Review: Sony, Control4 Wrap A/V, Home Automation into A/V Receivers
With awesome audio, video, networking and built-in Control4 home automation, Sony’s STR-DA2800ES and STR-DA5800ES Receivers are the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups of the CE industry.
I’m a huge fan of Sony receivers, and president of the Control4 Fan Club, so to me the new STR-DA2800ES and STR-DA5800ES receivers from Sony are the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups of the home systems industry - awesome A/V receivers with Control4 home automation built in.
Two years ago I talked about how difficult it was for a manufacturer to distinguish itself in the A/V receiver category these days.
And then came the trend-setting Sony 5600es, which inspired more companies to add apps, streaming audio, improved networking capabilities and discrete command sets.
In 2011, Sony changed the game even further, adding streaming video to their ES line of receivers. While I thought this was an amazing idea and a step forward, I was still yearning for the next evolution in receivers.
At the time I had very little idea what was left for the category to move forward in innovation. So as I stood there in the Sony booth at CEDIA 2011 just day-dreaming while looking at the 5700es thinking to myself what’s next, something happened that I will never forget. Amy Escobio, Sony’s then-ES product manager in the quietly tapped me on the shoulder.
She said, “Hey Joe, we have this idea I want to share with you and get your thoughts on.”
The following product review is all about the product that followed and how Sony continues to elevate the standard, shock the competition, and make us believe.
Sneaking Home Automation into a Receiver
I think Sony leaned on the genius of the Swiss Army Knife and Peanut Butter Cup for inspiration. Partnering with the industry leading automation company Control4, a whole new category has been born.
This Frankenbeast is the industry’s first AVR with built-in home automation. You heard me right, and I mean straight out of the box. In teaming with Control4, Sony has been able to add some of the most important pieces of home automation and bring them to the masses in a package that most consumers are already used to.
Not a Control4 dealer? Not a problem. The AVRs have AMX Device Discovery and they’re Crestron-certified, making it the first AVR (I think) to be both Control4- and Crestron-certified.
The “gateway product” uses a method for automation delivery called “Easy Automation”.
This just-a-taste feature employs Sony’s new GUI, inspired by Control4. It allows consumers themselves to add device control through a simple wizard, leveraging Control4’s extensive database of IR drivers. The receivers boast four onboard 3.5mm plugs for standard emitters.
And then there’s the ZigBee RF home automation technology, also built in, allowing consumers to experience just a little piece of the home automation ecosystem that we dealers evangelize on a daily basis.
Sony has taken some other cues from Control4, allowing consumers to program up to four scenes – or macros, as we call them.
Not only can these scenes be configured to control A/V devices and lights, they also can be set to launch various settings in the AVR such as the sound settings, triggers, giving consumers the power to create the perfect entertainment experience.
These four simple scenes - MOVIE, MUSIC, PARTY and NIGHT - can be programmed by the user to give them a glimpse of the value that home automation brings, without having to take a huge leap of faith.
Activating the Complete Control4 Feature Set
Inside of this Sony AVR is almost the equivalent of an HC-250 automation controller ($599 retail) from Control4, with most of the power and feature set of a standalone controller.
To “turn on” all of the features, however, a consumer must contact an authorized Control4 dealer and go through an activation process.
This simple activation adds full Control4 functionality including Control4’s award-winning flash interface that is already built into this gem of an AVR.
From this point, all standard products like lighting control, thermostats, door locks, motion sensors, etc., can be added to the built-in Control4 controller for a full-on automation experience.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Since Sony has been putting these neat little four-port network switches on their receivers, we now have ports for - you guessed it - built-in IP-based control of devices when the receiver is tied into the home’s router.
The magic is that this AVR can run as a single master controller in a small home automation setup or be added to a full scale large system running on an HC-1000 or HC-800 Control4 controller. As a secondary controller, the AVR works just like an HC-250 controller would. In either configuration the 2800es has been the easiest-to-integrate A/V device I have ever added to a system or set up as a standalone piece.
And the Audio & Video Are Awesome!
So with all that innovation covered, what about the receiver right out of the box? How is it as a standalone Sony AVR?
The first thing I should point out is the set-up. Although Sony no longer uses Setup Manager from a PC, which by the way I am begging them to bring back, the new set-up caters more to the everyday user. The simple set-up wizard easily guides any A/V novice through every portion to get this receiver running right from the onscreen GUI.
The user gets walked through networking, home theater set-up, and even lighting.
The GUI for this evolution of ES receivers looks very similar to its predecessors and is easy to use and navigate; however, Sony threw us all a bone this time.
With over 20 years of experience in home systems installation and design as well as being an award winning product designer, Joe Whitaker currently is principal of the integration firm thethoughtfulhome.com. He is a current member of the CEDIA board of directors first elected in 2013 and is a frequent contributor to CE Pro magazine. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Joe at [email protected]
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