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CHIPs 2006: CE Pro High Impact Products

Niles tops the list of integrators' favorite gear for 2006.

NOTE: The CHIPs logo (.jpg) is available for download by award winners. Click here for a larger, higher-resolution (TIFF) version of the logo.

So many new products, so many tough decisions to make. Fortunately, it's really not up to us, the editors, to select the CE Pro High Impact Products (CHIPs) of the year.

While we do, of course, make the final decisions (in a decidedly unscientific way), we rely on our readers, home systems integrators, to let us know what worked for them -- what saved them time, won them customers, and basically made them money in 2006.

This year, dealers nominated products in fresh categories that have never appeared on the list, like automation software for Media Center Edition, a rack-mount fan, an uninterruptible power supply and an audio calibration tool.

Unlike other "Best of" contests, we don't bench-test products, and we don't select devices based on cool feature sets. Instead, we pick the ones that dealers have sold, installed and generally thrived on throughout the year.

The CHIPs winners are products that shipped on or about September 2005 through August or September of this year -- products that have been around long enough to convince dealers that they're winners.

Don't see your favorites here? Share your thoughts in a comment below.



Niles IntelliControl Integrated Control Solutions (ICS)
Distributed audio and control system

Each year, the editors pick one company among the CE Pro High Impact Product award winners as the Innovator of the Year. Traditionally, the honor goes to a company that launched a slew of remarkable products.

This year, however, we selected Niles Audio for its creation of a single exceptional product line: the IntelliControl Integrated Control Solutions (ICS).

ICS is an audio distribution system that seems, perhaps, unremarkable on paper because it is just so simple. It is the very simplicity, however, that earned the ICS CE Pro's top award. The system is easy to install, easy to upgrade, easy to program, easy to use and easy to sell, according to the many dealers who nominated the product.

"I have closed more clients who didn't plan to have a metadata-enabled control system through a simple demo of the ICS touchscreen controller," says Ralph Cortigiano of Take 5 Audio, New Haven, Conn. He calls the contact touchscreen and display keypad "cooler and more intuitive" than others in the category.

What most dealers really rave about is the two-way RF iRemote that allows users to control their system and view metadata from the palm of their hand. "The cool part is the iPod feedback on the remote itself and the ability to control any of the zones connected to the system," says Mike Tangora of Tangora Technologies, Delmar, N.Y.

While the folks at Niles say the iRemote is as easy to use as an iPod, Drew Bardagjy, owner of Atlanta-based Ultimate Theater Systems, goes one better: "You can do things with the Niles hard buttons that you can't do from the iPod, and especially from the iPod remote," he says. "There are separate volume up/down buttons. You don't have to worry about being in the right menu."

For the integrator, perhaps the only thing simpler than selling and using the ICS is programming it. "Short of some preferences you want to program," says Bardagjy, "there's not a lot to do. You plug it in, and it's up and running with all the metadata in about 10 minutes."

The heart of the ICS system is the GXR2 multizone receiver, a modular unit that accommodates six cards, which users can mix and match to their liking. For the bulk of 2006, Niles offered cards for XM Radio, Sirius Radio, iPod, AM/FM and analog audio (with an IR output) for connecting to legacy devices. In September, the company introduced modules for HD Radio, as well as IP and RS-232 connectivity.

Cortigiano summarizes the ICS like this: "It generates new business in the distributed audio category, it saves time in programming and software troubleshooting, and it maintains solid profitability."

Products of the Year: Gold

High Impact Speaker


Triad OnWall Mini LCR3.0
Integrated LCR speaker

TVs are shrinking, so it stands to reason that speakers should too. Indeed, Triad has shrunk three speakers -- left, right, center -- down to one integrated piece, the OnWall Mini LCR3.0.

The unit can stand alone as a full-range solution in smaller venues, or with a subwoofer to create a more impressive home theater experience in larger rooms.

"It packs a great sound stage in a neat little package for an under-flat-panel-display location," says Lee Richman, Nu Sound Concepts, Long Island City, N.Y. Richman joined other New Yorkers who touted the product as an ideal solution for cramped city quarters.

The LCR3.0 features three 1-inch fabric dome tweeters, six 4-inch coated paper cone ranges, and offers a power rating of 150 watts per channel. The unit can be ordered in black, white or silver, or it can be custom paint-matched at Triad to any color the customer desires.

High Impact Subwoofer


Velodyne SubContractor Series
Subwoofers and amp

It's hard to get fired up about a subwoofer, but E. J. Feulner, chief custom designer of HiFi House, Broomall, Pa., had this to say about the SubContractor (SC) Series from Velodyne: "This is now the only line of subwoofers I will sell … period."

The SC Series comprises a range of passive subwoofers powered by a 1,250-watt amplifier.

The subwoofers are the SC-IW (In-Wall), SC-IF/IC (In-Floor/In-Ceiling), and four in-room or in-cabinet subwoofers (SC-8, SC-10, SC-12 and SC-15), all powered by the SC-1250 digital amplifier.

"The amp is fantastic," says Feulner, "and when paired with a SMS1, which is the room correction device from Velodyne's vaunted DD series, this line is incredible."

Perhaps the highlight of the line is the SC-IW ($999 retail), which fits flush in a standard 2x4 wall. It fires vertically in the wall using a patent-pending T-shaped driver design that minimizes wall vibration and maximizes woofer travel and performance. The unit includes both a standard 14-inch grille for easy installation and servicing and a small grille that is less than 5 inches high.

High Impact Acoustics


Quiet Solution QuietRock QR-545
Soundproofing panels

Sheetrock? Hardly seems worthy of a vaunted CE Pro High Impact Product award. But the QuietRock QR-545 wall and ceiling panels from Quiet Solution are no ordinary slabs of gypsum. They are THX-certified acoustical panels providing the ultimate sound isolation for home theaters and studios.

At about $6 per square feet, the panels aren't cheap, but they're much more economical than building an isolated room or encasing a space with concrete and lead.

QuietRock "in a dedicated theater saves tons of time from having to install two layers of Sheetrock, hat channels and acoustical rubber matting," says Glenn Kalber, president of GDK Surround, Inc., Sudbury, Mass. "Throw this stuff up and you are done."

Quiet Solution manufactures QuietRock panels using the company's patent-pending CPG (ceramic/polymer/gypsum) composite technology. The National Research Council of Canada apparently has given QuietRock the industry's highest ratings, approaching Sound Transmission Class (STC) 80, exceeding other techniques by some 20 decibels, according to the manufacturer. Low frequency performance exceeds 50 dB in the highest-rated assemblies.

QuietRock, measuring 13?8 inches thick, hangs and finishes like standard drywall.

High Impact Cooling


Middle Atlantic Ultra Quiet Fan Panels (UQFP)
Rack-mountable smart cooling system

Who would've thought a rack-mount cooling system could make so much noise? Everyone, of course. They're loud, which is why Middle Atlantic's Ultra Quiet Fan Panels (UQFP) are getting so much buzz.

The 2U rack-mountable UQFP automatically varies the fan speed based on the temperature in the enclosure. Unlike fixed-speed fans, which must always spin fast to account for the maximum temperature, the UQFP can spin slowly when the gear is relatively cool, and quickly when the amps are churning.

"For any built-in rack, it's a no-brainer," says Robert Baumann of HiFi House, Broomall, Pa. "It's a simple way to ensure proper convection cooling for in a built-in rack, and it's quiet -- works just as it was designed."

In the event the UQFP doesn't work as designed, say, if a fan fails or the temperature soars, it can notify the installer or homeowner via two contact closures on the unit. Components could then be turned off to avert a meltdown.

The UQFPs are available in two- and four-fan configurations with cooling capacity of 100 CFM and 50 CFM, respectively.

High Impact Testing


Sencore Automated Home Theater Testing
Automatic room/equipment audio calibration

For a couple of years, Sencore has offered a couple of nice tools for audio calibration. The DAG5161 Digital Audio Generator is a handheld, multichannel analog and digital audio generator for testing audio systems and performing acoustic tests. The SP295C SoundPro Audio Analyzer helps dealers equalize room acoustics, optimize speaker placement and calibrate system settings.

Now Sencore offers a solution called Automated Home Theater Testing that enables the SP295C to automatically control the companion DAG51 for performing automated calibration and performance tests of multichannel surround sound audio systems.

The dealer simply connects the two devices with a serial cable, plugs the DAG5161 into the audio system, and presses a button. The automated test system then applies all the proper test signals, makes all the desired acoustic measurements and records the test results to memory in the SP295C Audio Analyzer.

For longtime calibration specialist Lee Richman of Nu Sound Concepts, Long Island City, N.Y., the combo is a life saver.

"As standalone products, they're both very good tools," he says. "When you combine them together, they work in unison as one device. You don't have to constantly run back and forth."

The eight tests performed by the automated home theater test system are: loudspeaker reference levels, loudspeaker polarity, loudspeaker time synchronization, reverb decay time, early reflection analysis, ambient noise analysis, subwoofer frequency response and system frequency response.

High Impact Automation


Exceptional Innovation Lifeware
Automation software for Media Center Edition

Exceptional Innovation's Lifeware automation software, optimized for MediaCenter Edition (MCE), allows users to control their lights, thermostats, A/V and other gear in the same environment as they enjoy photos, TV, movies, music and other MCE-oriented applications.

To be sure, EI is not the first company to create an automation "plug-in" for MCE, but it is the most aggressive in the space. What EI does that the others do not is exploit Web Services for Devices (WSD), a suite of Microsoft technologies similar to Universal Plug and Play. Other developers of automation software essentially create Web pages as a skin for the MCE environment, whereas Lifeware is integrally linked to the platform via WSD. Using WSD enables faster, more robust communications with online services and with other WSD-enabled devices.

"Until Lifeware started shipping, we didn't have a home automation solution that provided a consistent user interface for Media Center," says Matt Peters of Wireless Home, Naples, Fla.

Beyond a rich automation system for MCE, EI has created the first real business proposition for integrators looking to exploit the Media Center platform in their businesses. The company provides an unprecedented fee-based technical-support service for the dealer's customers.

High Impact Projector


Sim2 Grand Cinema C3X
Three-chip DLP projector

The Sim2 Grand Cinema C3X three-chip DLP projector "looks so good I want to cry," says Jim Heckendorf of Cybermation, Waite Park, Minn.

He and other integrators rave about the projector's excellent black depth, high contrast (6,500:1), low price ($19,990 retail) and unusually compact size. Designed to optimize lamp efficiency and lifetime, the unit features a 250-watt lamp, and the display reaches a peak of 2,500 ANSI Lumens -- bright enough to overcome normal levels of background lighting.

The C3X was one of the first three-chip projectors to adopt the new generation HD2+ DarkChip 3 (DC3) chip.

"In my opinion it's the best projector I've ever seen below $50,000," says Matt Bolton of Digital Theater Experts, Lincoln, Neb. "It has the best qualities of a high-end projector, full IR and RS-232 commands for integration, high resolution (however, not 1080p), great black levels, extremely bright, and the best ISF calibration numbers I've seen from any type of display."

Bolton says he doesn't get the chance to sell too many high-end projectors through his Nebraska store, but one of the units went to a local college professor who teaches film and video. "He was blown away by the picture," Bolton says.

High Impact Audio


Crestron Adagio
Multiroom A/V and control system

When Crestron's Adagio system debuted last year, we called it the ultimate Trojan horse. Starting at just a few thousand dollars for a complete system with keypads, Adagio offers a great opportunity for getting in the door at a relatively low price point, and then upselling from there. That's because, in addition to being self-contained six-zone multiroom audio systems, the anchor products (AADS and slightly more robust AES) also contain a Crestron Series 2 processor, meaning dealers can add high-end Crestron touchscreens and other components (thermostats and wireless lighting, for example) to the system -- immediately or in the future.

"It's a good way to introduce customers to Crestron, and it gets our salespeople going," says Brian Hudkins of Gramophone, Timonium, Md. "Usually, they [customers] then end up going to a full-blown Crestron system."

Dealers can program Adagio out of the box via the on-board LCD screen, or can turn to the computer for more advanced programming.

The AADS and AES are similar, but the latter offers more control options, more inputs, and card slots for up to six AM/FM, XM and Sirius radio tuners.

Both distribute music to six rooms out of the box (expandable to 24 by adding up to three Adagio Audio Expanders) at 45 watts per channel via a class G digital amp.

"So many times you want to put in something like that, where the client needs an amp, controller and distributed audio," says Alex Quinn, a system designer with Custom Audio Video, Bluffton, S.C. "For the cost of a high-end Pro2 [Crestron] processor alone, you can get dual AM/FM tuners, eight additional source inputs, six zone outputs with a digital amp and a Series 2 processor."

High Impact Receiver


Denon AVR-4306
7.1 A/V receiver

When we first wrote about Denon's AVR-4306 7.1 receiver (130 watts per channel), we lauded its networkability. Featuring Windows Media Connect and DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compatibility, the unit can discover and play music from any number of WMC- and DLNA-compatible devices and services.

But it's really all about the "A" and the "V" to dealers.

"It really sounds terrific, as good as separates," says Barry O'Brien of San Francisco-based Performance Audio, citing the unit's built-in Audyssey MultEQ XT sound equalization technology.

It also makes for a handy 3x3 audio-distribution system with discrete control options for each zone.

On the video side, O'Brien appreciates "the ability to have every signal come out HDMI. Up-conversion is easy." The AVR-4306 features three HDMI inputs and one switchable output with the ability to up- and down-convert virtually any video signal.

The AVR-4306 ($1,999 retail) has a built-in Web server, too, so users can view metadata and configure and operate the system via PC, PDA or any browser-enabled interface.

High Impact Access


HAI Snap-Link
USB key for remote access

USB keys for accessing remote computers and Internet-based services may be all the rage these days -- Skype is doing it, after all -- but it was fairly novel when HAI introduced the solution earlier this year.

The product, called Snap-Link, plugs into any computer's USB port to open up a virtual private network (VPN) with an HAI Omni controller. From the remote computer, users have access to the home's lighting, security, cameras, and energy management system.

Because it installs nothing on the remote computer, there is no trace of the software when the user removes the USB key.

Andrew Finkel of Diversified Technologies, Westminster, Md., points out the simplicity and security of the solution: "When the customer removes the USB drive, the VPN tunnel to the HAI panel is broken, so a person at an Internet cafe could not bring up the history and get access to the customer's system," he says. "The best part is that the client does not have to know the IP address of each HAI location. They just insert the USB key and they are connected."

Because Snap-Link takes full advantage of the remote PC, the HAI can serve up a robust user interface remotely, even though the Omni panel itself, like most security panels, has limited processing power.

High Impact Projector


Marantz VP11S1
1080p DLP projector

It isn't the cheapest 1080p DLP projector on the block but the VP11S1 has an "incredible picture -- one of the best I have ever seen," says Robert Baumann of HiFi House, Broomall, Pa.

He adds, "Marantz is happy staying above the $10,000 mainstream price point, and they deserve it."

The VP11S1 is a one-chip DLP projector boasting a 6,500:1 contrast ratio and "improved" 6x color wheel.

The unit employs the next-gen 10-bit VXP 9351 processor from Gennum, which apparently is twice as efficient as its predecessor and allegedly able to support resolutions of up to 2,048 x 2,048. The processor can take any input, deinterlace it if necessary, and scale the output to match the exact characteristics of the panel.

Baumann says, "The Gennum scaling and Minolta optics make a huge difference. … We took down a [brand deleted] projector and put the Marantz in for a client and he couldn't be happier."

High Impact Mount


Sanus VisionMount VMD026
Articulating mount

A car door on a Lexus may work just the same as a Kia, but when you close the door on the Lexus, you can feel the difference. That's how Charlie Sinclair of Wavecrest Home Theater, Billings, Mont., describes the difference between Sanus' VisionMount VMD026 and those of the other guys. "It looks similar to some of the others, but it installs better, and it is well constructed," he says. "It's easy to install because of the quality and the integrity of the hardware."

The VMDD26 mount can be rotated ±6 degrees after installation so a TV can be perfectly level -- a feature not lost on Sinclair. "With Sanus, once you level the mount, it's always level," he says.

He also applauds the VMDD26 for the quality of its tilting mechanism, which he has found to be awkward in other mounts. Sanus has a patent pending on its "Virtual Axis" tilting technology that allows for smooth tilting with the touch of a finger.

The dual-articulating arms on the VMDD26 permit swiveling at three points and allow the TV to be extended up to 253?4 inches from the wall.

The mount is made of extruded aluminum and solid heavy-gauge steel with a durable powder-coated finish (black or silver). It accommodates most TVs from 42 inches to 63 inches, weighing up to 175 pounds.

High Impact Audio


On-Q/Legrand LyriQ
Cat 5 audio distribution system

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, new home buyers expect a distributed audio system to cost about $2,648. Unfortunately, they are deluded. That is, until On-Q/Legrand came out with the LyriQ audio distribution system. "The thing that On-Q gets that nobody else gets is that you have to create and price products for the production market," says Brian Lipscomb of Rimi Systems Integration, a Simi Valley, Calif.-based integration company that installed 2,460 home systems last year. "The discretionary dollars that people are going to apply to technology in a production home are very limited, but they want this stuff."

He says LyriQ is the first system he's come across that can be packaged and resold for about $2,500 in a decent configuration. About 60 percent of Rimi's structured-wiring customers bite.

LyriQ comprises a variety of music-related products including 1x4 and 4x8 distribution modules, amplified keypads (one Cat 5 transmits audio, power and IR data), local source inputs, single- and triple-source input modules and remote controls.

High Impact Power


Tripp Lite HTRL15UPS
Uninterruptible power supply

At $350, it's hard not to buy uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) for every piece of electronic gear. Tripp Lite's HTRL15UPS features 1500VA power capacity, automatic voltage regulation, a large blue LCD status screen, up to 300 minutes of battery backup time (recording only), and protection for AC, phone/DSL/Ethernet and 2.2-GHz coaxial connections.

"$350 gets you a top notch UPS with Automatic Voltage Regulation and EMI/RF noise filtering," says E.J. Feulner of HiFi House, Broomall, Pa. "With the rapid deployment of super-sensitive electronics and products with on-board hard drives, we have been clamoring for a UPS we can include in everyday plasma hang-and-bang projects. Tripp Lite has hit a homer with this one."

The little unit can go anywhere. It comes with rack ears or it can stand up or lie it down on a stack of equipment.

High Impact Keypad


Remote Technologies Inc. (RTI) RK3
In-wall universal controller

If you're Remote Technologies Inc. (RTI), the new RK3 controller ($999 retail) isn't rocket science. RTI has simply taken its years' worth of work on handheld remotes, and created an in-wall version. But because the unit is wired, it offers far more capabilities than RTI's handheld versions. Through its Ethernet connection, for example, the RK3 can display Web pages and digital video (motion JPEG).

"We love to use the IP feature to control Escient media servers and IP cameras," says Brian Duggan of Custom Interiors & Electronics, Excelsior, Minn.

In addition to the IP connection, the RK3 features an IR output (and receiver for pass-through) for controlling A/V gear directly or using with any number of RTI accessories like the RP-6. Used with the RP-6, the touchscreen can control devices via RS-232, IR or contact closure. Used as a standalone controller, the keypad benefits from two power status input ports.

Existing RTI dealers love the RK3 because it exploits the same intuitive programming software, TheaterTouch Designer, used for the rest of the RTI family. "Nobody in this class has better graphics and we can input custom graphics," Duggan says. He adds that the ability to create animations is a "huge 'wow' factor for clients."

High Impact Intercom


Russound ComPoint
Intercom system

At CE Pro, we've surmised that intercoms were enjoying a comeback -- from the standalone versions offered by the likes of Nutone and M&S, to the integrated units like On-Q/Legrand's that tie into a structured-wiring system. The problem with these systems is that they can detract from sales of dedicated multiroom audio systems. In many cases, the intercom-oriented systems are good enough for music, so homeowners will settle.

"We've been doing intercoms for 25 years," says Eric Roden of C&R Systems, Inc., a Corona, Calif.-based integration company that installed about 6,200 home systems in 2005. "Customers don't think they need both an intercom system and distributed audio. Many times it divides the household -- where one wants an intercom system and thinks background music through the intercom is good enough, and the other really wants a distributed audio system."

Roden says that, in the past, when customers asked for distributed audio up front, he was reluctant to bring up intercoms for fear "they would settle for less."

Russound has changed that mentality with ComPoint, an intercom system that taps into the same speakers that provide background music through a multiroom audio system. ComPoint provides point-to-point (zone-to-zone) communications as well as global paging from any keypad. Do-no-disturb and listen-in modes are available. The line also includes a single-gang dedicated intercom speaker for areas that don't have speakers tied to the multiroom audio system.

Roden says, "Now I don't have to compete for dollars between intercoms and multiroom audio." He estimates that C&R has experienced an 8-percent swing from intercoms to distributed audio since the advent of ComPoint.

What a Pair!


D-Tools SI Software Systems integration software
Brother P-Touch ProXL Labeler

The SI (Systems Integration) software from D-Tools does just about everything for integrators -- proposals, contracts, system layouts, change orders, floor plans, wire checklists, cabling schematics, elevations ...

But the software for years lacked a truly seamless solution for labeling. This year, D-Tools teamed with Brother to integrate the P-touch ProXL printer ($299) with the SI software, enabling dealers to print labels seamlessly from the D-Tools program. Virtually indestructible, the labels can be formatted for flag and wrap-around applications.

The two manufacturers also support label-making for structured wiring headends and multiport outlets that are in the D-Tools product database.

"In the past, everyone had a different method for labeling wires," says Sam El Hadery of London-based Sistems. "I've been back to job sites, and you don't know what the cables are."

The D-Tools/Brother solution allows Sistems technicians to include all the pertinent information -- including "to" and "from" -- on every cable, in multiple places, without fear of the ink fading or the labels falling off.

Dealers can even print their logos, phone numbers and other information on the labels.

"It adds a professional touch to our installations," El Hadery says.


Stewart Filmscreen CineCurve 2.35 masking screen
Runco CineWide with AutoScope 2.35 projectors

This year was the breakout year for the 2.35:1 full-screen CinemaScope format, and it might not have happened without Runco, the first company to fuel the momentum of this cinema-like format in the home.

CinemaScope is the "real" widescreen, featuring an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 -- appreciably wider than today's popular 1.78:1 (16:9) format. "Scope" is the native format of such classics as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Doctor Zhivago" and "The Graduate." Watch those movies on a 16:9 screen, and you'll get black bars.

The horizontal bars disappear with CineWide, which maximizes the clarity, color saturation and contrast of all video programming up to 2.35:1.

At last, CineWide-equipped projectors can take advantage of very pixel on their DMD chips.

The AutoScope function allows users to control the motorized anamorphic lens assembly remotely for simple setup -- the lens slides into the right position depending on the source.

"The most dramatic and visually compelling movies are generally released in 2.35:1 but up until now we've had to settle for a loss of resolution and a smaller picture," says Brian Hudkins of Gramophone, Timonium, Md.

"This is what's so exciting about CineWide: A standard TV is square, then ordinary movies are in 16:9, then the most dramatic movies are in 2.35. Those are the most involving and engaging demonstrations … With the constant height image of the CineWide system, all aspect ratios from 1.33:1 through 2.35:1 are displayed with constant height and increasing image width. The drama of widescreen."

Products of the Year - Silver

Mio-R1 and Mio-R2
IR and RF remotes

Let's face it, even in high-end homes, some customers simply don't like touchscreens. For them, AMX created the Mio-R1 and Mio-R2 IR and RF remotes, respectively. "We are seeing quite a few not-so-tech-savvy older clients who would like a nice system with nice components, but are stuck when it comes to a remote," says Jason Gillette of Premiere Home Systems, Bend, Ore. "If they want simple (as in hard buttons only), they get something with a cheap look and feel."
Gillette says he sells at least one R1/R2 remote with every AMX job because they are "simple, elegant and well-built. … There is finally a remote that fits that high-end client who doesn't want a touchscreen, but still wants something high-end."

A/V receiver

Arcam calls the AVR350 "the best ever sounding receiver" the company has ever made. Dealers like Jeff Mitchell of Robert Saglio A/V Design, Carolina R.I., go one better: "I used to think that the best bet for a multipurpose space (music and movies) was audiophile-grade separates. I just didn't think a home theater receiver could sound this good. I was wrong."
Arcam's AVR350 features two-way HDMI switching, 7x100 watts per channel continuous power output, support for virtually any surround-sound format, up-conversion to component or RGB, and a second zone output with audio and video. But mostly it just sounds good.

Sound Equalizer
Room EQ system

Several manufacturers include Audyssey's MultEQ room correction technology in their receivers. But not all of them do. Now integrators can apply the technology to their own separates with Audyssey's Sound Equalizer component. It connects to the main outputs of most home theater processors and provides multizone calibration to improve the sound in up to four separate rooms. "It's very useful for background/distributed audio solutions with challenging acoustics," says Jason Gillette of Premiere Home Systems, Bend, Ore. "We installed one in a large room with four poorly placed speakers (not ours), high ceilings, wood floors, and reflective surfaces everywhere, and very impressed with the results."


Audio switchers

With the advent of plug-and-play integrated solutions from our favorite home control vendors, an ordinary audio matrix switch may seem blasé. But dealers nevertheless rave about the PrecisLT with DSP from AutoPatch—a relatively affordable stereo switcher that can be integrated with virtually any third-party control system. "It has filled a gap--the reasonably priced matrix," says Ro Carter of Home Automation Technologies, Dallas. "This piece brings first-class matrix switching to the residential market, and is flexible enough to meet the needs of really high-end systems. It allows us to focus our budget on other things that used to be largely consumed by our matrices, without compromising quality."
The PC-programmable PrecisLT features an intuitive GraphicEQ software, and each zone has its own 10-band EQ and balance settings. Available in 8x8 and 18x18 configurations, the switches retail for $1,400 and $2,000, respectively.

Avion Series
Home theater furniture

Audio Advisors, West Palm Beach, Fla., sort of dabbled in furniture in the past, but didn't think much of it. Then the Avion series from BDI came along, "and now we have a furniture store," says Ron Lennox. The contemporary-style TV furniture is "actually designed for our industry," he adds. "The vented back side is a big bonus for us."
The furniture, with adjustable shelves, cable management and hidden wheels (some models), can accommodate TVs up to 70 inches (rear projection or flat panel) and 200 pounds.

Movie 100MX
Home theater speaker system

For purists, the Canton Movie100MX set of 5.1 surround speakers and subwoofer will never be an acceptable solution for the home theater, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and this package ($899 retail) packs a punch.
"We call these our Bose killers," says Jim Heckendorf of Cybermation, Waite Park, Minn. "It puts a lot of much more expensive home-theater-in-a-box speaker systems to shame, while maintaining a margin that dealers can smile about."

Chief Manufacturing
Back box for articulating mounts

Articulating mounts are nice, but they can be bulky--the TV may protrude several inches from the wall, exposing both the mount and the cables. Chief's PAC-500 ($299) solves the problem by hiding the entire assembly in a back-box, allowing the metal to fold into the wall. "When the mount is pushed back flat into the PAC-500 you don’t see the mount or any wires. The TV sits closer to the wall, giving the installation a sleeker look," says Ben Albaugh, president of Robert Paul TV, Roseville, Minn.
The finished metal box accommodates Chief's PNR dual-swing and PWR single-swing mounts.

Sound-dampening speaker box

It seems like such a simple solution, but the DynaBox acoustic barrier for in-ceiling speakers is actually rather complicated. The flexible design allows the box to collapse as the installer shoves it through small speaker holes. The vinyl in the DynaBox itself serves as a sound barrier. Adding the two-piece acoustic decoupler and noise-absorbing back-wave foam further fortifies the barrier. "It makes my in-ceiling speakers actually sound better. A product that really works … go figure that!" says Ed Rakowski of Chicago-based Custom Entertainment Inc. "Also, I like the fact that I can use it on retrofit projects without causing more repair issues to the drywall."
Dynamat claims the product provides a STC (Sound Transmission Class) value of 28.

Fujitsu General America
50-inch plasma HDTV

The 51 Series HDTVs mark Fujitsu's entrée into the integrated plasma HDTV marketplace. And dealers have responded well to digital CableReady Plasmavision sets, including the 50-inch P50XTA51UB ($6,499 retail).
"The plasma picture is scary good," says Chuck Abbott of Las Vegas-based Abbott's Audio & Video. "The black levels are great."
The unit features Fujitsu's highly regarded digital video processor, Advanced Video Movement-II (AVM-II), which virtually eliminates motion artifacts and flicker and improves vertical resolution.

Key Digital
iSync HD
Video processor/switcher

From the maker of the vaunted but pricey HD Leeza comes a digital video processor/switcher for the rest of us. Key Digital's iSync HD ($1,750) "packs a lot of engineering into its price point," says Alan Brichta of Audible Solutions, Roslyn Heights, N.Y. Passing through the native resolution or scaling up to 1080p, the iSync HD offers two HDMI (HDCP), three component, two S-Video and three composite inputs (plus audio). The unit outputs to a single HDMI and component display. Through its RS-232 port, the iSync HD is compatible with most popular home control systems.

MC-12 HD
Surround sound processor

Nowadays most decent surround sound processors offer all the processing options enabled by Dolby, DTS and THX, but Lexicon goes one better with its proprietary suite of algorithms called Logic 7. Logic 7 can bring the splendor of 7.1 surround to stereo and 5.1 sources. That's just one of the laudable features in the MC-12 HD ($9,999) 7.3 (three subwoofers) surround sound processor. The unit is an upgrade from the original MC-12, and now includes updated software and HDMI switching (six in, one out). On top of that, Lexicon provides a "fantastic upgrade program," says Lee Richman, Nu Sound Concepts, Long Island City, N.Y. "For years, owners of Lexicon equipment have had the ability to return their old processors for newer models, sometimes with discounts of up to 60 percent."

VPL-W100 (Ruby)
Three-Chip 1080p projector

When it debuted at the CEDIA Expo in 2005, the Sony VPL-W100 (Ruby) was the talk of the show floor, with its vibrant picture and affordable price of $9,999—then the lowest-cost three-chip (SXRD) projector on the market. Indeed, some integrators complained the price, now $8,999, was too low. "It is both a blessing and a curse in this industry when products outperform their price," says Jeff Mitchell of Robert Saglio A/V Design, Carolina R.I. "The images it produces are a whole level better than any of the products it competes with."
Mitchell lauds the "ultra-accurate color rendering, real black capable contrast, and 1080p detail."

SX1120-RT, SX1115-RT
Surge suppressor and power conditioner

"SurgeX has finally brought its COUVS (catastrophic over/under-voltage shutdown) circuitry into the affordably priced SX1120RT (20 amp - $645) and SX1115RT (15 amp - $589) rack-mount power strip with series mode surge protection," says Alan Brichta of Audible Solutions, Roslyn Heights, N.Y. The 1U units, which provide surge protection and power conditioning, feature eight standard grounded AC receptacles (six switched, two always on) and remote-control capability for use in power distribution systems.

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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. [More by Julie Jacobson]

1 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Eliza Winters  on  10/03  at  09:24 AM

Thanks for the excellent posts. Do you have any more information on a sound deadener? I am looking at putting something like that in my car to cut out the street noise. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

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