Tech alternate universe 

My parents just bought a home that was a 2004 showcase and as you might expect had me spend a bunch of brain attention on working out what the developers were thinking with their AV tech choices in 2004 (that have mostly survived as-is through two other owners, perhaps surprisingly).

It is a fascinating alternative universe of choices that I wouldn’t have made even in 2004, but I guess seemed smart at the time (yet dumb today).

Tech alternate universe 

The big thing is that there’s a multi-room stereo system with speaker zones on every floor and almost a majority of rooms. It uses it’s own weird LAN for that. So there are some CAT-5e runs in the walls. I don’t know why you wouldn’t also run CAT-5e for a general LAN too even in 2004. Instead there are two to three coax jacks in every room from the very tail end of analog cable TV era. I’d have reversed that even in 04.

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Tech alternate universe 

The Audio LAN is fascinating. It seems to speak TCP/IP. Plugged laptops in Audio LAN expansion ports and they got IPs (on separate subnets for some reason?) and could ping each other.

The controller is an amazing relic with half dozen Ethernet ports (and presumably basic switch/DHCP/whatnot), but also nothing but 90s RCA left/right/analog video trio inputs for early DVD quality AV sources.

Tech alternate universe 

But the thing I find most fascinating of all, is despite the controller having so many Ethernet ports, the programming/upgrade ports are 90s throwback RS-232 serial ports. Even in 2004 I don’t know why you wouldn’t have at least upgraded that to a USB port or just wired it to a telnet port on the Ethernet.

On the other hand, I suppose I’m not worried about this firmware getting hacked that easily if you need to physically plug-in a serial port adapter in 2020.

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Tech alternate universe 

Tonight’s project is to see if we can disconnect the audio LAN’s two remote expansion ports (one on each remaining floor, nicely enough) to repurpose as the wired backplane of a mesh WiFi net. Hoping all goes to plan, this small bit of weird alternate universe forward thinking becomes 2020 chic with just a bit of CAT-5e cable rearrangement.

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Tech alternate universe 

My arm hurts keeping me from sleep, so more tech AU tales because it is related.

Found the shared video outputs were just a lot of single RCA analog video runs, but almost all of it unplugged who knows how long. Just the security channels with their weird coax runs then.

Think my wired mesh backplane will work. Find out Friday.

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Tech alternate universe 

Arm hurts because the night’s one project was unmounting TVs. TVs mounted since 2004. One of the reasons turns out because the mounts were locked with weird hex screws to encourage the owners to pay a lot of money to the “geniuses” that installed everything. ($10 screw kit from Amazon later...)

Two small early Audivox flat screens and two big Hitachi ones.

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Tech alternate universe 

The Hitachi big ones felt like they weighed 200 lbs, despite having very few of the electronics inside. These too are fascinating AU relics. To keep them flat in the last part of the DVD era RCA component/S-Video world almost all the electronics were separated into another box (tastefully hidden in a closet or drawer) and a weird VGA-looking cable and not-quite-S-Video cable duo wires connecting the screen and its box of inputs.

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Tech alternate universe 

What’s old is new again and my Samsung similarly uses a breakout box to stay super slim and make inputs maybe more convenient to add/remove than reaching behind a (presumably) mounted screen. But my Samsung is like all HDMI, like a third the depth, twice or thrice the diagonal, and I think weighs way less than half the Hitachis we unmounted. (The manual labor reason my arm is angry with me.)

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Tech alternate universe 

(Also the Hitachi breakout box is required and about the huge size of an old VCR. My Samsung’s was optional [though recommended] and about the size of the average USB hub / not much bigger than my current phone.)

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Tech alternate universe 

@max Heh, my modern audio matrix/amp is controlled by RS-232. Lowest common denominator for automation.

Tech alternate universe 

@max What kind of controller is it? Can you share model/specs? Our whole house audio uses RJ45 as a RS232 + power system for the remote controls. It is odd that it is TCP/IP. Are there also dedicated speaker cables? Or does the audio go over the CAT-5e?

I think RCA plugs are still relatively popular for audio inputs. They are just universal.

Tech alternate universe 

@doolbneerg Yeah, I mention the oddity of the RCA plugs for two reasons: 2004 would have already been seeing more of the three-color video split at the high end (the 5-wire analog video RCA) so this was a high end controller with “middle end” inputs.

Also I don’t know how video worked on the LAN, but supposedly it did. I think (?) it might be spliced in the analog coax channels? We did discover that three security cameras were on at least some of the coax.

Tech alternate universe 

@doolbneerg Controller is Russound. I’ve been excited to find all of their manuals are still up on their website. For being an outdated AU AV product it seems very kindly documented at least, and I’m glad about that even if it melts my brain a bit to read.

It seems like it was built to last, at least. Still runs well (knock on wood), despite the interesting port oddities that can mostly be worked around. RCA audio survives even if video doesn’t.

Tech alternate universe 

@doolbneerg All the speakers are built in to room ceilings/walls and run to smart panels in the walls. The smart panels connect to the speakers with traditional speaker wires, but connect to the controller via CAT-5. Though they are fun in that they are wired into the CAT-5 cable punchdown style instead of RJ-45 connectors, presumably to keep them a bit thinner.

The ports we got TCP/IP over seemed to be RJ-45 expansion ports for adding per-floor AV sources.

Tech alternate universe 

@max Interesting. I am used to the main unit being the amp, and the panels are just control back to the amp. It makes sense to run less wires, especially since you could get cross-talk on the speaker wires, but seems like you would need a lot of power at the panels.

Tech alternate universe 

@doolbneerg I think they are early PoE too because I don’t recall seeing separate power inputs to the panels. So the main controller I think is still the primary amp from a power sense.

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