My name is Stuart Richardson – I have been installing custom audio/video systems in Southern California (LA and Orange County) for over 15 years and have seen a lot of Badewannenaufsatz good and bad in the process. If you’re interested in learning more about the best whole-home A/V and lighting automation, read on for the latest and greatest…
Start by describing a few things to expect
It’s probably best to start by describing a few things you can expect from a modern complete home system: The electronic heart of today’s luxury home is the low voltage distribution board – this is a central wall enclosure (usually made of formed steel) that houses most TV, telephone and network cables in the house are located. When I say “home run” I mean any group of cables starting at a single point and fanning out from there – this is the preferred method of wiring by today’s standards (although not all cables need to be home run…). In addition to the cabling, this patch panel also includes different termination devices for each signal type: RG6 cables for TVs terminate in an RF splitter and/or amplifier, phone cables (usually CAT5) converge in a variety of phone blocks, and Ethernet cables (again, CAT5 or CAT5e ) go into a network switch or hub (in combination with the router or gateway device).
Audio/video cables are typically routed from the home to another central point, usually in close proximity to the home’s main home theater system. This includes speaker wiring to as many different rooms as you can imagine, combined with various control cables (usually CAT5) for remote control of centralized A/V equipment. Most home systems are designed exclusively for distributed audio, but today’s top-of-the-line systems also offer distributed video – allowing someone in one of the upstairs bedrooms, for example, to be able to watch a DVD from the main downstairs system while still hearing the audio from in-ceiling/ceiling speakers.
Home theater system is the key
Of course, the home theater system is key – the best systems feature a projection or plasma display. When it comes to a projected image, the screen can either be fixed (perhaps behind a motorized curtain, as in large theaters) or one that extends automatically when the projector is turned on. Any combination of in-ceiling, in-ceiling or conventional cabinet speakers can be used as speakers – including the latest thundering subwoofers (which can also be hidden behind walls or ceilings – or under the floor…). The sound processor should be able to decode a variety of signals including AC3, DTS and some other less common formats.
Remote controls have come a long way, and high-end systems should include what is now called “positive control”: This type of system actually receives feedback from the various system components (via a web of tiny wires for current sensing, signal sensing, etc.) to determine power status, and then uses if/then/else logic for conditional control. Here’s an example: You go to the cinema to watch a movie and you simply press Watch DVD on the remote control. This sends the signal to a processor, which detects that someone has turned on the tuner and turned off the television. He compensates by turning on the TV, switching the tuner input to DVD, and pressing play on the DVD player. It then dims the lighting by 90%. This is considered an “intelligent” system and can be found under names such as Elan and Niles.
Lighting control – the big name is Lutron
And that brings us to lighting control – the big name is Lutron. This company offers a few different systems and methods to dynamically control the lighting in any home – the most popular of which uses the RadioRA controllers. These include high-end wall panels and/or tabletop remotes that use RF (Radio Frequency) to remotely control lighting relays and can be controlled with audio/video remotes for a true theatrical experience. Another benefit of Lutron wallplates is the ability to control up to 5 switches in a single group unit.
Distributed surveillance is another feature of the latest whole house systems: Imagine you are in the back room of a very large house and the doorbell rings. Instead of dropping everything only to find out it’s some pushy attorney, just look at the 7-inch colored wall controller in front of you and see who’s there. Pick up the phone and talk to him (via a speaker in the doorbell bracket) – then tap the touchscreen once to see if the baby on camera 2 is awake, or see all four cameras in one Quad view on!
Rotating volume controls you see on the walls
It’s obvious we’ve come a long way since the volume controls you see on the walls of many older homes – these can still come in handy and save you some money if you’re not starving for features.
In an attempt to become a modern day Renaissance/Vitruvian human I have tried to open my mind to all forms of learning for as long as I can remember. My first interests were science and music while studying biology and cosmology and learning to play the piano, guitar and saxophone. I then went on to study electronics/electromechanical controls in the military and then got into the audio/video and home automation industries.
Over time I became more and more interested in spirituality and ancient religions – my involvement became more and more esoteric over time. I am now a practicing Badewannenaufsatz Kabbalist and Alchemist, although I find it difficult to focus on these things as I am constantly bombarded by the incessant stimuli of the modern world.
As an author I have written two books (as of 2007): The Marriage of Religion and Science (non-fiction) and The Aelf Club (historical fiction). I plan to turn the latter into a multi-volume set.