January 27, 2010
| by Lisa Montgomery
A belief among custom electronics professionals (CE pros) is that if your mother-in-law can operate the electronics gear you installed, you’ve done your job well. Chad Bessette of ASL Home Entertainment Group in Tucson, Ariz., thinks kids can be a good measuring stick of simplicity, too.
Bessette’s 6-year-old daughter Abbey recently gave her stamp of approval to one of the most elaborate design and installation projects his company has ever done. “I put a remote in my daughter’s hand and told her to play the music, turn on the TVs and switch on and off the lights,” he recalls. “We wanted the remote to be as easy as an ATM machine to use,” and for good reason.
Located near the mountains of Tucson, the 17,000-square-foot ranch that ASL was hired to automate is a popular overnight stomping grounds of the owners’ friends and family (click here to view a slideshow of the home). While guests are present, they’re treated to the best tech in town: amenities like a whole-house video and music system, an architectural lighting system and a zoned heating and cooling system. These systems can be controlled directly from each of four guest suites by using a 6-inch portable Crestron touchpanel.
“The owners wanted their guests to be comfortable, and that meant giving them the tools to easily control their room environments without having to pull out a user’s manual,” Bessette explains. Specially programmed by ASL’s Bryan Schlegel, the touchpanels display a menu of commands intuitive enough for even the most tech-challenged person to figure out. It takes no more than a few button presses to choose a movie from a Kaleidescape media server to watch on a 42-inch Pioneer flat-panel TV, adjust the room temperature and stream music from the server to speakers on the suite’s own private patio.
No Dead Zones or Drop Outs
All of this can be accomplished without affecting the rest of the house, says Bessette. The owners are free to use the electronic systems as they wish, regardless of what their houseguests are doing. They can play whatever music or video they want and enjoy it in an atmosphere where the lights, thermostats and motorized shades are set to their liking.
One amenity that’s always on their hit list is music. “Whether they’re entertaining guests or just hanging out, there’s always something playing in the background,” Bessette says. Sometimes the music comes from the Kaleidescape server; other times it’s delivered by a DirecTV satellite receiver. It just depends on which button the owners press on one of the home’s 20 touchpanels.
There is one constant, though. No matter what song is piping through the home’s built-in speakers, it sounds wonderful. “Everywhere you go, you’re hit with stereo sound,” says Bessette. “It’s almost as if you’re wearing headphones. There are absolutely no dead spots anywhere.”
ASL accomplished this effect through a combination of well-designed amplification and strategic speaker placement. “Every speaker has its own 100-watt channel on the multichannel Elan amplifiers,” Bessette explains. “This allowed us during the installation to adjust the output of each speaker individually to balance out the sound.” As for speaker coverage, ASL left no space untouched, installing in-wall and in-ceiling speakers everywhere, including hallways, powder rooms, closets, the garage and even the shower.
A Change of Atmosphere
Lights and motorized shades also enhance the atmosphere, and like the music system, they’re completely controllable from the Crestron touchpanels. The touchpanels provide all the basic commands, such as ON, OFF, OPEN and CLOSE, as well as a few “scene” controls that synchronize the settings of multiple devices.
An ENTERTAIN scene, for example, adjusts the brightness levels of select lights to accentuate the home’s unique architectural features, while also opening the motorized draperies to provide a view of the mountains from the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Other scenes, such as GOOD MORNING, switch on fixtures in certain rooms, while GOODBYE sweeps through the house to ensure that every light is turned off during the owners’ absence. Then there are scenes designed in deference to houseguests. GOODNIGHT WITH GUESTS, for example, switches off every light except for the fixtures in the guest suites and hallways.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.