Log Home Goes High Tech
Elan, URC and Just Add Power combine to provide robust video and control options in this natural, old-time design.
March 02, 2012 by Steven Castle

It appears straight out of Bonanza, or one of those old-time western shows: A big log-hewed ranch on a hill—a hark back to the past.

Looks can be deceiving, though, as this 18,000-square-foot log home in upstate New York’s Taconic Hills is anything but dated. It’s stuffed with all of today’s high-tech amenities: a home theater with 7.1-channel surround sound, a whole-house audio system streaming Pandora music to 12 listening zones and 92 speakers, eight HDTVs, five full surround-sound systems, lighting control and a whole-house control system from Elan with in-wall touchscreens conveniently located in the kitchen and near the master bedroom. Each of the four people who live in this house wanted to be able to control and access his or her individual DVR from any of the eight video displays. They also asked that custom electronics firm Amenitek of Pittsfield, Mass., set up a system that would allow them to roam their expansive digs with an iPad or cordless phone without service interruption.

Bottom line: This authentic log ranch would require a serious networking backbone, to the tune of 50,000 feet of cabling. HD Video Distribution

Whether it’s the JVC Pro projector and 103-inch DaLite screen in the home theater or one of several Samsung LED TVs, crisp and colorful 1080p video is delivered and savored throughout this home. In some cases, the video must travel 300 feet or more to the displays- originating from a mechanical room in the basement that houses nearly all of the source components, including five Denon surround-sound receivers.

To ensure that the high-definition video signals remained crisp and clear during their travels, Amenitek would need to network the components and displays with some very robust cabling. HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) is designed for high-def video (and audio) transport, but works well only over short distances. Signal dropouts and connection problems ensue when HDMI runs are too long.

In a big house like this, HDMI cabling simply wasn’t going to work. High-speed Category 6 Ethernet cabling was fi shed throughout the residence instead, but it was only part of the solution. To get Category 6 cabling to carry HDMI signals, the pros at Amenitek would need to add special transmission equipment to the network. The best solution Amenitek could find? Just Add Power’s 2G (for second generation) HD over IP transmitters and receivers.

Here’s how the system works: The home’s video sources are connected via HDMI cables to Just Add Power transceivers, which use video processing to encode the HDMI signal as data for transport over the Ethernet network. These signals are routed via Category 6 Ethernet cables to a 24-port commercial-grade Netgear switch, which relays them to Just Add Power receivers that are plugged in at each video display. A Netgear software driver for Just Add Power’s solution wasn’t available at the time, so Amenitek’s Ben LaRoche wrote one specifically for this project.

The Netgear switch allows any of the video feeds from the four DVRs and other devices to go to any of the eight TVs. That’s the video matrix. A separate Kramer matrix was used to deliver audio to all of the zones.

“To accomplish the matrix while also dual-purposing the speakers for TV and music, we ended up needing a separate digital audio matrix,” explains Amenitek’s Jared Martin.

Each person in the house has an icon on each of the eight URC MX-980 remotes to access his or her own DirecTV DVR. Other video sources include a Sony 400-disc Blu-ray changer and local Blu-ray players and video game consoles in some rooms, which are wired all the way back to the mechanical room. Amenitek also had to wire for the future, as it took on the project two years into a four-year construction process. Unsure of what may lie ahead, the company added fi ber optic cabling to the Ethernet network. In all, this log home boasts 136 Cat 6 cabling drops (connection points), 14 coaxial cable drops, 15 fiber locations and enough 12- and 14-gauge speaker wire to feed two 7.1-channel surround-sound systems, three 5.1-channel surround-sound systems and 12 zones of audio.

“We use what we call a universal cabling method with all Cat 6 cables terminated on patch panels, as we would do in a commercial environment, and we use [commercial-grade] Netgear ProSafe products for all networking,” Martin says.

Nifty Networking Tricks

The audio/video network is just one cool setup in this beautiful log home. Several wireless access points facilitate Wi-Fi roaming with an iPad or MacBook without dropping a signal. And there’s yet another network for the VoIP (Voice over Internet) 3CX DECT cordless phone system, which includes 13 phones that can all be used as intercoms. It’s a big home, remember. A Cartel driveway sensor embedded below the road to the house—it’s more of a road than a driveway—detects an approaching vehicle, signals the Elan g! home control system, which sounds music to alert the owners to a visitor. The musical alert is muted from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m.

The network-based Elan g! control system also operates a LiteTouch lighting system, which is comprised of 150 loads of lights and 70 keypads peppered throughout the residence. Together, the LiteTouch and Elan systems can also be used to open and close motorized skylights throughout the house. The owners can tap buttons on Elan touchpanels and LiteTouch keypads to do so; rain sensors can shut the skylights automatically.

Amenitek got crafty when mounting the master bedroom’s flat-panel TV. A sheet of steel was applied over the stone fi replace to provide a smooth mounting surface for a 65-inch Samsung LED TV. A Peerless mount was bolted to the steel surface and the 100- pound TV and Leon soundbar were attached.

In a game room, the builder constructed a wooden frame around a 65-inch TV that hangs from the ceiling, while a TV in the kitchen and breakfast area swivels on a WallWizard mount.

These cleverly installed TVs, along with dozens of speakers, can credit most of their entertainment horsepower to the robust, commercial-grade wiring network that feeds high-def signals to them from components hidden away in a basement. Add in some automation wizardry from the Elan and LiteTouch systems, and this log home radically defies its old-style appearance. Beat that, Bonanza.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
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.

Equipment:
Control: Elan, URC
Lighting: LiteTouch
Video Displays: Da-Lite, Samsung
Speakers: SpeakerCraft, Leon
Video Distribution: Just Add Power
Networking: Netgear
Racks: Middle Atlantic
Phone System: 3CX, Aastra, Grandstream


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