Pre-emptive Note: If you're a manufacturer, and you want to use this idea (or it inspires you to do something better) - you have full and free reign to use this idea. Go forth and improve things!
Yes, dumb, and in this case Dumb with the capital D and everything.
I just purchased myself a new AV receiver with the help of Eastwood Hi-Fi. Fantastic place - knowledgeable people and good pricing (no Australian Consumer Markup of 100% for example). The guys were great to deal with and I have no qualms recommending them. End of unpaid advertisement.
Now I'm not going to specify which brand of receiver; but I did buy one with lots of HDMI inputs well as several legacy inputs - mostly because I have a lot of HDMI-connected devices and some older devices too. The receiver has all the ports nicely labelled at the back; AV1 through AV7 for the HDMI, AV1 through AV4 for composite/S-Video, multiple optical and coax digital inputs. All very snazzy. But what you don't see mentioned in the manual is that half of the ports can't be used at the same time.
Case in point: AV1 refers to both the HDMI port and the legacy port. And you can't separate them - because the receiver only defines a maximum of 8 AV inputs (AV1-8). All of which are HDMI-capable. So no matter what you do, if you use legacy ports, you lose HDMI ports. Madness.
Add to that the user interface is pretty darn atrocious - the web UI is only for the most basic of changes (volume, choose input device) etc. Good if you had a tablet dedicated to a room, pretty useless for anything else.
So here's the thought. An AV receiver is, in effect, just a content switch. Sure, you have the ability to apply some changes to the data as it flows through the switch, but it's just a switch. And it can display pretty pictures over the HDMI port or using the Web (as an aside, putting it in the web UI makes sense because frankly, who has $1500 to spend on a receiver but has no computers in the house at all?) Right. So we have the concept of a web UI for configuring the receiver.
As the purchaser, you do three things:
- Define all your Sources. A Source is a named set of input ports (for example, "HDMI In 1", "S-Video In 2 and Coax In 3", "Component In 2 and Optical In 2"). If a port is assigned to a Source, it cannot be used for a second Source (due to the fact that these are input cables from a single device).
- Define all your Destinations. A Destination is a named set of outputs (for example, "HDMI Out 1 and Speaker Zone 1", "Component Out 3 and Speaker Zone 2"). Output ports can be assigned to multiple Destinations. For example you might have two Destinations in the Bedroom with different sound outputs - "TV in BedRoom" vs "Surround TV in Bedroom".
- Define all your Activities. An Activity is a mapping of a Source to a Destination, optionally with some Enhancements (e.g. "Bass Boost", "Dialogue Boost", "Max Volume = -25dB" and so forth). When an Activity is started, if one of its outputs is already in use by another Activity, that second Activity is stopped. If there is no conflict, BOTH Activities run in parallel (this is your multi-zone output capability).
The user configures the remote to have your Activities (as an aside - ship a darn touchscreen with a configurable display - even with my big hands the new remote feels like I'm holding a fishing rod). This means your remote can actually SHOW the activity names to the user, a much more friendly experience than "Wait, was the PS3 on quick button A or 3?".
In case you can't visualize this, here's a quick example of how you might define a Source (took me about 10 minutes to knock up). Yes, the form works - try selecting video and audio sources, and hovering over the greyed-out sources:
Now I realise this is a massive departure from the existing configuration, and you, as the manufacturer, will want to ship the device with many profiles pre-built. That's OK - here are your prebuilt profiles:
- HDMI 1 to HDMI 1 (Inputs: HDMI In 1 for video, HDMI In 1 for audio; Outputs: HDMI Out 1 for video, Speakers for audio)
- HDMI 2 to HDMI 1 (Inputs: HDMI In 2 for video, HDMI In 2 for audio; Outputs: HDMI Out 1 for video, Speakers for audio)
- Component and Optical to HDMI 1 (Inputs: Component In 1 for video, Optical In 1 for audio; Outputs: HDMI Out 1 for video, Speakers for audio)
- Component and Optical to Component (Inputs: Component In 1 for video, Optical In 1 for audio; Outputs: Component Out 1 for video, Speakers for audio)
- Composite and Optical to HDMI 1 (Inputs: Composite In 1 for video, Optical In 1 for audio; Outputs: HDMI Out 1 for video, Speakers for audio)
- Composite and Optical to Composite (Inputs: Composite In 1 for video, Optical In 1 for audio; Outputs: Composite Out 1 for video, Speakers for audio)
Six profiles. Let the user build the profiles they want for other ports. For safety, you probably want to allow the default profiles to remain and maybe even not be counted in the user profiles (so these predefined profiles are not evaluated for the rules about re-use of source ports above).
I also realise there are a number of ways to skin this cat - you might consider making this a wizard instead of a single HTML form, or you might auto-select HDMI 3 as the audio input when the user selects it as the video input. You may need to tie some inputs together - but why? You've built a highly-advanced content switch. Switch the inputs as desired by the user.
Complete freedom for the user. One standard UI for you as the manufacturer (so you can get cost savings and efficiencies). And a massive, massive competitive advantage because you can demonstrate that setting up the new receiver with a stack of sources, destinations and activities takes less than 2 minutes.
(Oh, all those images in the table above were created by me; as far as I'm concerned there is no creative element to them and you may do with them as you wish).