The title is a question that I feel is the disconnect between the majority of our clients and it all could be wrapped up into one simple phrase; Custom Electronics Design and Integration. We get tons of requests for TV Wall mounts and as we get to talking, they sense that I know a bit more than mounting a TV on the wall. Then I go on to all of the projects we have completed and as always, they had no clue that this was were were people they can call other than the Nerd Squad. Yes, you know who I mean, not to bash their marketing and their huge big brother, but I find that we are often called to finish or complete a task they were not able to do. Integrators do not follow the cookie cutter application that the manufacturer intended, we think outside the box and find ways to expand their potential and in turn, provide the best solution for our clients.
As years have past, Home Electronic manufacturers have found that being able to work with other manufacturers to develop a common solution for their customers has been the trend. Nest for example has built their empire with the popular headline; “Works with Nest”. This concept, more than ever, is in our nature to simplify things in our lives. You may have heard of “Life Hacking”, or the act of taking two, or more unrelated everyday items to work together to create a desired result. For example, using aluminum foil and a double A (AA) battery, you can create a hand warmer! You may have also seen a similar hack in the show “Orange is the new black” they used gum wrapper foil (with paper lining) and a battery to create a lighter.
If you were trying to figure out how this applies to the electronics in your home the person you would be looking for is an integrator. Integrators design and install Audio/Video, Smart home systems (Home Automation), and surveillance to be managed in one simple application. Let's talk about a few examples to really bring this home.
This is also called Multi-room audio, Multi zone audio, Whole home audio, etc. Simply put, the application is one or more sources playing through your home. Now this could be easily done by adding a radio in each room and turning them all on individually and setting the station or inserting the same CD in each room (Who does that? Yes, I meant who uses CD’s anymore). You may have also realized that you cannot connect to multiple Bluetooth speakers using the same phone or device.
However, Sonos has since then found this solution for the everyday consumer, however distributed audio was also easily created by using a multi channel amplifier with multiple inputs for various sources and wiring each room with in-wall or in ceiling speakers. Below is a diagram of how a multi-room wiring infrastructure would look like along with a home theater integrated with their system, more on that in the following sections. Now, how do we integrate the two? Say you have 6 rooms aka Zones (Kitchen, Deck, Pool, Basement, Master bedroom, Living room), and you want to have the ability to play a different song in each room/zone or play the same song in every room/zone. An example of this would be a Christmas party, where you want Christmas music playing throughout the house, or The wife is working out in the basement and jamming out to her work out playlist whereas the husband is cooking an authentic Italian dish in the kitchen and wants to listen to classical opera.
This part could get technical so don’t stop reading or skip to the next topic: You would need to have two separate sources for each room. Using a 12 Channel amplifier (6 pairs of left and right speaker outputs) and each channel has independent RCA inputs or can be grouped if needed. There are Professional Multi zone amplifiers such as NUVO, Autonomic and Mirage, but you can also use apps like google home and pair Google Chromecast audio players for each zone or add a Sonos Connect to each zone. So what you will see in the app is multiple rooms (Depending how you name them) you can select the room you want to play music chose the song or playlist and viola you have music playing in the room you want. Taking it a step further you can integrate your google home or amazon alexa to do the same command through voice commands. Now I know this sounds complicated, it really isn’t. Just look at the wire map below.
A home theater’s components include but is not limited to an amplifier or Audio Video Receiver (AVR), Speakers, remote, and a display. We could also include lighting, seating motorized projector or TV lifts, Motorized Shades or curtains, and heating or cooling (HVAC). Sure you can buy all of these products, but not knowing how they work together or how to simplify the system can be frustrating. We will touch on Home Automation in the next section. In your average home theater, you’ll find a remote for the AVR, the TV, an app for the lights, a button on the wall for the projector screen a thermostat in the hallway, everything is everywhere and so many remotes! When designing a home theater this issue is the foundation of creating the solution. To simplify your system is the most important aspect of your system. The AVR has the bulk of the control. It’s responsible for providing power to the speakers, switching sources and decoding, enhancing and balancing your video and audio. It’s the brains of the operation. However without the right universal remote, you will still need to turn it on, set the volume, select the source turn on the TV to make sure it’s on the right source and get up and dim or turn off the lights and pull the curtains. Harmony is the remote system of choice for our off the shelf product. Anyone can buy one, however there are models that are exclusive to professionals and provide expanded ports for control and other functions. If it’s a DIY project, you will be fine by visiting one of the big box stores following the simple set up instructions and be on your way in about an hour.
Some other considerations to the Home Theater would be the interior acoustics, as it would apply to furnishing, upholstery, sound dampening flooring and wall treatments and more. However, I'm not here to bore you, but definitely something to do your research as there are years worth of reading on the web on this topic. My point is the integration of all these considerations is what an integrator is responsible for.
Where do I start? Well, early in our companies development I sat with a SBA consultant at a trade show at the Jacobs Javits Center in Manhattan. He told me a story of a home automation system he designed in the 70’s. As an engineer, he was able to figure a way to link his phone to his thermostat in his cabin upstate where he would go visit in the winter. Before he hit the road he would call his cabin on the old rotary phones they had back then, and it would trigger the Thermostat to turn on. Upon reaching his cabin, it would be nice and toasty for him and his wife to walk in and relax and not shiver while they waited for the heat to kick on. I was amazed!
Home automation is as simple as that, simple commands prepared to take everyday actions when we want them and how we want them to react. Take this application for example: You approach your home with your hands full of groceries, your door unlocks because it senses your presence (Yes you, not anyone else) your able to walk into the house without having to juggle keys or reach for them in the opposite pocket of your available hand (OMG How annoying). Now it’s dark, but because you stepped into the door lights turn on in each room leading into the kitchen, as this is usually your first stop on weekdays after work. The coffee maker turns on, and starts to brew your favorite coffee. Smooth jazz begins to play and alexa gives you a run down of the weather for tomorrow, the news, and what’s on your schedule, and you start to prepare dinner. Your alexa show alerts you that you have motion at your front door, it’s the fedex guy, but you speak through the microphone and tell him to leave it at the door, because your hands are full of oil and seasoning from handling the chicken. Wait, did you think I was going to go through the whole night...well at this point, I think you get the point. How convenient is that? All those commands are programmed using your Home automation control as a combination of scenes, triggers, and routines, done only once and maybe adjusted a few times to get it right, but then you are free…”Meet George Jetson, Jane, His wife...”. This is home automation in a nut shell, now imagine how you can automate your Home Audio System, Home theater, and Just your home management. The possibilities are endless and there are no two like systems out there.
I really enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for electronics and associated life hacks and will push myself to sit down and write more as I discover something that has made my life easier or one of my clients. I have a backlog of systems I’ve installed in the past and need to write about them so please keep yourself posted by subscribing to my blog and please feel free to ask any questions as I will be happy to answer them. Thanks for reading and happy automation!