Inside 3 Custom Electronics Pros’ Homes


Electronics professionals reveal what types of tech make their homes and systems tick.

Jul. 23, 2009 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Custom electronics professionals (CE pros) have an advantage over the rest of us. They get to experience some of the best technologies available every day as they do their jobs.

Granted, they’re usually installing these technologies into the homes of clients, but having daily exposure to lighting control systems, audio/video equipment, automation systems, etc. must come in handy when choosing electronic systems for their own homes.

Some manufacturers provide discounts to CE pros to make it more affordable for them to set up their own home-based “test beds.”

But they’re just like the rest of us in this sad economy, buying only the key essentials and focusing on solutions that’ll add real value to their homes or saving up to buy big-ticket items that’ll make their homes a high-tech showpiece worth bragging about.

We asked three CE pros to tell us about, and show us, their own setups.

Ryan Herd, 1 Sound Choice 
Home: Four-bedroom Cape Cod-style, northern New Jersey
Family: Married with a 2-year-old son and a dog
High-Tech Profile: Hosting parties, a great back yard

Tricking out the back yard was just as important to Ryan Herd as doing up the inside of his four-bedroom home. Even without technology, Herd’s yard is fantastic. There’s a swimming pool, and a small brook that runs along the back, as well as two sheds (one for his motorcycles and the other for his tools). Naturally, outside is where you’ll find him and his family most of the time.

Having video and music available outdoors was a top priority. Underneath a cabana there’s a 20-inch Audiovox TV with a built-in DVD player. For larger gatherings, he can plug either a 50-inch plasma TV (which usually resides in the garage) or a Panasonic video projector into the component jacks on a pole outside. Tucked away for outdoor movie nights with the projector are either a 10-foot wide or 26-foot wide blow up projection screen (Herd also rents out the blow-up screens for parties). 

A NeoPro Avalon 8x8 switcher tucked inside well-appointed equipment rack in the house feeds a variety of entertainment to the outside viewing area and to eight other TVs inside. Each TV has its own Control4 remote, which lets the family navigate a menu of entertainment choices that the Control4 automation system displays on the screen of every TV. Their choices include movies on two Sony CD/DVD megachangers (one holds kids movies, the other is for the adults), Vudu on-demand settop box, AppleTV unit, a Interact-TV ProTelly media server and an HD-DVD player. “I’m not sure why we still have the HD-DVD player, but we do,” says Herd.

Outdoor music is provided by:

  • A Control4 AM/FM tuner
  • Two cable boxes
  • Two iPod docking stations
  • Hard drives
  • Streaming audio from the Internet and Rhapsody

All the outdoor music be delivered to several Niles and Boston Acoustic speakers around the yard.

Herd rolled lighting into the Control4 automation system, which has completely eliminated the need for manual operation of the various fixtures that illuminate the property. “I put all the low-voltage lights on a timer, the lamp posts and the other decorative lights turn on at dusk and turn off at 1 a.m., and the flood lights switch on automatically if any outdoor sensor is triggered,” Herd explains.

These lights, as well as fixtures inside the house, can also be controlled simultaneously by engaging scene buttons on Control 4 keypads or handheld remotes. “One of our favorite scenes is summer party,” says Herd. “The lights around the deck and the outside audio turns on, and when we’re done we hit one button and everything turns off.”

Video, audio and lighting may be the focal points of Herd’s home automation system, but “it’s the little things that have really made the biggest difference,” he says. For example, when the water level of the brook reaches a certain point, it triggers an alert in the house, letting the Herds know to watch out for flooding. Temperature monitors in the swimming pool report to the Control4 on-screen menu the current temperature of the pool water; other sensors do the same with the air temperature. It’s a good way to know if the conditions are right for one of the Herd family’s outdoor parties.

The living room

The home office

A back yard speaker

Joe Calderaro, Audio Video Interiors
Home: 2-bedroom, 1,100 square-foot apartment, Strongsville, Ohio
Family: Married with a 4-year-old son and a new baby boy
High-Tech Profile: Slideshow aficionado; on a quest for the best

Joe Calderaro’s family members have it made. When he brings home a new piece of equipment (which happens a lot), they get his hand-me-downs. “I usually keep stuff for about a year to evaluate it and then sell it,” he says. “Before I moved to Ohio from California, I sold all of my gear to my cousin. Both my Dad and brother have my old equipment too.”

The latest incarnation in Joe’s two-bedroom apartment includes:

  • A 50-inch Pioneer TV in the family room
  • A 32-inch Toshiba in the master bedroom
  • An Integra audio/video receiver
  • Sony 400-disc changer
  • Xbox 360 gaming console
  • Dish Network high-def satellite receiver
  • A Control4 home control processor

These sources, which Joe keeps in a locked cabinet in his son’s room, feed both TVs. Luckily, the apartment has an attic, so Joe was able to route cabling easily from the rack to the TV locations. This will also make it a cinch to eventually add a surround sound system to his 50 incher. “I just sold my surround-sound system to my brother,” Joe says.

Although there’s a lot of video content to choose from, Joe swears that the Control4 system makes it easy for guests and even his 4-year-old son to find exactly what they want to watch. “We are able to peruse the cover art and titles right on the TV screen,” he says.

Lately, for Joe, digital photos have been a favorite video pastime. His entire apartment is networked, meaning he can view on either TV screen digital photos that have been stored on the hard drive of the family computer. “I can put together slideshows, incorporate music and display them on the big-screen in the family room for everyone to watch,” he says.

With the recent birth of a second child, they’ll be plenty of photographs for Joe’s shows, as well as other projects to tackle. The Control4 system is able to operate a variety of components besides audio and video equipment, and next on Joe’s list is tying in the apartment’s heating and cooling system.

Family room display

Equipment rack

Marc Huebner, Enhanced Home Systems
Home: 4,000-square-foot, two story with a walk-out basement, Minneapolis
Family: Married with 11- and 9-year-old daughters
High-Tech Profile: Likes to entertain while cooking in the kitchen

“I’m like the shoemaker’s wife,” laughs Marc Huebner of Enhanced Home Systems in Eden Prairie, Minn. “I’m immersed so much in technology every day that I’d rather come home and do something completely different, like cook.”

Indeed, over the past few years Huebner focused most of his time and money on the kitchen.

“Last summer we dumped out the dining room by 10 feet to make the kitchen 10 feet longer, and added new appliances, cabinets, countertops, the works.” 

That’s not to say Huebner has completely ignored the high-tech facets of his late-90s home. No piece of equipment is older than four years, and just last summer new TVs, speakers and remote controls were added to the upstairs. The most tricked out space in his home is the basement, which has been converted into a theater.

The 300-square-foot area features:

  • A Sony LCD projector
  • An 84-inch Stewart Filmscreen screen
  • A solid Anthem 5.1 surround-sound system
  • Five PSB speakers and a subwoofer

The space is complete with a Blu-ray player and high-def cable receiver, but most viewing happens on the 26-inch Sharp LCD TV in the kitchen.

“We might have as many as 25 people over and everyone still likes to hang out here while I cook up a meal,” he says.

A 55-inch Fujitsu flat screen in the adjacent family room is another nearby viewing option, and both TVs can be controlled via RTI remote (identical to the one in the theater). Huebner can direct video from an Apple TV media server, cable box or a DVD player to either TV, or have music distributed from a CD player, AM/FM tuner, Apple TV and a good ’ol turntable to several Sonance Visual Performance speakers that are recessed into the ceiling. 

The kitchen

The theater

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