Cool Homes
Multiscreen Home Office Works for Newsman
Staying abreast of the latest news is no small task, but this journalist's five-screen array does just that with ease.
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Five video screens grace this home office space, so the homeowner can watch news, sports, you name it.
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July 10, 2008 by Steven Castle

In our own jaded way, we’ve come to know the type: the multiscreen home theater guy is almost certainly into sports—and lots of it. The multiscreen home office guy is more likely tuned into business channels with crawling stock tickers—and lots of it.

Not so fast though. This home office is rigged with five flat-panel TVs, and they’re certainly used for lots of something. But it isn’t just sports or business updates. It’s mostly news, which seems to befit this high-profile ex-newsman, now a journalism professor at a major university.

“I like news and sports, and [the system] works for me because I can monitor a lot of different things,” says the homeowner. The system, consisting of a 55-inch Fujitsu plasma and four 27-inch Samsung LCD computer displays, actually replaced an older multiscreen system, which the homeowner says produced no sound from the top sets.

“The new system works and it is less complicated than the old one,” he says. That’s saying something, because the biggest challenge with a multiscreen video system can be designing an interface that’s easy for a non-techie to operate.

Programming a Crestron control system to allow easy operation of five video displays, two audio systems and a slew of source components including DVD players, turntables and a high-def VCR, was no easy feat. That task fell to Alex Moe, who does concept design and programming for the home electronics intallation company, Boulevard Audio of Alexandria, VA.

Using the system is simple with a Crestron TPMC-8X 8.4-inch Wi-Fi touchpanel that sports an 800 x 600 resolution for a nice, clear readout. On the control screen, Moe laid out the video array graphically, representing the arrangement of screens in the cabinetry. One touch of any of the five rectangles switches the audio to play from that monitor. “You can just touch the TV [on the touchscreen] and flip the audio over to that. You don’t have to go into any audio settings page,” says Moe.

TV sound comes through three speakers custom made by K Mack Enterprises of Highland, MD. They’re mounted behind the fabric below the Fujitsu plasma. An REL R-205 10-inch subwoofer in a corner enhances the bass from the three speakers. Preexisting JBL speakers are used separately for the whole-house audio system.

If the homeowner wants to change a channel on one of the monitors, he simply holds his finger to the corresponding monitor on the touchscreen for a second, and a channel menu appears.

“Sometimes they listen to music while watching TV,” adds Moe. So if audio is ordered up, a dialog box appears on the touchscreen and asks if they want to keep watching TV, but only if the TV is on, he says.

Feeding the multiscreen array, as well as two TVs in a family room, are three HD cable boxes and three HD satellite tuners, all with their own DVRs. By using Crestron’s CNX-PVID8X4 video matrix switcher, any monitor can use any available tuner. But to eliminate confusion of what is recorded on which DVR, only one cable DVR and one satellite DVR are used for recording. That may make spur-of-the-moment TiVo-like decisions tricky, as one may have to press a few buttons to change tuners, but that doesn’t concern the homeowners. “My wife knows what she wants in advance and sets it up accordingly and doesn’t record from programs in progress,” the homeowner says.

Another thing the installers at Boulevard Audio had to deal with? Most of the system components are in an equipment rack on another floor, and that meant routing a lot of high-grade RGB cables to each TV in the home office. According to Boulevard Audio owner Lynn Hopffgarten, there are over 25 runs of RGB cable between the equipment room and the office.

System Design & Installation
Boulevard Audio, Alexandria, VA
www.boulevardaudio.com

Millwork & Finishing
K Mack Enterprises, Highland, MD

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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.

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