The new "EA Series" control boxes work like hubs for the connected home -- and they put your entertainment needs front and center.
Control4 is best known for its whole-home automation services, but its newest offering is a single box that promises to smarten up your home's entertainment capabilities. The new Control4 EA Series (that's "EA" for "entertainment and automation") line of connected home controllers will range from $600 for a single-room setup to $2,000 for a unit powerful enough to smarten up a large home.
Each offering in the EA Series acts like a hub for your home entertainment. The system is compatible with over 9,500 connected home products -- including entertainment devices ranging from Blu-ray players and gaming consoles to cable boxes and streaming gadgets such as Roku or Apple TV.
The EA Series pitch: control all of it -- along with your smart home gadgetry -- using a single remote and a single app. That means, for example, you'll be able to set your lights to dim automatically when you start watching a movie, then dim back up when you press pause or stop.
Music is another major point of focus for the EA Series. Each server features native support for a number of streaming services, including Pandora, TuneIn and Napster (Spotify is a notable omission). You can also stream music from your phone, tablet or external hard drive, including support for high-fidelity, lossless formats such as FLAC.
Control4 is also showcasing a feature called "Shairbridge," which uses Apple's Airplay feature to stream music from any iOS device throughout customized zones in the home. The idea is that you'll be able to use AirPlay as you normally would, but stream your music to multiple rooms at once. The rub is that you'll need to upgrade past that $600 base model -- which only supports a single audio stream -- to take full advantage of it.
That $600/AU$995 model is called the EA-1. Next in the series is the EA-3, which supports three audio streams and costs $1,000/AU$1,995. Finally, there's the $2,000/AU$3,995 EA-5 which can wrangle -- you guessed it -- five audio streams at once. The EA-1 comes packaged with the SR-260, Control4's take on the universal home remote.
Control4 is distributing the EA series through its network of dealers. This means you'll need to have someone come out and hook everything up for you, and installation prices will vary. That might be a deal-breaker if you're looking to go the DIY route with your home setup, but Control4 pitches it as a plus, citing the comfort of having someone else get your smart home gear in line for you. Given ourgenerally positive experience testing out a dealer-installed connected home setup from AT&T at the CNET Smart Home, I'm inclined to agree that there's some appeal to Control4's approach.
Beyond that, there are no additional fees, although you will need to spend an extra $100 per year if you want to take advantage of app-enabled remote controls from beyond the home. Those probably aren't necessary if you're just looking to juice up your home entertainment capabilities, but if you want to tie your entertainment into the rest of your smart home, it might be a necessary splurge.
Control4's web of dealers extends worldwide. In the UK, the EA-1, EA-3, and EA-5 are priced at £400, £667, and £1,333, respectively.