Behind-the-Scenes Look at a Theater Control Upgrade
Complications of automating a home theater
August 06, 2013 by Lisa Montgomery

When Gefen invited me to shadow a custom electronics (CE) professional (Lior Hamuel of Smart Homes Innovations, Van Nuys, Calif.) as he installed its new GAVA control system into a finished home theater, I gladly accepted. This was a system that the company had designed specifically to simplify the process of configuration and installation, enabling an installer in record time to integrate the control of A/V equipment, thermostats and more. Without getting overly technical, the GAVA processor comes pre-programmed with many of the essential codes and commands required to control a variety of different equipment. Ostensibly, all a CE pro needs to do is follow the installation wizard, which involves clicking on the appropriate icons, and then click “save.”

Easy enough, but as with any installation, especially one that involves the dismantling of an existing control system before putting in a new one, there’s bound to be a few hiccups along the way. This home theater update was no exception. As I learned, often it’s not the quality of the control system that fouls up a project, but the pieces that are connected (or not connected) to the system that do. Here’s what I discovered during the four or so hours it took to get the GAVA system up and running in a dedicated home theater featuring a Sony video projector, receiver and Blu-ray Disc player; Apple TV; DirecTV receiver; Lexicon amplifier James Loudspeaker speakers and subwoofers; and 130-inch Stewart Filmscreen screen.

The Network is Everything!!
Once the GAVA processor is connected to a home’s Wi-Fi network, it should automatically appear in the configuration screen (in this case that screen was on the installer’s laptop). It didn’t. After several minutes of head-scratching, the CE pro discovered that the router was uplugged, rending the entire network inoperable. Lesson learned: Now that so many products communicate via Wi-Fi, make sure your network is not only working, but working well.

Update Your Software
Anything that’s plugged into the GAVA processor should also appear via the GAVA app on the screen of a user’s laptop, tablet or smartphone. While this theater owner’s Apple TV was officially part of the network (it showed up on the app like it was supposed to), the installer was unable download the proper IP codes that would allow the Apple TV to communicate with the GAVA system.

Consequently, the owner was unable to operate the Apple TV via his GAVA iPad app; nor could the installer add it to an automation “scene” where the Apple TV could activate while the lights dimmed and the surround-system turned on, for example. The reason: the Apple TV was running old software that made it unable to understand commands from the GAVA system. Lesson learned: When it’s time to update your software do it.

Correct IP Addresses
Knowing the IP addresses of all your components can streamline the configuration process. They should also be set to their known static IP addresses so the codes will not change later on (this will vary depending on the requirements of the control system). Your CE pro should have tools loaded into his/her smartphone to quickly scan through all the static IP address of every component on the network.

Make the Right Connections
Without a wiring diagram of your original system, a custom electronics installer will need to do some degree of investigation of cabling connections before he can add an automation processor to the mix. In this case, the CE pro had to check the runs of cabling inside the equipment rack several times to determine into which input of the GAVA processor each component would be plugged. This information was critical to the programming process.

Incompatibility Issues
Current models of A/V equipment are able to talk IP, but if you have an older setup (like this owner’s) where communication is happening via a dedicated serial (RS-232) connection, it can be difficult to get those older components to join the IP network. In this case, the RS-232 cable did not have the proper pinout to handle the conversion from serial to IP. A simple fix but one that really holds up a project if you don’t have the right connectors on hand.

More about home control/automation here:
Frequently Asked Questions About Home Automation
Is IP Control Replacing IR?
A Good Home Automation System is Worth Repeating
Inside Control4 Home Automation

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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

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