Missing Out On Home Theater Automation


Senior Member
I've been reading some of the threads on Home Theater automation and I think there is something basic that I am missing here. I don't do much HT automation in my house because I have trouble identifying the "value added" that automating it would give me.

Whole house music makes sense and having a central music repository has worked great for me but I can't see a way to apply the same paradigm to video. In other threads we determined that it is not practical to convert a video library to PC storage once it gets beyond a certain size. Besides that, I don't see the value of a touchscreen interface to operate video equipment. Once I am on the couch with universal remote in hand why would I want to get up and go over to a PC screen to operate the system? I suppose a touchscreen system would let you operate the system remotely but if you aren't in the same room as the TV, why would you want to be controlling it anyway?

A good universal remote can control every aspect of HT playback, lighting etc. I could certainly use a DVD changer with an elaborate IR and video distribution system to play DVDs in multiple rooms but a basic cost/benefit analysis seems to indicate that a nice piece of furniture to centrally store my DVD library plus a local player in each room will give me more bang for the buck.

So what features am I overlooking that would make me want to automate my Home Theater?
Probably the most popular product that Cinemar has is DVDLobby. I believe it's sales exceeds even that of MusicLobby. So, apparantly there is a need by quite a few ;)

When you have many movies in your collection, a way to view those movies by either thumbnail coverart view or by searching by title or by genre becomes important. Many Cinemar customers have one or several Sony CX777ES 400 DVD disk changers. The Sony user interface for that device is not very good and very difficult to load.

Folks also rip DVDs to media servers. Finding all of this media content for the Theater visitor can be daunting. A graphically rich catalog, presentation and launching system is a high value item.

HT software also goes another step. When your HT hardware system becomes larger than a AV reciever and a TV, it quickly becomes unmanageable by anyone but the technical person that built the system. What source button? What Zone? What surround settings? What masking to apply to the screen? What ffdshow filtering to apply for that movie? what devices need to be powered on for everything to show and sound right? What room is the movie going to be watched? and on and on. All of this is programmed into the command logic of the HT software.

Users just need to click "Watch Movie". Then click on the movie they want to watch. The rest happens automagically behind the scenes.

Consider the $ investment we make on HT equipment and even dedicated theater rooms. What is the ROI if everyone in the house can actually use that equipment? Should they all have to wait for Dad to set things up for a movie?

There is also the "movie experience". I have a dedicated theater room packed with somewhat expensive equipment. I spent a fair amount of money building the room (designed into the house plans), and a whole lot of time getting it to look right (aesthetically and functionally). But the thing people all talk about is the automation portion of the system...the software! No one talks about my B&W 801 speakers with the custom crossovers, or even the handmade coffered oak ceiling that took me a few months to build all of the individual panels. They talk about the software, well, actually they talk about how "neat" it is to see all my movies and with a click can view them. They don't know they are talking about software. So, what's that worth?

Part of the Movie Experience is also about the movie trivia that plays before the main event. Also, the movie trailers that play and even the Dolby Demos that randomly play before the featured attraction. And, the auto lights up at the end of the movie and the "The Mike Family Hopes You Enjoyed the Show" message at the end. It all adds incrementaly to the "Show". Makes visiting the Mike house for a movie an event. All of this can manually be done, but much more eloquently done with software. Heck, Cinemar has a customer that turned a 42 inch plasma on it's side and shows tonight's Feature Attraction coverart on that plasma when you enter the Theater Room as a poster! All driven from the software.

If your setup is an AV receiver, a single disk DVD player that you play tonight's Netflix DVD - then maybe HT software is overkill.

Also, some of the best setups are a blend of a remote control for all the common functions like volume, TV channel etc. and a PC based control UI like a touchscreen or tablet or even PPC.

So, will your friends say nice things about your new DVD storage furniture? Maybe. Will they say more nice things about an automated Home Theater that they can interact with safely? Without a doubt.

Looking at your house (very nice BTW!) and house HA setup (gees, suprised you are asking this question ;) ), I suspect that your HT if not today, will require automation in the future!
The bulk of my automation is HT oriented. I have my CQC based system set up to allow me to browse video and audio and select what I want to view, do transport control over the players, select TV channels, see weather, select audio effects, control lighting in the theater and so forth. It's all at the touch of a button when I sit down on the couch. I love it and couldn't live without it now. I can hardly remember how to operate my system via remotes anymore.

I have a Lexicon MC-1 audio processor, HD Leeza video processor/switcher, Sony 777ES changer, music on-disk on my Charmed Quark MC-1 controller, Dwin HD-700 projector, and Sony HD-300 high def DirectTV set top box. Everything is serially controlled, no IR, which is nice. CQC coordinates everything. Just press a button and it powers up everything, selects the source I asked for on all the A/V equipment lowers the lights, sets the volume and presents me with an interface to control that selected source. When I'm done, press a button, and everything powers off.

You can't really beat it for convenience. Anyone could run my theater despite it being made up of pretty geeky devices that normally require a diploma to really operate directy. The non-technical users gets a home page with big buttons for all the basic operations. They just select what they want to do, everything powers up or changes settings as required to get that source selected, and they are presented with the control screen for that source. It's super simple. There's always a home button there to get back to the home screen to do something else.

And since CQC is fully networked, when I'm in the theater, I can still control lighting in the rest of the apartment, or anything else that might be under its control. And, from the bedroom I can control the theater if I want, to select music to play in the bedroom. I can see weather data or the status of any devices uncontrol from anywhere in the network, and if I had a handheld device like a PPC I could do all those things from there as well, but I don't personally use one.
Thanks to you both for the detailed feedback. I guess I need to ponder this some more.


When you say you just sit on the couch and push a button, I assume you are talking about some sort of touchscreen control on a table in front of the couch? I guess that would need power, video, and serial connections.... all run under the carpet?
In my case it's a hard mounted one, but it can be a wireless tablet if that's what you want. I mostly went with the hard mounted one for price, since it's considerably cheaper in most cases. And it provides the kind of real estate that, though you can get wirless tablets that big, you probably wouldn't want one because it's too big for a hand held device. I'm using a 15" stanard touch monitor.

If you do go that way, you can run video and USB to it, or you can use a Cat-5 based KVM extender and just run a single Cat5, though at addition cost for the extender.
Dean Roddey said:
If you do go that way, you can run video and USB to it, or you can use a Cat-5 based KVM extender and just run a single Cat5, though at addition cost for the extender.
I am reluctant to use wireless devices so I would be interested in the extender and a flat cat-5 cable. Can I power the monitor from the cat-5 as well?
I doubt you'd be able to power a standard touch screen over ethernet. They would assume that they have standard wall juice I'd think. You might find such a beast, but I don't know of one. It's not something I've looked into.
For me, there's a plug right behind the table that the touch screen is on. I just ran video/USB over from the rack to the touch screen.
If you're talking just HA and not digitizing, which allows video distribution of recorded shows to any TV, then: my biggest value-add is the ability to view status & control my audio equipment. My receiver and audio equipment has been put into a media closet in the next room over. Before I automated it via CQC, if the volume wasn't on I was always guessing whether it was due to receiver set to wrong input, muted, zone off, etc.

Now, on my main DVD selection screen, I can see the status & settings of my receiver. I can determine whether it's too loud/on/..., before I kick off the movie.

I guess I will toss my 2 cents here also. I also do not see the fuss over HT setups. I love my Now Playing whole house audio setup as I listen to music all the time. But as I look over at my 80+ DVD's sitting on the shelf I do not see myself ever watching them more than once.. maybe twice down the road. For me the old sneaker net solution (carry it and drop it into my DVD) works. I suppose if you had kids around that wanted to watch their DVD a hundred times over. I personally think this is a pure brag factor to impress friends. As for watching the DVD... I prefer the tactile feel of a remote in my hand. As such I do not even have any screens in Netremote setup to control my HT setup. I pick up my Hamony remote... push the macro button and it does all the work... drop the DVD in and hit play...

So count me out....

I'm using my HVPro to automate some of my theater functions:
- If I turn on Theater Amp, it turns on TV, sets input, sets volume, and verifies if TV should be in game mode or movie mode, etc (different bright/contrast, etc). Also, it turns off alarm (if set), bypasses glass break sensor in theater, and turns on alarm.
- If I turn on Theater TV, it turns on Theater amp, etc... (same as above)
- If I pause TiVo or DVD, it brightens theater lights, hall lights, kitchen lights to get a snack or go to the bathroom (only if dark out, and no one is using upstairs TVs)
- When I turn off TV (or theater Amp), it checks if it's dark out. If yes, turns up lights to go to bed, sets alarm (first un-bypasses theater glassbreak, then sets alarm)
- Since my theater is in my basement, during spring/summer months, I have a dehumidifier on. If Theater is in use, it disables the dehumidifier. When theater turned off, it reenables it (using UPB).

I control all of this with a simple RCA 8 source remote. HVPro takes care of all the logic (I designed it so my wife could use the theater with almost no instruction).
Another concern I have is CableCARD and DRM signals. Are traditional HT setups with matrix switching and whole-house signal distribution even going to be possible with these new technologies? Does all current HT stuff become unusable in a few years?
Is there a good Cat-5 based KVM extender that would cost less than just connecting to a basic Dell workstation ($250) directly? Anything that I've looked at for distributing the video and mouse control over a distance of about 50 feet to a second touch screen ends up costing more than have a full PC at the 2nd touch screen.
upstatemike said:
Another concern I have is CableCARD and DRM signals. Are traditional HT setups with matrix switching and whole-house signal distribution even going to be possible with these new technologies? Does all current HT stuff become unusable in a few years?
excellent question, and one I've been concerned about as well.

My plans are to use DirecTV (not cable) for my signal, and to build a killer DVR PC to use throughout the house (much like I do now with my TiVo). I do not know how DRM will affect my plans...