Knocking Down the Inside-Outside Barrier
A California couple extend their entertainment space into their back yard.
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Mother Nature really rocks when home entertainment systems are placed outside. Photo by Doug Acton.
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August 01, 2005 by Rebecca Day

The couple has joined a wave of homeowners who have knocked down the barriers between inside and outside, transporting the living room to the great outdoors. These open-air electronic playgrounds mimic the operation of any other room, thanks to touchscreen remote controls capable of selecting music and video for any space, indoors or out. Of course, blurring the line between indoor and outdoor living is a lot easier when the average temperature hovers between 70 and 75 degrees, as it does in southern California. When the night temps stray below the comfort zone, the Addertons simply fire up the gas heater outside the cabana—a small price to pay for open-air living. In fact, there’s not a lot of roughing it on the Newport Coast. Satellite TV, favorite CDs and mood-setting lighting scenes are just a touch away on a Crestron touchpanel remote.

“We wanted to bring a modern feel to a traditional look,” says Peter Adderton of the 9,000-square-foot Mediterranean-style home, nestled among a grove of olive and oak trees. “So we put in a gourmet barbeque kitchen and a sundeck with a view of the mountains. My wife and I can whip up a bite to eat in the kitchen and then chat on the sundeck while the kids watch a movie in the cabana.”

When it comes to electronics, however, outdoor living requires a few extra precautions. Salty coastal air can be punishing to speakers not treated to withstand moisture, so the Addertons’ electronics contractor, Experience Audio/Video of Yorba Linda, CA, placed Sonance’s weather-resistant Mariner speakers throughout the yard, along with treated Sonance rock subwoofers to deliver the low-end rumbles.

“When I crank it up, it sounds like a rock concert,” says the young-at-heart father of two. “And there’s no distortion.” To keep peace in the neighborhood, Experience Audio/Video pointed the speakers toward the house and away from the neighbors.

Outfitting backyard electronics is nothing new to Experience Audio/Video owner Brian Chappell. “Outdoor entertaining has become part of the Newport Coast lifestyle,” he says. “Our weather is unusually pretty, and people make the most of it by installing music systems and outdoor TVs.”

Parties at the Adderton house can get personal. You can order your own music genre from any zone (room or space) of the house. The Crestron system channels five zones of music throughout the outdoor area alone, enabling it to send a little R&B to the sundeck, some ‘80s rock to the pool and a touch of cool jazz to the entry to greet guests as they arrive. On any given Sunday in October, you’re likely to find Peter switching from supercross on DirecTV to the New England Patriots. “I just got into [American] football,” says the native Australian.

To minimize wear and tear from the Santa Ana winds and the occasional rainstorm, Chappell encourages clients to wrap plasma-based video monitors with custom-designed canvas coverings when the units are not in use. The rest of the electronics are stored in an equipment rack inside the home with the household gear. Long distance audio/video and data cable runs underground from indoors to out.

Patio Block Party
The electronic cabana may be a fixture in luxury homes on the temperate West Coast, but in four-season states, it’s still a rarity. Take Jon and Heather Hallett’s abode. Even though the couple lives in sunny Atlanta, their tropical backyard inspires double takes from passersby. The Halletts wanted to recreate the outdoor environment of their winter home in the Florida Keys during their time in Atlanta, so that meant putting a few palm trees here, a waterfall there and music and video all over the place.

“We wanted to create a place where we could spend a lot of time outside,” Jon says. “We wanted to bring the Keys to Atlanta.” The waterlogged backyard is divided into sections: There’s a lagoon with a swim-up bar, a lap pool, a hot tub and an upper deck. No matter your pleasure, you’re never out of view of the custom-built 74-inch projection screen that’s mounted to a frame inside the sunken cabana. A hi-def Sanyo projector entertains family and friends with everything from movies to football. Sunday afternoons in the fall take on a different dimension when spent poolside. Even if it’s snowing in Washington, D.C., where his beloved Redskins play, Jon just cranks up the heat in the pool or hot tub. “We use the backyard year-round,” Jon says.

So how can you protect an outdoor TV when temperatures toggle from hot and muggy in the summer to freezing in the winter? You avoid the situation altogether, says Michael Held, director of residential sales for Communications & Entertainment Inc. of Atlanta, which installed the Hallett’s indoor-outdoor system. Only the couple’s 74-inch projection screen stays outside year-round. The portable Sanyo projector makes the trip to and from the house to avoid exposure to the elements.

For the 14 speakers that dot the landscape, Held tapped Rockustics’ Pavarocci rock speakers to blend with the stone wall above the cabana and Rocquette speakers to serenade the shade garden near the lap pool. JBL Control 25 speakers handle music duty beneath the eaves of the cabana and on the supporting beams of the deck.

If the Halletts don’t like what they hear, they can just move over a few feet. There are four zones in the outdoor space, channeling music from XM Radio, FM stations, Elan’s VIA DJ music server and other sources through distribution systems from Crestron and Netstream. When Jon’s college buddies drop by, some AC/DC and Pearl Jam is usually in order. When Jon and Heather entertain their friends, the mood shifts to Norah Jones and Bob Marley. If a football game is on in the lagoon, guests can retreat to XM’s Tropical channel on the upper deck. There’s always something playing at the Hallett house.

Jon likes to control the audio/video system from his laptop via the home’s wireless network, but he can also do it from Crestron and AquaLink touchscreens in the cabana. In fact, the functions of the pool, lighting, audio, video and security systems can all be operated over the network. The Halletts use well-placed IP (web-based Internet protocol) cameras to check on the sleeping baby in the nursery through a laptop. Another camera keeps an eye on the pool area and can be viewed in a web browser.

Ready for Wear
For installers Held and Chappell, outdoor electronics are merely extensions of housewide audio and video systems. However, the only electronics these professionals expose to heat, humidity and moisture are weather-resistant speakers, which have been built to withstand a marine environment. Weatherproofing other components involves manually covering a TV or carrying a projector inside. Outdoor controls are protected by plastic casings. Long-distance wires in underground conduit pipe carry signals from the house to the outdoor speakers and TV locations.

One company, however, has plans to produce truly weatherproof audio/video products. San Jose, CA-based Aquatic AV has just launched a line of electronics products designed for use in any environment. Aquatic’s products are built around a Media Control Center, a souped-up 12-volt head unit engineered with the receivers that drive car audio systems in mind. The Aquatic control unit packs two auxiliary inputs and four auxiliary outputs for connection to MP3 and portable game players.

Aquatic’s palette of products includes speakers, amplifiers, remote controls and equalizers—all designed to operate in extreme conditions.

The waterproof products have stainless steel chasses and watertight seals and use noncorrosive materials. Wired remote controls are submersible in the pool, and the wireless ones can float, says Aquatic.

With outdoor decks and patios fast becoming living rooms where people actually live it up, you can expect to see more variations on outdoor electronics in the coming months and years. So fire up the grill, spin a few tunes and take in the game from the hammock or the hot tub.

Sound Out
Many companies make weatherproof and rugged speakers that can be mounted to your home’s exterior or under an eave. Many companies also produce landscape speakers that look like rocks, so they can be placed right in a flower garden or behind shrubs.

A couple of things to consider with outdoor speakers: If you don’t want to be a nuisance, make sure your landscape speakers point toward your house and not your neighbors’ homes. Also remember that more speakers can actually sound quieter. This is because with several strategically located speakers as opposed to one or two, you can play them at lower volumes and effectively fill the spaces between. You’ll have great outdoor sound as you move around, and your neighbors won’t complain.

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