In the first quarter of 2007 we are intending to have a Home Theater Control comparison review that will include testing in both the entertainment system
and how products function with an existing Z-Wave network. I recruited my neighbor to perform the home theater portion of the Monster Cable AVL 300
Home Theater & Lighting Controller. Although we are still developing the Z-wave network portion of the review process and have several other products
to consider my neighbor and his wife made some comments that made me think a preview of the AVL 300 might be a good idea.
Her comment was simply “hey, I love that thing” and she went on to say how she could operate “his system” with one-button operations. A fully loaded home
theater is not trivial. To merely watch a movie requires that the TV, DVD, VHS, satellite tuner, and speaker amp are turned on in the correct order
and are at the correct settings for the movie being watched. What I learned from my neighbor is that the possible configurations for a given movie
could number in the dozens. Also, I am sure he is typical for a home theater enthusiast in that he has spent a great deal of time determining what
settings are “just right.” For a well-meaning wife who just wants to see tomorrow’s weather report, the simple act of turning on the TV becomes perilous.
Apparently the Monster AVL 300 has provided her a nice solution.
Part of Jim’s test results included an observation I made as well in the network testing, which is, in order to get the full value of your controller you
must dedicate the time and organization needed to pull it all together. He went on to say, “…you will be rewarded with a system that the rest
of your family will be able to operate easily.” The very fact that installing a controller for a home theater system can be extremely involved is enough
to warrant a discussion about how to select the right product. However, the early testing results of the AVL 300 coupled with Monster’s addition of
home lighting controls sets up a serious baseline for future evaluations.
Maybe the best starting point for this preview is to point out the proportionally large $599 retail price for the Monster AVL 300. There are a number of
seemingly comparable products that fall in the $250 to $400 range. If the AVL 300 is to be considered a baseline it would be due to Monster’s effort
toward being as compressive a solution as possible. For instance, their focus with the model 300 (even over their own model 100) is the total lifestyle
experience, which includes a dedicated menu system for lighting control as well as theater control. Additionally, Monster frames their product in terms
of programming “living scenes” and “Home Theater Activities” together in single buttons. For example, a Saturday night family movie on TV might have
the lights and sound system at a particular setting where a late night action movie on DVD would be totally different. There may also be more than
one system to control. In our case we do not have a true home theater system however we have two, lesser entertainment systems. The AVL 300 allows
for multiple “living scenes” for multiple systems. This is where the pricing vs. value decision gets sticky.
There are a number of other early results that are worth bringing up. If the user is not fully prepared in the beginning, simple problems can turn in on
themselves to become larger ones. For example, the manual comes with a worksheet that includes everything about the room you are going to control plus
a number of product details like the manufacturer and model number. My first mistake was to ignore that page and try to configure the remote piecemeal.
The setup software did not care for my continually going backwards to re-do my answer and I tended to guess incorrectly. Jim found the Troubleshooting
and Help menus to be “great” (but he probably did his install the way you are supposed to).
What compounded my errors was the fact that the setup program is not always intuitive and being unprepared, the first time through; it was easy to get
lost. Jim felt the same way about the inconsistent intuitiveness of the setup but he worked through the sticking points. Again, if I had dedicated
myself in the beginning and recorded all my devices beforehand I am sure I would not have spun out of control.
There is much to be said about the ergonomics of Monsters’ handheld controllers. The AVL 300 is one of the easiest to see as far as the buttons are concerned.
The white letters over the black surface plus the symmetric layout of the buttons makes it easy for middle-aged eyes to see and it is very well-balanced.
Many of the buttons, particularly those that control the scenes, are unusually stiff. I like that because it forces me to be deliberate – however Jim
was quite aggravated by the feel. We both liked the joystick control, in my case because I find it quickly without seeing it first.
There are other considerations about the AVL 300, such as the fact that the configuration is done largely with a computer that is on an Internet connection.
However, there are large characteristics that balance out the product well such as the LCD display and generally pleasing ergonomics, the special emphasis
on controlling lights, and a very satisfying on-touch activity programming. If nothing else, the AVL 300 makes it possible for anyone in the home,
at any age or skill level to operate an enormously complicated home entertainment system. However, this is just a preview and we haven’t even talked
about it’s use in the Z-Wave network realm. Stay tuned for that.