The complete guide to multi-room entertainment

17th Apr 2009 | 09:00

The complete guide to multi-room entertainment

How to enjoy your music and movies all over the house

Option 1 - The entry-level multi-room system

Unless you have an iPod permanently strapped to you head, chances are there are going to be plenty of times in the day when you, your music and your movies just aren't in the same place at the same time.

The solution, of course, is to pick up a multi-room system than enables you, your family and friends to enjoy your content whenever, wherever and however they choose.

To get your started here's our take on three different options available: from pocket change starter systems to dedicated multi-room AV gear.

Option 1 - The entry-level multi-room system

At its most basic, multi-room entails piping music (even video) from one location in your home to another - or better still to multiple rooms at the same time.

Luckily there are plenty of media adapters available that enable you to do just that - typically streaming content stored on your Mac or PC to a hi-fi located elsewhere.

One of the best examples we've come across is Logitech's Squeezebox Classic (£179), but we also like Apple's AirPort Express http://www.apple.com/uk/airportexpress/features/airtunes.html (£79), which enables you to take advantage of a feature built-in to iTunes called AirTunes - it works in exactly the same way.

For true multi-room you'll need to add a digital media adaptor for every room in which you want to listen - and also have a local hi-fi or home cinema amp with a spare set of inputs.

The other problem at this level is that you also lose central control - you can't easily start and shut down all the devices at once or move sound around from room to room remotely

EASY APPLE: Apple's AirPort Express is a self-contained Wi-Fi router and music streamer - just hook it up to your home stereo and then enable AirTunes within iTunes on your Mac or PC

SQUEEZEBOX CLASSIC: The Logitech Squeezebox Classic enables you to stream music stored on your computer to a hi-fi in a second room. It's easy to set up and use and comes with its own remote control

Option 2 - The mid-range multi-room system

Option 2 - The mid-range multi-room system

The next step up is to use something more dedicated to the task. Philips, for example, sells a range of Streamium systems, that either operate as standalone units or which can be hooked up to a computer for instant multi-room satisfaction.

Our favourite is the MCi500H (£450), which comes with a 160GB hard drive (enough room for up to 2,000 CDs), a choice of Wi-Fi or Ethernet connections and support for up to five Streamium room players (£150-£199 each, depending on model).

The MCi500H is pretty easy to set up and use and comes with a range of handy features including alphanumeric track search and Album Art, which displays colour artwork for the currently playing track.

If you want your Mac or PC to act as your central music server then a Sonos system is ideal. A basic Sonos 150 bundle (£749) contains all the equipment you need to get started including a ZP120 Zone player, which comes with a built-in amplifier and all the other control and access gubbins; a separate wireless colour touchscreen remote; and a ZP90 Zone Player - a basic Wi-Fi box that enables you to stream your music to a hi-fi in another room.

The great thing about the Sonos is that it's not only easy to use, but it's also incredibly expandable - you can add as many additional Zone Players as you want to the basic system, along with matching accessories such as speakers.

All Sonos systems come with their own Mac/PC software and you can choose to control the whole shebang using a dedicated app on your iPhone.

PHILIPS MCI500: Philips has been selling wireless music systems for a while now, but the MCi500H is its best. You get great sound quality, convenience and a 160GB hard disk in slick, easy to use package and you can team it with up to five Streamium clients for true multi-room

SONOS BUNDLE 150: Sonos' entry-level Bundle 150 is a great way to enjoy music stored your Mac or PC around your home. It comprises a ZP120 zone player with built-in amplifier (just add speakers), plus a wireless colour touchscreen remote and a ZP90 wireless client

Option 3 - The ultimate multi-room system

Option 3 - The ultimate multi-room system

For true multi-room - especially video - you'll probably need to invest in a dedicated system (a sizeable bank balance is also a requirement). These usually comprise a central server that houses all your music and movies and then shifts it around your home using CAT5 cables buried in the walls.

One great example is the £9,000 Living Control Studio6 media server, which is capable of delivering two Full-HD video feeds and four 24-bit/-96kHz HD audio streams at the same time.

Most bespoke multi-room systems comprise a mixture of in-wall or in-ceiling speakers and amps with remote control provided by free-standing or wall-mounted touchscreen controllers.

The great thing about systems like this is that they're reliable, robust and almost infinitely scalable. They also give you a lot more in terms of functionality - from delivering different music and movie selections on demand to integration with other home automation features such as lighting, blind and curtain control and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning).

The price you pay depends on how much functionality you want and how big your home is, but the bill can easily run from a few thousand to tens of thousands of pounds. Your best bet maybe to consult a local custom installer. The CEDIA UK website can help you find one.

Other multi-room AV systems worth checking out are the Kaleidescape Mini System (from £6,695) and the Imerge MS1 MediaServer (from £5,507) - both offer HD quality audio and video streaming from a central server to any room in your home.

FOR FULL HD: Living Control's Studio6 is a multi-room audio and video server that's capable of streaming two Full HD video streams and four HD audio streams around your home simultaneously. It works with the iPhone, too

HIGH END: Kaleidescape specialises in high end media server solutions - but its new Mini System is the first one that's reasonably affordable. Prices start at £6,695

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*tutorial digital home streaming video audio music movies
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