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Walter Bright

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

One Wire to Rule Them All

July 17, 2010

One thing about the way things ought to be has been bugging me for years. Finally, it is about to catch on and become reality. Read on...Consider a typical consumer electronic network device, the Linksys wireless access point. Examining it, we see it has two connectors on it, one for power, and an ethernet jack. It has one hidden reset button, requiring a paper clip to press it. And there are three blinkenlights on the front to tell you what's happening.

That's it.

Now let's look at consumer audio visual equipment, like the Onkyo TX-NR3008 receiver. Note the stunning number and type of connectors on the back. Here's the list from the leaflet:

  • Front-Panel USB Input for Memory Devices and iPhone/iPod Models (Enables Display of Album Artwork)
  • Universal Port for Single-Cable Connection of Optional Onkyo Dock for iPhone/iPod
  • Component Video Switching (3 Inputs and 1 Output)
  • 4 S-Video Inputs and 1 Output
  • Analog RGB Video Input (D-sub, 15 pin) and Audio Input
  • 6 Digital Inputs (3 Optical and 3 Coaxial)
  • 5 A/V Inputs (1 Front/4 Rear) and 1 Output
  • Color-Coded, 7.1 Multichannel Inputs
  • Video/S-Video Outputs (Monitor)
  • 1 Audio Input and 1 Output
  • Color-Coded, 9.2 Multichannel Pre Outs (Including 2 Independent Subwoofer Pre Outs)
  • RS232 Port, IR (In/Out), and 12 V Trigger Outs (Zone 2/3)
  • Color-Coded, Banana Plug-Compatible Speaker Posts
  • RIHD (Remote Interactive over HDMI) for System Control

My own receiver has a rat's nest of wires behind it. Hooking up a new component is always a chore, not only trying to thread a new set of cables through that thicket, but trying to find another set of the right connectors for it. No matter how many inputs your receiver has, you'll always run short of this kind of connector or that kind.

It's insanity.

Back again to the simplicity of the wireless access point. Can't audio visual equipment use the ethernet protocol? It can handle all the bandwidth necessary.

Just plug in a (cheap) ethernet cable, and you're done. No need to buy "monster" cables. No need to figure out which is input and which is output. No need to be concerned about male/female connector ends. No need to buy BNC to F converters. And if you run out of connectors, just get a cheap switch. The only other wires you'd need are the wires to carry the amplified signal to the speakers.

Let's run through some of the advantages this confers, besides cleaning up the appearance of your setup.

  • Now, all your components are on your local network. They don't have to be located next to each other anymore! Any component anywhere in your house can hook to any other.
  • You'll never run out of inputs or outputs again.
  • You can play your components through your computer.
  • Your computer can also be a "component" and play through your receiver.

But wait, you say. Didn't I see an ethernet jack on the back of the Onkyo receiver? Yes, it has one, and it only serves to highlight the myopic vision of the audio/visual industry. It can be used to serve music files from your home network, stream internet radio, get updates from Onkyo, and serves a web page used to configure the network and internet radio settings.

What it doesn't do is connect to any other components, stream out either audio or video, etc.

All this is about to change (finally). Enter the proposed new HDBaseT standard. Looks like someone has the right idea! At least I hope it's the right idea. The articles on it say the right words, though we'll have to wait and see the products before seeing if they get it right.

While we're at it, let's carry this idea further. Notice that the wireless access point has no buttons (other than the secret reset button), no controls, and no remote. It's all handled by serving a web page. Why not have the components do the same? Chuck the front panel (leave a few blinkenlights, of course). Have the component serve a web page, and deal with it that way.

Which leads us to, inevitably, ditching the remote as well. I have scores of remotes for the various boxes I have. They often get lost, broken, etc. They're all incompatible. They usually have dead batteries in them, or even worse, batteries that leaked and ruined the remote. But I have an iPod that, obviously, wirelessly connects to my home network. Think about it, your component can serve a web app, meaning any wireless device you've got can control it. Or go a step further and supply an app for the iPod that enables it to act as a remote! One remote that can control all of your components, TVs, etc., now and in the future with a nice interface.

Thanks to Jason House, Bartosz Milewski and Andrei Alexandrescu for their helpful suggestions on this article.

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