Sweet Summertime


Bronze Winner: Outdoor Space

People who live the four seasons like to make the most of the warm-weather months. So when the owners of our bronze-winning backyard were designing a major addition to their Baltimore-area home, they decided to extend the living space to the outside. A fairly modest decision to add a 47-inch LCD TV to a screened-in porch adjacent to the pool evolved into a bigger-picture brainstorm encompassing an outdoor theater, a concert hall under the stars and a way to enjoy the pool, music and the Orioles simultaneously on a hot summer night.

A front-projection system was chosen to provide the supersize video, which meant that the screen could only be seen at night (sunshine would wash out the picture as it was beamed from the projector to the screen). This was perfectly fine with the owners, though, as they intended to entertain their friends mostly during the evening, anyway.

Finding a protected location for a projector and screen is always a challenge in an outdoor setting, especially in a location such as Maryland that endures temperature extremes and severe weather. Here, Starr Systems was able to appropriate part of the nascent home addition during construction, securing a long, thin sleeve for the motorized screen that was recessed into the addition and threaded with the necessary cabling during the wiring phase.

Design & Installation

Starr Systems Design, Fraser, Baltimore, MD www.starrsystems.net


Penza Bailey Architects
Baltimore, MD


Winchester Construction, Baltimore, MD

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Locating a housing for the projector took a little more finagling. Starr designers met with the architect, interior designer and general contractor and devised a way to modify an existing porch on the property into a snug pocket for the projector. Starr selected a Panasonic commercial projector for its long-throw lens, which was able to project a 147-inch image onto the weather-resistant Vutec screen from almost 49 feet away. “We wanted to get a screen that wasn’t too big so that the image would remain bright but not so small that you couldn’t see it from the pool,” says Sean Weiner, president of Starr Systems. Projectors get warm during operation and Baltimore gets hot during the summer. To keep the projector cool, especially during the dog days, Starr customized a ventilation system built around fans inside a glass enclosure that protects the projector from dust, humidity and insects.

Weather-resistant JBL front speakers and a subwoofer were hidden in the planting beds beneath the screen and surround speakers were mounted underneath the eaves of the. The subwoofer box was buried in the ground; a plastic tube ports the bass to the air. To supplement the sound around the pool, Starr installed an in-ground subwoofer and eight in-ground speakers from James Loudspeaker for optimum coverage. “We weren’t trying to reproduce an ultra-high-performance audio system outside,” Weiner says, “but we had good sound and it was audible from several locations, which was our goal.”

There’s no shortage of video sources available to this alfresco theater. All sources available inside the house are also available to the outside, including cable, satellite, Kaleidescape media server, and a Blu-ray player that accesses Netflix, Vudu and other streaming video sources. Streaming music services including Pandora and Rhapsody are available and the owners—and visitors—can play their iTunes libraries by plugging an iPod or iPhone into the family’s docking station.

Starr extended control to the backyard system where owners can select, via an RTI handheld remote, events based on the activity. For example, a MOVIE mode lowers the projection screen, feeds the Kaleidescape signal to the projector and turns on surround sound. A tap of the PARTY mode button delivers music to the outdoor space.

How do the owners feel about being able to fire up the grill and watch a ball-game on the big screen on a warm summer night? “It’s a far cry from being cooped up in the basement,” Weiner says.

Watertight Control
Commands issued by the owners’ outdoor handheld RTI U2 remote are sent to an AMX home control system, which interprets them and send the signal to the appropriate equipment.

The U2 remote is completely sealed, making it weather resistant and then some, and it has a high contrast LCD screen that’s easy to read and navigate via customizable text and graphics. EH


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