top of each other, heat cannot escape, even when the individual units have built-in fans.

"DirecTV has a fan, but that fan blows hot air from the back into the chassis," says Pyle. "That can short-circuit it. …The air flow is fighting natural convection."

The problem is exponentially more difficult for the ITC since it packs so much technology within a single box. You might have 1800 watts in there. Normally all of that energy is spread out a across an entire rack with multiple gaps for breathing room.

To mitigate this problem, SE2 built its products with the "components" -- the boards -- aligned vertically. "Cool air comes in the bottom and goes out the top and it can't go back into the box," Pyle says.

Problem #1 solved. Problem #2: This architecture can be noisy.

There's nothing worse than a home theater experience being interrupted by the whirring of fans in the components.

SE2 devised a chassis where a two-inch gap at the bottom of the ITC lets air into the vents. The air goes through a series of acoustical baffles that muffle the internal fans. At the exhaust end (the top) is another set of baffles and a generous space for warm air to escape.

"It can move a ton of air and do it quietly," Pyle says.

The fans are computer-controlled so they are infinitely variable. A temperature sensor tells the fans when to ramp up and down.
"There's just a slow, consistent change in speed so you won't hear it kick in like other fans," says Pyle. On the exhaust vent, a glowing light changes colors to reflect the temperature of the box.





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About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

19 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by bym051d  on  08/14  at  11:16 AM

Looks like 1 XBOX360 and on XBOX HD-DVD drive, not 2 XBOX360s.

Posted by Syko'Killa  on  08/14  at  11:25 AM

Yes, bym051d is right.

The drive on the right is the HD-DVD drive which is only used for movies and not gaming. The drive on the left is the DVD-9 drive that is used to play the games.

Story should be updated with this info.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  08/14  at  02:12 PM

Thanks for catching this. Sorry for the lapse.

Posted by Mark Dawson  on  08/14  at  02:46 PM

Mike Pyle is delusional if he thinks someone will buy this product. Number one it looks ugly. It’s why you see so many manufacturers nowadays put a great deal of money into enhancing the cosmetic look of their product (ie-Kaleidescape). The concept is a good one although I have a feeling that in the end it will be a waste of time and money.

Aurant tried the same approach several years ago with building systems for dealers and then shipping it to them. Again a nice pie in the sky idea but it failed.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a great deal of respect for what Mike has accomplished in this industry. If Mike could design the product to look better, show everyone that he plans to stay in business and support this product, and market the heck out of the product maybe he’ll prove me wrong.

Posted by MarkDawson is the Man  on  08/14  at  03:52 PM

Good luck selling that ugly baby to a homeowner.  [Or to anyone else for that matter…what were they thinking?]

...I think I just vomited after looking at those photos again.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  08/14  at  03:57 PM

Like any home theater “rack”, this product is not meant to sit in the open next to your TV. It would probably go in a rack in a remote room or a cabinet near the display.

Posted by Ed Tsvik  on  08/14  at  05:23 PM

Okay, I can see this product maybe getting a place to sit in a cabinet near the display, but certainly not a remote room.  What happens when I want to change games or take my iPod outside?

It’s an interesting concept, but why integrate an Xbox and for that matter, why HD-DVD?  For $20,000 I could offer a custom a much better custom solution and give them a choice of a Nintendo Wii, a PS3, or an Xbox.  And by the way, the PS3 is the gaming console of the coming year.  The Wii is still revolutionary, but the PS3 will have its day very soon.  The Xbox 360 should be used as nothing more than a Media Center Extender or to play Halo.

Instead of a grey metallic finish to the outside, which makes it look something like a college dorm refrigerator and a mainframe server, dress it up in a nice wood cabinet with various color stain choices and let’s situate it near the popcorn machine in a dedicated home theater room.  As is, the only place it can be put is inside a cabinet.

Posted by Michael Pyle  on  08/14  at  05:57 PM

Ed,

The ITC can be configured for Xbox and Wii. We basically have 2 drive bays with the main drive as the Xbox 360. The second drive can be either the HD-DVD or Wii. The PS3 is a very nice console but not that easy to integrate from a user experiance stand point. We will be coming out with other drive options once we see what the market demands.

We also went with the 360 as a great way to access Windows Media Centers.

Since we are a modular system we can put anything we want in the box. We just went with what we think is teh best solution out now. Things can and will change.

This is a very high performance high end system. The game console is the least important part of the system.

It really does look pretty nice in person. It has a very timeless architectural feel. Everyone that sees it in person falls in love.

That being said I really like your idea of the wood cabinet concept.

It is great to get different perspectives and ideas real time. Well mostly smile

Thanks,
Michael

Posted by Jeff  on  08/14  at  09:04 PM

So what do we tell the customer when a drive goes out on the Xbox?  Sorry, but we will have to take your whole system down while we send it in for repairs?  That’s one of the best things about seperat components, when something breaks, it’s easy to toss in a loaner or just replace it.  That’s why TV/DVD/VCR combo’s never caught on as a main unit, great for the extra bedroom or Rv, but not the main TV.

Posted by Michael Pyle  on  08/14  at  09:45 PM

Jeff,

Good point!

that is why we made every part of the ITC modular. We send out a new drive and the end use can just swap it out. No configuration or programming needed.

With TV/DVD/VCR Combo you got multiple cheap parts and none of them worked very well by themselves much less as a complete solution. With the ITC we use best of bread components.

Most of the AV gear available is built with Features and price at the top of the list and usability, performance, reliability, and serviceability are way down the list if there at all.

Again thanks for the comments!

Michael

Posted by Ben Jones  on  08/15  at  06:40 AM

Wow—this looks pretty cool to me. And obviously the system is genius or why else would top notch manufacturers like Vidikron, Bryston, Transparent Audio and AMX work with the company? Sounds like someone is jealous of a good idea ...
Ben

Posted by bob  on  08/15  at  09:53 AM

I agree with Julie’s comments that this product is designed for rack installations where the client won’t see the system. The premise of the system and Mike’s understanding of the market are what should make this product interesting to clients.

I will add if a client is looking for equipment to display there are plenty of brands that offer performance and industrial design that will fit those consumers’ criteria.

In that scenario a dealer should be selling a client into Meridian, Halcro, Mark Levinson, Sonus faber and Linn for example. I also wouldn’t judge the product by a Web graphic. I recommend to check it out for yourself at CEDIA in a few weeks.

Posted by Mark Dawson  on  08/15  at  10:31 AM

Wouldn’t it be cheaper for a dealer to sell the homeowner a Middle Atlantic BRK rack, a Crestron AMS (which incorporates a high-quality surround sound processor, 4 zone multi-room, and control processor), with a good quality DVD player, and choice of gaming system all for less money and money making potential?

Again I think Mike has come up with a good idea but if I’m a betting man I would say the above scenario I posted above is the better way to go.

Posted by bob  on  08/15  at  11:05 AM

The Crestron system is fine, but the combination of Bryston, Triad, Transparent and AMX is top-of-the-line and as a plug-and-play system install with the margins that Mike’s line proposes is worth investigating from an installer’s perspective.

Posted by Mark Dawson  on  08/15  at  11:35 AM

What type of margins is Mike saying that dealers will make on his product?

This idea seems like ACS Contracts part 2!

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