October 14, 2009
by Lisa Montgomery
Kaleidescape makes one of the coolest entertainment systems around. If you haven’t seen it or heard about it, you’ll definitely want to check it out (www.kaleidescape.com). It’ll make even the biggest collection of movies, music and digital photography a cinch to manage and enjoy. Unfortunately, the system is expensive, so not everyone can afford it.
There are economical alternatives, fortunately. You’ll just need to find a custom electronics firm that’s willing to get a little creative. D.J. Gerling and his team of technicians at Vivid F/X, Alberta, Canada, took on the challenge recently in a project that saved the homeowners thousands of dollars on a high-def housewide audio/video system that he says rivals the performance of the Kaleidescape system.
Several components from a variety of manufacturers would be pieced together to achieve the effect. There are the five custom-configured Windows Media Center PCs that would provide the 8 terabytes of storage space the family needed to hold their 1,000-plus DVDs and Blu-ray discs. A free plug-in called My Movies would be used to categorize the movies automatically by genre, actor, director and other characteristics. Vivid F/X would network all of the PCs together so that the family could access and control their entertainment choices remotely from any of 13 TV locations throughout the 4,400-square-foot house.
Designing a high-performance, affordable distribution system capable of sending video in full high-def (1080p) to the 13 flat-panel TVs was Vivid F/X’s biggest obstacle, says Gerling. More than a mile of Category 6, RG-6 coaxial and speaker cabling had to be routed throughout the finished residence. “Thankfully, the basement was unfinished, so we were able use the space as an avenue for wiring,” says Gerling. A laundry shoot was utilized to fish the cabling between floors.
Another challenge was finding the right equipment. After hours of searching for an affordable high-def video switcher, the CMX1616V from Video Storm was chosen. Based on commands received by any of 13 MX-980 Universal Remote Control radio frequency remotes, the switcher activates the appropriate pairs of inputs and outputs (there are 16) so that the right movie from the right PC gets to the right TV.
Because multiple Media Center PCs were used, the switcher is able to feed a different movie to each of four TVs simultaneously. The family can touch either the “My Movies 1,” “My Movies 2,” “Kid’s Movies” or “Media Centre” to find and select something from the entire library. Six satellite receivers are tied to the system, as well, offering the family even more viewing options.
Besides catering to the family’s diverse entertainment tastes (Grandma also stays at the house sometimes), the video network satisfies their need for high-quality performance. Several pairs of Video Storm component video baluns, connected to each Category 6 cabling run, “take the component video signals from the switcher and carry them over the Cat 6 cabling in full 1080p from start to finish,” says Gerling. “We experimented with HDMI cabling, but the signal didn’t get to the TVs reliably.”
Plus, an HDMI network would have been much more expensive. “The entire audio (a separate analog matrix switcher was used to distribute audio) and video distribution system cost the homeowners around $7,000.” An HDMI network, by comparison, would have cost between $10,000 and $15,000, according to Gerling.
One of the best places to experience 1080p video is in the family’s dedicated home theater. The family took the money they saved on the whole-house audio/video system and applied it toward some of the newest theater equipment on the market. “We went with THX-rated products for everything,” says Gerling, “and were one of the first firms to install THX certified non-resonating in-wall subwoofers from BG Radia.” Four were used as part of a 7.1 surround-sound system including THX Ultra2 Atlantic Technology in-wall speakers.
Another first for Vivid F/X was the THX Edge video scaler from DVDO. The device upscales the resolution of the owner’s DVDs so that they look more 1080p-like. Plus, says Gerling, because it allows video from the servers, and local Blu-ray, DVD and gaming players to be sent to the JVC projector directly, it wasn’t necessary for the Onkyo receiver to process the video. The receiver processes only the audio signals, says Gerling, “which allowed us to cut costs on processing but still deliver a great picture on the 119-inch screen.”
Click here to view additional photos of Vivid F/X’s installation.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.