Toning Down Technology

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This narrow room in Paul and Shannon Anderson’s home may not have been the perfect shape for a home theater, but they made it work by fitting a special lens onto the DLP video projector that’s mounted into the back wall.

A reformed tech geek remodels his home with practicality in mind.


Mar. 01, 2006 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Paul Anderson is a technology nut. He spends his weekdays crafting programs for his software development firm and his evenings at home with the plethora of high-tech systems that have turned his recently constructed San Diego home into a more comfortable, convenient and enjoyable place to be.

It wasn’t always this way. In his previous home, technology had become more of a nuisance than a necessity to his family. “I was really, really into technology, so I automated everything—the windows, the shades, even the locks on the doors,” Paul reflects. “There were no traditional light switches because the lights and everything else were operated from special touchpanels.” The house was a programmer’s delight, but it lacked the spontaneity of control his family craved. They wanted to be able to open the windows and turn on the lights whenever they wanted—without having to reprogram the system. “Our home simply wasn’t liveable,” Paul laments.

Taming the Beast
To make sure technology wouldn’t overtake their new home, Paul and his wife, Shannon, enlisted the help of home systems installation firm Modern Home Systems in San Diego, CA. Company vice president Jim Peterson and president Mark Gleicher shared many helpful bits of advice. For example, they suggested keeping a separate DVD player at each TV location rather than hiding the players in a faraway closet as the Andersons had done in their previous home. The setup, although basic, was a big hit with the couple. “We no longer have to run to a different room to put in a movie,” Paul enthuses.

Another useful tip was to use simple 12-button keypads to operate a whole house music system instead of always having to defer to a touchpanel. The Andersons can still use touchpanels to direct tunes to different areas of the house, but having keypads available ensures that “we still have control of the system if the touchpanels go down,” Paul explains.

The last significant change was the omission of a lighting control system. The Andersons now enjoy the simplicity of being able to turn on the lights with a switch instead of having to rely on a computer to adjust the lighting levels. “Hitting switches here and there is fine for us,” Paul says.

Trimming the Fat
The Andersons’ previous home theater was absolutely perfect. The distance between the screen and the seats followed all the design rule books, and the size of the screen was mathematically computed to be an exact fit for the huge, expensive video projector that hung from the ceiling. Plus, the room was large enough to fit in several rows of cinema-style seats. “Still, it wasn’t the experience you get in a real movie theater,” Paul recollects. “The picture wasn’t overwhelming enough. I wanted the largest screen I could get without having to turn my head left to right to take in the picture.”

All common design standards went out the window when Modern Home Systems designed the Andersons’ new theater. For starters, the 15-by-20-foot room lacked the depth of a perfect theater space. With just 15 feet to work with, Modern Home Systems had no choice but to position the couch just a few feet from the mammoth 120-inch-wide Stewart Filmscreen screen. “The experience is equivalent to sitting in the first 15 rows of a movie theater,” says Gleicher. “But it suits the family perfectly.” A masking system was added so that the screen could change shape according to the type of image being projected onto it.

As for the projector, this time the family went with a somewhat less expensive DLP model. Again, limited space called for an unconventional setup. Rather than hang the machine from the ceiling, Modern Home Systems placed the Runco VX-5000c behind the back wall in an area that was originally a shower stall. A small hole was cut into the wall, and theater glass, like that found in commercial movie theaters, was installed in front of the lens to allow the light to pass through while blocking heat and noise generated by the projector. According to Peterson, a DLP projector was the best choice for the narrow room. “This type of projector allows various lenses to be used so that the projector can be placed almost anywhere,” he says. “For this room, we chose a lens made for a very short throw distance.”

The DLP projector solved another nagging issue as well: The Andersons no longer have to get their projector realigned every year, as they did with their old CRT. “I went to DLP, and I’m never turning back,” says Paul.

Besides being a wonderful projector for showing movies, the DLP has turned out to be a fantastic accessory for the family’s Xbox video game console. “DLPs are digital, and now so are games,” Paul explains. A jack on the rear wall offers the Xbox an instant connection to the theater system. Paul can play games in high definition and hear the action in digital surround sound. The Andersons recently upgraded to the elusive Xbox 360 system, which, in addition to playing games, streams music, video and digital pictures from their PC to the big-screen. “It’s a darn good DVD player, too,” Paul adds.

Plug In, Play On
Another player that’s dear to Paul’s heart is the iPod. “I have an iPod at work, one in my car and more in other places,” he says. But the newest spot for his iPod these days is in his home. Several docking stations positioned throughout the residence allow Paul to plug in the device and hear it through his whole house music system. “I can be in any room of the house, even outside, and enjoy my playlists,” Paul says. Skipping songs and perusing the playlists can be done from afar as well. From any of the home’s six Crestron touchpanels, the Andersons can access a special iPod control page. Modern Home Systems designed the page to work like the click wheel found on the face of the iPod so that anyone who’s familiar with the device can work the system.

The integration of the iPod into their home has not only given the Andersons a new supply of music but also has reintroduced them to long-forgotten favorites. “Every song I’ve ever owned since CDs came out is on my iPod,” says Paul. “It’s a historical archive of music that’s easy to get to.”

When the family is in the mood for something other than the iPod selections, they can use any touchpanel or wall-mounted keypad to cue music from an AM/FM tuner or CD changer. And when it’s time for something really special, Paul or Shannon can choose the entertain scene to set the music, lights and heating and cooling system for an atmosphere that’s perfect for a casual gathering of friends.

Getting Friendly
Sure, the home theater is a tempting spot to spend an evening, but there are many other areas that don’t have to flaunt their A/V prowess to be fun. Concealed within bookshelves and cabinets in Paul’s office, for example, is a 67-by-50-inch motorized video screen, another Runco DLP projector and a subwoofer. Speakers are built into the ceiling and cabinets. The only visible indications of technology are a couple of LCD monitors for computing purposes. However, when Paul wants to show a group of people what he’s been working on, touching an icon on a Crestron panel fires up the projector and tells the screen to roll down over a pair of French doors from a soffit on the ceiling. In an instant, the computer presentation shoots directly to the big-screen. “Now nobody needs to crowd around my computer for a look,” says Paul. Both computer and movie images look crystal clear even during the day, thanks to a special fabric that was applied to the back of the screen to prevent sunlight from streaming through the glass doors behind it.

The family room and the kitchen breakfast room are two other spaces that can be magically transformed into engaging entertainment meccas. A 42-inch Runco plasma display stands as the centerpiece in the breakfast room; however, most guests never recognize the unit as a TV, says Paul. He and Shannon had a frame professionally made to make the TV look like a piece of art when it’s not being used. The rest of the gear, including video processors, a DVD player, a VCR and a high-definition cable box, are hidden inside cabinetry, while faux-painted speakers blend seamlessly into the ceiling.

Watch Closely
When the screens aren’t masquerading as works of art or flaunting blockbuster movies, they are giving Paul and Shannon a bird’s-eye view of the property. The ability to view surveillance camera footage from any TV or touchpanel is particularly useful to the Andersons, whose children are both under the age of four. “We often use the system to see if our 1-year-old is up or still sleeping or if the kids have wandered outside,” Paul explains. Their GE security system fills them in on their kids’ whereabouts by announcing if any doors have been opened. Modern Home Systems modified the output of the security system to transmit the voice message through several pairs of the home’s built-in speakers.

Less Is More
Paul and Shannon Anderson may have had it all in their first high-tech abode, but as they have learned, sometimes it’s not what you have but how you use it that’s most important. Every system in their new house has a purpose, be it safety, comfort or enjoyment. By incorporating a control system that lets human hands rather than a computer program adjust the settings of the lights, temperature and other features, the Andersons can finally feel comfortable in their own home.


More Photos


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The audio/video system in the family room was set into a custom-designed entertainment center. A 50-inch Runco plasma display is the centerpiece, with Revel Performa speakers hidden in the cabinet behind acoustically transparent grille cloth.


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A custom-made frame helps a 42-inch plasma TV look more at home over the mantle in the breakfast room.


Installer
Modern Home Systems
San Diego, CA



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