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THE SVC INTERVIEW: Bryan Vint, Apple Building, London

To transform the Apple Building in London, Bryan Vint of Ugot Simple Home Control relied heavily on Elan and Rako lighting control.

SVC: We’re talking about an installation on the Apple Building, the home of the Beatles’ Apple Boutique back in the late ‘60’s. But now it has been turned into luxury apartments and they needed AV control, lighting and building access systems installed. Why was Ugot Simple Home Control well positioned to take on this particular project?

Bryan Vint: We had a wide range of experience in multi-room AV systems. But specifically we’d worked with this developer for a couple of years and in fact had done a very similar project for them the previous year in Chapter Street, which is just outside Chelsea in London. Although we had to change the product – we’d originally used Opus for the previous project, it wasn’t available. The obvious choice for us was Elan because it did everything that we wanted it to do and it was a simple move for us from one product to the other.

You also did Rako lighting for lighting control?

Absolutely. There’s a company based in the UK called Rako Controls. They’re based down in Kent. They came into the market not long before we did, 10-odd years ago, offering at the time an almost wireless lighting system with dimmers that effectively had an RF interface and went in line rather than being centralized. So that changed the market at the time. It’s very flexible, very cost-effective, and very robust so it suits us down to the ground. And it works seamlessly with the Elan system.

Did the building’s location or architecture present any special challenges? I know that the Ministry of Antiquities, if you’re working in a very old or historic place, can have a lot of sticky rules. Were there any restrictions or challenges on the building itself?

There was nothing architectural, no, because the building had been used commercially so much of the building had been stripped out. The apartments in the living area side of things were quite compact so it’s very important that we installed a system that would not take up the space, obviously with sky boxes everywhere and so on. So we had to think very carefully about that. London – central London – always presents a problem due to parking restrictions and the traffic and so on, so getting vehicles close enough to be able to offload equipment without getting it moved on by a parking official is always a concern. But the developers had their own electricians carry out the cabling so they took care of most of the difficult side of things as far as avoiding any building regulations were concerned.

So when you got in on this and had a look at the place, what was your first impression when you saw the apartments or the plans and realized what was going to be involved?

Initially it was the use of space. The rooms had to be multifunctional and therefore we had to consider how the audio and the video and even the lighting would work in a multifunctional area. For example, the living area is a living area, a dining area and the kitchen and the kitchen rolls away effectively; it disappears behind. It’s very clever the way it’s done, but it’s very compact. Obviously we needed to think about how people would be living in the property and how they would be using the system. So how would the TV audio work in the living area if someone else wanted to do something in the kitchen area and so on. So it was a lot to think about.

What are the capabilities of the system you put in there, obviously not just turning TVs on and off? There are other things that are controlled and managed by the system as well.

Absolutely. In the show apartment we put a full HD distribution system–four TVs, a Y-Storm 4×4 matrix. On the music side of things, which had various input sources, an audio server went into each of the properties, and we had lighting control in each room. Being an apartment in a group of apartments in London there was the need for a door entry system as well. So it was a lot of integration that went through the system.

In the en suite bathrooms to the master bedrooms, Ugot Simple Home Control installed waterproof TVs. The developer was looking to create an oasis; somewhere that busy executives in.

Something that got my attention in reading about this one. There were water-proof televisions? Why were those specified?

That’s a very good question. It was one of those things that we discussed at length with the developers and these went into the en suite bathrooms to the master bedrooms. What the developer was looking for was an oasis; somewhere that busy executives in London could go and sit and look out the window and enjoy some relaxation, watching TV because the master effectively sat right in front of a full-height window. So it’s quite a stunning place to be and the decision was that due to the level of special occasion for the property itself and the sort of people that the developer was trying to attract, a waterproof TV would be a really nice addition.

Well, that would be something to see. I don’t think I’ve seen a water-proof TV before. Was it actually manufactured that way or was it just a TV that you specially enclosed in something that was retro-fitted?

There is a specific TV that effectively fits into the wall and is sealed into the wall so that it’s completely waterproof. We’ve done actually quite a few of them, different makes and models. Aquavision is the most common in the UK. It’s just a piece of luxury to be honest with you. We’ve never had – touch wood – we’ve never had one go wrong in 10 years.

The overall building access sounds like a big job in terms of places you had to reach. What took the most time on this?

What took the most time? I think because of the installation itself and the way the developer needed to work in order to get things done, we ended up doing it piecemeal. So rather than going in and doing an apartment and then the next apartment being finished and doing that apartment, we had to go back and do bits and pieces every time. So we were moving about between apartments and obviously having to keep records of what we were doing and where we were doing it on the programming side of things.

What are the sensory capabilities of this system? What conditions can it detect and tell the owner? Obviously, you don’t want to flood the client with too much information.

When we specified the systems because they were looking to sell the projects, we were asked to put in a system that could then be added to. So the clever side of it is the lighting with some light sensing in there and obviously with scene setting and so on. Adding to the system was going to come later. But what actually happened in the end was the whole building was sold to one person – one company – and they now rent out the apartments. So the follow-up where we could have added much more to the systems actually hasn’t happened, unfortunately.

That was a very highly-publicized event when those apartments opened and people got to see the inside and how all of the control systems work. What did you use for the main controller of the audio and video on this thing? And which one of the Elan system controllers was used for this setup? Which actual hardware did you use?

We used the Elan HC-4, which is one of the basic controllers that Elan was offering at the time that we did this project. And that integrated with the S86A across three of the four apartments and the show home at the M86A.

London could go and sit and look out the window and enjoy relaxing and watching TV.

Okay. And these are connected, what do they use? Contact closures, infrared or Ethernet?

It’s over IP.

Okay, and you have a whole IP network in each apartment.

Absolutely. Correct, yes.

For sound control in each apartment are there different zones such as each room being a different zone?

Yeah, absolutely. We had a living area, which was the key area of each apartment. That included the dining area and the kitchen, so that was quite interesting working at how we would do the sound in there without it completely flooding the entire space, you need to think about demarcation of sound. Then there was the master bedroom and en suite and then there was another bedroom too. Both bedrooms had both audio and video distribution as did the en suite with a waterproof TV that we discussed earlier on.

Yeah, and the Elan S86A controller was included on this and I think that all of the components in this Elan system communicate on Ethernet.

The HC4 obviously connects to each item and we can control various things through Ethernet. It will also do 232, as you know, and IR so there’s lots of different ways, depending on the capabilities and requirements of the unit that we’re connecting to. We’ll mix and match to make sure everything can work and is robust.

How did you decide on the locations for the Elan in-wall touch panels? Obviously, the placement on those is critical. A foot or two the wrong way and it gets to be inconvenient for the client.

Absolutely. We’re always keen with our projects to make sure we have a remote access remote control system. So in this case there were iPads designed to be available as well. For the position of the touch screens, we looked at the flow through the walkthrough of the properties and how people were likely to live in there and we decided that the most suitable position was just in the kitchen area and that become the hub of the property.

And on the touch screens, what particular models were these? Were they all the same one?

No. It was a TS7 that we put into the main area, and then the Android or the iOS tablet would be used for remote control in other rooms.

How does the Rako lighting system work?

With Rako they have various interfaces. In this case it was an IP interface with Elan, so literally the Elan can discover the Rako system and then we just need to program the Rako system to whatever scenes that are required, so actually a really straight-forward thing to do.

Okay, so they’re just physically connected and automatically recognize each other. You put in the specific drivers and then it just works.

Right. We in fact mirror the button styles of the Rako on-wall keypad, the seven-button keypad they have with Scene 1, Scene 2, Scene 3, Scene 4, then an off button and a dim up and dim down. And we just mirror that onto the touch screens and onto the iPad or Android devices so it’s very intuitive for the homeowner.

So you got all of this hooked up. What was involved in the testing of all of the environmental and AV systems?

With every system that we do, we do a top-to-bottom test on everything. We were often will go back and do a reprogram of scenes later when people have had a chance to live on the property for a while because when you first move into a property you don’t know how you’re actually going to live in it. We test all of the lighting. We make sure there’s no flickering, as there can be with LEDs, and sometimes we have to change the dimmers if the lighting specified is not actually the lighting that is installed. That can sometimes be an event for us. And then obviously we go through each part of the system, testing the audio in each room, setting the equalization of the speakers and so on as far as we can. And we test the video, check that the sources will work, and we retest and retest. And then we look at the buttons that we’ve created. Are they intuitive? Are there too many steps? We try and reduce everything down to make everything as simple as possible. And obviously IR, as a lot of your listeners will know, can be difficult to work with so we make sure that we thoroughly test the IR outside of things, so turning TVs on and controlling skyboxes in the U.K. can be an interesting thing to do.

Yes, the infrared control can sometimes be interesting trying to make sure that when a device is supposed to be off it really is off and when it needs to be on, it’s not actually turning off.

Absolutely true. It’s really important because you can get callback after callback. And driving into central London to literally move an IR eye on the front of a skybox is a waste of time, effort and money.

What’s coming up for Ugot Simple Home Control now?

We’ve got an awful lot of projects on the go at the moment, actually. We’re currently finishing another Elan project for this same developer just off Covent Garden in London, which is for apartments with a specification very similar, actually, to the Apple Apartments. There’s more CCTV going in and motorized blinds. We’re also installing a number of AV systems based on both Elan and other systems such as Wyrestorm into a church which is being converted into nine luxury apartments near Winchester. And we’ve just completed some really interesting projects, one in Kent, which was a very large family home, with something like 130 Rako circuits of lighting, Elan in about 13 or 14 rooms, and three cinemas, one dedicated to a living room cinema-style 5.1 systems. And another project we’ve just finished included a thumbprint door entry system as well as cinema and lighting and Elan in about eight rooms. They’re also talking to us now about outdoor television, outdoor entertainment areas with three televisions in the grounds, audio and so on all, again, controlled by Elan.

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