The December 2012 print issue of Residential Systems included a supplement about hidden electronics, featuring comments from integrators about client demands they encounter in hidden install projects, revolutionary or game-changing solutions they have encountered, as well as predictions for future technologies and products in this area. The responses were overwhelmingly abundant, far exceeding the capacity allocated to print them, so the editors have chosen to share more of the comments here.
Mark Goldman, President, Sound Components, Coral Gables, FL:
Clients today are expecting good performance along with hidden installations. A large portion of our business has shifted into offering the very best possible solutions for jobs like these. We are also doing fabric stretched walls, so that we can further hide the loudspeakers and are recessing the TVs, so they are flush with the fabric wall.
The Wisdom loudspeakers have been game changers for us. By having the performance level available in freestanding, on-wall, and in-wall solutions, they allow us to have a consistent performance and offer clients the very best. We have seen a tremendous amount of people trade in their older, traditional speaker systems to upgrade to the latest Wisdom speakers that are specifically designed to give the wall a clean appearance without being overtly bulky.
Josh Christian, Marketing Vice President, DSI Entertainment, Los Angeles, CA:
We have been requested to hide TVs within a wall's cavity and have it appear out of the wall sideways. See a YouTube video of it in action here. An example of hiding a larger TV in plain sight may be seen at this YouTube video of a Seura mirror TV in a master bedroom sitting room. Another recent trend that our clients and the design community love is the under the bed TV lift. Here is a video of the first installation we did in Malibu, CA. For outdoor audio systems, we've been successfully using the Sonance Landscape Series speakers, which resemble Malibu lights. The sound is absolutely incredible and must be heard to be believed. Clients love how they practically disappear in the landscape.
The Sonance Landscape Series speakers have been an outdoor music game-changer for us, and the under the bed TV lift has reinvigorated this category for us. What I'm looking forward to is installing the world's largest outdoor TV, the C-SEED TV made in Austria. It is 201 inches diagonal and literally unfolds out of the ground. We haven't installed one yet but hope to very soon. Check it out here.
With technologies such as NFC and the proliferation of smartphones, perhaps there will be less in-wall touchscreens in the future...time will only tell. I still think it is a great idea to have hard-wired control touchscreens at key locations in a home, it just makes controlling the home that much more convenient. We successfully consolidate such wall acne as thermostats, multiple gangs of light switches/dimmers, security keypads, pool/spa controls, and energy consumption dashboards into touchscreens, so though they are visible, they aren't an eyesore and are intuitive to use. A single, unified control touchscreen sure beats all of the other individual items on the wall.
Jamie Briesemeister, System Sales & Design Consultant, Integration Controls, St. Louis, MO:
We have recently become dealers in the Trufig line of products that allow for flush-mounted installation of electrical outlets, switches, heating/cooling grates and more. This is truly game-changing in that it can be used to solve a common problem in nearly every home or office: clunky wall clutter.
We are looking at Trufig products, hidden/drywall speakers, and specialty products such as the Seura Hydra waterproof TV to improve upon our projects. With these as part of the design process, including them into the spatial and aesthetics design as well as the electronic design, provides a well-rounded and balanced approach that plays to everyone’s needs for the space.
Kevin Buchanan, President, Home Entertainment Inc., The Woodlands, TX:
The majority of our clients aren’t really aware of all of the options that are available to hide components, so there are few initial demands. However, once we show them what can be done to hide a screen, a TV, or a rack, the follow up questions often become more pointed, and the demands increase. For example, “What will that cost?” “How much work will it take to do that?” “Do you do the electrical, sheetrock, woodwork, etc., or do we have to hire another contractor?”
Most often we are using VisionArt for flat-panels, SVS for projector lifts, or ceiling mounted Screen Innovations motorized screens to address more frequent requests for hidden components since all of these items are larger and can disrupt the aesthetic appeal of a room. Depending on the overall size of the automation project, we usually use iPad/iPhone/Android-based solutions from Savant, Bitwise, and URC to control hidden devices.
One of the things we’re most excited about is the new Black Diamond Motorized projection screen from Screen Innovations. It’s unlike anything else on the market and is going to be a real game-changer. We envision it providing us the ability to provide our clients a completely unique and versatile TV alternative, for a price that won’t break the budget?
Stephen C. Tucker, Owner/Founder, Tucker & Tucker Associates, Audio and Video by Design, Scarborough, ME:
Probably the biggest game changers for us in the last couple of years have been content moving devices like Sonos and Apple. Coupled with more robust wired and wireless networks, they have made it possible to for us to install a few small boxes in the basement or a closet, wire directly to hidden speakers, and hand our clients an iPad with all of their music readily available at the swipe of a finger. Almost without exception are customers "wowed" by the experience.
Continued proliferation of Apple Airplay should improve even more the ability of our customers to move their audio and video content. HDBaseT-enabled devices will make it easier and hopefully less expensive to move video content through out homes and businesses. And probably most exciting to us will be the proliferation of self-discovery devices (plug-and-play) with accompanying easy to program software environments like Crestron Studio Home Designer. This should finally make it easier and far less expensive to build and deliver smart homes.
Dennis Sage, President, Dennis Sage Home Entertainment, Phoenix, AZ:
Our clients are much more informed these days due primarily to the wealth of information available to them on the internet. Of course, that both hurts and helps us depending on the source and reliability of information. However, ideas are formed by our clients before we meet with them and it has not always been like that. Showrooms are less important for the visual part of the design, and the visual part has become extraordinarily important and even to the sacrifice of quality in many cases.
The most requested demand is that the only thing clients want to see is their thin TV. So hiding AV components and ancillary equipment in remote locations is discussed on almost every job. There are, of course added costs to this, so weighing the benefits of hiding components compared to the costs associated to that is a popular topic.
The solutions we most commonly suggest are flush-mounted speakers; equipment racks of all sizes and shapes that house the AV equipment in the remote rooms; TV lifts that hide the TV when not needed and magically appear out of furniture by the push of the on button; invisible speakers that are concealed behind the drywall; soundbars that are attached to the TV’s and in some cases, are made to look like they are part of the TV; universal remote controls that not only allow the equipment to be operated from the remote locations, they also eliminate the clutter of the “basket-o-remotes” that sit on the coffee table; in-wall and portable touchpanels that can be installed into walls or carried with you to operate all of the sub-systems in the house; painting or even fauxing the speakers to match colors and even wallpaper to make them integrate into the design of the home; motorized art that can slide in front of the TV to cover them when not in use; and last but not least, curtains and draperies that can be automated to hide everything when done viewing or listening. These can all be integrated into any installation and when done in total, the final solution is beautiful and clean.
The flush-mounted speaker started this game-changing trend, and there has been a plethora of game changers throughout the years. When SpeakerCraft introduced the aim-able flush mount ceiling speakers, it allowed integrators to ceiling mount speakers while at the same time, maintaining imaging and quality sound. They didn’t stop there. In the years since, they have virtually revolutionized the look, the feel and the sound every year. Now, bezel-less speakers and light can sized speakers have our design trade turning heads. The advent of thin TV’s turned our industry around because we no longer needed to install and look at bulky TV’s. All of a sudden, TV’s were appearing in locations never before even thought of. Custom made soundbars that are made to fit the size of the TV exactly is also a game changer. Lifts of all conceivable make and size allow us to solve unique requests to hide just about everything. Baluns that allow us to send HD content from great distances are crucial to hidden installations. Movable equipment racks that not only allow easy access to service the components; they are also made to be placed in remote locations. And lastly, structured wiring products have allowed us to home run all the wiring in a home that opens so many doors to hidden solutions.
The cellular phone will continue to develop into a powerful tool for all of us. The cloud-based services for storage will continue to proliferate. TV’s will continue to develop and will shortly be the focal point for delivery of content thru the home, innovative companies will continue to reinvent their products to adapt to meet the needs of demanding clients, wireless will continue to be more robust allowing for retro installation of products where they weren’t available before, and the youth of our world will need to be reckoned with as they are the driving force behind a completely new way of communicating and watching and listening.
Matt Allen, President, Oak Point Technologies, Peoria, IL:
Our customers demand products that are not only easy to use, but completely reliable 100 percent of the time–and, they don't want to look at them! It’s understandable, but it means we have to be creative in our solutions. While we always have to hide the electronics in closets, racks, mechanical rooms, or even in the walls, we can’t bury them too far away because we have to be able to easily service the various pieces of equipment. For these reasons, VersaFit by Crimson is a perfect solution, and it’s great for storing equipment behind televisions, or snugging a full motion bracket to the wall. Just like our customers, we also demand the most reliable equipment for our installations. Nearly everything we do requires reliable high definition transmission over extended distances, especially if we are hiding all of the AV connections in one place. Audio/video/data extenders, such as those from Zigen have been a huge success for us, and we’ve been really happy with their performance.
We’re really interested to see where wireless technologies will evolve over the next few years to aid in hidden solutions. Right now, we can transmit data with a fairly high level of reliability, but audio and video, especially high definition audio and video, just isn’t there yet. Most hidden AV products on the market today provide a basic solution to a physical obstacle, but by no means do they provide a high quality solution or experience. This is frustrating for us as we have a real need that simply isn’t being addressed in the marketplace. It’s one of those things that should be so simple, yet there aren’t any manufacturers out there who are really making it happen the way we need them to be.
Jim Richards, President, FutureHome, Fresno, CA:
We are using the Revel 760L in-ceiling speaker consistently right now and used in conjunction with a Lexicon DD-8 amplifier, we have a great solution for multi-room audio systems that are high performance with an extremely acceptable footprint.
Being able to maintain aesthetics in highly sophisticated homes and not having any element of the audio system being obtrusive has been great for our business. When you can provide high performance audio and video and not interfere with design requirements, it is a major benefit to the customer.
Lee Lareau, Principle, Custom Home Theater Systems, Brunswick, ME:
The client demands that we most often face today are usually centered on the blending of technology into the home without being obtrusive. It can be difficult to completely hide all traces of an audio system and still expect hi-fi sound quality but Stealth Acoustics has been doing it for years. We have recently had large projects (100-plus speakers) and used only Stealth Acoustics gear in all of the buildings for completely invisible distributed audio.
We’re excited to incorporate the new Stealth Acoustics outdoor speaker (the StingRay) in future projects. While not one hundred percent invisible, it is completely impervious to the elements and can be blended into almost any outdoor environment. The performance is also impressive with a very spacious sound field, great for outdoor areas needing broad coverage.
Rich Holmes, Owner, iHolmes Technologies, Brooklyn, NY:
Clean, clean, clean is what everyone wants in my region of NYC. In Manhattan, it's important NOT to take away someone's closet from them. Space is often limited, so racks are hard to install. This leaves using various types of furniture to keep all of the components. We have created countless designs, from wall units to credenzas that not only hide the components, but the speakers as well. We have the aFrame acoustical artwork and the aWall.
Along the same lines as space for closets, wall space is also an issue. When trying to stay away from existing lighting and party walls, we often use color-matched speakers and cover the TV with a piece of art. We use a drop-down screen on a motor for the main TV areas. We have also gone to creative lengths to customize a space that can be used as a dining, living, and kitchen room—all in one.
The products I consider revolutionary are high quality wireless audio and video distribution. They pose their challenges when it comes to distance, but can be a very useful tool when you encounter an impossible wire run in a retrofit solution.
Mark Vogel, Classic Media Works, Fort Worth, TX:
Finding a way to conceal the display and effectively control the system will always be the most common demand. With displays getting so thin these days, you would think it would have made the job easier, but it has not. The problem is the client wants the display so close to the wall there is no room for any of your connection cables or baluns.
Media Décor has a great product that goes a long way in helping us not only hide the display but also still leave room the installers need to make the system work. Media Décor does a great job of providing a blue print for us to use and follow to the point where any of my installers have the skill to complete the job. Working with Media Décor and Control4 has really made a difference both our install time and warranty.
I would have to say for our business getting away from RF remotes and the interference/programming issues that come with using them have been game changing for us. Network remotes and mobile device apps have made our job much easier and our warranty calls have cut in half.
[In the futute,] All your video and audio will run direct to the display over UTP. We won’t have set top boxes in the future, just a wire from your network switch to the display.
Brian Yates, A Shade Above, Monterey, CA:
Our clients are often working with interior designers and architects and have very strict parameters regarding electronics. The most often encountered demand for many of our projects is that TVs in the living/family room, as well as the master bedroom not be seen unless they are being used. It is the number one concern and we have partnered with multiple vendors to provide solutions that address this design challenge.
We have deployed many different offerings into our showroom to give clients a very impressive display for what is possible. We are using a wide variety of audio, video, and electronic solutions that represent cutting edge technology. There are many factors to consider when successfully integrating hidden electronics. Careful attention to detail and close coordination with trade partners ensure a smooth installation process and ultimately a client that is ecstatic about the final outcome.
Brian McAuliff, Bri-Tech in Long Island, NY:
If there is a high attention to detail, then hiding the system’s elements is crucial. Making hidden elements, such as speakers and sensors perform optimally is challenging. The increased popularity of modern design creates even less space for technology. One big challenge is the location of the cable box. This box used to reside in furniture, but now there is just a piece of glass.
Bri-Tech uses Crestron’s DM (DigitalMedia) solution to relocate the black boxes in a remote rack. The DM system is not simple Cat-5 converters, which can have issues. The DM ensures we get the highest resolution to the TV and full control over HDMI, to eliminate any IR bugs. Along the same lines, Bri-Tech uses Crestron’s remote probes and sensors to relocate thermostats. Clients use their touchscreens, iPads, or mobile devices to adjust temperature.
Dave Raines, President, Osbee Industries, Harrison NY:
A lot of the time it's not so much the clients' demands as much as it is coming from their designers or architects. Many clients don't really know what we do—they don't really understand what "audio and video distribution" is—they just know they want music and video in every room. But once we explain how it works and how cool and convenient it is, and how it means you don't need a cable box and a dvd or blu-ray with five different remotes in every room in the house, they totally get it and want it all.
Ultimately, our clients come to trust us to make the best decisions to meet their needs—what gear we use is up to us—what's most important is functionality and that the aesthetics of their home is not marred with electronic clutter. We have a very extensive process to understand our clients' needs and to optimize how we work with their architect, designer, and subs. At our first design presentation, we show them exactly what they are getting in every room in the residence, why we've chosen the specific equipment, and what the alternatives and upgrades are. Some clients want to know about every item we spec, others don't care. For media, we engineer our systems with Crestron DM at the core because we find it to be the most reliable and flexible solution for initial needs of the project, for compatibility, and for easy expansion later. We also use integrated HVAC monitoring a lot—clients love the small temperature sensors and control via touchscreen and smartphone. It all gets down to our clients' convenience and engineering the technology to suit their lifestyles.