Wa­ter views & blue-sky smarts

Sound+Image - - Smart Homes -

Over our next few is­sues, we’re look­ing at a group of homes us­ing dif­fer­ent con­trol sys­tems to achieve the ben­e­fits in­tel­li­gent au­toma­tion can bring. This stun­ning Syd­ney home – with an im­pres­sive home cin­ema – uses Cre­stron’s wide range of smarts to gather the po­ten­tial com­plex­i­ties un­der a sim­ple con­trol sys­tem.

It’s one thing to de­sign a home from scratch which will in­clude all man­ner of smart-home op­er­a­tions. The ben­e­fits are many — the most ex­cit­ing for our pur­poses be­ing easy ac­cess to mu­sic and AV en­ter­tain­ment around the home, but also in­cor­po­rat­ing smart light­ing which can in­clude ‘scenes’ where pre-pro­grammed com­bi­na­tions can trans­form one room or many at the touch of a sin­gle but­ton, and un­der­ly­ing these the func­tions of se­cu­rity and ac­cess, which can also be in­te­grated into the smart sys­tems, and cer­tainly not least the pos­si­bil­ity of en­ergy-ef­fi­cient op­er­a­tion by au­tomat­ing cli­mate con­trol in com­bi­na­tion with sen­sors and timed con­trol of blinds, lou­vres and more.

And when build­ing a new home, all the re­quired ca­bling and equip­ment can be care­fully planned and in­stalled as the plan pro­gresses. It’s a lit­tle harder when ren­o­vat­ing, but the re­quired path­ways can usu­ally be ac­cessed. But this home, with its spec­tac­u­lar lay­out across mul­ti­ple lev­els over­look­ing wa­ter views, was a newly ren­o­vated site al­ready com­pleted by the builder prior to pur­chase by the new owner Tony — and no dis­trib­uted wiring for smart-home op­er­a­tions had been in­stalled. So Tony set the chal­lenge for au­toma­tion, se­cu­rity and elec­tronic sys­tems in­te­gra­tion com­pany Kay­der to ef­fec­tively retro­fit smart home op­er­a­tion that would in­clude full con­trol of light­ing, lou­vres and blinds, home se­cu­rity, ac­cess, a full 10 zones of au­dio, and three AV en­ter­tain­ment ar­eas — in­clud­ing a new home theatre to be built into what was lit­tle more than a store room on the lower floor.

En­ter­tain­ment cen­tral

The liv­ing and din­ing/kitchen ar­eas on the main floor (see right) are sep­a­rated by a cen­tral di­vider that fea­tures a gas fire­place right through and tele­vi­sions on ei­ther side. A sub­stan­tial Sony 65-incher faces the lounge area, with full sur­round sound de­liv­ered via Stealth speak­ers at the front along with two con­cealed sub­woofers, and rear speak­ers mounted in-ceil­ing at the back of the room.

The din­ing and kitchen ar­eas on the other side of the fire­place di­vider are served by more in-ceil­ing speak­ers and a slightly smaller Sony TV. This is hid­den be­hind a ‘Re­veal’ panel from Ul­tralift, as Tony was pleased to demon­strate, light­ing the fire un­der­neath for good mea­sure, and us­ing the Cre­stron wall screen in the kitchen to trig­ger the changes.

“When I told my in­te­rior designer that I was get­ting a ‘Re­veal’ panel, she said ‘You’ll just leave it up’”, re­calls Tony. “But lit­tle did she know, I wouldn’t have to think about it. You turn the TV on and the Re­veal panel opens — you turn the TV off and the Re­veal panel closes. So it’s never left open.”

A small equip­ment cup­board is also hid­den in the fire-and-TV di­vider, where a Fox­tel IQ box, Yamaha Aven­t­age re­ceiver and Stealth sub­woofer am­pli­fier are housed, along with the main recorder and hard drive for the se­cu­rity sys­tems around the home. We noted that the Yamaha was set to de­liver a sig­nal

from its FM tuner at the time of our visit, so we sus­pect this lounge sys­tem is used for mu­sic as well as for AV en­ter­tain­ment.

In con­trol

The owner was knowl­edge­able enough about smart home sys­tems to have an opin­ion as to the over­ar­ch­ing con­trol sys­tem that would suit his home and fam­ily best. And since hav­ing it in­stalled, he’s clearly got to know it well.

“Wait!”, he said be­fore we took pic­tures of the Cre­stron on-wall con­trol screen. “It’s got a ‘Clean Screen’ mode.” He called up a blank ‘timer’ mode and wiped away a few fin­ger­prints for us, be­fore show­ing us the key screens.

Par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive were the 3D maps of each floor (pic­tured right), fully in­ter­ac­tive, so that at a glance you can see what lights and equip­ment are on, and can con­trol them with a tap on the map. Or from the home screen the own­ers can se­lect light­ing, blinds, cli­mate con­trol, the in­ter­com, se­cu­rity and cam­eras, or me­dia, then get­ting be­spoke screens for full con­trol.

For the home own­ers all this re­quires just a sim­ple tap on the screen, while un­der­neath the Cre­stron con­trol sys­tem is ac­ti­vat­ing cup­boards full of tech­nol­ogy to achieve the de­sired goals. The light­ing boards and air-con­di­tion­ing sys­tems, for ex­am­ple, re­side in sev­eral se­cure and weath­er­proofed cab­i­nets in a rock-walled un­der-house area along with the pool main­te­nance equip­ment.

There’s a sec­ond main desk­top Cre­stron screen in the mas­ter bed­room, but Tony is quick to point out that the ‘light’ switches around the home are of­ten the go-to con­trols, and for more than just light­ing. Nice switches, too, us­ing

Cre­stron’s As­cent solid metal face­plates and the ver­sa­tile Cameo key­pad switches. The in­te­rior de­sign af­forded use of four dif­fer­ent As­cent de­signs, with gold face­plates down­stairs, sil­ver on the main level, black in the theatre, and grey up­stairs. These are sup­ple­mented by mo­tion con­trols for au­to­matic lights when re­quired.

“One of the things I love about Cre­stron is these switches,” en­thuses Tony as we moved into the mas­ter bed­room. “You can print what­ever you like on the but­tons, and you can use the but­tons for mul­ti­ple tasks… So here by the bed­room door I’ve got one but­ton which turns off the whole room when I leave — the sound, the light, ev­ery­thing. But when I’m com­ing up to bed I hold it down a lit­tle bit longer and it turns off ev­ery­thing down­stairs in­stead — the TV, the lights, ev­ery­thing. So the way they work can be very ver­sa­tile. And over here by the bed, these up and down but­tons con­trol the au­dio vol­ume, and this one changes the source. But when the source is off I can use the same up/down ar­rows for the blinds in here.”

“And you have a panic but­ton up here don’t you?” asked in­staller David.

“That’s right, there’s a com­bi­na­tion we can use to trig­ger a back-to-base alert — should we ever need it. It’s just one part of the se­cu­rity mix and so easy to add in when the se­cu­rity sys­tem is so tightly in­te­grated into the smart home sys­tem… you’ve al­ready seen all the cam­eras record­ing and how they’re all avail­able from the Cre­stron screens.”

In­deed we had, with a neat swipe be­tween cam­era im­ages, too.

“An­other thing was at night time when maybe every­one’s asleep and I’m down in the cin­ema, I won’t hear the door­bell or even the alarm,” con­tin­ued Tony. “So I asked David to pro­gram the sys­tem so that the lights in the cin­ema flash if the alarm is trig­gered, so I can check what’s go­ing on — turn the lights on out­side, check the cam­eras. A few things like that I’ve asked David to pro­gram since we’ve been liv­ing with the sys­tem. And the ac­cess con­trol is in­te­grated with the se­cu­rity, so I can see in­stantly if any doors are left un­locked, and if we for­get to close a door we get a lit­tle alert af­ter sev­eral min­utes.”

And the same con­trol of the house is avail­able to Tony from any­where via his phone.

“So on my way home I’ll turn the air-con on from my car,” he says, then af­ter a pause, “though not while I’m driv­ing, ob­vi­ously…”

Au­toma­tion

The en­try to the walk-in robe off the mas­ter bed­room used to have air-con con­trols on the wall, “but I don’t need them any more,” says Tony.

“The Daikin air-con­di­tion­ing in­te­grates with the Cool­mas­ter con­trol adapter and that’s talk­ing to Cre­stron,” ex­plains in­staller David, “so you can touch a Cre­stron switch for air-con con­trol.”

Or not even touch it, in­deed, since some ac­tiv­i­ties op­er­ate via sen­sors or mas­ter timers.

“So I’ve got fans in the sub­floor to con­trol the mould here,” says Tony. “And Cre­stron ba­si­cally turns those fans on and off on au­to­matic timers, plus it’s also smart enough to know that when the air­con’s on, those fans aren’t needed, be­cause that draws in air any­way.”

An­other ex­am­ple of pro­grammed au­toma­tion is the build­ing’s lou­vres. A wind sen­sor puts them up to pro­tect them un­der windy con­di­tions — but doesn’t bring them back down again af­ter­wards.

“And that an­noyed me, be­cause I pre­fer them down,” says Tony. “So I asked David to have the Cre­stron check in the morn­ing, and if they’re up, it’ll bring them down again.”

And with Cre­stron’s abil­i­ties to set scenes with mul­ti­ple changes all im­ple­mented at the touch of a but­ton, there’s also an ‘away’ mode.

“So if I put the alarm on, the Cre­ston sys­tem will make it look like some­one’s still home, with lights a bit ran­domised, blinds go­ing up and down — it’s like an ‘away from home’ mode.”

All the blinds in the home have Somfy mo­tors, with ra­dio trans­mit­ters al­low­ing Cre­stron to op­er­ate these, rather than the own­ers us­ing the in­di­vid­ual re­motes that came with the blinds. Via Cre­stron there’s also the ad­van­tage that blinds can be grouped or op­er­ated in­di­vid­u­ally.

David from Kay­der re­mem­bers when this kind of au­toma­tion wasn’t so easy, and ex­plained why he prefers to use Cre­stron for his work.

“I’ve been do­ing this a good while”, he told us, “and I re­mem­ber when it was just C-Bus and we did Xan­tech, that was all you could do. I started do­ing Cre­stron a while ago be­cause it has that abil­ity to talk to mul­ti­ple sys­tems, and they’ve got all the parts for ev­ery­thing — you don’t have to buy a third-party ther­mo­stat or this and that, you don’t have to in­te­grate with too many things. Be­cause in the end that’s where you have the prob­lems, even C-Bus with Cre­stron on top, you find there’s one bulb on some­where, and have to work out whose fault is it.

Whereas Cre­stron is re­ally an end-to-end sys­tem. In this house the in­te­gra­tion with but­tons and push but­tons, say, you can’t do that with a Con­trol4 or a Sa­vant sys­tem, you just can’t pro­gram it to that level.”

The owner de­cided not to go for full video dis­tri­bu­tion by HDMI, rather keep­ing each zone with its lo­cal sources, though all op­er­a­tions are pro­grammed into the Cre­stron con­trol sys­tem.

“We didn’t need it any­way here,” said in­staller David. “The cin­ema has its own Oppo Blu-ray player and we have Fox­tel boxes for each zone.”

But the au­dio is fully dis­trib­uted, with 10 au­dio zones in­clud­ing the kitchen, bed­rooms, bal­conies and pool area, get­ting their sig­nals from a two-source Mi­rage Au­dio Server by Au­to­nomic de­liv­er­ing TuneIn ra­dio and Spo­tify, stream­ing into Cre­stron’s own Son­nex mul­ti­room au­dio sys­tem (specif­i­cally a SWAMP 24×8 switcher am­pli­fier ma­trix).

These are largely served from Cre­stron­branded 8-inch ceil­ing speak­ers, with con­trol via the main touch­pan­els or from app ver­sions on the res­i­dents’ own smart de­vices.

And when we asked if there was any­thing Tony didn’t like, his list was extremely small.

“Cre­stron’s weather app is clearly aimed at the US mar­ket, with Aus­tralian cus­tomers un­able to get weather at the sub­urb level,” was his first thought, adding that “the apps you get for Spo­tify [this is from Au­to­nomic rather than Cre­stron] and things — some tend to feel a lit­tle clunky and not so in­tu­itive.”

But he is able to use the na­tive Spo­tify app on his phone and push that through to the Cre­stron sys­tem, while in­staller David also pointed out that Sonos can now be in­cor­po­rated, bring­ing any num­ber of Sonoscon­trolled on­line stream­ing sources, in­clud­ing Spo­tify and Ap­ple Mu­sic, via the same path.

The theatre

We reached the theatre at the end of our tour of the home. It’s not a big room, but it fits a 120-inch Screen Ex­cel­lence En­lightor 4K screen with mo­torised mask­ing be­tween 16:9 and 2.35:1, il­lu­mi­nated by a Sony VPLVW550 4K pro­jec­tor with a Xiet anamor­phic lens. Sources in­clude an Oppo BDP-103D Blu-ray player, an­other Fox­tel IQ box and a Sony PS4, along with a top-level Marantz AV pro­ces­sor and Cre­stron’s own Pro­cise 7 × 400W sur­round am­pli­fier. The speak­ers are Triad’s Sil­ver range, in­clud­ing the LCR set at the front, At­mos ceil­ing speak­ers, and three sub­woofers — one in-ceil­ing at the back, and two slim­line subs at the front, completing what might be de­scribed as a 5.3.2 set-up.

Not­ing the omis­sion of a cen­tre seat, and the choice of speak­ers, we took an ed­u­cated guess that this theatre had in­put from Wave­train Cine­mas, while Kay­der’s David con­firmed. We later con­tacted Wave­train’s David Mose­ley to get his take on the de­sign.

“As you can see, it’s a small cin­ema in all re­spects, in­clud­ing a very low ceil­ing height,” con­firms David Mose­ley. “Then take in the fact that we had a ducted A/C sys­tem and that there are bed­rooms di­rectly above the cin­ema, this sud­denly be­came one of the hard­est cine­mas we have had to de­sign.

“The client wanted to seat as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble, and we ended up with a com­pro­mise of one row of pri­mary seat­ing for which we de­signed and cal­i­brated the room. The low ceil­ing height meant seat­ing tiers were out of the ques­tion, so in­stead we put in one 200mm riser which al­lowed us to run the A/C through the floor, and pro­vided a place for bean bags to sit in the room. A bar bench was used at the rear, which then pro­vided seat­ing for up to 12 peo­ple with clear sight lines.

“As we needed to sound iso­late the cin­ema from the bed­rooms above, we re­moved the ex­ist­ing A/C sys­tem — the vents meant that sound was trav­el­ling di­rectly through the floor to the bed­rooms. We com­pletely sealed the ceil­ing with high-den­sity board and a vis­coelas­tic com­pound, with in­su­la­tion in the cav­ity. For the A/C, we in­stead placed the fan coil out­side the cin­ema in an un­der­floor space — which also low­ered the noise floor — and pen­e­trated the side wall to bring the ducts into two ris­ers, which at­ten­u­ates the sound leav­ing the cin­ema through the air reg­is­ters. The cin­ema floor is now the sup­ply air through a cus­tom made plenum/reg­is­ter and the re­turn air is in one of the rear col­umns.

“Although the in­te­rior de­sign might seem sim­ple, we cus­tom-de­signed the Fortress seat­ing [which is a four-seat lounge but can seat up to six with cus­tom fold-down arms that fit into the chair back when not in use].

We went through a lot of story-boards be­fore find­ing the per­fect so­lu­tion for the client, and each time he made a sug­ges­tion, we would re­assess each el­e­ment to achieve the cor­rect bal­ance. The end re­sult is amaz­ing for such a small space.”

As with any Wave­train de­sign, the room is acous­ti­cally treated us­ing MSR and cus­tom-made acous­tic solutions, then cal­i­brated to en­sure the best fre­quency re­sponse.

As for that short throw dis­tance for the 4K pro­jec­tor, with an anamor­phic lens — was that tricky in the space?

“The video was hard to get right, yes,” says David Mose­ley. “The throw dis­tance is short and the Sony pro­jec­tors have a re­cessed lens, which makes us­ing an anamor­phic lens just that lit­tle bit harder. Our pre­ferred anamor­phic is from an Aus­tralian com­pany called Xiet, with their Tony Dum­met pro­vid­ing a lot of as­sis­tance on site to get the bal­ance be­tween hit­ting the screen and not im­ped­ing the rear bar stools. The whole project was a bal­anc­ing act, but over­all a hugely suc­cess­ful one... and I am now con­sid­er­ing a job as a tightrope walker.”

Con­clu­sion

David from the in­staller Kay­der has been more than sat­is­fied with the re­sult, and is in­volved with on­go­ing pro­gram­ming and ideas for fur­ther fu­ture up­grades. The owner is clearly equally pleased, and told us he has been par­tic­u­larly im­pressed that the smart-home tech­nol­ogy doesn’t in­ter­fere with his fam­ily’s daily life.

“My wife is re­ally not tech­ni­cal at all, and she was a bit ner­vous about this whole thing, to be hon­est” Tony ad­mit­ted. “But as it’s re­ally easy to use, she loves it. In fact our four-year-old now knows how to do the blinds, and I re­ally wish he didn’t! I want them down, he puts them up from the screen in my bed­room. And he knows which blinds are which, I don’t know how.”

A smart-home con­trol sys­tem which even a four-year-old can use? It’s an im­pres­sive tes­ta­ment to the plan­ning, im­ple­men­ta­tion and tech­nol­ogy be­hind this stun­ning home.

▲ TOP: lounge area, ser­viced in 5.1-chan­nel sur­round, in­clud­ing Stealth Acous­tics in-walls at the front; ▲ MID­DLE & INSET: the TV for the kitchen/din­ing ar­eas hides away be­hind a Re­veal panel when not in use; ▶ RACK: lo­cal equip­ment housed in the room sep­a­ra­tor.

▲ With our fo­cus on home en­ter­tain­ment and smarts, we tend to ne­glect the in­te­rior de­sign an­gles in our write-ups!... but this home was im­pec­ca­bly fit­ted, right down to the dunny.

▲ MU­SIC EV­ERY­WHERE: With 10 au­dio zones in all, the own­ers can se­lect mu­sic of their choice wher­ever they may be in the home, in­clud­ing the pool area and bal­conies.

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