April 15, 2013
by Steven Castle
Editor’s Note: This profile of one of our Home of the Year winners originally ran in May of 2012. We’re highlighting past winners in anticipation of the May 2013 release of the new Home of the Year winners. You’ll want to check back in May, because the new winners are awesome.
Look! It’s a theater with raised seating in the back. Or maybe it’s a family room with a casual layout and a huge plasma TV. That 85-inch screen is almost as big as what you’d typically find in a dedicated home theater, which makes this gold-winning family media room almost a theater.
The 85-incher nearly lights up the room—while blending into the upscale decor. Starr Systems Design of Baltimore proposed a front-projection system, but the homeowner didn’t want a machine hanging from the ceiling and preferred the image quality of a flat-panel display, so the option was Panasonic’s TH-85PF12U 1080p professional-grade plasma. Starr Systems worked closely with the interior designer, providing dimensions and measurements so the walnut-paneled wall could be designed to accommodate the large display. It required a special mounting bracket and several guys to get the 260-pounder up on the wall.
Audio performance was also very important to the homeowners. “We chose to use relatively large freestanding speakers concealed within custom cabinetry,” says Sean Weiner of Starr Systems. Powerful Bowers & Wilkins (also knows as B&W) speakers and subwoofers are deftly concealed in the cabinet below the plasma, which floats over the floor to give the illusion of more space and depth. Three of the B&W CT7.3 LCRS home theater speakers and two B&W CT SW10 10-inch subwoofers fire through the fabric grilles.
“The B&Ws have tons of output, and were perfect to build into the cabinet. They have a very natural and neutral sound, for both music and movies,” says Weiner. Four in-ceiling CCM818 speakers, also from B&W, round out the 7.1-channel system. To the right of the plasma and concealed as part of the wall is a door to the mechanical room that houses essential equipment such as a Rotel RSP- 1570 Digital Home Theater Processor, Rotel power amps, a high-def cable box, an LG Blu-ray player with an embedded Vudu movie player, an Apple TV and the AMX NetLinx processor for control of the family room, as well as the entire house.
The homeowners use AMX’s Modero MVP- 5200i 5.2-inch wireless touchpanel to choose among sources and scenes—and to send music throughout the house. Lutron’s HomeWorks lighting control solution was also added to the basement media haven. But that’s not all. To one side of the media room is a bar with a 42-inch Elite plasma and its own B&W CCM65 in-ceiling speakers. The bar area can play the same content that’s on the big screen in the media room or function as its own independent entertainment zone. The speakers’ aluminum tweeters and Kevlar woofers complement the build and sound quality of the B&W freestanding speakers used for the front channels of the media room, says Weiner.
When talking with Weiner about this basement media room, the word “integrate” pops up a lot. But Weiner’s not necessarily talking about the way an audio/video system is integrated with a control system. He’s talking more about design. “The coolest part of this room has to be the design,” he says. “We worked closely with the interior designer and integrated with woodwork with the fireplace, speakers, big TV and everything. It’s a really comfortable space.”
No disagreement here. Who wouldn’t want to sink into one of those comfy seats and fire up that 85-inch plasma and 7.1-channel system? Even better, adjoining spaces feature game and exercise rooms. Of course, blending design with great video and sound requires some serious fine-tuning. The Panasonic television received simple calibrations for all of the inputs at their native resolutions, with extra attention given to the contrast ratio settings to minimize the effect on the overall dynamic range and perceived resolution of the image, says Weiner. Subwoofer crossover adjustments were made using a combination of the Rotel processor’s settings and the subwoofer amplifier adjustments, and audio calibrations were performed with a traditional SPL meter.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates