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Emerging Technologies

Xplore Solutions

Amid the organised chaos that is CES I received an e-mail from SMR Forums regular and CES Report alumnus Jeff Getzin suggesting that I pay Xplore Solutions a visit. Xplore was not exhibiting at CES, but rather demonstrating its product in a real-world custom theatre at the premises of custom installers, Creative Home Theater. Creative kindly sent a minivan to pick me up from the Convention Center and take me to their store.

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There I met Daniel Kippycash, CEO of Xplore Solutions. Daniel gave me a very impressive demonstration of their wares, some more details about Xplore, their employees, and product. Xplore is a new company in the high-end a/v system control market. It was founded in mid-2002 by Daniel and several other ex-employees of Crestron and AMX. Their CTO comes from the PC industry and used to be VP of R&D for Computer Associates and he also brought some engineers with him. So, the employees are a mix of IP engineers and a/v system control engineers. Their aim is to put together the a/v controller and the PC into a single product. Before Xplore came along the two industries were running into each other, with the PC taking some steps in to the a/v world, but without a very user friendly interface. []

The result is that Xplore has created the first truly IP-based a/v control system. The heart of their system is a PC but with components reconfigured or stripped out as required by a controller application. For example, the server's OS – Linux – is not stored on a hard drive (which could ultimately fail) but on compact flash. Xplore have written their own drivers etc., so not only is the OS fast but if there is a problem, such as a power failure, the OS reboots very quickly. Compact flash media are also easy to back up and swap out for system upgrades and the like.

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At the user interface end of the system, Xplore decided not to go with a proprietary touch screen using a proprietary RF signal, but with web pads and Tablet PCs that are custom built to Xplore’s own specifications to work on the 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g standards. This allows the system to be very flexible. For example, the panel shown in our images can display video streamed over a wireless network.

The most important component of the system is the software. All of the software is written to open standards and contains nothing proprietary, unlike other systems where the touchscreen only works with the dedicated controller. All of Xplore’s touchscreens are HTML and XML compatible so the graphical interface can be constructed using any compatible authoring application using custom images etc. Xplore’s preferred application is from Macromedia, but other packages will work too: FrontPage, GoLive, Pagemill etc. All of the system’s source code is written in Java. Xplore is teaching its dealers how to program but they can also buy books or take classes which really opens up the dealer education process and increases flexibility for the dealer. []

The close integration between the controller and PC also means that PC-type applications can be accessed from the touchscreen such as a web browser (Daniel demonstrated the panel running Opera’s browser, which could also be displayed on the theatre’s video display) with all the possibilities that opens up (how about reading this report on a 100” screen?!), e-mail etc. There are several user interfaces available: a push button remote; small PDA; wireless panels in 8.4” and 10.4” sizes and wall panels in 4”, 6”, 10”, 12” and 15” sizes.

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Xplore first displayed their system at a private, invitation-only demonstration at CEDIA 2002 just to show the capabilities and potential of the system, which was not ready to ship at that time, but now all the system components are now shipping. Xplore has chosen to sell the system through limited distribution – about 150 outlets nationwide in the US.

As for system prices, if you have to ask… Seriously, this product is aimed at the high end so components are in the high-end price range, as you would expect with a product that is customised to the owner’s particular system and functionality requirements. A fairly basic system with control processor and PDA user interface has an MSRP of around $2,200. If you want to add an 8” touch panel, the MSRP goes up to about $5,200. You can imagine where prices go after that. Not for the faint of heart but this is a truly high end product and from what I saw at the demonstration a very slick performer. []

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Latest additons 7th February 2003:

Panamax Power Conditioning
Xplore Solutions A/V Control
EAD Theatermaster Studio
Focal-JMLab Utopia Loudspeakers
McCormack DVD-Audio/SACD Player
Martin Logan Clarity & Scripti
Artistic Audio & Red Rose Audio
IMF Audio Musica Model 25
Philips, Pioneer & Sharp DVD-R/RW
Opus Distributed Audio
Audio Aero Prestige A/V Player
Philips DVDR80 DVD+RW Recorder
Lexicon Home Theater Products
DVD Entertainment Group Dinner
Universal Remote Control MX-3000
Xantech System Control Products
McIntosh MVP851 DVD-Audio Player
Von Schweikert VR-S/1 Subwoofer
Von Schweikert VR-1 & VR-4SE
Zu Druid 2 & Gallo Acoustics
2003 Panasonic DVD-Video Players
Universal DVD-Audio/SACD Players
Arcam Home Theater Products
Stillpoints Isolation Products
Panasonic e-Wear & LCD Monitor
SACD Press Conference
Clark Synthesis Gold TST329
Guitammer BKA1000-4 Amplifier
Dynaudio Contour Loudspeakers

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Show report last updated: 7th February 2003 ~ 190 original images on-line.


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