Ultrabright Outdoor Home Theater Weathers the Elements

RTIBlogFlorida and Southern California are hotbeds for outdoor entertaining. New York? Not so much. But the fussy weather of the Northeast didn’t stop the owners of this outdoor space from integrating a reference-grade home theater system into their backyard. They made sure, with the help of their custom electronics professionals, that their expensive equipment would be well-protected from Mother Nature.

This was done through special programming of an RTI XP-8 control system and ingenious installation of the screen, projector and other components. The 14-foot-wide screen is motorized to roll up into a soffit underneath a balcony when no one is watching it. The owners can move the screen up and down by pressing buttons on a waterproof RTI remote or an iPad. However, if the owners’ weather station detects a wind velocity of over 8 miles per hour, the RTI system will automatically put the screen away and shut down the entire home theater system. When the wind dies down and the sun has set, the owners use the home theater again. This may sound a little restrictive but it’s for the best. These homeowners demanded only the best viewing experience from their outdoor theater. This can’t happen if the sunlight is blasting onto the screen. Therefore, the outdoor theater system can only be used after a certain time of day, as controlled by the astronomical clock inside the RTI XP-8 system.

In the dark, the outdoor theater screen can really shine. Its 14-foot-wide size guarantees that no matter where everyone is hanging out, they can clearly see all the action. An ultrabright (6,000-ANSI lumen), ISF (Imaging Science Foundation)-calibrated projector from Digital Projection International (DPI) was put behind the outdoor theater screen in an attic space. That way it’s protected from the elements and hidden from view.

The family can hear the movie from the swimming pool as well as the patio because of the surround sound system that was installed.  The speakers perform as the front channels of the surround-sound system, and are able to be played loudly and without distortion. In order to contain the sound to the yard they’re angled downward from the eave of the house. Planter speakers are positioned throughout the outdoor theater area to preclude audio “dead spots” and to serve as the surrounds. No movie is worth listening to if you can’t feel and hear the bass, so three subwoofers were strategically planted in the yard. The speakers and subs are driven by an amplifier that pushs out 2,500 watts of calibrated power.

The home theater may take center stage in this backyard, but the RTI system controls a lot more than the A/V equipment. The motorized patio umbrellas, as well as all of the lights, can be operated from an RTI remote or iPad. The umbrellas are designed to catch and channel rainwater to an underground water drainage system. This is just one more step that was taken to protect the outdoor home theater equipment from the weather.

Paradigm’s 2.1 Speaker System Accommodates Apple Products

Paradigm-Millenia-CT-Speaker-SystemParadigm’s Millenia CT 2.1 speaker system is part of the company’s SHIFT series of products. It showcases two active monitors and a powered subwoofer. The speaker system features design aspects from the company’s Reference MilleniaOne speakers.

With new usage applications such as computer-based audio systems leading a new era in home audio, consumer electronics companies have had to become more inventive. The popular Canadian speaker manufacturer, Paradigm, has been one of the early adopters to the computer audio and portable media markets through the development of its SHIFT series of products.

Paradigm recently boosted the SHIFT series with the release of its Millenia CT 2.1 speaker system. The company says the Millenia CT 2.1 speaker system is a resolution that can be combined with digital media products like an Apple TV, iPad, Airport Express or a computer. Inside the Millenia CT 2.1 speaker system’s active monitors hold Paradigm’s 4-inch, aluminum cone S-PAL midrange driver and 1-inch, aluminum dome S-PAL tweeters. The speakers are amplified to clear and loud volume levels because of the built-in 40 watt per channel Class D amplifiers. The accompanied subwoofer features Paradigm’s 8-inch reinforced polymer composite cone driver that makes use of a 1.5-inch high-temperature voice coil, and an 80-watt Class D amplifier runs the 8-inch woofer.

The Paradigm subwoofer can be positioned horizontally or vertically, and comes with adjustable table stands for the speakers; a floor-stand with feet, a remote control, a control box that aids the system’s connection to an A/V system and cabling accessories.

Married to Technology: Inside Kevin Jonas’ Home Automation

Credit Line Required: © Matt Greenslade/photo-nyc.comPop star Kevin Jonas lets a sophisticated Home Automation system simplify his everyday life, at home as well as on the road.

Kevin Jonas can’t avoid the life of a busy pop star. He has been traveling the country on tour with his brothers, Nick and Joe, in their hit band, the Jonas Brothers; releasing songs and creating buzz for the band’s first album since 2009, V.  He’s also been performing with his brothers at special events such as the Miss USA competition while leading the role of reality TV star on E!’sMarried to Jonas; and, oh yeah, getting ready for parenthood with his wife, Danielle, who is pregnant with their first child. If there’s anyone who can be grateful for the comfort of home automation, it’s someone with a hasty schedule like Kevin. The Jonases’ home automation system manages to bring a considerable amount of simplicity to an already hectic life- both when the couple is home and, more importantly, when they are not.

Self-described as a “tech guy,” living with a home automation system and the countless subsystems it manages has Kevin in high-tech heaven … even though the initial setup proved to be monstrous. Thanks to basically an entire overhaul of the original system, though, every piece of his connected home now hits the right note with this musician.

“You’d think this would be simple. You just plug in a TV and it should work. But really there’s a whole other world happening,” he says of the masterminds behind his smart home. “What I most enjoy is that it works well and it’s easy. I think people are amazed when they come over. They think, ‘Oh, it looks like there’s so much,’ but really you just have a lot of choices. The home automation system and its controllers are the easiest thing you’ll ever use.” 

 Turning a Flop into a Hit
Unfortunately, Kevin’s home automation system was not always the effortless system that it is. Most of the equipment was in place, but it was chaos. Like any other industry, the custom electronics business has professionals whose work can range from oustanding to below par. While the original setup in this 7,200-square-foot house looked fine on the surface it hid some major issues underneath. With so many home automation subsystems involved—home theater, distributed audio and video throughout the house, security/alarm, surveillance cameras, lighting control and HVAC control—those issues were just waiting to be revealed.

Another A/V company was brought in when multiple aspects of the overall home automation system began failing. Almost every subsystem had some sort of issue, from the alarm system to the cameras. Kevin also had some lightning strikes, so a portion of the cameras were bad, and the door locks and alarms weren’t functioning. Part of the lighting worked and part of it didn’t; the HVAC never really did work right. So it was really a top-to-bottom makeover of the system, as well as reprogramming everything.

A trip downstairs to the equipment rack room is all the proof you need to see why the original home automation system was unfolding.  It looked like a bad DIY job. All the equipment for the system was stuffed into a half rack rather than a more suitable full-height equipment rack. The wiring was a jumbled mess and badly bound together, with poor and insufficient power supplies supporting the components; while the security system wasn’t even plugged in at all.

On top of the bad rack job, there was a combination of custom-interconnected wire, Velcro, prefab cables, zip-ties, and electrical tape. Most of the Apple equipment was literally dangling on an array of wire. There were extension cords plugged into power strip outlets, which were plugged into power distribution centers with splitters you would get from a hardware store. In the original home automation rack there was only a nine-outlet power strip. The hot water heater, the HVAC system and the lighting control were also plugged into those extension cords.

It took the audio/video company and his team about two weeks to first figure out where everything was connected and then re-design, re-wire and re-program the entire home automation system.  This included the Honeywell security, Lutron lighting and IC Realtime cameras that had already been set up but now needed to work well with the overhauled home automation installation and all of its control options, such as the iPads, iPad minis, iPhones. They installed a new Middle Atlantic BGR rack and spruced it up right down to the custom screw covers.

Singing the Praises of Automation
It certainly doesn’t take much to get Kevin Jonas talking about all of the day-to-day advantages that he enjoys from a fully functioning home automation and A/V system. For a person who has spent a great deal of his time on stage and in front of the camera, he’s got a natural charisma when displaying how he uses different aspects of the home technology. When asked about the motorized scissor-lift that can lower his living room TV into viewing position at the touch of a button, Kevin happily grabs an iPad from the kitchen counter and in about two seconds the big screen is on the move. He enjoys showing off the fascinating home automation technology because his interest for it is genuine. Kevin and his father-in-law installed the ComfortVu TV lift themselves, although they had to drill it twice because they didn’t have it level the first time. He even shared a video of the DIY project with his 3.5 million Twitter followers.

Kevin researched a variety of home automation systems and decided on an Apple-platform system after visiting a showroom; where he saw firsthand the integration possibilities and the recognizable control options. “I had a few ideas. I really enjoy the whole home automation functionality, especially in a home of this size,” he says. “I hated having to walk around to flip off all the light switches when there’s a much more effective way to do it; not only for you, but from an energy efficient standpoint. I knew how easily this system was integrated into iOS and everything that was already going on with my phone, my tablet and my computers.”

He’s so skilled with his home automation system and his iPad that he can dart through setting up a customized user interface page, putting in all of the desired icons for controlling whatever subsystems you’d want as shortcuts for a specific room, in minutes. He also went as far as to say that he’d love to go through the same training and programming courses that were offered to the custom home automation professionals. “The great thing about this system is you can modify it,” he says. “I just enjoy having everything at my fingertips, but if I really wanted to I can throw a new icon in, add a new button, and then edit it.”

Selling Points
Besides triggering his TV lift by touching a button on his iPad, there are other highlights that Kevin likes about his high-tech home automation system.

Security and surveillance: Video from eight surveillance cameras, in important areas such as the front door and front gate, can be viewable from portable devices and fed to iPads and TVs throughout the house. Scheduling and Alarm system functionality can also be done remotely. Kevin’s home isn’t in a gated community, but on a cul-de-sac in a residential neighborhood. As a celebrity and owner of a relatively large house he can expect any number of caretakers, guests, handlers, TV crew people, workers, and others showing up. Since Kevin is away from his home so much being on tour and traveling, the key piece for him was being able to monitor what goes in his home from anywhere in the world. There are times when he had to let someone into his home and he didn’t give them the key, but was able to unlock the door, turn on the lights and disarm the alarm for them.  All this was done from Brazil. Kevin get alerts, so he can instantly look at the camera feed to see who’s there. The home automation system has allowed the Jonases to feel way more secure in their own home.

Phones: Phones aren’t usually very exciting but don’t tell that to Kevin. His home automation system has a sharp IP-based telephony system that allows people to make calls from their iDevices’ apps or operate room-to-room intercom basically all as one integrated home automation system over the home phone line. Kevin’s just as excited to demo iPad calling as he is brandishing A/V systems. It’s an addition that the Home Automation company integrated, while also boosting the communications by using three cordless phones that work off of cell antennas so the signal can bounce around smoothly as you go from one end of the house to another. You can page from one room to another or transfer calls, regardless of whether you’re on a wireless device or Apple device, a cordless phone or the touch-panels in the rooms. He also has the paging feature, which means you can page through the home speakers, and it mutes whatever is playing on the speakers. Plans are being made to remove the old doorbells and gate control interface and replace them with a new IP phone interface to complete the telephony package and basically include it with that exterior security.

Skype: There are televisions throughout the Jonas home, but the one that Kevin uses frequently is the Samsung TV in his office because it has Skype. He does all his conference calls from there.  Kevin chose to live in New Jersey because he loves it there, but he needs to be in L.A. a lot, so instead of jumping on a flight, he has a camera on top of the TV in his office. He can just Skype in a session and talk to anybody.

Lighting Control: The Lutron lighting throughout the house, along with being controllable and monitored under the support of the home automation system, provides a strong way for the different areas of Kevin’s home to be both aptly illuminated as well as energy friendly. Due to the fact that he is eco-minded, he’s already thinking about switching to LED lighting and about the prospects of incorporating an energy management solution in his next home. For now, he’s happy to applaud the quality of what lighting control is already accomplishing. “The amount of energy saved with a lighting control system like this is incredible. When you turn on a light switch it’s usually at 100 percent but none of my lights are 100 percent. My lights are all at 65 percent, which is bright enough everywhere but people don’t realize that they’re dimmed. If I really needed it to be 100 percent, I could just press a button and it all turns to 100.”

HVAC: Heating, cooling and humidity control is clever and highly customizable. If you’ve ever watched Married to Jonas, you’ve probably noticed that some of the individual interviews take place next to Kevin’s spacious wine room. A sensor in there monitors the temperature and the humidity, which will send a notification if the conditions rise above a certain level. Throughout the house, indoor and outdoor zones are easy to schedule by temperature, time of day, season or other marker. Settings can also be copied to other zones, created and edited not only by the Home Automation company, but by Kevin himself.

Audio and Video: Being an entertainer Kevin spends a great deal of time using the multiroom A/V operations within his home as well as the dedicated theater room with a 110-inch screen and comfy seating for movie viewing. The housewide A/V system can access all of the music they have stored in Mac Minis or on a separate hard drive from any where they are using an iDevice as well as throughout the house. Apple TVs route iTunes and streaming content to TVs and speakers so that individual playlists and music libraries can be easily accessed through the couple’s own personalized user interface pages. When Kevin’s creative juices are flowing he can record some music into his Logic Pro demo rig or even connect his guitar pedals and amp and play it back over the home audio system. One of his favorite features of the A/V system is that obtaining pretty much any feature of the home tech subsystems doesn’t interfere with whatever audio or video the Jonases are enjoying on TV.  This is all because of the home automation system that simply overlays the interface features and navigation onscreen, allowing for lightning-quick progressions to lowering the heat, viewing camera feeds, or anything else.

Like the operation of all things tech-related in Kevin’s house, it’s smooth and seamless —which bodes well for this Jonas brother’s next big technology achievement. “I’m a big kid at heart, and these are my toys,” he says. “Dani loves the home automation system and she kind of let me go for it. She knows we’re contemplating moving now, and that in our next home it will probably be even more extensive.”

Cut the Cord: Wireless Surround Sound

SchwartzOne thing that’s never going to change about home electronics and home audio enthusiasts: we love to expand our systems. And thanks to the ever-growing world of home theater channels DVD and Blu-Ray makers are willing to send to us (can you even remember seeing a movie that was just in stereo?), the opportunity to add more speakers in more places seems to come about every six months or faster.

And while this suits your typical home theater enthusiast just fine, drilling new holes and pulling new wire doesn’t always sit well with the rest of the family — to say nothing of the pocketbook, especially if your primary line of work doesn’t happen to fall in the sheetrock field.

Fortunately, some years ago manufacturers of high-end “prosumer” audio equipment anticipated this problem, and set to work designing wireless surround sound components and systems that deliver high-quality sound across time and space to speakers no matter how far afield you need to place them. More importantly, perhaps, wireless surround sound technologies have evolved to where the signals they send and receive are remarkably robust and free from the sorts of interference that plagued early models. This is especially important considering how many things in a typical home are transmitting and receiving often important data almost constantly (hint: there’s one in your pocket).

Choosing appropriate wireless components today is more a matter of taste and power, thankfully, than reliability; most models we sell and install are of high enough quality that the microwave in the next room isn’t going to cut out the sound, and neither is the smart-phone trying to update its apps through your wi-fi. If you’d like help planning or implementing your installation, please contact us today to learn more about wireless and other great home theater products!

Home Theater Seating: Don’t Quit Now!

SEAGULL0903It never ceases to amaze us how many people will research every component of their home theater system for months or even years — down to the last resistor — and then give only a casual inspection of home theater furniture options. This neglect is counter intuitive, especially considering the generally poor quality of theater seating is often cited as one of the biggest reasons people get into home theater in the first place!

We advise our clients to take as much time considering home theater seating as they did every other piece of their home theater puzzle — and, like they did for everything else in their system, start by asking a few questions. How much are you interested in spending on seating? Do you want just seats, or do you want them to be part of your system itself? And will you be using these seats in any capacity other than facing front, looking at the screen?

There are several popular options, from simple recliners to multi-chair lounge systems. Leather is a popular material for all kinds of comfortable seating, and home theater furniture is no exception — but consider your audience, and think about whether you’ll be seeing a lot of spills or rough activity more common in children and teenagers, or whether it will be all adults enjoying your home theater.

Several manufacturers are incorporating bass shakers into their home theater seating, which vibrate the seats in tandem with a film’s soundtrack. It’s an immersive technology that has fans and detractors, but your best bet is to try watching a movie in one before committing to a row of them.

Finally, there’s no substitute for careful planning. From numbers and sizing to spacing to proper distance from the screen, our technicians can help; contact us today!

Home Theater Lighting: Goals and Best Practices

SEAGULL0902One of the most neglected areas of home theater planning is lighting, and it’s obvious why: you watch movies with the lights off, right? What’s the big deal with light control, and why should it matter?

Home theater lighting isn’t just about turning the lights off when it’s time for the movie to start. There are numerous ways careful consideration of lighting can enhance your home theater experience — and home automation can play an important role in keeping everything coordinated so the process is as seamless as it is elegant and functional.

First of all, a fully dark room is dangerous; people need to move around from time to time, whether it’s just to go to the bathroom or because they need to get up and leave for other reasons. One of the goals of a good home theater lighting system should be to enable your guests to get around the room without falling on their faces; that means placing low light sources in such a way that they illuminate the floor where it’s necessary, but don’t cast glare or light onto your screen or display, ruining the movie for everyone.

One of the more common complaints among movie watchers, and this goes for the home theater enthusiast as well, is eye fatigue. Many studies have found that providing a subtle source of constant light behind your screen or display, known as a bias light, can significantly reduce eye fatigue — and it won’t make the images projected any less impressive.

Finally, remember that no one wants to watch a movie in a dull, gray box. Think about how accent lighting can reveal the best qualities of a room — architecturally-interesting corners, or works of art on display — and how that can translate into a more pleasant home theater experience.

Smart Home Tip: Lights Flashing

SEAGULL0901Successful home automation is more than just being able to install the latest devices and controllers; over the years we’ve realized there’s no substitute for experience when it comes to great ideas on how to turn your house into a truly smart home. They key to smart house success is being able to integrate the components that are available in new innovative ways, and realizing that the goal is simple making your experience living there easier.

One of the better ideas we came across was a simple one that integrated a fridge door sensor with the existing lighting system. There’s no shortage of reasons a fridge door might be left ajar — kids of nearly every age manage to do it, as do adults. Sometimes the larger doors don’t shut because something inside shifted enough to block the door, and it might not be noticed until a lot of food has spoiled.

A great smart house “trick” is to set your house controller system to start flashing the kitchen lights on and off if the door has been left open for, say, five minutes or longer — or, if the temperature in the fridge or freezer starts to climb for whatever reason, start a sequence of increasing numbers of lights throughout the house to start flashing, alerting you to the problem in a relatively straightforward way.

The flashing light idea is a great one for those of us who don’t live with our home automation controllers at our sides every moment of the day. It can be used for any number of situations where something requires our attention — data from a garage door sensor, for example, can be used to start flashing lights if the door’s been left open after dark. Or think about integrating flashing lights with your doorbell or smoke detectors — especially if you like to watch movies or listen to music at higher volumes!

Custom Home Theater Design: Be Flexible, Be Happier

HomeTheaterOne of the more fun things about home electronics is how the market and technology is always changing; and nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of custom home theater design, where it seems there’s a brilliant new product or technology every week, something that we all think would be a great addition to nearly any system.

The best way to take advantage of these ever-evolving new products is to maintain a certain amount of flexibility within your custom home theater design. This means being able to update individual components as it seems appropriate, rather than having to re-build an entire system from the ground up.

For example, if you’re setting up a system that has X number of wireless surround sound speakers as part of the rear and side speaker set-up, you don’t want to be sitting on a system that isn’t scalable to whatever Y number of speakers future formats will present. Or if you’re picking out a display, limiting yourself to lower resolutions — despite there being a seemingly limited number of media presented in the resolution currently — and specializing your entire home electronics suite to match that lower-resolution display means you’ve set an expiration date on your system from the moment you install it. And that means you’re wasting time, effort and — most importantly — money.

Try to incorporate components in your custom home theater design that are interchangeable, scalable and swappable, especially if you’re making decisions to go with less top-end components as a budgetary measure. You don’t want to be stuck down the line with an entire system built around its weakest link, only to find that replacing that link means replacing the entire system.

And use the best components you can, as soon as you can; you’ll have a better custom home theater design going forward, and you’ll be happier with what you have longer.

video_surveillanceSo you’ve made the decision to update your home security system to go beyond the simple “is my door locked?” and “are my windows closed” sensor array systems. It’s a great move, and a popular one; as the technology for video surveillance becomes more impressive and the price of the equipment continues to drop, it’s practically a no-brainer.

But there are a few important considerations you need to take into account. First and foremost is coverage; deciding where to place your video surveillance cameras is the biggest decision any home security designer will make, and it’s a complicated question. Do you want to simply cover areas where you suspect you’ll get the most benefit, such as around doors and gates, or do you want comprehensive coverage that encompasses more of your property, such as the driveway? Do you want exclusively exterior cameras, or do you want them inside your home or business as well?

The effort to answer those questions is further complicated by having to choose what sort of video surveillance system you wish to deploy — and, as we’ve discussed in other such decisions, what you want that system to accomplish. If it’s important for you to simply keep track of workers coming and going, you’re going to want a different video surveillance system than if you want to be certain to be able to capture the details of a criminal’s face in the hopes of future prosecution. If you simply want to track movement, you’re going to need different video surveillance tools than if your goal is to cover every inch of a property — and potentially take action before a break-in or vandalism occurs.

The most important step you can take is to work with experts in home security and video surveillance to design a system that meets your needs and budget; contact us today for more information or to schedule an appointment.

What Can Your Lights Do?

LightControlForget about boring on and off, a light control system can make your lights part of your lifestyle

Light control is not exactly a new technology (Lutron’s founder Joel Spira invented the solid state dimmer in 1959).  It has become one of the most important features in a home automation system. If is properly designed and programmed, a light control system can be so much more than just the glow that allows you to read at night.

Here are a few of the options made possible by light control systems:

Notifications: Your lights can be programmed to convey things to you based on events (and other devices) they’re connected to. For example, if you spend a lot of time listening to loud music or movies and know you can’t hear the doorbell. You can have a light in your home theater room programmed to flash when someone rings the doorbell. If your programmer wants to be even craftier, they can make sure it flashes only when the home theater system is playing so the lights don’t flash needlessly.

Extra Sensory Perception: Lots of exciting things can be done using lights in combination with motion or contact sensors. For instance, your light control system can be programmed to turn your pathway lights up or down based on motion sensors outside. These lights can be used as a security measure—turning on bright flood lights when an unforeseen guest approaches, as well as a welcome light when a car pulls into your driveway at night. The sensor will relay a message to the light control system that tells it to turn on your entryway lights and any other lights you like as you walk in your home.


If your home theater room is in your basement you can program your light control system to have the stairway light connected to a contact sensor that will automatically turn it on when the door is opened. You can also add customization by having the stair light timed to go out after a reasonable time, such as one minute, while the main home theater lights stay on until you start a movie. Then those lights can automatically descend to movie level.

Warnings: Aside from criminal activity, you can use your light control system to provide warnings or notifications of other events. For example if you have little kids who like to get up in the middle of the night. You can use a motion sensor to turn on a hall light so your child can see, as well as turn on a small light in your bedroom to alert you that your child is up.

There is also a Wi-Fi based color-changing LED bulb lighting control system that is supposed to be able to sync with social media sites or text messages from your cell phone. Imagine if your desk lamp turned a certain color whenever you received a text message or another color when someone tagged you in an Instagram picture.

Ambiance and Décor: While your light control devices should look nice, the color and quality of the light they give off can be just as much a part of your home’s interior design as the artwork and furniture.  The best part is that you can easily change the look.

Something as simple as the color of your walls can completely change based on the light ambiance in the room. If you want to alter the feel of the room, change the lights. You can do this yourself with various dimmer or control apps, or you can have your programmer design lighting control scenes that will run with the press of a button. Such flexibility is just as important and impressive for outdoor lights as well as indoor. Some of the most common light scenes are party, morning, dinner and goodnight. Many light control systems also allow you to use a sequence of lighting and music as part of your wake up routine. Who wants to start the day with the bedroom lights on full blast when you can have them slowly wake up along with you?

With new color changing light options, how your lights flatter your lifestyle can take on a new dimension. Adding color options to light control scenes can be done in several ways. Let’s say you want the living room lights to dim low, but not turn completely off, when watching TV. Having your programmer design a TV light scene that turns the lights to a dim blue or green can please your need for a dark room while still having it lit up enough so you can find the remote. It also looks great.

The creative ideas are countless if you stop thinking of lights as simply something to turn on and instead as part of a dynamic light control system that reacts to your needs.

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