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Home Security in a Smart Home: Data = Peace of Mind

smart-home-integrationIn the era of home automation and the advent of “smart home” technology, homeowners no longer have to leave responsibility for the security of their home in the hands of strangers — or rely upon a mere sign or sticker to deter criminals. One of the biggest reasons home automation systems are so popular is how well they integrate with home security systems — and how those systems can evolve and expand, allowing introduction of the latest technologies as they develop without having to necessarily start from scratch with an all-new home automation plan.

In a smart home, home security isn’t just a series of sensors that can tell when a window opens — although that’s part of it. Home automation experts design home security systems to collect large amounts of data from multiple sensors throughout your home, as well as from outside it on pathways and driveways, bringing all that information back to a main control center which can report, analyze and even act upon information it receives if you aren’t there to make decisions.

Knowing your home is secure when you’re away gives great peace of mind; being able to check every window and door, every lock and bolt, even knowing whether you left the refrigerator door open — that’s the possibility offered by home security systems integrated with home automation. Smart home technology means you can automate lights to come on and off throughout your home in a random and varying pattern that gives the impression someone’s home — deterring burglars before they even try a doorknob. And if they do, home automation systems are ready with integrated cameras that can capture images even in complete darkness — and record them, or transmit video to your smart phone halfway across the world.

For more information about home automation, home security and “smart home” systems, contact us today!

Sonance SonArray SR1 Outdoor Speaker System

Sonance1Sonance SonArray may forever change the way you approach outdoor entertainment.  The Sonance speaker system will change the way many integrators think about “prepackaged” solutions. The package contains everything needed for a satisfying and proper outdoor audio installation:

  • Eight satellite speakers that resemble landscape lights
  • One in-ground subwoofer
  • Outdoor-rated wire nuts
  • Clear instructions

Sonance bundled a complete speaker system solution that will deliver great dispersion while maintaining wattage and impedance numbers in keeping with traditional outdoor speaker systems.  Sonance pushed this no-guesswork approach further by including the subwoofer crossover inside the subwoofer itself.  This concept eliminates the need for a separate amp for the sub.

Elegant Design and Easy Installation

Designing an outdoor speaker system has never been this easy.  From the Sonance SonArray instructions, we find out where to place the speakers and attach each one to a left or right channel depending on the distance between them for the flawless whole-yard stereo experience.

Sonance offers a “dealer design service” that acquires landscape drawings and helps dealers design the ultimate outdoor audio experience.  Installation is a snap. The Sonance SonArray speaker system even includes outdoor-rated wire nuts filled with outdoor-rated waterproofing silicone.  Following the simple directions provided by Sonance, you run a single line of 14/4 outdoor-rated speaker wire, connecting it to each speaker.  Simply strip the wire, taking the left/right channel that is next in the alternating pattern, and wire the speakers in parallel (below).

Sonance2

This Sonance speaker system wiring scheme permits you to simply tie all the positives together and negatives together at their individual wire leads.  Each of the satellites has an impedance of 30 Ohms.  You will have a 7.5 Ohm load if you join four of them together.  Nonetheless all of this simplicity means you can’t change the number of speakers in the array.

Verdict

Pros
Amazing sound beyond covenantal wall-mount and rock style outdoor speakers

Covers large outdoor distance only using two channels, one zone of a distribution system or amplifier

Differs nicely from typical outdoor speakers’ appearance

Cons
May not apply to all outdoor applications in a retrofit since you need to bury, post, and trench wire

You can’t “go smaller” and only use six satellites while keeping the ohm load

Price may be a bit too expensive for some

Sonance states you can put the subwoofer anywhere in the speaker system wiring series as it takes both the right and left channels. This solution is great, as it does not meddle with the rest of the satellite speakers in the series since the crossover happens in the sub’s circuitry and not in the wiring chain. Sonance recommends the sub be positioned near the center of the speaker pattern to evenly distribute the low end.  Here’s an idea: Tack the Sonance SonArray onto the current whole-house speaker system that has an unused audio zone.

Sweet Music

When the Sonance SonArray system is connected to a recommended Sonance 275 SE amplifier and cranked up, the sound is outstanding.  You will be amazed not only at the coverage of the sound but also the striking clearness that you don’t usually get with outdoor speaker systems. Thanks to the directional arrangements of the speakers, your neighbors will barely hear a peep of the loud music from their own yards.  All of the speakers face into the listening area as opposed to being mounted to the house, facing outward.  Sonance allows you the ability to create an elegant “surround sound” result for your property in a single box.  The voices and instruments are as clear as if you were listening to a high-quality speaker system in your house. The lows are more of what you would expect from a 2.1 system operating off of a surround sound receiver with a powered sub.  This all comes from a single run of 4-conductor wire.

If you have the right-sized yard in which an eight-speaker system makes sense, there is no reason not to contemplate Sonance SonArray Outdoor Speaker System.

Integra DTR 50.3 THX Select2 Plus 7.2 A/V Receiver

integra_dtr-50.3b_receiverIntegra, the high-end brand of Onkyo, has a reputation for constantly making quality receivers and processors. This company manages to keep up with the latest trends and technology without forgoing the core values of high performance audio and video reproduction.

Integra’s current receivers include a subsidiary 5.2 receiver, three 7.2 receivers, and two 9.2 channel receivers. The DTR 50.3 is at the top of Integra’s 7.2 channel selection.

Design of the Integra DTR 50.3 THX Select2 Plus Receiver

The Integra DTR 50.3 has the well-known Integra look, which includes a long row of black input selector buttons along the bottom of the faceplate, as well as a large silver volume button on the right and a smaller silver power switch on the front.

The Integra is powered by a seven-channel amp rated at 135 watts per channel to all channels at full bandwidth (20Hz -20kHz) at 0.08% THD at 8 ohms per FTC power ratings. The DTR 50.3 doesn’t use a toroidal transformer.  The seven channels of amp power can be used to power a 7.1 surround system or two of the amp channels can be used to power a Zone 2 set of speakers or to bi-amp the front left and right speakers.

The Integra DTR 50.3 uses the MultEQ XT version of the software. The processing in the DTR 50.3 is handled Burr-Brown PCM 1690 24-Bit DAC’s, in addition to a separate 32-Bit DSP chip for advanced processing chores. The DTR 50.3 has all of the most recent processing modes one would hope for in a high-end Integra product, along with Loudness Plus and THX processing modes.

On the video side, the Integra DTR 50.3 is 3-D compatible via its HDMI v.1.4a. Video processing is supplied by the HQV Vida chipset, as well as 4K upscaling by a Marvell Kyoto G2H chip. The Integra is a network receiver that streams music apps like Pandora, Spotify, Slacker, as well as SiriusXM iRadio. The DTR 50.3 requires either a wired Ethernet connection or external WiFi adapter to use the networked services as it is not WiFi enabled. You can purchase a USB-based WiFi adapter, which plugs into the USB port on the front of the Integra receiver. The USB jack also works seamlessly with various flash drives, as well as with iPhones.

The back of the Integra DTR 50.3 has seven HDMI inputs, along with two HDMI outputs. You can send a signal to both HDMI outputs at the same time. But if the two displays have different output resolutions, then video signals may not be output from both HDMI Out Main and HDMI Out Sub simultaneously. The Integra has three component video inputs, as well as legacy S-Video and even composite video inputs. The DTR 50.3 has five sets of analog audio input jacks and a phono jack as well. Three coaxial digital and two digital optical inputs are enclosed as well. Speaker binding posts are carefully spaced across the bottom of the back panel, rather than crammed into a small section as on some other equipment.

The Integra DTR 50.3 will fit in a standard equipment rack.  This receiver weighs in at 39.5 pounds so it is a solid but not unbearably heavy piece of equipment.
The Integra DTR 50.3 THX Select2 Plus Receiver Setup

Getting the Integra DTR 50.3 ready to go is a pretty painless process. The supplied microphone and set-up procedure automatically detects what speakers are linked to the system.  It also calculates the speaker distance and cross-over point then allows you to move the microphone around the room so that the software computes the best overall sound for the entire room. There is a little manual selection involved in allocating the various digital and HDMI sources to the various inputs, along with selecting default audio codec’s for each input. This process is fairly simple due to the on-screen display.

Setting up the network services is the same process as adding any other device to a home network. The Integra receiver automatically detects your WiFi network and makes a connection without an issue. The set-up screen then shows the variety of network service icons.
The Integra DTR 50.3 THX Select2 Plus Receiver In Use

You can use the five amp channels of the Integra DTR 50.3 to drive your five-channel speaker system, and hook up the other two channels to your Zone 2 speakers.

A lot of the previous Integra receivers have generated a significant amount of heat from the top panel, to the point that it is uncomfortable to leave your hand on some. However, the Integra DTR 50.3 runs significantly cooler than prior models.

While it is easy to note the difference in heat signature of the DTR 50.3 to previous Integra receivers, it’s impossible to depict direct comparisons to the sound of other Integra products. Nonetheless, the Integra products have a particular sound, not sounding like anything else. They just reproduce the source material without adding their own character or coloration.

The Integra does a fine job of separating various instruments and vocals, without reducing a music track to a compilation of sounds that have been heard on lesser systems. The Integra really brings concerts to life, with all the dynamic contrasts and power that come with a fine performance.

Thor is a perfectly silly film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but is a real treat for the eyes and ears. Again, the Integra DTR 50.3 created an absorbing, theater-like experience, with all the behavior of mayhem bouncing throughout the soundstage.

Once again, Integra has produced a high-quality, high value piece of equipment in the DTR 50.3 receiver. It has all the attractive features you could ask for in a state-of-the-art receiver, but still has that uncluttered, neutral Integra sound. Definitely recommended!

Shade Control: A Critical Component to Home Automation

We’ve had a lot of experience over the years installing and maintaining home automation systems. And while lighting control has been a fundamental component to every home system practically since the concept was invented, we’ve noticed more and more customers taking advantage of the possibilities that present themselves when your home automation system incorporates shade control into the whole-house package.

546_NewYork_1.jpgWhat an automated lighting control system is during the night time, a comprehensive shade control system can be during daylight hours. For most people, the control they have over lighting in their home takes place mostly at night, when lights can be adjusted for particular moods or settings. And home automation systems, pardon the pun, truly shine in this regard; lighting control systems can raise and dim lights throughout the house in response to direct control from a homeowner, or as part of a scheduled program that can be adjusted to fit your routine.

But during the day, the same sorts of convenience and benefit can be derived simply by bringing whole-house control to the blinds and drapes, and adjusting how much sunlight is cast across different rooms at different times of day. Shade control can effectively control mood and ambiance in a home, using the available light to its fullest potential — and blocking it off when it’s too much for the particular application, such as when you want to watch television or a movie during the day.

Perhaps most interestingly, shade control can be utilized to take advantage of passive solar gain, and incorporated into a home automation system as part of the environmental controls. When the timing is right, the heating system can be augmented by letting natural light spill into an area, improving the efficiency of the system dramatically by using a free, renewable natural resource: the sun!

Hands On: Sonos PLAYBAR Soundbar

SonosPLAYBARWhen is a soundbar so much more than just a soundbar?

Most of today’s soundbars offer an important upgrade over your TV’s built-in speakers. Some do a sufficient job of creating a three-dimensional soundfield that acts as a 5.1 system, while others make hookup easy by using wireless subwoofers and only one or two cables. The new Sonos PLAYBAR does both of these, but also goes way beyond being just a TV speaker replacement. The Sonos PLAYBAR won’t be enough for some people but it may be the most sophisticated speaker product you can get.

Sonos’ main product line is made up of a variety of speakers and connection devices designed to make multiroom music easy for anyone. With a Sonos system, you can obtain a wide array of streaming music sources (Pandora, Slacker, Spotify, Rhapsody, etc.), as well as your own digital music collection, all over a wireless network that is throughout your house. A basic Sonos system includes a gateway that connects to your Internet router, speakers and/or amplifiers to spread Sonos to the rooms where you want music. You can choose your music and adjust the volume through a remote app for either iOS or Android.

The Sonos PLAYBAR is quite an advanced piece of equipment, being built around six midrange drivers and three tweeters that are all custom designed in-house and manufactured by Sonos. Due to the drivers being mounted on a 45-degree angle, the speaker can be hung flat on a wall or rest on a tabletop with no change in the directionality of the speaker. Two of the tweeters are mounted on the ends of the unit. These angles help create a wide, encompassing soundfield. A Sonos-designed class D amplifier powers each drive unit. More than 20 distinctive automatic tunings help create the Sonos PLAYBAR’s sound.

 

Setup and Play

Like the other parts of the Sonos equipment, the PLAYBAR is extremely easy to set up and use. The speaker’s connection includes an AC power cord and a digital optical cable for the audio. If your router isn’t near the TV, you can connect your speaker wirelessly to your home network. You can connect the speaker to your home network with an Ethernet cable to your router as well. The model user is someone who already has a Sonos system in the house but wants to add the PLAYBAR. Once Sonos is connected to your home network, it sets up its own Wi-Fi network to speak to other Sonos components in your home.

You won’t have to worry about adding to your living room’s remote clutter as the Sonos PLAYBAR doesn’t come with a remote. You will need the smartphone app for most of the speaker’s tricks. However, if you want to simply adjust the volume, the Sonos PLAYBAR lets you use your TV’s existing remote through a built-in IR sensor in the speakers. The Sonos PLAYBAR’s app includes step-by-step instructions to set up that option. Having the ability to use your TV’s remote is a big relief for people who were worried that they’d have to access an iPhone app every time they wanted to adjust the volume.

The Most Versatile Speaker

A Sonos PLAYBAR can do a lot more things that other soundbars can’t. In fact, its TV speaker capabilities are far from the most interesting thing about it.

First, the Sonos PLAYBAR can easily be laid flat on a table or if you want to hang it on the wall you can purchase the wall mounting kit. A built-in orientation sensor alters the system’s EQ to accommodate the speaker’s position.

Again, there is only one audio connection in the Sonos system that connects your TV to the speaker. All of your TV sources need to be connected to your TV first by whatever connection you prefer (most likely HDMI). This is convenient as you only have one cable between your TV and the speaker, but there are some tradeoffs which are stated later.

The optical connection to the speakers does more than just let you listen to your TV audio over the soundbar. If the Sonos PLAYBAR isn’t the only Sonos component in your house, it also makes your TV audio part of a larger Sonos audio system. Which means that if you want to listen to a baseball game in both your living room and another room of your house, you can direct the TV’s audio to another piece of Sonos equipment, such as a PLAY:3 speaker. This feature is only available via the “Group” option. So you can’t play TV audio on the dining room’s PLAY:5 and Pandora on the PLAYBAR. They must be playing the same thing.

But, you don’t get a Sonos PLAYBAR because you’re only interested in your TV’s audio. You get the Sonos PLAYBAR because you want easy access to all that online content. Much of that is free such as Pandora, Slacker, Songza, and TuneIn. The smartphone app puts nearly any music you can imagine at your fingertips. You can play different music in each room or the same music all over your house if you have other Sonos components. All while using the same single Internet connection. There’s even an AirPlay-like feature that uses Wi-Fi to stream your iPhone’s music to your Sonos system.

TV audio takes priority within the Sonos PLAYBAR. That means that if you’re playing Pandora music and switch on the TV, the Sonos PLAYBAR automatically switches to the TV’s audio signal.

While most people will choose a soundbar just to replace their TV’s speakers, some may still want the complete 5.1 experience. The Sonos PLAYBAR actually allows for that. With a Sonos PLAYBAR you can add a pair of PLAY:3 speakers and even a Sonos Sub to create a 5.1 system. The Sonos app will direct you through the process and make the proper sound processing changes to configure the signal appropriately.

Choosing Home Audio Speakers

home audio jupiterWhy Do I Need All Those Speakers?

In the real world, we don’t just hear sounds in front of us, but we hear them from the back and sides as well. Directors send certain sounds to the rear and sides of the audience in an attempt to make movies as lifelike as possible. For these reasons, modern soundtracks include additional channels that encompass audiences with sound. When movies are demonstrated through a multi speaker home audio theater, viewers are placed in the center of the action. And that is why you need all those home audio speakers!

Take a Balanced Approach

Your stereo, center, and surround home audio speakers should not only sound good, they should all sound the same. Top manufacturers achieve a consistent character of sound, or timbre, by using a technique known as timbre-matching. This assures a seamless blend among all channels, from the main to center to surround home audio speakers. You should choose a brand that offers a wide range of timbre-matched models. Look at the tweeters and drivers used throughout the home audio system. The tweeters should be the same, the midrange drivers should be identical and the cones should be made of the same material.

A chain is only as strong as its’ weakest link. This is true in home audio systems as well. Every speaker in today’s home audio systems has an important job and must do it well. Strive for balanced performance when selecting home audio speaker components. It makes no sense to overspend on one speaker component and be frugal on others.

Below is a description of each speaker in a home audio system as well as its purpose and how to choose the right one for you.

The Stereo Pair

The left and right main channels of a soundtrack carry most of a movie’s special effects and orchestral score, in addition to playing music. In order to excel at these tasks, the stereo pair must contain wide frequency and broad volume swings (dynamic range), duplicate subtle recorded details, and be able to establish a convincing soundstage (the impression of three dimensions).

When choosing main channel loudspeakers for your home audio system, play a variety of music and movie selections you know well. If you listen to a solo vocalist does the image of that performer seem to float at the center of the soundstage or can you trace the singer to the home audio speakers?  You want the singer to seem as if they are “floating”.  Next, try an acoustic guitar, violin or cello. You should hear the resonance of the instrument’s wooden body as well as refined, detailed string tone. Finally watch an action flick. Are the effects, such as gunshots and explosions, clearly duplicated? Or do they become hard, flat and generally undesirable as the volume gets louder? A good pair of home audio loudspeakers should NEVER sound depleting.

The Center Channel Speaker

The main purpose of a home audio center speaker is to fix the actors’ voices to the screen for off-center listeners.  This channel also carries a great deal of the movie’s special effects. More than 50% of a typical film’s sound is routed to the center so the speaker must be able to generate very high volumes without contortion or strain. Test out a scene in which several actors speak. Does each voice standout? Male vocals should be deep, but never boomy or chesty, while stressing the deep chest sounds in singing or spoken voice. Women’s voices that are higher pitched shouldn’t sound harsh, spitty, or nasal. Finally, try a movie scene in which special effects go from left to right, such as a car chase. Does the sound remain consistent, or does it become weak as it crosses through the center?

For a single listener sitting equidistant from both home audio speakers, a center channel speaker is sometimes not even needed. All you need to do is turn on the phantom center control on your Home Audio processor or receiver, and you’ll hear a clearly confined central image. If you’d like to share the fun with friends or family, a good home audio center channel speaker is a must.

For most Home Audio systems you do not need a center channel speaker with good bass performance. All surround processors and receivers have bass management for the center speaker. They allow you to steer the center channel bass information into the main or subwoofer channels. The instruction manual for the processor will show you how to do it. The center channel speaker needs to replicate sounds only from 100 Hz and up.

If you want the ultimate home theater production, there are several center speakers that can reproduce bass with authority; some of them even have built-in powered subwoofers. If your main home audio speakers are ultra-high performance, you will enjoy the added dynamic kick, range, and imaging precision that a full range center speaker brings to the party.

The Surround Speakers

The next time you’re in a movie theater, look around at all the speakers lining the side and rear walls. They help the soundtrack encompass the audience. This effect places the viewers in the center of the action. Since it’s unrealistic for homeowners to install multiple pairs of effects channel loudspeakers, manufacturers offer bi-directional home audio speakers. These speakers place drivers on both the front and rear of the cabinet. This arrangement stretches the sound along the side walls.  This makes it harder for the audience to identify the location of the home audio surround speakers as well as delivers a more enveloping experience. This is particularly important if the surround speakers need to be placed within a few feet of your listening position.

Bi-directional surrounds are not for everyone. With 5.1 channel systems, your rear home audio speakers need to reproduce the same high frequency range as your front home audio speakers, with bass as low as a minimum of 80 Hz. You’ll probably be happier with high performance front firing speakers than with a pair of inexpensive bipoles or dipoles. In truth, bi-directional speakers selling for less than $400/pair are not an astute choice.

In order to choose the home audio surround speakers that are best for you, first select the type of speakers (floor, on-wall, in-wall, etc.) that fit well in your home theater room as well as a location.

If you have or are planning on getting a Dolby Digital decoding system, pick home audio surround speakers that are as close as possible in performance to your front speakers. Look for the same or similar tweeters and drivers as your front speakers. Choose speakers made by the same manufacturer as your main home audio speakers.

In-wall or in-ceiling speakers are an appealing option for surround channel use. These home audio speakers can present high performance and take up no space at all.

The Subwoofer

As said before, a powered subwoofer is a home audio speaker that reproduces only the lowest frequencies to give a more exciting and lifelike movie experience. It has its own built-in amplifier so you don’t need to be concerned about whether your receiver or amp has enough power to drive a powered subwoofer.

Subwoofers are an essential component of 5.1 channel digital Home Audio systems since these formats designate additional low frequency effects to a separate subwoofer track. This sixth speaker may not be necessary if you’ve chosen powered home audio towers for your stereo pair since they have built-in subs. If you’re looking to put together a truly outrageous home theater system, including a separate subwoofer to a set of powered towers will deliver an effortless, body moving encounter.

There are a few things to keep in mind when selecting a powered subwoofer for your home audio system. First, select a location for your subwoofer and measure the space to see what fits there. Subwoofers usually perform best when placed near walls.

Next, the better your front main home audio speakers are, the better the subwoofer should be. If your floorstanding speakers already have good bass, choose a subwoofer that is able to portray very low frequencies so that it produces the bass that your main home audio speakers cannot reproduce freely. A small, inexpensive subwoofer paired with large, high quality floorstanding speakers may do more harm than good.

You need to also factor in the size of your room for your home audio needs. The bigger the room you want to fill, the better the subwoofer you’ll need. High ceilings or open walls are all seen by the subwoofer, even if you don’t listen in that area. This also includes any airspace above suspended ceilings. Therefore the larger the home audio room, the more powerful subwoofer you will need.

Action/adventure movies have considerably more bass requirements then talk shows, news or comedies. If you want to rattle your walls and feel that chest collapsing bass, one or more compelling subwoofers are recommended.

But the best advice to be given is to ignore the numbers and simply listen to the home audio equipment before you buy it. So many people assume that the bigger the driver size and the higher the power amp rating, the better the subwoofer. But bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Your home audio dealer can let you listen to different subwoofers before you buy. If it’s possible, listen to movies and music with the front speakers you already own or intend to buy. Trust your ears. Just keep in mind the dealer’s home audio showroom acoustics are probably significantly more different from your home.

Tire Kicking – How to Judge a Quality Speaker

There are other clues to quality home audio loudspeakers other than just listening. Tap your knuckles on the sides of the cabinet: a hollow thud signifies a poorly made enclosure that will probably degrade the sound. The weight of a home audio speaker will give you a clue as to the construction quality and the materials. The finest speakers have 5-way binding posts that offer the best possible connection with any type of cable.

Read the manufacturer’s specifications to make sure your amplifier and speakers will work properly together. The sensitivity rating tells you how much sound a home audio speaker will produce when fed one watt of power. A low-powered home audio system needs high efficiency speakers so choose a model rated at 86 dB or higher. Finally, check the “impedance” specification. If you’ve chosen a reasonably priced receiver, your speakers’ impedance should be preferably 6-Ohms or higher, but at least 4-Ohms.

Streaming Home Theater: Welcome to the Future

The days of running to the corner rental store for a DVD or Blu-Ray are quickly fading; indeed, the days of simple walking across the room to choose from among a stack of discs may soon be fully behind us as well. That’s because the future of watching movies at home has arrived, and film buffs have discovered they no longer have to limit themselves to the selections they’ve found for themselves, or even what their local stores have to offer.

Content on-demand means home theaters can now stream high-definition video and audio selections into the home over the internet instantly, choosing from a nearly limitless number of titles offered by dozens of providers. Films and television episodes are available the moment they’re released, and can be viewed in whatever order and timeframe you choose; instead of conforming to the studio or network’s broadcast schedule “must see TV” now waits for you, not the other way around.

This brave new world offers a lot of benefits, but it’s important to ensure your existing system — or the home theater we’re helping you design — is ready for it. This means that in addition to using the highest quality and best-suited audio and visual equipment for your space and budget — e.g. high-definition displays and screens as well as exceptionally lifelike speakers  — you must be certain to have a sufficiently robust internet connect to support the high data rate inherent in streaming high-definition audio and video content . It’s also critical to make sure you’re incorporating a streaming device that can successfully decode that data and produce the best sound and picture possible — and are using cables that are rated for the high-bandwidth workload they’ll be under whenever you’re watching streaming movies or television.

Streaming content from the internet isn’t limited merely to films and TV; a variety of exceptional services have popped up to offer audio selections as well, at a level of quality suited to everything from casual music in the kitchen to audio sampling in the world’s finest listening rooms. Contact us today to discover how to expand your horizons streaming home theater and audio!

Seagull Electronics sells the right electronics. We don’t sell the stuff you’ll find in boxes at your local shopping mall. We design custom systems using some of the world’s best electronic components. Serving Tequesta, Juno Beach, Jupiter, Jupiter Island, Palm Beach Gardens, North Palm Beach, Singer Island, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach, Boynton Beach, Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and North Miami.

HOME THEATER DESIGN BASICS

HomeTheaterBasicsYou’re ready for a home theater set-up, and you’re quivering with excitement at the thought of a fully immersed movie experience right in your own home. But there’s that one BIG question:

Where do you begin?

There are so many things to consider, both technical and financial. For example, a home theater can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000 — or more. Or that Amazon lists several hundred possibilities for home theater speakers. With so many options, setting up your home theater can be a head-spinning experience.

But even the most non-tech-savvy home theater newbie can do a whole lot to accentuate their home theater experience, no matter what the price range is. Here’s some things that you need to know.

THE ROOM

Most likely you know where your home theater will be set up. It might be in the main living area, a spare bedroom or a basement where you can set up a movie palace complete with a popcorn machine. Each of these areas has special considerations in terms of comfort and sound quality. There are many common factors as well.

• Room shape. Square rooms tend to produce odd harmonic distortions. If you have the option, choose a rectangular room for your Home Theater.  Also, plan to place your televison and main speakers along a short wall for best sound projection in your Home Theater.

• Windows. The fewer windows in your Home Theater room, the better. Windows are hard surfaces that reflect sound-causing audio distortion. They also give off light that can produce reflections on your viewing surface.

Heavy curtains and shades may help, but that means closing blinds or drapes every time you turn on your home theater system. Opt for blackout-style window treatments, if you must, that track tight against window jambs to seal out light.

• Walls. If you’re tempted to staple inverted egg cartons all over the walls of your home theater room to try to muffle the sound, just relax. Regular drywall is a decent surface appropriate for home theater walls. However, break up spacious flat surfaces with furniture or drapes. Don’t add framed picture with glass as they are too reflective of sound and light.

Concrete or concrete block is a big no-no. If you’re setting up you Home Theater in a basement with concrete walls, think about installing studs and drywall.

Another option is acoustic wall panels designed specifically for home theaters. These panels are called “sound absorption” panels. They help to balance high and low frequencies to prevent echoes. Panels come as 1′ x 1′ or 2′ x 2′ squares costing anywhere from $4 to $20 per square foot.

Peel-and-stick carpet tiles are the budget-minded preference as they range from $2 to $4. You just don’t want to end up with a room that looks like Lloyd and Harry’s shaggy van from Dumb and Dumber.

Remember decreasing the sound works both ways. Controlling the sound in your home theater room means peace and quiet for the rest of your house.

• Flooring. Wall-to-wall carpet, with a cushy pad underneath, absorbs ambient sound and adds to the coziness of your home theater. Kids like to sprawl on the floor to watch movies

• Wall/room color. Paint your walls of your Home Theater as dark as you can stand them: Bright colors reflect light that’s particularly distracting when there’s a brightly lit scene on the screen. Choose eggshell or flat paints instead of gloss or semi-gloss..

Opt for colors such as neutral browns, tans or olive. Stronger colors, like red and blue, will give an odd cast to any ambient light in the Home Theater and may affect the colors you see on your screen.

THE SOUND

Speaker technology is remarkably advanced. Competition among top speaker manufacturers has helped turn home theater sound reproduction into a fine art. This means that a system you choose for your home theater is likely to be of very high quality.

Most home theater speaker systems (and movie soundtracks) are designed to provide specific sounds from specific areas of your listening environment. When a train goes thundering through a scene, you hear the sound move from one side to the other. However, speakers labeled as bipole or dipole aren’t compatible with this essential feature of home theater, so check before you buy.

• Speaker placement. A typical home theater features 5.1 surround sound, which means there are five full-range speakers and one low-range subwoofer. Place three speakers and the subwoofer toward the front of the Home Theater room, and the two remaining speakers on either side and slightly behind your viewing position. Keep speakers at least 20 inches from your Home Theater walls.

Each room is unique, and the best sound for you may come only after experimenting with your speaker placement. Luckily, speakers are moveable.

• Ideal distance. In a perfect world, your ears would be equal distance from each speaker in your Home Theater room. Seeing as your ears are on opposite sides of your head, it’s safe to say you won’t ever acquire this kind of perfection. Nonetheless, come as close to that target as possible.

Some speakers — certainly your subwoofer — will have individual volume controls you can fine-tune. More refined speakers provide millisecond adjustments, called delays, that time sound projection from each speaker so that everything makes it to your ears at precisely the same instant.  This is a handy feature for large Home Theater rooms with speakers at various distances.

Audioholics Online A/V Magazine even gives a formula: a 1 millisecond delay equates to 1.1 feet of distance. A speaker 5.5 more feet away from your head than your other speakers would require an advance setting of 5 milliseconds.

• Playing center field. Of all your speakers in your Home Theater, your center front speaker is probably the most influential. It is in charge of projecting sound directly from the screen. This is important mainly for dialogue. You don’t want to see the actors talking in front of you while the sound of their voices is coming from the side.

The center speaker shouldn’t be downgraded in your home theater budget. This speaker can sometimes be overshadowed by the tower speakers that are skirting it. Spend time adjusting your center speaker so that dialogue seems to come directly from your display.

• Woof, woof. Your subwoofer goes up front in your Home Theater. There’s only one, so you decide which side to put it on. The low bass ranges reproduced by a subwoofer will go through your Home Theater room, so angle is not as relevant as with the other speakers. A corner spot helps distribute your subwoofer’s sound evenly but, as with all components, experiment with a variety of positions before settling on the perfect location.

VIEWING

The forerunner of any home theater set-up is a high-definition display screen. The temptation is to balance size with increased viewing pleasure, but there are limits to this. You want to be immersed in the experience, but you don’t want a display so big that you have to move your head back and forth in an effort to take in all the action. You need to look for the right combination of display size and viewing angle.

Optimum angle. HDTV manufacturers and home theater experts place the best viewing angle between 30 to 40 degrees. Therefore, if you draw a triangle from the edges of the display to your nose, the angle that points at your head sould be 30 to 40 degrees. This angle lets you take in all the action with the least amount of eye movement.

If you stay the same distance from your display but move off to the side, the viewing angle gets smaller. If you plan to have multiple seating in your Home Theater room, make sure all the chairs have the best viewing angle.

Optimum distance. Ideal viewing angle can be expressed simply as distance as well.  This angle is usually 1.5 to 2.5 times the diagonal width of your screen. This means that you should sit no closer than 7.5 feet from a 60-inch-wide TV, and no more than 12.5 feet away. A viewing distance calculator can help when math skills falter.

This formula can work in reverse, too. If you know your viewing distance — say it’s 8 feet — then you can select an ideal display size. Eight feet is 96 inches. Divide by 2 (an average of 1.5 and 2.5) and you’ll get 48 inches. So the recommended HDTV display for your viewing distance in your Home Theater would be about 48 inches wide (measured diagonally).

Viewing height. The best viewing height in your Home Theater room is to have the center of the display screen at eye level. While that might seem primitive, some folks are tempted to elevate the display so that it hangs above their theater set-up. If you do raise your display, tilt it so that it faces the seating area in your Home Theater. It is even better if your seats recline so that you’re square to the display. Don’t forget to lift up your center speaker as well. When someone speaks you don’t want it to seem as if they’re talking out of the side of his mouth.

kalomirakisOne of the most well-known names in luxury home theater design is Theo Kalomirakis. He’s an influential leader in this industry.  His designs take a home theater beyond being merely a room with a big screen and lots of speakers, into a place with its own personality with lighting control and home automation.  The homeowners will have a total sensory experience from the moment they cross the threshold of their home theater room.

Kalomirakis-designed home theaters have won recognition from Electronic House Home of the Year Awards. Kalomirakis recently gave a presentation at Crestron’s Design Showroom in New York City.  He talked about common mistakes people make when building a home theater, the importance of home automation and how he approaches his designs with lighting control.

Q: Are there any frequent mistakes that people make when planning or building their home theaters?

A: It’s become like a little cottage industry for me, talking about the mistakes people make that started by mistakes I made. You don’t learn unless you make mistakes.

Mistake number 1: You get into a home where a designer is involved, and they have put the home theater seats on cement. This is not good for sound. If you don’t have carpeting on the floor the bass doesn’t hit you in the heart. It’s just like having a violin having its cavity filled with cement.

Mistake number 2, Risers: People think that if you separate the seats in your home theater by one step you’re going to see over other people’s heads. But it doesn’t work that way. If you have a screen that’s all the way to the floor, you’re going to have to do a lot more than one step. You’re going to have to do sightline risers, and this is something Home Theater Designers usually don’t know when designing a home theater room.

Mistake number 3: People think that if you put acoustical treatments on the wall, it seals the home theater from the rest of the house.  You have to be prepared to do both room isolation and room acoustics as they are two totally different things. These are the technical mistakes that I see people do. I’ve seen a lot of architectural mistakes, as well as made them myself in the past.  Hopefully I don’t make them anymore.

Q: What are some of the different enhancements that you can bring to a home theater that clients may not have thought of themselves?

A: I want to understand the design that goes into the rest of the house so that the home theater is not an ugly stepchild of the rest of the house. I believe that the home theater should follow the design direction of the home, but bring it to a new level without making it totally isolated.  I wouldn’t put an art deco home theater in the middle of a classical house.

What I think I bring to my clients is to educate them to actually justify the cost. I try to prevent them from making mistakes. I want them to be able to live in a home theater room that is heightening the experience without being so aesthetically different from what they have in the rest of the house.

You have to interview them. You have to learn what they like. Some people may not like the red curtain that seems to hang in every home theater room.  They may want something more neutral. You have to listen to them and be an interpreter of their dreams. I’m trying to tune into what they want and direct them into realizing their dreams without imposing myself on what they want to do.

Q: What can home automation bring to the experience of a home theater?

A: Everything. Without home automation you get a bunch of electronics that don’t communicate with each other.  There is nothing more frustrating for a client than having to hit ten remote controls to turn the lights down, open the curtain, or start the system. Home Automation is probably the most vital aspect for enjoying your home theater.

In my mind the most unique thing you can do is through lighting control. You can set up the levels of the home theater room so it’s lit up architecturally, not generically. In the home theater, lighting has to create drama. Home Automation allows you to create presets in the lighting control that gives the client the ability to see a variety of things.  Such as the slight illumination of the speaker grills when you watch a movie, or not seeing them at all, or having the step lights shown.

Q: At what point in the consultation does home automation customization enter the conversation with a client?

A: At the end of the project.  It’s very important that you separate all the lighting control sources in circuits. Step lights on one circuit, column lights on another, and curtain lights on yet another. So you can play with different levels, bringing certain lights up and down to the client’s desire. I don’t do that by myself. Each client will have different aesthetic preferences, so I sit down with them and ask them what levels they like their lights at and then have the Lighting Control Integrator hit the lighting control button and show them.

Q: Have you noticed any trends or shifts in what people are asking for lately?

A: There is more and more focus on multipurpose home theater rooms and less on dedicated home theaters because people are misinformed. Younger people, especially in the 20s and 30s, are used to experiencing media on tablets and iPhones. So for them a dedicated home theater room is not as important.  I see a trend toward not having a home theater in the center of the house. In my opinion you have to have both. You have to be able to watch your movies on a tablet while on a trip, but you don’t want to watch a movie on a tablet at home. And you don’t want to watch an epic movie on just a 50 or 60-inch TV. You want to be engrossed in the experience with home automation and lighting control in your home theater room.

Q: Do you have any advice for a reader who is interested in having a home theater installed but doesn’t know where to start?

A: Talk to their Home Theater and Home Automation designer. Designers are getting more perceptive about home theaters. Have someone take you by the hand and guide you through the process, show you what’s available with regards to lighting control and home automation for your home theater room.

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