The pictures say it all. Three 65-inch Panasonic plasma HDTVs, flush-mounted side-by-side, form a video wall that can display content from 18 different sources. Look even more closely, and you’ll find that all the TVs in this Manhattan apartment are not only flush-mounted in the walls, the walls even cover the TVs’ bezels so only the screens remain visible. The skyline views out of the windows are pretty nice, as well.
But it was the eye candy inside this 2,400-square-foot spread that was of most concern to the homeowners – or at least the tech-savvy man of the house, whose living room man cave with its video multiplex of sources is the envy of any audio/video enthusiast.
“He had a set-up in his previous home with 12 tube TVs and a video matrix so he could watch all these different shows on them,” says John Montgomery of custom electronics (CE) pro EDG of Piscataway, N.J. Needless to say, this video matrix is a huge upgrade.
The homeowner can choose among feeds from up to 24 different video sources, including 18 cable boxes (three of which have DVRs), three DVD players and three Mac minis. The sources are routed through an Extron matrix switcher and an RGB Spectrum picture-in-picture processor that multiplexes them and allows six outputs to each of the TVs. He can view 18 sources – or 18 different channels simultaneously – with six per screen or one large picture in the middle and with six options shown on each side.
Although the TVs will show 18 video feeds at a time, he can choose among all 24, says Montgomery. That includes a high-def Blu-ray player. And if he has someone over to give a presentation, he can use his Crestron touchpanel to dig a little deeper and summon the video feed from one of the Mac minis.
This tech-happy guy doesn’t mind digging down through home control screens. He’s a tinkerer. “He wanted it complex enough so he could go in and play around, but simple enough so his wife could come in and press one button,” says Montgomery.
When the lady of this video house wishes to watch something in the living room, she indeed presses just one button, and the three 65-inch plasmas are filled with pictures from a DVR on the center screen, flanked by two of the DVD sources. Though she may opt to watch any one of the other flush-mounted TVs in the apartment.
More than Flush
Each of the 11 TVs in the apartment is completely flush-mounted – going so far as to hide the bezels. And while that provides a strikingly clean appearance, it’s hardly the ideal installation. That’s because with the exception of the screens, the TVs had to be fully enclosed in the walls, making access for servicing difficult.
“In a normal world, it would be the last thing we would do, but the architect and homeowner wanted it this way,” says Montgomery. EDG had to go through a rear wall to service one TV. The TVs are ventilated into cavities in the walls above the units.
Installation of the TVs had to take place before the Sheetrock went up EDG had to make sure the wiring and all the connections were perfect as well, because servicing would require making holes or disassembling a wall.
To service the three side-by-side plasmas in the living room, EDG must take down the frame surrounding the displays and pull the fabric off the walls. The fabric also conceals three B&W front speakers and two Sunfire subwoofers. Four invisible Sound Advance speakers hide behind a thin layer of plaster in the ceiling to provide the surround channels.
A 32-inch Panasonic display in a sitting room is hidden behind a piece of artwork. A press of a button on a Crestron remote instructs an Electro-Kinetics lift to move the painting off the screen. Another Panasonic unit rises from a cabinet at the foot of a bed and swivels 180 degrees so that it can be viewed from a sitting area. In a bath is a Séura display that is visible from behind a mirror.
But perhaps the most innovative installation of a display was that of a 12-inch EarthLCD, which was mounted on the door of a bathroom off the owner’s office. The monitor receives power and audio and video signals from cables that were routed through two connection points on the hinge side of the door. A channel within the door protects the cabling from being pinched when the door closes. “It’s a marvel of wire management and strain relief,” says Montgomery. The power line runs through one of the two wiring hinges and the audio/video through the other.
The homeowner even wanted some of the controls for the apartment-wide Crestron control system to be interchangeable with those of the Lutron lighting control system. This was for simplicity’s sake, actually. For example, on her way out, the housekeeper can press a button on a Lutron keypad in the foyer, and the lights go off and all RF (radio frequency) devices are disabled. This safeguards against interference from other Crestron systems in the same building, as Crestron only has a finite number of RFIDs, says Montgomery. To activate the TVs, the homeowners just hold down a button on a touchpanel.
The Crestron system operates nine video zones and 16 audio zones, as well as the Lutron lighting control system. And don’t look for a lot of presets. The techy homeowner likes to fiddle with the LED lighting in living and dining rooms, changing its colors on a whim.
Neither does he have presets for the solar and blackout Lutron Sivoia motorized shades on every window in the apartment. He likes to operate those however he wants.
The Crestron controllers also operate the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system – all through temperature sensors placed unobtrusively in the walls and with a centralized thermostat.
Setting up control of several different TVs and home subsystems wasn’t the challenge for EDG. It was providing the kind of complex control flexibility the man of the house wanted, and a simple way for the lady of the house to use the system as well.
The result? As we said, the pictures speak for themselves.
Racking the Brains
In a closet off the foyer are the brains of this 2,400-square foot apartment. The control system processors and source components are mounted in three equipment racks, one of which looks closed off but contains the 18 cable TV boxes. Because the boxes have IR (infrared) flashers mounted to the front of them, they were susceptible to IR “spray,” which could result in a command issued to one cable box changing a channel on another, so EDG placed covers – or solid rack blanks – over the boxes to preclude this problem.
Flush-mounting TVs in the walls with only their screens visible was a big challenge for the custom electronics (CE) pros at EDG of Piscataway, N.J. “We were putting them in when the Sheetrock was about to go in,” EDG’s John Montgomery explains. That’s almost never the case, largely because of the dust from the Sheetrock, plaster and other construction disruptions. “We taped down the TV screens to keep them as well-protected as possible,” says Montgomery. “They had to be fully functional five months before the rest of the systems were installed.”