Two years ago, Brian Kraft left his job as an IT manager for a home building company to pursue a new career as a home systems contractor. It was a good time to switch his profession, he says, as the change would coincide perfectly with his move from Colorado to Texas.
After arriving in the Lone Star State, he and wife Jamie needed to find a house and a place for Brian’s business. The best way to do that, they figured, would be to build something from scratch.
The 4,000-square-foot abode they envisioned would have all the creature comforts of home, but would also function as an electronics showroom where Brian could demonstrate the benefits of home technologies to his potential clients.
One of the most important elements of the Krafts’ ultimate home business would be something invisible to anyone who entered: wiring. While the house was being framed, Brian routed 12,000 feet of high-speed Category 5 Ethernet cabling to every nook and cranny, making sure to hit every foreseeable phone, data, thermostat, intercom and camera location. As for the 16 planned TV locations, Brian stepped up to Category 6. This higher-grade cabling would enable the connected TVs to receive any type of media content available throughout the house.
“[Ethernet cabling] is something I knew I’d be preaching to my clients, so I made sure my home had lots of it,” Brian explains. This type of cabling has the bandwidth to carry data, video, audio, and control signals, giving the Krafts a robust home infrastructure that would not only support any type of electronics system they added during the home’s construction, but also anything they put in down the road.
With so much cabling in place, Brian could have loaded his home with tons of technology. However, like many of his clients, he and his wife decided to take it slow and build their system as their budget allowed—like their decision to put in four flat-panel TVs instead of a full 16.
“Some of the cabling I’m not even using,” says Brian, referring to the many wall plates that currently have nothing plugged into them. “However, I know the cabling will be able to support at least 20 years’ worth of improvements. Maybe I’ll never put a speaker in the closet, but the cost of prewiring is so minimal [he and Jamie spent $6,000], it’s something we couldn’t afford not to do.”
Two systems Brian and Jamie hooked onto their high-speed network right away were whole-house audio and video distribution systems.
For audio, Brian selected the NuVo Grand Concerto, a system he felt would give both his family and his clients the best bang for the buck. With speakers, the system came in around $7,500 (excluding labor)—a cost that was easy for the Krafts to justify. “The decision to install the NuVo system was selfish to some degree,” Brian admits. With it, he and Jamie would finally be able to access any song from their enormous music collection—all 1,500 CDs—from anywhere in the house, even from the shower in the master bathroom.
Brian set up the Grand Concerto to route three different streams of music from the hard disc drive of a NuVo M3 music server to as many as 18 different listening zones. Most zones, except for the family room and master bedroom, which received full surround-sound setups, were equipped with a pair of Proficient in-ceiling speakers. Responding to a light touch, the NuVo control panels zip the couple’s music requests to the Grand Concerto processor; in an instant, any one of the 9,000 songs Brian ripped from his CD collection onto the server are transported to the speakers.
The couple can peruse the titles in the media server library by glancing at any of the 19 NuVo control panels mounted to the walls of their home. Using a Media Center PC, which connects to the Grand Concerto system via the Category 5 network, Brian organized the songs into playlists like dinner music, party, saturday afternoon, and dance. From a playlist menu displayed on the control panels, Brian and Jamie can use their fingertips to cue a playlist, find a specific song, or engage a random play function.
This simplicity of operation brings real value to the Grand Concerto system, says Brian, but it’s the unique design of the NuVo control panels that usually makes the biggest impression on his clients. Featuring OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology, the touchpads represent the next generation of interactive home control displays. OLED touchpads consume minimal power, are extremely thin, and enable the presentation of a wide range of colors, brightness levels and viewing angles. The NuVo models also have little extras like a built-in sleep timer that allows users to fall asleep to their favorite music.
Video at a Value
Brian and Jamie’s video system can also easily fool clients into thinking that the electronics in their home are a lot more expensive than they really are. With the help of an HDMI 6×4 matrix switcher and a Gefen Cat5 HDMI extender, the Category 5 network can distribute video from six different sources to the four flat-panel TVs. Tons of content is available, supplied by a Scientific Atlanta high-definition DVR, Sony Blu-ray player, Sony 200-disc CD changer, cable TV set-top box, and a custom-built Origen AE X11 Windows Vista Media Center stuffed with movies, music and digital photos.
With so much media available, Brian and Jamie needed some sort of interface that would let them easily pick through their choices. A high-end control system could have handled the task, but only if the Krafts were willing to spend several thousands of dollars.
Staying true to his belief that home electronics should be economical, Brian came up with a different plan. Using the Category 5 network as a backbone, he connected the Media Center to the Sony mega-changer, and capped the system off with a reasonably priced RTI T2C touchscreen-style remote. This setup, along with Brian’s programming, would allow the couple to view the cover art in their movie library and enter selections from the screen of the RTI remote.
The entire setup, including the TVs, speakers, Media Center and audio and video distribution equipment, set the Krafts back $25,000—a fraction of what it would have cost had they gone with a high-end turnkey control system.
While Brian strives to implement economical alternatives into sophisticated home electronic systems, he also keeps his showhome as cutting edge as possible, which means the electronics are usually in a state of flux.
“I’m constantly trading out equipment,” Brian acknowledges. “I started out with an infrared remote, but then upgraded to a radio-frequency-based model [the RTI remote he uses now]. I had a Sony amp, but now I’m using a Denon unit. I’ve also added a backup system to protect my computers.”
Probably the biggest addition, though, will be a dedicated theater in the basement. Practicing what he preaches, the room has already been wired for all the equipment to be installed. A lighting control system is also on the horizon, per Jamie’s request.
“A few months ago, we heard a noise in the middle of the night. Jamie commented that it’d be nice to be able to turn on the downstairs lights from our bedroom.” That’s all Brian needed to hear.