An Abridged History (and the Future) of Home Control

Chapter 1 – From Communications to Music

A traditional way to call for a servant used to be a bell, sometimes on a cord by the master’s chair. Manual doorbells and speaking tubes were common in houses of the 1900’s – actually an acoustic tube extending from the front door to some location from which the homeowner could shout back and forth to visitors - the early intercom.

By the time electric lights were common, businesses had discovered the value of true wired intercoms, but it wasn’t until the ‘40s and 50’s that wired intercoms and internal home telephone communication became common even in wealthy homes.

But then it then took no time at all before “music over the intercom” became vogue, sharing tinny renderings from a central radio to several rooms. The state of the art in 1959 was an in-wall AM clock-radio with switches to turn on or off the music to individual rooms, while a talk lever enabled announcements to be sent throughout the home. Fancy units like this lovely orange number even had a jack on the front that let you play a phonograph into it, presuming you didn't mind a phonograph on the kitchen sink... not to mention changing the record every few minutes.

Next it was an 8-track tape player, then a cassette, a CD, and now even satellite music sources. Speakers and amplifiers have improved the sound, but the intercom model of entertainment distribution generally fails to satisfy any but the most background of music desires. Home owners liked the hidden equipment and widespread coverage. They missed the quality listening experience they had with a stack of components. The need to control sources and provide stereo sound worthy of foreground listening has largely driven entertainment distribution out of the intercom and into a separate system evolution.

When distributed music made it out on its own, it quickly diversified into flavors.

  • In the most basic whole-house music system with no distributed source control, usually only a local volume control is used in each room. The same source will play in every room, and is controlled from the central location. A single powerful amplifier feeds the whole system as one load. This is still a common design where cost is the major consideration.
  • Better systems offer selection of the entertainment source from each location in addition to volume control. All rooms still share the same content but it is selected from any room. A single amplifier may still be used, but more wires are needed for control. Often these systems go the next step and have separate amps for each room to provide better sound.
  • The best systems allow each room to select and control sources independently from other rooms for simultaneous enjoyment of different music in different locations. While this requires more sophisticated switching and control along with dedicated amplifiers, this design elevates each supported room, or zone, to a separate and equal listening area.

However, until recently, multi-room distribution of more than music has been difficult and not widely utilized.

About Home Entertainment - Introduction
This Chapter – From Communications to Music
Chapter 2 – TV goes Mobile
Chapter 3 – One Remote, Two Remote, Three Remote, Four…
Chapter 4 – Automation Platforms – The Rise of the Machines
Chapter 5 – The Next Generation – User and Content Centric Control
Chapter 6 – Multi-zone and Theater Convergence


Copyright 2018 by GP Systems, Inc.