10 A/V and Home Automation Terms You Need to Know

Making sense out words you might here from a custom electronics professional before beginning your home tech improvement project.


An integrated family room, with architectural speakers and lighting control, from Cantara Design Group

Automating a home is like any home improvement project. You’ll probably immerse yourself so deeply in the process that you’ll start to think that you could probably do the job yourself … maybe. If you’re one that likes to be involved closely to what’s happening in your home, be it the addition of a basic media system or the installation of a wireless lighting control system, it helps to speak the language. By this, we mean the language of your custom electronic professional (CE pro). He or she will likely throw out terms during your discussions that will leave you scratching your head. It never hurts to bone up on the techno-speak. Here’s a crash course on the 10 Most Understood Terms so you can bone up on the same language before you hire your pro:

1. Macro: A macro is a very good thing to have. It allows you to touch one button to initiate multiple commands to a variety of different devices rather than pecking at several individual buttons to accomplish the same task. Macros can set the lights, music and thermostats in the dining room for a dinner party, arrange the environment for a movie in the home theater … anything else that would typically require the adjustment of several devices through a variety of controls.

2. GUI: Short for Graphic User Interface. The term refers to any type of device that’s used control the electronic devices in your home. A GUI can be an iPhone, an iPad, a touchpanel, a remote control or something else.

3. Scenes: A scene is much like a macro, but it a term used mainly when describing how a group of light fixtures responds to a single command from a remote, touchpanel, etc. A lighting scene could involve the brightening and dimming of several fixtures in a room to evoke a mood like romantic, party or evening drama, or to complement a certain activity like breakfast, goodnight or welcome home.

4. Architectural: In the custom electronics industry, architectural commonly refers to a type of loudspeaker; specifically, one that can be mounted flush with the wall or ceiling surface.

This kitchen installation, by Lifestyle Electronics, shows one particular GUI in a wall-mounted touchpanel. If you look over at the ceiling, you’ll also see an “architectural” speaker.

5. Acoustically Transparent: This term usually refers to a type of screen sometimes used in a home theater or media room. It is designed to display images projected onto it from a video projector, but unlike other projection screens its fabric has tiny, indiscernible holes that allow sound from speakers positioned behind it to filter unaffected into the room. They are a popular choice of homeowners who want a clean, uncluttered look in their home theaters.

6. Bright: When an installer says a room is “bright,” he means that there may be too many hard surfaces (wood floors, windows, marble countertops, etc.) for an audio system to perform its best. Sound that’s broadcast from speakers in a bright room can bounce harshly off the hard surfaces, making it difficult to hear dialogue in a movie or understand the lyrics of a song. A custom electronics pro can solve this issue by adding soft materials (draperies, rugs or special acoustical treatments) to the room.

7. Presets: Most home automation systems must be programmed by a professional to react in a certain way when they receive a signal from something – a timer, a button press, a motion sensor, etc. This cause-and-effect process is what’s known as a preset. For example, your CE pro might program a preset that tells the home automation system to open the motorized drapes at a certain time of day.

Motorized drapes, like these installed by Eco High Fidelity, that descend and rise automatically at certain times of the day, also based on an astronomic clock to change throughout the year, are a good example of a custom-installed preset.

8. Scalable: A “scalable” automation system is one that can be easily reconfigured (usually to perform additional tasks) to meet the needs of its users. Scalability is a feature you should always look for in an automation system.

9. Compatible: When you’re compatible with someone, you just naturally “mesh.” The same is true of a home automation system and the many diverse components it can control. In the home technology, manufacturers and custom electronics professional strive for as much compatibility between products as possible. Sometimes this is accomplished by the manufacturer; other times, the CE pro finds a way to get two incompatible components to communicate openly with each other. When all parts of a system are compatible, it typically works better and is easier to use.

10. Integration: This is the process of making all elements of a home automation system working together seamlessly, as though they were one unit. When a custom electronics professional says he specialized in “integration” (many of them do), he will know how to tie new components into your old whole-house music system or make your home’s thermostats work with the home automation system he just installed.

Related: What to Look for In a Professional Integrator
Related: 12 Questions When Planning a Home-Tech Project


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