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Integrating Integrity

Troy, Michigans AVIO Uses Proven Technology to Succeeds in Whole-House Integration.

Very few of AVIOs clients like to take chances on new technology. When it comes to buying unproven products, the companys system designer Jeff Kocher says that many of his clients share the same sentiment.

I have a client who will call me on a regular basis to quiz me about some new piece of equipment or feature that he has read about, Kocher explained. After I fill him in on what we know about the item, or what our experience has been, he always comes back with the same parting comment: All I know, is that pioneers wind up with arrows in their back!

Though AVIOs client base also includes its share of early adopters, the majority, Kocher says, are like this client. They want the 12-year-old Troy, Michigan, custom installation company to supply them with proven, reliable systems that perform well, and are backed by companies that appear to be in it for the long haul. We dont want to beta test on them unless theyve agreed to be a part of that process, Kocher explained.

Such was the case with a recent project for an AVIO client in the well-heeled Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Kocher had worked with these particular homeowners more than once before, so he already knew most of their A/V product preferences.

We knew what type of sound quality they were looking for and what their particular likes and dislikes were in terms of speaker performance. Hes been pretty happy with the B&W products in the past, so they make up the majority of the speakers in this project. Kocher explained. As for video displays, weve sold him Pioneer Elite for a number of previous projects, so hes familiar with them and likes their quality. The Pioneer Elites worked out very well for a number of applications, including the bedroom, the kitchen area, and the exercise room. The project also required integration of audio, video, lighting control, security, CCTV, and HVAC control. Since we had integrated Crestron control systems for the client in the past, we had a good idea of the clients preferences for integration too.

Through his 25 years in the business, Kocher has learned the importance of maintaining a harmonious working relationship with a clients architect, builder, and interior designer. And like any successful project of this scope, those collaborations often required design compromises to create the best end result for the client. As was the case with their Bloomfield Hills clients newest residence, located on the shoreline of one of Oakland County, Michigans many lakes. The homes beautiful view includes the lake in the foreground, featuring a small island frequented by migratory waterfowl, and the spires of Kirk-in-the-Hills Church in the background. Extensive use of glass on the rear faade of the home brings lake views into nearly every room.

Through the clients extensive travel, they also have acquired a fine art collection. As a result of all of these factors, Kocher learned that the homes technology was to be hidden, not detracting from the architecture, the view, and the art.

The master bedroom features one example of creatively hiding technology. Over the fireplace, across from the bed, hangs an original painting. While one option was to reproduce the painting on a custom roller shade to hide the 50-inch Pioneer Elite plasma monitor, the homeowners naturally preferred the original. Kocher used an Inca lift to raise the painting into a pocket in the attic. When the homeowners press the Watch Video button on the touch screen of the bedrooms Crestron MT500C, the painting rises into the ceiling, the plasma activates, and the system goes to their favorite satellite TV channel. Of course, for this seemingly simple function to work, the homeowner, architect, interior designer, the builder, the framers, the cabinetmaker, and the electrician all had essential parts to play.

The office/library/media room is another example of stealthy integration. At one point during design, this space was configured as a dedicated theater, but the owner eventually decided not to subtract entertaining and guest suite space to accommodate two or three rooms for the office, library, and theater. Kocher admitted that multi-purpose rooms like this one typically involve so many compromises, that none of the intended functions are fully usable. In this case, however, cooperation between the parties involved in the project resulted in a space usable for all functions.

First, we were able to determine room dimension ratios that would not create any severe acoustic room mode issues, Kocher explained. Working with the interior designer and cabinetmaker, multi-purpose cabinetry was developed that addressed desk space, office equipment storage, book storage, A/V equipment storage, and acoustics.

Two floor-to-ceiling cabinets flank a Runco 61-inch plasma screen, which was selected for the quality of its outboard video scaler. The right cabinet contains the media room electronics, housed in a Middle Atlantic AXS pullout equipment rack. The cabinets have a louver-like front, matched by other cabinets and columns around the room. The textured front of the cabinets helped acoustically, while the lower few sections were equipped with large air intake slots on the underside, permitting proper thermal management of the A/V equipment.

Slots in the cabinet to the left of the plasma allow sound from the hidden B&W subwoofer to pass through. Surround speakers were hidden behind an acoustically transparent grill cloth running around the perimeter of the room as an accent, matching the architects use of horizontal bands that flow through the entire home.

Proportions of the grill required for AVIOs first speaker choice proved to be unwieldy in this unique design, so they changed to B&W Nautilus HTM2 center-channel speakers for all seven channels. This allowed us to maintain our ideal of identical speakers for each channel, while accommodating the aesthetic needs of the room, Kocher said.

Acceptable acoustic performance was achieved by the extensive backwave absorption inside the cabinets, digital EQ from the Krell Showcase surround preamp/processor, along with acoustic treatment (absorption and diffusion) behind other areas of the grill.

Kocher noted that AVIOs philosophy has always been to install subsystems that function well on their own, with redundancy in case of control system failure. This homes subsystems featured products that AVIO has integrated with Crestron control many times.

The GE (ITI) Advent security panel has been consistent in providing us with proper RS232 link and feedback to the Crestron system. Unlike many other security panels, it allows us to emulate their keypads, greatly simplifying programming, Kocher said.

HVAC control is handled by Crestron thermostats and remote sensors. Lighting control is via Lutron HomeWorks and CCTV cameras are from HoloVision and Silent Witness (now GE). The CCTV multiplexer /HD recorder/web server is a Dedicated Micros unit. The phone system is a Panasonic Digital system. Crestrons BiPad 8 multi-zone preamps and 16-channel amplifiers perform audio distribution duties, including Crestron AM/FM tuners and Audio ReQuest media storage units.

The Audio ReQuest products have been terrific examples of the type of subsystem we like to use: flexible, robust, built-in redundancy with their drive mirroring and removable drives, Kocher said. In this case, weve taken advantage of their ability to sync over the Internet, so when the client adds a disc in Michigan, his Audio ReQuest in another home he recently purchased in Santa Barbara has that disc added also.

Crestron PVID8X4 video switchers and RMCLV room control boxes round out the A/V distribution system. DirecTV and Dish Network HD receivers are located in the main equipment racks, except for the Librarys DirecTV receiver, located in the library rack.

The incredible versatility and configurability of Crestron audio and video distribution products allow us to create systems that can take full advantage of the full range of sources available today, while making control simple for the homeowners, Kocher noted.

Crestron controls include MT500C wireless handhelds for TV and A/V control in the master bedroom, kitchen, and exercise room. STX1700CXP two-way wireless touchpanels are located in the library, living room, and family room. In-wall touchpanels include CT1000s, TPS2000s, and a TPS5000 in the kitchen, custom veneered to match the wood-paneled wall, as the main control center for the home. XPanel-PC is installed on the owners laptop to allow monitoring and control from anywhere he travels.

In the end, by working in harmony with the other trades on the project, AVIO achieved what their clients wanted from their system. You have to be sensitive to what theyre trying to accomplish and understand their vision, Kocher said. Were not of the belief that our stuff has to be the visual focus of the room as long as its doing what the client wants it to do. The best thing you can do is listen to them and look at their drawings and their ideas and come up with creative solutions.

Jeremy Glowacki is editor of Residential Systems in New York City.