Minimal Tech Gear, But Maximum Control

Although there are few visible components, this home packs in plenty of control options, highlighted by a combo of Windows Media Center and Niveus server.

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You won’t see a single touchpanel on the walls of this home. Nor will you run across big, beefy speakers or keypads blanketed with a bazillion buttons. With the exception of a 100-inch screen in the media room, this home doesn’t appear to be very high-tech at all.

But when you pick up one of the family’s six remotes, the true sophistication of the electronic systems becomes apparent. From any one of these ordinary looking clickers, the homeowners can control every light switch in their 4,500-square-foot home, adjust any of three Aprilaire thermostats, arm and disarm a DSC security system, access a wealth of entertainment content stored on a Niveus media server, tap into online music services provided by their Sonos whole-house music system and view images from three Panasonic surveillance cameras on an HP TouchSmart monitor in the kitchen or any TV in the house.

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It’s all made possible through the combination of a Microsoft Windows Media Center operating system and Exceptional Innovation Lifeware home automation software, says Matt Peters of home systems installation company Wireless Home in Naples, Fla.

The Windows Media Center environment was something the homeowners had grown extremely comfortable with, having test-driven a Media Center-focused electronics system several times at the Wireless Home showroom.

“They were particularly impressed by how the Windows Media Center platform could allow them to use very few devices to create an extremely powerful home control network,” says Peters.

With only a few key pieces to install, Peters and his team wouldn’t have to worry about the technology intruding on the home’s clean, contemporary style, or having to install miles and miles of wiring. Just about everything the homeowners wanted—the home control software, high-def cable TV receiver, digital music player and Blu-ray player—is contained within a single Niveus media server.

About the only visible pieces of high-tech hardware are the half-dozen flat-panel TVs located throughout the residence. These displays are crucial to the control of the various Media Center–centric electronic subsystems. By using any remote, the owners can

access the Lifeware on-screen control menu, where they can issue commands to lights, thermostats, and, of course, video components.

Again, the number of entertainment black boxes was kept to a minimum. “No big racks of components were to go into this house,” says Peters. Instead, all the high-def video the homeowners could ever want is provided by a Samsung Blu-ray player and a Niveus media server.

Wireless Home stuck to its less-is-more philosophy when setting up the whole-house music system. Small portable controllers from Sonos were used in lieu of more conspicuous wall-mounted keypads and volume controls as a means of accessing and controlling music from anywhere inside or outside the home. Tunes that Peters stored on the hard drive of the Niveus server, as well as Rhapsody and Pandora Internet radio stations, are at the homeowners’ fingertips.

One of the most extraordinary examples of blending form with function is evident in the home theater. The Wireless Home team had originally planned on outfitting the space with a traditional two-piece configuration consisting of a front projector and standalone screen. Those plans changed dramatically after a barrel ceiling went in.

“There simply was no way to mount a projector to a ceiling like that,” says Peters. There was no space on the back wall for the machine, either, and perching the unit alongside the furniture was definitely out. The best alternative was a rear-projection display, but even that was a challenging to implement. “There wasn’t enough space within the front wall to fit the projector behind the screen,” Peters explains. The solution: Build a false wall in front of the existing wall and install an innovative new rear-projection product from Optoma. The company’s BigVision DLP-based 100-inch display utilizes a projector that requires just 30 inches of space between it and the screen. “Typically, you’d need close to 50 inches for a rear projector,” says Peters.

The false wall also provided ample storage space for the one component—the Niveus server—that does most of the heavy lifting in this nicely networked home.

 

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