Reliability, ease of use and plenty of wow were some of the things the owners of this Dallas-area home were looking for in their new audio/video and control system. Custom electronics pro Smart Homes of Texas was able to deliver that, and on a budget that surprised the owners of this 5,000 square-foot house.
Like most families, these homeowners enjoy listening to music and watching TV, so having 16 independent networked audio zones and eight video zones allows them to relax easily, anywhere in the house. But audio and video distribution isn’t all that came into play here. Security, lighting and temperature control (HVAC) are all tied into the main control system. House-wide there are a total of 30 lighting “scenes,” or preset configurations, many specific to individual rooms.
“The Control4 HC800 is the key to the home,” said Justin Dohman, owner of Smart Homes of Texas, based in McKinney. The HC800 is Control4’s newest processor, the product that acts as the brains to the home’s nervous system of connected electronics. Dohman says the improved processing power and strength of the system’s ZigBee wireless network makes it easy to use over a wide range, and the mesh network it creates improves reliability. “Every time you add a keypad or light module, your network gets stronger,” he says.
One of the reasons the homeowners like the system so much is the flexibility with which they can operate it. Various TV rooms (and the theater) all include standard wand-style Control4 remotes, which can access any system in the house, but mostly the occupants use their iPhones and iPads because of the convenience of having the portable devices handy. The Control4 iOS app allows interaction with any device that’s been integrated into the system.
Three-button keypads in the walls throughout the house afford simplified control of music from Rhapsody or Pandora streaming services, so the homeowners don’t need to pull out an iPad just to adjust the volume. The buttons are programmed for multiple presses, so one press will play a pre-selected channel, two presses will play a different one, and so on.
To make sure all the iOS devices have no trouble communicating with the Control4 system, Dohman had to establish a solid IP network in the house, which includes several Wi-Fi repeaters.
(View images of this whole home here)
While the networking and automation features are fun and help simplify the family’s busy life, it’s the home theater that really brought the pizzazz to the project. “They came from a house that had a theater, so they knew they wanted one in this house,” Dohman says. The small 14-foot by 18-foot room presented some challenges, as did the fact that the family wanted to be able to use it as a videogame room and didn’t want to always sit in the dark. To get the most out light out of the JVC LCoS projector, a 144-inch, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Screen Innovations Black Diamond Zero Edge screen was selected. The Black Diamond, which is actually gray, maximizes the light from the projector while rejecting ambient light from the room. The absence of a bezel on the Zero Edge model meant that interior design wouldn’t need to accommodate a bulky black frame around the picture. Instead Dohman custom built a cabinet around the screen to set off the picture and to hide the Jamo speakers.
Like the rest of the home, the theater is operated by Control4, but by its own HC250 processor. Four lighting scenes were created for the theater room, all based around activities the family does there, such as play games, watch movies and TV and listen to music.
Right outside the theater is a larger entertaining space, with a bar, integrated lighting control and another surround-sound system and flat-panel TV. When entertaining, guests can mingle between the two rooms.
The homeowners requested some special automation for master suite. There, Control4 provides access to audio, video and climate and also some special touches. Motion sensors from Card Access tie into the Internet to provide proper room lighting based on both occupancy and time of day. At night when someone enters the master bath there’s no need to fumble around looking for a light switch.
The family’s living room includes another full surround-sound system and a flat-panel TV, plus an automated gas fireplace. The fireplace is programmed to light every Christmas and every Sunday that it recognizes the family is home (and the outside temperature falls below 40 degrees). The room’s dimmers have several lighting scenes programmed, including “party, relax and good morning”. Similar scenes are programmed for most rooms in the house.
Being Texas, the homeowners like to spend time outside. The large patio includes a bar, outside TV, music and motion sensors that will play a barking dog track if anyone approaches the property who’s not supposed to be there.
Additional security features are installed throughout key parts of the house. Motion sensors placed in the garage detect if the doors have been opened so the occupants know if someone is coming home or if they accidentally left the doors open. The front door features a contact sensor that’s activated during preset hours to let the parents know when the kids come home from school. Then the parents can look up their security cameras on their iPads to verify that it’s the kids walking in the door and not someone else.
Keeping Costs Down
Filling a home this size with audio/video control and full automation can be a challenge on a $50,000 budget. In this case, the homeowners saved a little by using some TVs they brought from their prior house. Instead of a video distribution system and a server, the family opted for individual source components in each TV zone. Streaming audio distribution costs a lot less than streaming video, and was easily handled by Control4. Justin Dohman of installer Smart Homes of Texas also notes that the system was fairly easy to program, which allowed the family to save some money, which they put into an upgraded projector and screen. Using iPads and iPhones instead of in-wall touchpanels provided additional convenience and economic choice.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.