Dec 1, 1998 12:00 PM, Jim Swearingen
Central A-V systems and low-voltage lighting control systems have become acommon feature of upscale homes, and many sophisticated products exist toserve this market. Combining these systems, however, often fostersconfusion, and the actual applications of these technologies often runscontrary to the simplicity that these systems were designed to provideindividually. One solution to this problem has been the use of any ofseveral integration systems. Many system integration products, however,offer a higher degree of control over secondary subsystems than customersreally know how to use, and because of their wide variety of options, theycan exhibit a tendency to be more confusing and less reliable thanindividual operation of the subsystems.
Like many high-end residential custom installers, Tom Doherty, Inc. (TDI),Carmel, IN, faces these issues daily. One of the greatest challenges tohigh-end residential installers involves the deliverance of convenience,reliability and aesthetics that exceed an upscale client's A-V expectationswhile matching the care and effort these clients expect to be installed intheir homes.
Such was the challenge recently set before TDI by clients building a newhome with definite ideas as to how certain systems should operate and look.TDI showed them various systems for controlling lighting, providinghouse-wide audio and delivering a home-theater experience comparable to thelocal movie theater's. The clients, owning an extensive CD collection ofmore than 500 discs, also wanted access to this collection throughout thehome. TDI proposed the use of Escient's TuneBase system, and the clientsreadily accepted.
The clients had requested installation of a technology that would makeliving in their home easier, which, in itself, posed no particulardifficulty. Traditional results, however, would have left an ugly andconfusing patchwork of keypads and touchscreens in public locations wheredecor and aesthetics were preferred. Naturally, this was unacceptable,especially in someone's home.
The challenge, then, was to integrate lighting and audio control using akeypad interface that was simple but not detrimental to a given room'saesthetics. The clients were uninterested in showing off elaborate commandsand functions to impress guests; nor were they fans of the menu-drivensystems. At the heart of their request was the desire to press one simplebutton for a corresponding event to occur. For example, to listen to theradio, they wanted to press a single button marked "radio." To set lightingthroughout the home for entertaining, they wanted to press a button marked"entertain." To turn the audio system off, press "system off."
Eliminating wall clutter was the primary motivator for choosing alow-voltage lighting control system. Replacing five- and six-gang banks ofswitches and dimmers with an attractive single-gang keypad was a decisionthe client found easy to make. The Lutron HomeWorks lighting controlsystem, which offered the added benefit of keypads that perfectly matchedthe decor, was chosen for the installation. These keypads also provided anideal platform from which to control the house audio system.
We integrated an ADA Millennium multi-room audio distribution system toprovide audio to all rooms, using two Millennium mainframes that provideindependent control to 12 zones. The ADA system offers high sound quality,flexibility and proven reliability.
To provide easy access to the client's extensive CD collection, an EscientTuneBase-Pro CD management system was installed to control three SonyCDP-CX255 200-disc CD changers. The TuneBase controller displays both coverart and artist name, as well as disc and song titles for every CD in thelibrary. Logical, intuitive graphics guide the user through simple choices,including selecting a single CD, random play of CDs or playlists ofspecific discs and songs. The client controls TuneBase via a 17 inch (43mm) Sony touchscreen monitor at the main equipment location or from anyother television in the home. IR-mouse controllers are located at eachtelevision, and they communicate, via a Xantech IR system, with theTuneBase controller. When new CDs are added to the changers, the TuneBasecontroller initiates AutoBuild mode, automatically recognizing the CD andloading all its title and track information into the client's music librarydatabase. Should a CD be added that is not recognized by TuneBase'sinternal database, the TuneBase controller will automatically dial upEscient's main server to find a match from among the entries in its moreextensive master CD database.
Both 10- and 15-button HomeWorks keypads were used, with lighting commandsconsistently located to the left and audio commands to the right. "VolumeUp" and "Volume Down" commands are located on the large buttons normallyused for "All On" and "All Off" commands. The keypads provide simple,intuitive selection and control of music sources. More extensive CDcontrol, such as choosing a specific disc or random play from a particularmusic category, is again available through any television in the home.
Two HomeWorks panels accommodate a total of 85 HomeWorks dimmers andswitches. These panels, in turn, communicate with an AMX Axcess card framevia RS-232. Other RS-232 cards within the card frame control the two ADAMillennium mainframes and the Escient TuneBase Pro controller. The TuneBasePro controller includes an RS-232 interface, as well as the ability tocontrol additional CD changers as the CD library expands. Moreover, the AMXAxcess card frame supports direct control of audio sources rather than theMillennium. Other audio sources, including a Sony STS-550ES tuner, SonyTC-R606ES cassette deck and a Sony SAT-B1 DSS receiver programmed for audiochannels only, are controlled directly via AMX AXC-IR/S cards. This directcontrol offers a wider array of options than traditionally available. Forexample, when "DSS Music" is chosen, a specific DSS music channel isselected as a consistent starting point for up or down tuning.
The AMX Axcess system also controls the billiard area home theater system,which includes a Sony KP-53XBR45 monitor, ADA SSD-66 (5.1) processor, ADAPTM-6150 six-channel amp, a Sony VCR and a Sony DSS receiver. Control isprovided by an AMX TC-32+ programmed with macros that select the properlighting levels for video sources.
TDI's in-house software developer and AMX programmer worked with Lutron toresolve timing issues for feedback through the HomeWorks controllers. Thefirst run of the software was slow, but cooperative efforts with Lutronsped response time to acceptable levels.
When the installation was complete, the clients immediately acknowledgedthat the fruit of TDI's labor was the perfect implementation of systemintegration-a simple, aesthetic solution to controlling household functionsused every day. Perhaps TDI's greatest satisfaction came from knowing ofthe system's daily use, the CD library's successful expansion and system'swide admiration garnered from the clients' circle of friends. Providingcomplex control over multiple subsystems within the home merely because theoption is available does not often serve clients as well as providing ameans of simple control over those functions that matter to them most. Thisapproach to providing reliably integrated A-V and lighting control inresidential venues, having been refined, is now a standard in the customA-V design and install business. Today, TDI merchandises this basic systemarchitecture in its new design center in Indianapolis.