Key Digital Enters Control System Market

Taking the plunge into the already-crowded control system market, Key Digital introduced its Compass Control product line to press at its Mount Vernon, NY headquarters this week.Mike Tsinberg, founder and president of Key Digital, said that his company’s investment in control technology started around 2010, and he “sees it as a natural growth to connectivity,” which Key Digital is already known for, also noting that “our customers demanded it” in both the residential and commercial markets.

Key Digital's Compass Control system's iPad app.

  • The demand was more a result of product complexity and the level of tech support Key Digital offers than any fault in the existing control system offerings. Tsinberg said users that are comfortable with the brand wanted to extend their positive experiences into control.
  • Another major influence in the decision to launch Compass Control was the “tsunami” that occurred in the control market when Apple’s iOS mobile devices entered the playing field. Viewing the iPad as a game-changer, Tsinberg jump-started the investment in control system technology. “We want to ride the tsunami, not be swept by it,” he said.
  • Compass Control is distinguished in part because it was built from the ground up to use iOS devices as its backbone with Key Digital’s established digital video hardware supporting the system; for the initial release, this comes as the MC2500 driver, which is the brain or master controller of the system. Additional drivers and accessories, including an in-wall charging plate, are scheduled for an extended launch in line with CEDIA EXPO in the fall.
  • The system works via bi-directional IR, two-way RS-232 with feedback, and two-way TCP/IP, as well as relays and sensors. Three different database managers are available to installers for programming, and they can also edit command code sets for individual customization.
  • Tested driver support for a wide range of hardware is provided from Compass Alliance Partners (CAP). Thus far, CAP includes Aprilaire, Boston Acoustics, ClearOne, Denon, Furman, ICRealtime Security Solutions, iPort, LG, Lutron, Luxul, Marantz, MechoSystems, Onkyo, Panamax, Primeview, Russound, SurgeX, and WolfVision. This network allows Compass Control to extend its reach beyond the scope of audiovisual technology to “everything that lives on the network,” noted Jonathon Ferry, technical group manager for Key Digital.
  • Ferry demonstrated the intuitive functionality of the app, employing standard flick and slide function, as well as a pop-up remote feature to control selected video displays.
  • Though the system works with any third-party hardware, the advantage of the CAP alliance is that the partners have provided support from engineering teams and command code sets for control to Key Digital’s engineering, allowing them to test the products in-house and provide direct technical support.

Front and back views of Key Digital's MC2500 driver, the brain of the Compass Control System.

In preparation for such a major product release, the digital video connectivity provider amped up tech support 30 percent in the last few months. The tech support staff works directly with Key Digital’s in-house engineering team, providing customers instant access to designers. Tsinberg described his engineers as extensions of technical support.

Compass Control was also beta tested internationally from Singapore to Russia and Norway, acknowledging the different methods of installation employed by dealers and integrators in different countries.

The MC2500 has an MSRP of $2,500, and individual licenses must also be purchased for each iOS device used, at $300 per license. All other technical support and apps will be free. Compass Control will be distributed by AVAD, and there are no plans for the system to become available via traditional retail channels.

The conceptual development of Compass Control was heavily influenced by Apple’s mobile device platforms, so the natural progression would be to offer Android compatibility as well; however, Tsinberg doesn’t feel the Android environment works well enough in terms of reliability for such an extensive control system as Compass. He noted that for commodity consumers, Android works very well, but pointed to the variations in the operating system between different devices as a challenge to broader use. “Android is not yet at the level of reliability for our customers,” he said. Eventually, “they probably will be there,” he continued. “We’re watching [Android] and will try to integrate with them when we feel that it’s ready.”

Glenn Gentilin, national training manager, ran through the Navigator software for attending press, citing some programming details and how Apple is a strong control partner. Key Digital is a licensed MFI (made for iPhone) developer and distributor; this affords them deeper access to Apple resources, he said, while they are not constrained by any limits of existing hardware.

Aside from the software’s apparent simplicity, the most groundbreaking feature stressed is an artificial intelligence interface that is built in. This “intelli-builder” auto creates pages, actions, and buttons, among other elements. The feature works off an algorithm that basically does most of the programming work for installers by applying IR codes from basic information that dealers input.

Dan O’Donnell, national sales manager, has previewed the process for dealers in a video and, “their jaws just drop,” he said. “I can’t wait to show it at InfoComm.”

Key Digital will have dealer sign-up and training courses for Compass Control at InfoComm 2012 in Las Vegas.

Lindsey M. Adler

Lindsey M. Adler is an audiovisual storyteller based in New York.