NETSTREAMS OF AUSTIN, TEXAS, IS among the few home-tech providers that can offer builders a distinct path to creating home systems that run over Internet protocol (IP).

For non-techies, IP is the basic protocol—or language—of the Internet. The thinking among technology professionals is that over the next 18 to 36 months, everything from CD and DVD players to household appliances such as refrigerators, ovens, and dishwashers will have an IP address and an Ethernet connection.

Herman Cardenas, president and CEO of NetStreams, says that his company aims to prepare builders for this IP future, and that builders need to be thinking about the infrastructure products that can take advantage of this ongoing trend. Home technology is advancing very quickly, he adds, so builders need to have devices in place that will make it easy for home buyers to install and swap out consumer electronics and home appliances.

The classic horror story that home-tech installers tell is about the $300 TiVo unit that cost almost $5,000 for a programmer to network throughout a new home. Net-Stream's DigiLinx switch requires much less programming to add new devices to a network—and is half the cost of a traditional AMX or Crestron home-control system.

“If the consumer electronics item has an IP address and an Ethernet port, all I have to do is plug it right into the switch, and the system recognizes the IP address,” says Nick Ehr, owner of Broadcast Technologies in Palm Beach, Fla., which has installed DigiLinx for Regatta Homes in South Florida. “On the other hand, if the device doesn't have an IP address, the switch will take the analog signal and convert it to IP so it can run over the network,” he explains. “I still have to program the infrared codes so the homeowner can use the panels, but it takes much less coding.”

Cardenas says that a DigiLinx system that supports six zones of audio, four sources that can be networked throughout the home, two Panasonic IP security cameras, Aprilaire HVAC, and an interface to Lutron lighting costs around $16,000.

At that price, DigiLinx is clearly a high-end system for most production builders, but Cardenas says that NetStreams will work with builders to offer home buyers a clear upgrade path. The way to start, he says, is for all new homes to have structured wiring and to be prewired for audio using the Consumer Electronics Association's 2030 standard. The standard advises home-tech integrators and builders to run at least one Category-5 wire and one 16-gauge, four-conductor speaker wire from the audio source to any volume control location or speaker in a new home.

NetStream's entry-level product is Musica Genesis, which comes with a keypad, a power supply, an FM tuner, and a wall plate. Homeowners can use it to listen to two sources: the FM tuner inside the keypad and anything that the homeowner decides to plug into the wall plate—an iPod, a home computer, or a CD or DVD player. Musica Genesis starts at $800.

“Musica Genesis is not intimidating,” says Cardenas. “It doesn't require a big stack of equipment, and it lets the builder add other rooms easily.”

Home buyers who want distributed audio can opt for the Audio Distribution Center (ADC). The ADC, which sits on a rack in a closet, supports up to six sources: four sources that the home buyer can network throughout the house plus two local sources (the FM tuner and the wall plate). Each ADC can handle up to six rooms in a new home. A six-room system costs between $4,000 and $6,000; the total cost will vary based on the type of keypads that the home buyer selects.

With this infrastructure in place, homeowners who want to add home control, IP security cameras, and HVAC management can have their installer swap out Musica Genesis or the ADC and put in a DigiLinx system.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Austin, TX.