New user, designing a whole house audio/video/home automation project


Hi everyone, I’m new to this and really looking forward to this new hobby. I have read a books’ worth of posts on CQC, Main lobby, Homeseer, JRMC, Windows media center, XBMC, AppleTV and so on and now would really appreciate some help in the direction of my system. I also made a small previous post, so forgive me if I've repeated some questions and if some repeat slightly. I also wanted to include as much of my research as possible so as to maximize your help.

So, my project;
I’d like to start with whole house audio and video using a single front-end UI controllable on a touchscreen, including control of TVs/Receivers then moving onto the rest of the automation stuff later.. My budget is typical DIY. Music is first priority, then video and then HA.

1. Touchscreens
-One or two hardwired ~15in touchscreens to client PCs/server for music/HA selection and monitoring
-One or two Wifi touchscreens available in the house as handheld remotes; music, video, HA selection and monitoring

Research done so far;
Ipad,itouch, android, iphone, HP touchpad, 15in ELO/Planar touchscreens, Fujitizu stylistic tablets, airpanel, Tablekiosk, Q1 (but too expensive for me), Nokia 770/800

-Options seem much better now than 5 years ago, and so I don’t want to get caught buying into older screens but am still on a budget, so what are the current recommendations and would you still consider some of the older screens listed above if getting them cheap on eBay?.
-Is there a preference to certain types of touchscreens with respect to usage and programming a UI past and present? (Flash vs not, scaling to different screen resolutions/sizes, for example)
-Can I efficiently control music and video with a touchscreen or is video still better with IR?

2. Front-end software
Ideally I’d like one software front end to control everything, available on all touchscreens. It seems I have two options ; DIY HA software such as CQC/MainLobby/Homeseer/Girder/older xlobby and non-HA software such as AppleTV, WMC, Jriver, boxee, xbmc, windows media center, SageTV, and I think my music requirements mainly decide which ones are viable options.

-If I want to control the receivers’ and TV’s functions with a touchscreen, I need to step up to a HA software, correct?
-If I want to control independent audio zones I need JRMC(sound cards), iTunes/Airfoil (apple express). How would I bring the HA software into play?
-Mainlobby, Girder and CQC seem the most popular DIY HA software platforms, is there any fundamental differences between each in regard to audio/video single front end control with respect to; touch screen UI, availability of templates, learning curve of my own development of the UI and drivers for hardware control (TV’s , Receivers, Matrix etc)?
-How are users feeling about the UI on an Ipad/iphone/android vs older setups such as ELO/Planar touchscreen monitors with a PC/laptop/HP thin clients, touchscreen tablets running XPe(Tablekiosk/Fujitsu), POS terminals, or handhelds such as the Nokia 770/800? Should I now forget all the old systems and go apple/android (or whenever Microsoft launch something?)
-Do the HA platforms have their own music or video playback engines or do you program them to launch media players such as JRMC, MediaMonkey, Itunes,VLC,TMT,SageTV,Windows Media Center, XBMC etc and then continue to use the touchscreen to play content?

3. Music
-Selection with Wifi touchscreen (I don’t want to turn on the TV)
-Source 1; Mp3’s on a server out to 8 zones
-Sync source 1 to all zones or at least 2 sets of 4 zones.
-Possibly have an ipod hook up in 2 zones as an alternative source (sources 2,3)
-Looking for decent Audiophile quality sound and probably approx 50W/ch

Research done so far;
Maudio 1010LT / Creative SoundBlaster / Casatunes soundcards, russound, niles, sonos, apples express, squeezebox, autopatch/extron matrix. My main crossroads is with the audio, which I centers at the decision on whether to choose the soundcard vs matrix route....wrt cost/ability to synce/stability/UI and how it would integrate into a single front end software.

-Option 1a; JRMC with PCI soundcards; M-Audio 1010LT / SoundBlaster with KX drivers and various USB soundcards with a multichannel amp
-Option 1b; JRMC with its new Id device. They have an android app called Gizmo that works with is.
Any feedback on sync ability and audio quality and anybody used JRMC’s Id yet?

-Option 2; Casatunes multi channel soundcard with a multichannel amp, and their android/apple app, good software.
Concerns; max 1 card for 6 zones (12 room system is too expensive) and software is for music only

-Option 3; Apple Airport Expresses with a multichannel amp and rogue amoeba airfoil (on iphone/Androids) to sync zones.
-What about appleTV2 for video, can these work with airport expresses for music and hence be complete solution
-Any feedback on sync ability, audio quality and software is for music only

-Option 4: Use a matrix (autopatch/extron) with a multichannel amp which would require CQC/Mainlobby/Girder to control. Also came across Russound CAV6.6 matrix/amp combo but only 20watts per channel.
-Any feedback on driver availability of matrices and what to look for in a matrix? I think Sonos/Squeezebox (approx $200-300/zone), and systems such as Niles are out of budget.
-Is the best way of getting an IR or RS232 device (ie receiver,dvr) onto the network by using a GlobalCache, as I’m considering using multiple receivers as in Jwilson’s NowPlaying system as these are cheaply available secondhand starting out.
-I foresee the sound in the living room being used as 1. Surround sound for TV viewing and 2. Music listening with the TV off; however is it possible to have the music on while the TV is also on, but with no sound from the TV content.
-There seems to be an iphone app that can control a 2011 networked Denon Receiver to control its functions, anybody have an experience with this?
-any suggestions on reasonable amplifiers, giving 20-50W / channel

4. Video (secondary preference); 2-4 zones (LR with surround sound, Kitchen, 2BR’s), while using a single front end, and if possible the same as what controls my music
I need DirecTV for fox sports plus (rugby) so this rules out ceton’s InfiniTV cable card with WMC (cable only), and SageTV (no premium channels).
-Does a multi zone option require a matrix with HA software (other than using DirecTV’s multi zone)? (I know I could use a HDPVR, but reliability is suspect and might have to use in conjunction with WMC)
-can I get control of the DVR in the single front end software via a touchscreen or IR control?
-I assume more than one zone can’t access the same box at the same time so multi zone would require one box per zone for all of that’s zones content?
-Any advantages with Dish over DirecTV wrt controlling the DVR?

Downloaded content, (htpc or mwdia players such as popcorn hour/WD Live to pull from server)
Usually use VLC as it plays everything.
Option 1; Only use TV’s and use the touchscreen / IR remote or keyboard to launch and select content
Option 2; Use TV’s for some rooms but use the hardwired touchscreen monitor running the HA software to also playback video (ie kitchen)
-How can this be integrated into a front end software and content browsed/selected to playback in different zones either on a TV or an in wall monitors?
-Do I need a matrix to sync zones?
-If I have to use IR remotes, do I use global cache or USBIRT, any pros/cons to each device?

DVD/Blu Ray rips
-I understand I need TMT / PowerDVD to play BluRay in a PC, so is it easy to integrate these with various software platforms, such as WMC, AppleTV, xbmc, boxee, CQC, ML, Girder etc.
-WMC and Apple have IR remotes and boxee,xbmc I think also respond to its commands

Any feedback is much appreciated
Welcome again - hopefully you'll find all the answers you're looking for here! I must say - this is a HUGE post! It's been an observation of mine that keeping the posts smaller gets better responses - it seems in my observations that you'll get better responses on 5 separate posts than just one. I think it has to do with people quickly spotting an area they know a lot about vs. having to sift through 3 pages. I actually started to sort through and respond to some areas but I got lost in my own responses amid everything.

You're definitely at the infancy of system design here - and there's just so much to figure out from here. What are your priorities? Where do you want to spend your time? There are more ways to start accomplishing what you want than you can imagine - each with different caveats - whether complexity, cost, limited functionality, etc.

Building a touchscreen interface takes a long time; building your own audio system and associated touch-screens to tie them all together takes even longer. Writing the software to do this all in takes even longer (rolling your own app too). Somewhere you should strike a balance where your time is worth a certain amount of money. In my case, with a family, I can't seem to find the time it takes to build the touchscreens - even with off-the-shelf complete systems like the Elk, UPB, and a Nuvo (don't have it yet, but will use a pre-built system to save time and complexity)...

This is part of why I chose the Elk by the way as my main controller - it was easy to pick the elk, and pick products that the elk integrates with - to get easy computer, touchscreen, and iPhone control of my lights, sprinklers, security, HVAC, etc - all without spending much time on integration or touchscreens. That said, my next step is getting awesome touchscreens - and using Elve, which allows for way more custom functionality - to get them perfect - but this has been a several-year quest.

Touchscreen technology is a big one - the technology for Windows-based touchscreens is way ahead of where it was 3-5 years ago - the options are way cheaper - and more responsive; and windows support for touchscreens has entered the "usable" state. That said, some new options are making that a moot point. If you have a good HA controller doing all the heavy lifting, and the touchscreen interface needs to be just that, then options like Android or iPad are starting to get way cheaper. You no longer have to think about the PC driving the screen and where it's located; and how you adapt your eBay Planar to look like it belongs in-wall or how to connect to and where to locate the PC that drives it. Take an iPad with a VidaBox wall mount and it looks awesome - for probably about $1K; I bought a 15" 3M touchscreen 4 years ago and spent $1500 on it - and still needed the computer! Only you can balance what you're willing to spend for what result. If your budget only allows for using an old desktop PC plugged into an eBay Planar setting on a table - so be it... but if you're like me and won't install it unless it can be in-wall and look like it belongs there, then you have to wait for and/or pay for the right solution. I haven't found that yet - so I don't have touchscreens yet (but I'm testing Elve with iPad). Your HA controller will help determine what your options are as well - if they have support for iPad or Android.

And Video is the other one I still haven't made a decision on - because I still don't feel like there's a perfect option. I too use DirecTV... I have to say that it seems like the single best option would be to stack 3-4 DirecTV receivers together (not DVR's) and interface them into a SageTV server - the same server which can access your ripped movies, stored pictures, music, etc - then using the SageTV media extenders at each TV to access this universal collection of media at each TV. They also have a good API that you could probably use to get the control options you're looking for. My holdup there is stubbornness - I was stuck on DirecTivo for the longest time and wouldn't go to Sage for the DVR - but I hate the newest DTV DVR too... but something feels wrong to me about taking a digital stream, converting it to analog just to reencode it to digital again (usually larger or with more loss) to get it back on the sage server - but, many people do that with great success and much more functionality than I have today - so I think this is my own hangup. I'd look into that option - it's worth while. I do know Sage can play BD movies too; but I believe it can't handle the menus - just the content. It can do ripped DVD's all day long.

I'm probably little help - but trying to give areas to think about... I think I'm overthinking them which is why I haven't accomplished a few of these things - and I've definitely learned that while I don't have much extra money, I have even less time... so my interest is in finding systems that tie together as easily as possible so I'm just playing integrator.
Thanks Work2Play for the response. I agree with the small post comment, but I just wanted to at least put all that I had down first. My priority is definitely audio, zones and be synced, with a handheld touchscreen. There are numerous apple/android apps that interface with itunes, I currently use hyperfine with my droid incredible, which works well if you can make your ip address static, but not with apple expresses for multiple zones. I'm trying to get multiple zones synced, and add control of the receivers, but then also think to the future for video and HA.

Hi Dan, Just read your email, thanks for the response
I haven't chosen a HA software yet, so was hoping to get some feedback from the forum, especially how they would integrate with multi-zone audio. (see my previous post for more info)
I've read that its possible to have synced zones with PCI soundcards, but not heard from anyone specific. The USB sound cards have the advantage of it not being inside the PC and with more outputs and possibly better sound, but I have not come across anyone using them in sync yet.

You have been overwhelmed with 'scope creep'.

If you keep the audio distribution separate from video, the process will be less complicated, and will buy you time to reserach video distribution further.

Certainly, you want to keep the control system in mind when choosing each subsystem.

The user interface (touchscreen) will depend on the control system you choose. Don't buy any yet, until you've decided on the control platform. Tech changes too rapidly, and one TS that will work well for one platform may not work for another.

Doesn't DirectTV have an option for the sharing of a DVR from all set-top boxes and displays?

Agreed, post too long - but I know how it can be, trying to collect your thoughts.

Definitely, try each software control system before buying. Some are easier than others, but at the cost of flexibility. The most flexible have the steepest learning curves.

What you're trying to do will take years - be patient, and try to enjoy it. If it doesn't become an enjoyable hobby, you will fail.

I think (home theater direct) may have a distributed audio system now that is controllable with RS232/serial, a possible good option for integration. Maybe you can get a deal on a new Russound or Nuvo system, from an authorized distributor. Perhaps from a cocoontech sponsor/vendor. Always CALL by PHONE for the best pricing. I bought my Nuvo components from Automated Outlet.
thanks guys, good points, I'll shorten the post and keep to to my focus which is audio
Yes DTV has a multiroom option, but I'd really like one interface on a touchscreen for everything, but I know distributed video is difficult especially with premium channels and DRM

Well I have a six zone whole house audio setup with touchscreen control that many people have duplicated. It is a DIY setup but much cheaper and maintains a high quality sound. Take a look at my blog for more details. My hardware setup will work with many of the software solutions. I am looking into migrating to Elve down the road as it matures.

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