Info & Answers
Motorized Shades for the Home Theater
Electronically controlled window coverings offer convenience, privacy and a great home theater experience.
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Window coverings have become an important element in home theater design. ©2006, MechoShade Systems, Inc.
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February 14, 2007 by EH Staff

As great as those towering windows in your family room are at capturing the view, there will be times when you’ll want to cover them up. When you’re watching a movie, for example, you’ll want to close the drapes to prevent sunlight from washing out the bright, beautiful picture on your new big-screen TV. You can stick with old-style drapes that must be opened and closed manually, or you can save yourself a lot of time and trouble by going with window treatments that can be controlled electronically. Here’s how they work: The fabric—be it a heavy-duty shade or a flimsy decorative sheer—is attached to a standard-looking rod, roller or track that has a small motor built in. When this motor is triggered, it moves the fabric over the window. A handheld remote is commonly used to activate the motor, which means you can simply press a button to position the window treatments instead of having to tug them into place manually. “Having that kind of control is a huge convenience, particularly in larger homes,” says home systems installer Jan Vitrofsky of HED South, based in Hollywood, FL.

Works with Lights
Convenience is still a good reason to outfit your home with electronically controlled window coverings. But recently, manufacturers, home systems installers and lighting designers have started to focus on the importance of these types of treatments to the overall lighting effect of a room. It’s fairly easy to see the connection between natural light and artificial light: The more sunlight a room receives, the less you may need to use the light fixtures to illuminate the space. On the flip side, when there’s less sunlight available, you may want the room lights at their brightest levels. “It’s all about achieving a pleasing balance,” says Gary Meshburg, director of marketing for Lightolier Controls, a manufacturer of residential lighting systems. “When the light is balanced, the entire room looks better.”

The problem is that most people don’t have the time or the patience to fiddle around with the window shades and dimmer switches to get the right look. That’s why lighting control manufacturers and controllable shading manufacturers have teamed up to develop solutions that coordinate the positions of the shades with the intensity of the lights. When a room’s lights and shades are in sync, some pretty amazing things can happen. For example, at the press of a button, a movie command could simultaneously lower the shades and fade out the lights in the family room. Later, you could tap clean up to turn on all the lights and open all the window treatments. 

Decorative Reasoning
Motorized window treatments aren’t limited to windows. They can be used to cover your video screen, then part when the movie is about to begin, just like in some big commercial theaters. It’s a great way to add authenticity to your entertainment space and make the whole experience feel extra special. Choose a heavy drapery in a rich fabric to impart the look of a palatial movie house, or go with something that matches the theater seats. The same remote that operates the entertainment gear can be set up to work the drapes as well, giving you a system that is both decorative and functional.

Motor Head
Several types of motorized racks and rollers are available for drapes, Roman and balloon shades, horizontal and vertical blinds, blackout shades, solar shades, skylight shades, even shutters. There’s virtually no limit to the type of window treatment that can be operated by a motor.

Motors are typically built into the head rails of these treatments. For roller shades, the motors are often built right into a tube that fits in the top of your window. Treatments that move from side to side such as drapes require special tracks that may have to be made to order according to the size and weight of the coverings.

As it is for many electronic systems, it’s best to plan for motorized window treatments as early as possible in the construction of your home theater so you can route the wire before the walls are finished. If your theater is going into a finished space, you’ll need to fish the wire behind the walls, a procedure that most professional home theater installers can easily handle. Motorized window treatment systems can run on either high-voltage wiring, which is the wiring that goes to each electrical outlet, or special low-voltage wiring.

Motors can run on AC, the alternating current that comes out of your electrical outlets, or DC, the direct current from batteries and plug-in transformers. The system you use should depend on the size of window treatment you select. DC systems are typically used for smaller windows and light fabrics or shades consisting of less than 25 square feet of material. AC systems, on the other hand, are better for operating heavy draperies.

Beauty and Brains
Regardless of the type of window treatment you choose, motorized draperies are a great way to dress up your home theater and ensure that the picture on your new display always looks great. With the addition of a motorized headrail, the draperies can be integrated into your entertainment system so that they’re always in the right position when you’re ready for the show to begin.

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