08.09.14

Technology: The In-Wall Keypad Still Has its Place

Simon-Buddle

By Simon Buddle, HiddenWires. Roberts had it sorted with its radios. You tuned it in with a great big dial, hearing the squeal and squ...

Simon BuddleBy Simon Buddle, HiddenWires. Roberts had it sorted with its radios. You tuned it in with a great big dial, hearing the squeal and squelch of the airwaves as you scanned the frequency range - maybe even catching part of the BBC's Shipping Forecast on the way - "Dogger: south or southeast, gale force 8; occasional drizzle; poor. Fisher: southeast 3 or 4; moderate or rough, becoming moderate; fair; good." [caption id="attachment_6473" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The Shipping Forecast is a BBC Radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the coasts of the British Isles. The Shipping Forecast is a BBC Radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the coasts of the British Isles.[/caption] In May this year, the BBC failed to broadcast the Shipping Forecast for the first time in almost ninety years. The failure was due to a 'technical glitch'. No doubt somewhere in rural England, reclining in his favourite armchair, an ex-BBC engineer was sitting, pipe in hand, slippers afoot, berating all these new-fangled electronics, fondly remembering tuning crystals and valves, and muttering 'It wouldn't have happened in my day.' The forecasts have been broadcast every day since 1924. They are an institution, and if you've listened to them on an old Roberts radio, it is likely that that too, has been running continuously on the kitchen window for many, many years. [caption id="attachment_6472" align="aligncenter" width="397"]A Roberts radio from the 1970s. A Roberts radio from the 1970s.[/caption] Over-complication Audio and video distribution has become increasingly complex, people demand more and more from their systems for the money they spend. Should we provide more or less stuff? It is difficult to say. We should certainly provide the metadata-rich always-on music and audio experience that many people crave and we so love to install. But where is the Shipping Forecast on the Roberts radio amongst all of this? Something simple. Something obvious. Something that 'does what it says on the tin'. I once had a client who screamed long and hard at the on-site programmers, 'I don't want your crazy touchscreen, I just want to listen to Radio 4'. After several rounds of discussion, we finally decided to put a single button on to his GB£3000 touchscreen. It said 'Radio 4', and he was delighted. Value for money? I'm not so sure, but it was the right solution at the time. We do often make things more complicated than they need to be. Integrating Building Management Systems with Audio Is there any place for a keypad in the wall, one that does a simple job; plays the radio, your favourite playlist, allows you to pick presets and is a light switch too? There are some new players coming into the market. The new Systemline 7 from QED promises to provide simple in-wall control of sources such as radio, at the touch of a single button. We are also seeing the emergence of new BMS (Building Management Systems) that have a simple audio element to them. Loxone and KNX - or at least the family of products that work under the KNX banner - are all adding simple audio control to their systems, and end users like the simplicity and reliability that these systems offer. [caption id="attachment_6476" align="aligncenter" width="600"]QED Systemline 7 hard button keypads offer one-touch operation. QED Systemline 7 hard button keypads offer one-touch operation.[/caption] Systemline 7 promises to provide an open gateway into the KNX world, enabling Gira, Basalte, Jung and other keypads the possibility to provide simple in-wall controls. Gira teamed up with Revox some time ago, and Basalte has created audio products that complement the Autonomics product line to give music control from its keypads. Nuvo and Legrand sit under the same umbrella now, prompting further questions about the integration of BMS and simple in-wall audio. [caption id="attachment_6475" align="aligncenter" width="600"]The Basalte Asano networked multiroom audio system integrates directly with KNX systems. The Basalte Asano networked multiroom audio system integrates directly with KNX systems.[/caption] The keypad on the wall now must offer much more than just music. It is a light switch and a temperature controller, it is dynamic and yet simple. Long gone are the days when you could install a keypad that was purely for audio with eleven buttons, and not one of them said 'CD'. [caption id="attachment_6474" align="aligncenter" width="500"]The Gira audio keypad can be combined with the light switch. The Gira audio keypad can be combined with the light switch.[/caption] But what about phones, tablets and phablets? Absolutely, they have their place. They are brilliant at what they do; children's hands are slowly changing shape to accommodate these devices. Before much longer it will be embedded in their hands. But there are many people who do just want to listen to the radio or a playlist, who do not want to have to find the sleek little critter, then charge it, then unlock it, then wait for it to connect to the Wi-Fi, then choose the right room to play it in. [caption id="attachment_6471" align="aligncenter" width="400"]NuVo keypad for dedicated audio control. NuVo keypad for dedicated audio control.[/caption] Conclusion In this day and age, everything is wrapped up in layers of technology. The world we live in is metadata-rich, and it demands our attention. Will our body's circadian rhythm adapt to the phone and tablet screens as a natural part of the day over time, or will we still crave a little time when we can potter about in the kitchen? Whatever your feelings, combined in-wall keypads are always in the same place, offer immediate response, and are set to remove the unsightly keypad clusters that populate our door frames. It isn't for me to say what or how your systems should be configured, but do spare a thought for the Shipping Forecast! Simon Buddle is a systems integration consultant and installer. Simon is also a regular contributor to HiddenWires magazine and KNXtoday magazine, and the first winner of the CEDIA Region 1 Special Recognition Award. You are welcome to comment on this article. See below.