It’s never easy to choose electronic systems for your home. There are simply too many remarkable products to pick from. And when you’re a technology enthusiast like Barry Primmer, it’s difficult to rule out anything. It all sounds way too cool. But as Barry learned after living in his first high-tech home, just because a system is cool doesn’t mean it’s right for your house.
“We had it all,” Barry recalls, “automated lights, heating and cooling equipment and a dedicated home theater.” It was a very impressive setup for the mid-‘90s, a time when automation had just started to hit its stride. Even more impressive was the fact that these systems were governing a house that was nearly 80 years old. Barry had hired AudioVisions, of Lake Forest, CA, to completely rewire the house and install scads of equipment, a laborious process that involved drilling through stubborn walls made of lathe and plaster.
Barry’s Laguna Beach, CA, home served him well for more than a decade, and he learned some valuable lessons along the way. Probably the most surprising revelation was that there really is such a thing as having too much technology. “We hardly ever used our automation system to control the temperature of the house,” Barry remembers. “We found that it wasn’t as beneficial to us as we thought it would be.” That first stint with home systems also confirmed Barry’s affinity for all things entertainment. His home theater and whole-house music systems were huge hits.
The Second Time Around
By the time Barry and his wife, Sally, were ready to build another house, they knew exactly what kinds of systems the new house should have. “We were determined to put in only the things we knew that we would use,” says Barry. Of course, entertainment was one of his highest priorities. “We’re not the kind of people who leave a DVD in the player for six months. We both like to listen to music and watch all kinds of programs,” he adds. Therefore, the couple made sure that music and movies would be available in every room. They would continue to use touchscreens, as they had in their previous house, to access a music library, operate the home theater equipment and control the lights. The only amenity the Primmers were certain that they didn’t want was an elaborate heating and cooling system.
Once again, Barry called on the crew at AudioVisions to handle the design and installation of the systems. But this time, there would be fewer holes to drill. The house, which Barry purchased as a spec from a prominent custom homebuilder, was still being framed when AudioVisions joined the project. “Still, we had to move fast and make many decisions on the fly,” says AudioVisions vice president Ted Taylor. For example, the speakers that the builder had originally planned to install in the walls were upgraded for higher-grade B&W speakers, and because of the home’s open design AudioVisions was forced to situate the home theater in a somewhat usual spot: the master bedroom.
Like most couples, Barry and Sally like to curl up in bed to catch the late news. But now that their bedroom has a 123-inch screen, a video projector, seven speakers, three subwoofers, a high-definition TiVo receiver and a DVD player, they’re watching much more than sports highlights and weather reports in the room. The area has become the primary spot for viewing movies.
Having a huge display is only part of what makes a room home theater worthy, however. The screen had to be positioned perfectly, the furnishings had to be comfortable and functional and the window shades had to be able to block out the sunlight.
Measuring nearly 800 square feet, the Primmers’ master bedroom offered plenty of space for their massive movie screen. The challenge was finding a way to make it disappear when it wasn’t being used. At the suggestion of AudioVisions, the homebuilder created a soffit to serve as a hiding place for the speakers and motorized video screen. When the Primmers press a button on a wireless AMX touchpanel the screen rolls up and out of sight. This solution certainly helps keep the space looking like a bedroom, but it also puts the screen in a position that’s perfect for Barry. “I’ve learned that it’s better on the neck to have a screen up high rather than at eye level when you’re watching TV in bed,” he explains. The Primmers’ adjustable bed also promotes comfortable movie viewing, as do a pair of theater-style chairs with integrated heat and massage functions.
Once they’re comfy, the couple never needs to leave the bed or the chairs again. The wireless touchpanel gives them access to a huge library of programs and movies that Barry has recorded to the room’s high-def TiVo unit. But there’s just one more thing the Primmers must do before they play a movie: shut the window shades. Because sunlight can wash out the picture as it travels from the ceiling-mounted video projector to the screen, shutting the shades is an absolutely necessity for an afternoon matinee. In the couple’s window-laden bedroom, this task could have taken an eternity. To save themselves the trouble, they had motorized shades installed, which allows them to use the same touchpanel that operates the home theater equipment to close and open the shades.
TiVo Takes Over
The Primmer household is brimming with TiVos—nine to be exact. There’s a unit in the master bedroom, another in Barry’s home office, a unit in the kitchen, one in each guest bedroom and three in the family room. Combined, the TiVos offer two-and-a-half terabytes of storage space. “That’s more [hard-drive storage] than a FedEx had years ago,” says AudioVisions president Mark Hoffenberg.
Where the TiVos really get a workout is in the family room. Here, three receivers are able to share about 100 hours of high-definition recordings among three TVs. Barry simply presses a couple of buttons on a wireless AMX touchpanel to direct the recorded program to a 70-inch rear-projection set and two 32-inch LCD units. All three TVs are built into a beautiful custom cabinet, arranged so that Barry can comfortably watch three different ball games at the same time. Because the TiVos and the televisions are tied together by a switching device, Barry can shuffle the games between the sets. For instance, he might put the beginning of a basketball game on a small screen, but at the fourth quarter swap it with the PGA tournament that he’s been watching on the 70 incher. “And if I miss anything, I can always use the TiVos to do a 15-minute instant replay,” he says.
Ripped and Burned
Video isn’t the only type of media that’s stored at the Primmer household. A huge collection of music lives on its own special hard drive. The AudioRequest music server has converted Barry and Sally’s entire CD collection into a digital format that’s much easier to manage than hundreds of jewel cases. “In our previous house we had a huge CD carousel that would roll around to look for a CD,” Barry explains. “The AudioRequest unit is faster at finding the music we want and allows us to create our own playlists.” Barry and Sally can look through their music library and select a CD from any TV screen, computer screen or touchpanel in the house. The AudioRequest feeds the selection to an ADA Suite 16 system, which distributes the music throughout the house. If the homeowners would rather listen to the radio, the Suite 16 offers access to XM Satellite Radio stations as well. In rooms that have no screen, there are wall-mounted keypads that the Primmers can use to control the XM radio tuner.
Up with the Times
Technology has progressed dramatically since Barry automated his home nearly a decade ago. Gone are boxy TVs and stacks of CDs. They’ve been replaced by sleek flat screens and a digital music server in Barry’s new house. Videotapes are a thing of the past as well. Barry now uses TiVo receivers to record hundreds of hours of programming. Everything is networked. Everything is simple. And this time, every single system that Barry put into his house gets plenty of use.
Breaking it down
Digital TV - Barry and Sally Primmer own nine—yes nine—high-definition TiVo receivers. That gives the couple plenty of storage to record all of their favorite programs while they’re traveling.
Digital Music, Too - Barry traded in his mega CD changer for an AudioRequest music server. Every CD he and his wife own has been digitally recorded onto the hard drive of the server. Finding a particular song has never been easier.
Suite 16 - The Suite 16 distribution system from ADA features in integrated XM radio tuner. The system feeds commercial-free music, as well as tunes from the AudioRequest music server, to B&W in-ceiling and in-wall speakers that are planted throughout the house.
Family Room Media System
- High-Definition TiVo receivers (3)
- Extron matrix HDTV switch
- Furman power conditioner
- Gefen HDTV matrix switcher
- Rotel DVD player
- Rotel 7.1 surround-sound receiver
- Sony 70-inch HDTV
- Sony 32-inch LCD HDTV monitors (2)
- Triad InRoom Silver speakers (5)
- Velodyne subwoofers (3)
Master Bedroom Home Theater
- AMX wireless touchpanel
- AMX NI-3000 Netlinx integrated controller
- HD DSS TiVo receiver
- Rotel power amplifier
- Rotel five-disc CD player
- Rotel DVD player
- Rotel five-channel power amplifier
- Rotel surround-sound processor
- Sony Qualia video projector
- Stewart Filmscreen 16:9 motorized screen
- Triad InWall Silver speakers (7)
- Velodyne subwoofer
Whole-House Music System
- ADA Suite 16 music distribution system
- Audio ReQuest Fusion music server
- ADA keypads (8)
- Sonance volume controls (4)
- B&W built-in speakers (20)
- Sonance flush mount speakers (4)
- Rockustics outdoor rock speakers (4)
- Rotel five-disc CD player
- Sonance Sonamp amplifiers (2)
Home Control System
- AMX NI-3000 Netlinx integrated controller
- AMX wireless touchpanels
- Universal MX-800 universal remotes
- HD DSS TiVo receivers (6)
- Sony 32-inch LCD HDTV
- Sony 30-inch LCD HDTV
- Sony 26-inch LCD HDTV
- Sony 32-inch plasma TVs (2)
Electronics Design & Installation
Lake Forest, CA
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.