SpeakerCraft Nirv IP Multiroom A/V System Hits Field

After three years of development, SpeakerCraft's Nirv IP-enabled multiroom A/V and control system is in the field.

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SpeakerCraft president Jeremy Burkhardt shows off a Nirv controller.

By Julie Jacobson
January 30, 2012
Well, it took a few years, but the IP-enabled Nirv multiroom A/V system from SpeakerCraft is now shipping to a limited number of dealers. Several installations have been completed.

“It’s unlike anything else SpeakerCraft has done,” says Nirv product manager Dan Kippycash.

He doesn’t mean the product, necessarily, but the rollout. It is happening very slowly, with a handful of dealers getting access to the line - 33 are now certified - and the manufacturer participating in many of the early installations. “We’re not trying to do it too fast,” Kippycash says.

That may be an understatement. SpeakerCraft has been working on Nirv for about three years, first presenting the system at CEDIA Expo in 2009. It is unquestionably SpeakerCraft’s most ambitious undertaking after nearly two decades of making and selling mostly loudspeakers and traditional multiroom audio systems.

Nirv delivers audio, video, data, voice and control over a single Cat 5 cable. And while many of its competitors are using one-wire technology based on HDBaseT or IP, SpeakerCraft opted for CobraNet, a technology found mostly in large commercial audio installs. The SpeakerCraft version is called Nirv Net.

Early on, SpeakerCraft planned to ship Nirv as a full-blown home-control system on top of a rich multiroom digital A/V solution. Demos showed lighting and thermostat control through the TV on-screen display, and intercom features through the handheld remote.

The first iteration of Nirv, however, sets aside these features and focuses on audio and video and simplicity. And it is simple. So simple, in fact, that one of the industry’s most program-phobic integrators has no problem configuring it himself.

Brad Sundberg of BSUN Media Systems, based in Fairhope, Ala., was one of the first Nirv installers. He says, “I’m not a programmer. I have always hired great programmers. My brain doesn’t work that way.”

But his rep assured Sundberg he could program Nirv all by himself. Lo and behold, “I had it going in about two hours,” says Sundberg. “Anyone who is experienced at programming could probably do it in 30 minutes.”

And the physical installation is just as simple, Sundberg says: “The controller is just one piece of Cat 5 and a short little HDMI Cable. If an installer can’t do that in three minutes, something’s wrong.”

The Master System Controller (MSC), the hub of Nirv, supports 16 Nirv devices. Those Nirv devices might be 5PE or 16PE extenders, which accommodate five or 16 more Nirv devices, respectively. In all, Nirv can support more than 1,000 Nirv Net devices, which can sit anywhere on the network.

SpeakerCraft provides its own Nirv Net-enabled amplifiers, as well. Sundberg says, “An amp is an amp is an amp, except with this one you plug in one piece of Cat 5 instead of eight or 12 RCA cables.”

Amps can be assigned for multiroom distribution, 5.1 surround and/or 7.1 surround. Two-channel amps further enhance the flexibility of the system. Sources can reside anywhere on the network.

Simple for Clients, too
The simple side of Nirv translates to the client experience as well. Sundberg has installed a system for a woman, Tiffany, with cerebral palsy. She says, “Controlling my motor skills can be challenging” and it is “difficult to implement day-to-day activities, such as using a standard remote control for the television.”

Nirv’s on-screen guide, however, is intuitive and easy to navigate: “The Nirv system not only allows me to turn on and off the television, change the channels and play music throughout my house independently, but I can also choose a movie to watch from my home collection - all with a touch of my iPad.”

In Tiffany’s house, Nirv is feeding and controlling 10 TVs. Sources include a security camera DVR, three satellite receivers, two Blu-ray players, a Kaleidescape movie server, Apple TV, Roku, and two Nirv iPod docks. Nirv feeds 16 zones of music, plus a 5.1 surround in the theater.

Tiffany is looking forward to the addition of lighting and thermostat control for her system, as well as intercom functionality.

Kippycash says those capabilities are coming, but SpeakerCraft first wanted to perfect the digital audio/video features that are the core of Nirv.

Currently, if dealers want to write drivers for subsystem integration, they can. In the meantime, SpeakerCraft is working on the most popular devices, says Kippycash: “We’re working on the 80/20 rule. We’re trying to do what 80 percent of customers want. There might be 20 percent who want to do more than what we offer. Some customers want to automate Toto toilets.”

Working out the Kinks
Sundberg concedes that being an early Nirv installer hasn’t been all fun and games. Bugs had to be worked out, and the product delays were painful; however, Sundberg was always frank with his first client, and SpeakerCraft was always up-front with him.

“When I got it [the first system], it was too soon for mass release,” Sundberg recalls. “I told my client we were going to be a beta tester and it’s going to take some time. I got frustrated with the delays, but SpeakerCraft has been very supportive with a very open line of communications. They even sent a Christmas care package to my client.”

imageThe Wand
The Wand remote that controls Nirv looks like … a stick shift. It has been ridiculed for its industrial design as well as its functionality, with just enough buttons to get the system turned on and to navigate the on-screen display. In the future, the Wand’s built-in mic will allow house-wide paging via the multiroom audio system.

Despite his original skepticism, Sundberg has warmed up to the device, especially for his client who has limited dexterity. “Once you’re used to it, it’s pretty quick and easy,” he says.

Likewise, Jon Eibye, a New England SpeakerCraft rep who has sold several Nirv systems, has no qualms about the remote now that he has installed Nirv in his own house.

“My kids and wife like the Wand,” he says. “I like the app.”


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