During last year’s CEDIA, NetStreams CEO Herman Cardenas and Chief Technology Officer Michael Braithwaite held a press conference that caused quite a buzz during the show and still gets people’s attention. Already well known for its simple, yet elegant use of CAT5e to stream audio throughout a home for low-cost mulizone music listening, the 4-year-old company was setting the stage for duplicating that trick with video. “By 2007, said NetStreams’ CEO, “we will duplicate in video everything we’ve done in audio.”
That’s quite a boast. But there is reason to believe that Cardenas and Braithwaite are serious, and they’ve just released a product in Panorama that lends substance to the promise and marks an intermediate step on the journey.
To accurately place Panorama in the NetStreams product roadmap, here’s a quick review of the development of its audio equivalent— the Musica Audio Distribution Center. This product can accept input from up to four audio sources and distributes the content to six zones over CAT5e wiring. Content can be same source/multiple rooms or different sources/different rooms. The strength in the system is that it’s easy to set up via CAT5 and there’s no discernible delay in the signal. Multiple Musica audio distribution centers can be daisy chained to support distribution of audio to up to 18 zones.
The next step up in product development on the audio side was the IP-based audio control networking set of products known as DigiLinX. Comprised of speaker amplifiers, TCP/IP switches, touchcontrollers, and power supplies, the DigiLinX system is completely IP-based as it distributes digital audio and control protocol signals over CAT5e via TCP/IP packets. Because it is IP-based, DigiLinX can distribute virtually unlimited sources to unlimited zones.
So as Musica is to DigiLinX, so will Panorama be to the video DigiLinX IP-based video of the future—the networking product slated for 2007 that Cardenas promises will be just as robust as his audio networking products and will include surround-sound capabilities to boot (the audio products can deliver only stereo output, for the time being). In the meantime, video enthusiasts have Panorama to whet their appetite.
NetStreams products are sold through dealers and require a dealer installation. So we asked NetStreams, based in Austin, TX, where The Perfect Vision is based, to visit our audio lab and install a typical Musica/ Panorama set up. The Panorama system we reviewed did everything NetSreams promised it would. We used a combination Musica Audio Distribution Center, the MU5066ADC, connected to a Panorama Video Distribution and Control Center, the PAN6400, via RS232. In Zone 2, we used a PANV500 video port to connect our Zone 2 monitor via component out and a Musica MU5066KP50 50-watt amplified keypad for the speakers. The Musica in-wall keypad/amplifier that allowed us to control the Panorama/Musica from Zone 2 (we had a remote control of both Panorama, Musica, and our sources in the main room). The keypads have a built-in FM tuner for local FM-station listening, by the way, which is a nice touch.
This setup gave us the ability to input four different audio and video sources and we could have distributed them to up-to-six zones on one set of controllers. To off-set the distance of zones from the source and avoid the kind of video degradation you would expect over long cable runs (say the kind you encounter in airports), NetStreams has developed a set of Cable Length Compensation chips that are keyed to CAT5 wiring-distance and installed in a slot on the zone Video Port. This allows video to stream to simultaneous zones without signal degradation—an important consideration when playing the same DVD in separate zones at the far end of big houses.
With our test DVDs, running the gambit of favorites such as House of Flying Daggers, Hero, Master and Commander, and The Aviator, we again saw that NetStreams delivered what it promised—a clear audio and video signal with no discernible time delay. Bravo NetStreams. We did, however, get stereo rather than surround sound in the separate zones because that’s what the system delivers. But the video was high quality, with no noticeable artifacts and the sound was full and precise.
Just as the Musica system is, so will the Panorama system be a satisfactory end solution for many users. But the 2007 video equivalent of DigiLinX will be an end-goal that many customers will no doubt aspire to in their home installation plans for the supremely wired multihome entertainment center of the future. At a talk at CEDIA last year, one speaker noted that new home construction is now averaging three home-theater rooms per home in the home-installation market. The ability to have those rooms networked over TCP/IP and have surroundsound piped into each home-theater substation is enough to make any home-theater enthusiast’s mouth water. We’re eager to see if Cardenas, Braithwaite, and the NetStreams team can deliver. If Panorama is any indication, and we think it is, then they are well on their way. TPV