Water views & blue-sky smarts
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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.”
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.