We don’t know about you, but our experience with the local cable company often goes like this:
Mr. Smith, our client, calls and says that the cable company has upgraded his equipment (insert cable box or modem here) and now his TV, internet (insert service here) doesn’t work.
Come to find out that this “upgrade” installed by the cable company has re-routed his wiring and is improperly installed for his system, or has changed his home network settings arbitrarily. This happens to us far too often and with just about every media product they offer. Several mind-numbing calls to the company for tech support and countless hours are spent troubleshooting and getting the client back up and running.
And to add to the sting, we have to charge the client a service call to fix the cable company’s mistakes.
We bet you have your own horror story to tell.
Why would anyone trust their home automation and security to the cable company? New services are being offered from everyone from Comcast to Lowe’s to Verizon that control your lights, heat, security and more all for a low monthly price. We certainly aren’t convinced that these companies are truly focused on your individual home’s security so much as they just want more monthly revenue.
We aren’t saying their products don’t work or are terrible, we are just questioning the technology choices that are out in the marketplace for critical systems. You can get along just fine without TV for a day but what about lights? Heat on a cold January day? Security for your family?
Our recommendation is to use proven products and systems with professional design, installation and certified programming. Yes, it may cost more but you get what you pay for and in the end, we think you’d prefer one less reason to call the cable company.
The decision to build a new home is incredibly exciting! There are so many fun choices to make – finishes, coverings and fixtures and all sorts! We are often called in to help “technify” a custom home and we see many common mistakes made over and over – you can be better prepared with a couple of tips:
Design Before You Design (Plan Ahead)
Save yourself a ton of money by planning your electronics ahead of your final home design. Bring in your audio video/integration specialist early, during the design phase of your home, to eliminate common problems that happen after the fact (and sometimes too late):
- Proper places for equipment, correct dimensions and cooling needs
- Blocking behind wall-mounted TVs for support
- Pre-wiring plan to a master control area (head end)
- Room size for theaters and media rooms
- Dedicated circuits for equipment rooms and areas with high demand
Prewiring Is Cheap
You can always change carpet, paint or counter tops, but it’s not so easy to retro-fit wiring so find a line that you are comfortable with between “wire for everything” and “wire for the bare minimum.” You can also run smurf tubes (a type of conduit) between floors so that you can retrofit wire more easily if necessary.
Sure, many things can operate with wireless technology but to have the most robust and problem-free system, hard-wired is always best.
Prepare A Budget
This seems like a no-brainer, right? True, but be realistic about what it costs. You can go to Big Box Retailer and purchase a 50” TV for under $700 but will that give you what you want? Same goes for audio, security, control… well… everything. A good integrator can give you realistic ranges to get you started.
Step Eight: The Summary!
So we’ve talked about all the technology, wired up the house, racked the gear and installed it in the home. So how did it turn out?
This homeowner now has no electronics scattered around the house, just a TV and a handheld remote. Whether in the kitchen, living room, master bedroom or down in the movie room, they simply pick up the remote and select what to watch or listen to, all choices require only one button press! Speakers have been installed in the walls or ceiling and are paint-matched to virtually disappear into the room.
In the kitchen and master bedroom, there are 6″ touch panels in the wall for controlling music, the heating and A/C system, security system, and in the bedroom – even the fireplace! The client can listen to digital cable music, music from any iPhone or iPod in the home, or even the DJ system one of their kids has setup in his bedroom.
The network in the home features in-ceiling Wi-Fi access points, so there aren’t little radio boxes hidden in cabinets anywhere, the Wi-Fi simply works with nothing to look at. They even have Wi-Fi coverage through their outdoor living and BBQ space by the river!
If someone rings the doorbell, the homeowner can easily, with one button press, view the front door camera on any TV in the home! The cameras have time-lapse recording and are viewable on iPhones, iPad, computers or even over the internet from any web browser. The security system in the home can be armed and disarmed with the touch panels, or with the client’s iPhone, giving them the ability to check on the home wherever they are!
Our goal was to provide a system featuring maximum entertainment with minimum effort to operate. The walkthrough portion is always our favorite, showing a homeowner how to use their system and seeing their excitement. The best part – after demoing the theater system, the client blinked – eyes wide open – and simply exclaimed, “WOW!”
Step Seven: Hook it all together!
Now that we’ve discussed all the different parts necessary to totally integrate a home, let’s see what it takes to put it all together and make it tick! First, we need a place to hold all the equipment and in many cases we use a rack like the one pictured below. Racks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes; some look very industrial and others integrate into a nicely designed room as a piece of furniture that hides the gear! We proudly use Middle Atlantic racks because not only are they Made in the USA, but they also offer an amazing variety of designs for any home or business!
This rack is going to hold the networking gear, main controller, audio switcher, video switcher, surround sound receiver and all the wires for security cameras, touch panels, keypads, fireplace control and even operating your garage door openers! We take great pride in wiring racks in our office well ahead of the installation date. Not only can we connect everything neatly, but we can label the wiring and test functionality so it’s all ready to run when we arrive at the job site! Here’s an example of how we started wiring the electricity, networking and audio cables with everything labeled so we know where things go!
To us, details really matter. Electricity cables run down one side, while audio, video and network go down the other side. We do this to keep the rack more clean looking and to decrease the chances of interference between different types of wires and signals. With a system tested and functioning at our office, we know that once it’s in your home and connected it will most likely “just work”. It allows us to be more efficient with our installation and decreases the amount of time we spend in your home.
Step Six: Video Throughout Your Home
Most of us have cable TV, FiOS or a satellite dish. This means having a tuner-box for every TV in the house. Add in the DVD or Blu-ray players, again one for every TV. Now there’s internet-streaming boxes like the Roku or AppleTV, again one for every TV. Pretty soon you have lots of remotes and lots of “black boxes” in every room. What a big mess and hassle!
In this home electronics system, we designed centralized, or distributed video. Using Crestron’s DM (Digital Media) solution we can share a few video sources to every TV in the house, watching different things at the same time. Two cable boxes, two Blu-ray players, an AppleTV and an Apple Mac mini – all can be quickly selected from any TV in the house. This setup accomplishes a few things. First, each room now has just a TV and a remote control, that’s it! Second, movies or shows can be shared between different rooms. The bonus is the security cameras will pop up on-screen if someone rings the doorbell!
AppleTV and Mac mini are registered trademarks of Apple, Inc.
Step Five: Music Throughout Your Home
So you have some in-wall or in-ceiling speakers throughout your home or office, but how do you listen to them? Do your walls have to be cluttered with those ugly volume knobs? Can you listen to different things in different rooms?
These are all excellent questions. In this distributed audio system, we’re using an amazing new switcher from Crestron – it allows us to connect up to 24 different audio sources (think: cd player, iTunes, satellite radio, cable music, Pandora and so on). It can also drive 8 rooms of speakers, and you can have us tune the sound of every single room exactly the way you want! Instead of volume knobs in every room, you can use that fancy iPad to pick what to listen to, and of course, how loud to listen to it, if that’s what you’d like. Since the switcher does all the work, you can play holiday music in the kitchen while your teenager listens to whatever-the-heck-that-noise-is in their room and everybody is happy!
iTunes and iPad are registered trademarks of Apple, Inc.