Rack ’em Up: Equipment Racks Made A Home Theater

Big AMX, JBL and NetStreams systems mean big Middle Atlantic equipment racks and lots of careful planning.


There’s a palatial home theater with an ear-splitting JBL Synthesis sound system, a jaw-dropping 155-inch Screen Innovations display fed by a Runco 1080p DLP projector, eye-candy decor and design by First Impressions Theme Theatres, a whole-house digital audio system by NetStreams, extensive home automation by AMX, and even a dedicated audio/video zone in the First Impressions-designed
CineBar lobby outside of the theater.

It’s all very, very nice. But … er … how do you bring all of that technology together in a neat and tidy rack system so all the necessary control equipment isn’t consumed by a bundle of spaghetti wiring?

Custom electronics (CE) pros Tom Redhead and Sean Sullivan, formerly of the electronics design and installation firm AVI Design by Audio Warehouse in Saskatchewan, Canada, and now operators of their own CE firm, SuRe InnoVations in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, certainly had their hands full—of cabling, components, you name it.

Most of the home’s entertainment and control systems reside in a room off the theater lobby, through French doors where five full-height, 32-inch deep Middle Atlantic racks are recessed into the wall and accessible from behind via another room. Redhead reports that eight more mini-racks are scattered throughout the 20,000-plus-squarefoot house to hold other systems and amplifiers for the IP (Internet Protocol)-based Net- Streams DigiLinX whole-house music system.

One rack holds 18 satellite receivers, a Kaleidescape hard-drive based movie and music server system, while another rack and a half houses the NetStreams head-end gear. Additional racks are dedicated to the powerful JBL Synthesis system and amps and the home’s extensive computer network with a commercial-grade IT backup from APC. There’s a special space for the AMX home control system processors, plus APC and Belkin uninterruptible power supplies and surge protection.

Prepping a rack isn’t a simple matter of stuffing components onto shelves. Redhead says it took an installer 500 hours to dress the racks and organize the miles of wiring into neat bundles. Special lacer bars were added to hold the wiring in place. Additionally, the rack space was equipped with its own dedicated air conditioning unit- there are eight for the house- and each rack has fans on top to keep air moving within them.

So how do you plan for such a huge rack system? “Details, details, details,” says Redhead. “Design first and double-check your design. There are hundreds of power cords and you have to calculate our [electrical] draw. You can always scale up, but if you haven’t calculated properly, you make bigger mistakes.” The five racks in the control room, for example, use ten 15-amp circuits and six 30-amp circuits, the latter for the JBL amps. Every other sub-rack in the house has one to two dedicated circuits.

While hidden from view, the racks play a very important role in the efficiency of this tricked out house. Without them, servicing the equipment would have been a nightmare. Instead, the CE pros can tweak, upgrade and troubleshoot from a few key equipment areas. There is even a TV and speakers in one of the equipment rooms so they can see and hear their modifications without leaving the space.


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