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An Island Adventure

Charlottes Playback AV Outfits a Getaway House in Paradise

Sometimes your very good name and the right flight path lead to an exotic locale with a $1.5 million AV project. In 2005, these elements combined to send Playback Audio & Video Creations to Emerald Cay, a waterfront mansion on a private island connected by a 40-foot motorized bridge to the island of Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, BWI.

Playback, with offices in Raleigh, Charlotte, and Charleston, was referred to the clients through Crestron, said Playback partner Jamie Sasser. The clients knew there were direct flights from Charlotte to Providenciales, so they asked Crestron to recommend a company that could handle a project of this scope, starting with the $40 million, 30,000-square foot Caribbean home.

Completed over a two-and-a-half year period, the design and installation project became both a challenge and a triumph, with climate, subcontractors, and logistics playing central roles. On site, six separate buildings connected by a series of covered walkways nearly fill the acreage, including a gate and guard house, the main house with its massive glass and mahogany imbued great room and several guest suites, a standalone master villa, and a gym and boat house, all of which incorporate the integrated Crestron control system.

That system is powered by five processorsPro 2, Pac 2, 2 MC2Es, and a CP2Econtrolling more than 500 loads of lighting, shades, screens, and fans, as well as 54 zones of audio, eight plasma televisions, and a lavish home theater. The system also automates the control of several interior fountains, an outdoor pool with a waterfall feature and infinity edge, hot tub and swim-up bar with Crestron screen and waterproof remotes, outdoor shower with waterproof Crestron touchscreen and speakers, a 6,000-bottle wine cellar, and the rotating bridge and its gate. A wireless phone system ensures cordless coverage anywhere on property. A camera system installed by Gray Security, Raleigh, is tied into Crestron, as is a human-recognition system from G.E.

Some 58 Crestron keypads with stainless steel faceplates24 CT-1000s, six TPS-2000s, six WPR-48s, six ML-600 remotes and four TPMC-10 Wi-Fi tabletsare available for homeowners and guests. Frequently accessed equipment and the theater rack are housed near the theater lobby, with the main equipment room on an outside hallway.

The 10-seat theater, Crestrons 2006 Home Sweet Home Theater integration winner, transcends whatever imaginings any Roman emperor (or Caribbean pirate) could have entertained about the future. Accessed from a lobby in which a faux-ticket booth is operated by a 2nd century B.C. Roman courtesan, theater murals and a star-filled ceiling lend a Roman Coliseum ambiance.

More than a dozen lighting loads offer vignettes for any occasion. A Crestron CNX-DAP8RC processor handles all audio/video switching and surround sound processing. The companion CNAMPX-7X200 provides the amplification. Triad Gold LCR speakers are used behind a micro-perforated 120-inch Stewart Screen with 4-way masking to provide any aspect ratio imaginable. Triad In-Wall Gold surround speakers and four Triad In-Wall Subwoofers complete the earth shaking effects. A SIM2 HT300e-Link projector provides stunning visual displays from such sources as a Denon DVD-2910, Escient DVDM, and a DirecTV HD-DVR. Control of the entire system is provided by a Crestron TPMC-10 tablet and a convenient wall plate allows the TPMC-10 to be displayed on the screen.

Technical Considerations
Although TVs were not a priority for the clients, distributed audio topped the request list, Sasser said. They wanted music throughout, in every room in the house, including the guest bathrooms, and outside at the patios and pools and near the lagoon, cabana, and beach volleyball courts in front.

We installed 125 TruAudio (Salt Lake City) loudspeakers outside and inside, including in-wall and in-ceiling, he said. They make excellent products with a lifetime warranty. These clients wanted performance and value, and the speakers give me what I need to reliably reproduce exceptional music. We discussed the Caribbean environment with TruAudio and they upgraded the finish on their exterior rock speaker for durability.

TruAudio, Sasser said, was one of the first to make a high performance in-ceiling speaker, at an angle. Six of the Revolve speakers were installed around the catwalk of the two-story perimeter of the great room, firing sound back into the room. A player piano wired into the distributed audio system is installed in a loft above the great room.

“As beautiful as the island is, it was no vacation for our crew.” –Jamie Sasser, Playback Audio & Video Creations

Weve done projects similar in size, but this was our first outside the U.S. and the most extensive in terms of integration and scope, he said. Even dealing with customs and work permits was a learning curve. The biggest challenge was finding and working with subcontractors on the island. Although some subs were local and some from the U.S., most were Dominican or Haitian, creating language barriers. And then we had to deal with the time [involved to] bring new contractors up to speed with every turnover. The clients anticipated that the house would be finished within six months to a year, he says, but it proved to be much longer.

Nobody involved from the architect to the original contractor and subs had ever worked on anything of that scale, he continued. For the most part it was a world class team, but there were elements of the project that were beyond the scope of anything that they had done before.

A short time after project completion, the clients sold Emerald Cay to Yellowstone Club World, owned by Tim Blixseth. Playback then added a number of TVs and simplified programming for club members who will be staying at the house.

A Learning Experience
The most significant lesson that we took away from the island project is that we now look at $1 million projects and have a much better idea of what it takes to successfully complete them, Sasser said. What I underestimated most is how much project management time it would take.

Playback has since completed a similar system for the original Emerald Cay clients who built a 15,000-square-foot log home at the Yellowstone Clubs Big Sky, Montana, site. We have contemplated opening an office in Big Sky because of the tremendous market potential, but so far have not found the right opportunity, Sasser said.

Playbacks strategy, he said, is to have small and flexible offices in highly desirable markets. Currently, the company has two offices in Charlotte, as well as the original Raleigh office and a recently opened Charleston, South Carolina, office.

We have put together the brand, the people, and the expertise that can execute projects of just about any size in any location, Sasser said. As we grow our business we want to position ourselves in key markets, partnering with people who share our vision of excellence and growth. By the end of this year we will have added an office in the mountains of North Carolina and have a team in place that can pursue opportunities wherever they may be.

Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer living in Boulder, Colorado.