High definition is great, but do you really want Sony in your "Whole House"?

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andy-merrett.jpgAndy Merrett writes…

Sony has been showing off its latest integrated solutions at PCBC (Pacific Coast Builders Conference) 2007.

The company has three updated solutions for ensuring that new houses are totally kitted out with Sony equipment from the very beginning.

Their reasoning is that it’s easier and more cost-effective to plan and install a complete audio-visual system when a house is being built, rather than after all the walls are nicely plastered and you’re left scratching your head wondering how to keep that pristine look, while trying to separate and hide all that cabling.

Their top-of-the-range NHS-3040 rack system allows for 13 zones of HD video distribution, incorporating a 7.1 surround sound home theatre with LCD touch-panel remote control, a 400-disc DVD/CD changer with management system, an 80GB music server, radio tuner, HD cable/satellite support, three auxiliary inputs, and a Blu-ray player. Each separate zone has in-wall keypads for controlling it all.

That’s all very nice, but do you really want Sony enveloping your newly built house? Come to think of it, are any new homes in Britain going to have enough room for thirteen separate zones?

With land at a premium and living spaces shrinking, such a system seems extravagant.

I’m all for building new technology into houses – companies like Philips offer add-on systems like their Connected Home to stream HD content wirelessly around the home – but nothing yet beats a fully wired system.

I’m just not convinced that I’d want a complete Sony system built in. Or indeed (before I get told off for bashing Sony) any proprietary system.

Sony may claim to operate to standards, but (and I hate to bring this up — again) they don’t have a great track record on compliance. I remember having to buy an adapter to connect their supposedly standard iLink port to a genuine IEEE1394 port, but that’s another story.

Yes, the system has three auxiliary inputs, so you could commit the ultimate crime against your new Sony system and connect up an HD DVD player, or an XBox 360.

The decision over whether to install this system rests with the construction industry. It’s not clear from the press release whether they pick up a ‘kit’ of Sony equipment and are expected to install it themselves, or whether Sony will start up a consultancy business for house builders.

Granted, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium is a tad bigger than your average house, but when Sony kitted it out, there was a lengthy and ongoing consultation and installation process.

Without wishing to offend builders, they’re not as well versed in correctly installing high-technology equipment as they are at building with bricks and mortar. I’ve moved into a new house where the plumbing had been an unassailable challenge. I dread to think what an untrained installer would do with a home cinema system.

I’d be happier with house builders putting skeleton services into the house – for example a complete Ethernet cabling system with access points in each room – and letting the eventual buyers add their own kit as required. There’s less danger of it going wrong.

Fully connected house: great idea, so long as it works, is relatively future-proof, and customisable.

Andy Merrett