Some of the most creative home technology integration happens outside of the house, in backyards, patios and pools. Integrating a big projection-based theater system into a decorative waterfall is something we’ve never seen before.
Forefront Innovation of The Woodlands, Texas, had already installed a media room and home control system into the main house when the homeowners starting wondering about the possibilities of the backyard area. The first plan was for a water feature near the partially-complete pool. But this client, who likes to entertain and host parties around major sports events, wanted something with a little more wow. When the idea came for a projection system that could be seen not only by outside guests, but also though the floor-to-ceiling glass wall of the living room, well, Forefront Innovation’s president Tim Morgan was behind it all the way.
Behind, technically, is how this system was pulled off. A 144-inch Stewart Filmscreen Oasis motorized projection screen, drops down from a beam over the pool. The waterfall, or really “waterwall,” also comes from the same beam, in front of the screen. Behind the screen, at the back fence of the yard, is the projector, secured on a stucco pedestal in a climate-controlled Baby Blizzard housing designed to withstand nearly any elements. In the Houston area that means heat, rain and high humidity. A bright (4,000 lumens) but economical BenQ projector was selected for the project because the owner was hesitant about putting something too expensive in the backyard. The indoor media room uses a 3-chip SIM2 projector.
Decorative LED lighting is built into the structure that holds the screen and the waterwall. The owner can change the color of the lights for different effects. It’s possible to also have the screen deployed while the waterwall is running, but just for some background effect, because viewers can’t see the image clearly if there’s water cascading in front of it.
Since the pool was already completed and filled by the time the theater system was installed, the Forefront crew had to stand in the water while hoisting the heavy motor and screen for installation. Once rolled up inside the housing, the screen is safe and secure from the elements. The Oasis screen was designed for outdoor use, so it’s made of a weather-resistant material that can be easily cleaned.
You might think that a drop-down screen might sway with the wind, causing the picture to move. Morgan says a metal bar built into the bottom of the screen gives the screen weight, and trees all around the perimeter of the property prevent wind from being a problem. The trees also help a little with the picture. Because they’re so tall, they block a lot of the light from the setting sun so the homeowners can start their swim-up movie a little earlier in the evening. “The projector is bright enough and has a short throw, so they can even watch movies with the landscape lighting on,” says Morgan.
When the homeowners have guests over, everyone sees the projection screen through the glass wall as soon as they walk in the front door. It’s a huge dramatic moment for people who haven’t seen it before.
As impressive as the audio/video system is, if people don’t want to go outside to enjoy it, the effort is wasted. For that reason you might argue that the most important feature is the mosquito fogger system in the backyard. “They’re a big issue in Houston,” says Morgan. “They’re big here too,” he adds, because everything is bigger in Texas.
Part of the Bigger Picture
While floating in the pool (or sitting around in deck chairs) movie watchers listen to Sonance outdoor and landscape speakers. The area actually has four audio zones. The main zone is for the pool/theater. Another zone supports a summer kitchen area that also includes two Samsung LCD TVs, one near the outdoor fire pit and another for the putting green. The whole installation is integrated by a Crestron control system. A touchscreen remote, two handheld remotes and a floating, waterproof remote are used to control all the music and movie magic. Two DVRs and a Samsung Blu-ray player supply the movies and TV shows to all the displays, managed by a 4x4 matrix switcher.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.