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Leveling Up Your Outdoor AV Design

The rise in popularity of outdoor systems brings with it increased client expectations.

By now, we’ve embraced the notion that outdoor entertainment is hot — consumers want it, the pandemic is driving it, and spaces are being designed to promote healthy, outdoor lifestyles. It’s a trend that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

What is changing, however, is the scope of outdoor projects. No longer is a simple wall-mounted TV and a few speakers sufficient for most homeowners in their outdoor environments. “The amount of technology, the attention to detail, the quality of the products, and the demand for high performance are skyrocketing,” says Don Dunn of HavenSmart. “Our customers want the works, and not just on the patio or deck. They want tech throughout the yard, to the boat dock, and everywhere in between, and they’re not willing to skimp on quality to save a few bucks.”

Outdoor AV – HavenSmart - Patio
A nighttime view of a patio from HavenSmart.

“Even in sunny Florida, we’ve noticed an uptick in customer requests for not just outdoor entertainment systems, but networking, security, and control,” adds Mark Bolduc of Wicked Smart Homes. “People are willing to invest more on outdoor technology, and no longer are these exterior spaces serving as supplementary entertainment areas. Increasingly, they have become the primary entertainment destination.’

Two-Piece Projection Takes the Pole Position

“We used to have an ongoing battle with clients who simply wanted to put cheap, replaceable indoor TVs outside,” says Bolduc. “They figured why spend a lot on a display when they could affordably swap it for a new one when necessary.” But that logic has shifted. According to both Bolduc and Dunn, consumers are increasingly choosing quality over quantity, demanding performance over a quick installation, and willing to invest more for something that lasts. “The outdoors is no longer a place where TVs go to die,” Bolduc says. This has led to a surge in outdoor TV and two-piece projection sales for both Dunn and Bolduc. Their clients are considering weatherproof features, warranties, longevity, aesthetics, and, of course, image quality when equipping outdoor spaces with displays.

If you haven’t already, it’s a good time to expand your outdoor display portfolio and embrace two-piece projection as a viable outdoor entertainment solution. Naturally, audio is following suit. It’s not enough to offer a basic stereo system. A full surround sound system is audio setup du jour. “More and more, we are tucking speakers within trusses in a lanai and marrying them with high-quality soundbars to achieve the full, surround sound effect,” Bolduc says. “Finding ways to integrate them into the outdoor design is more important than ever, so be sure to coordinate with a structural engineer to understand your installation limitations.”

Outdoor AV – Wicked Smart Homes – Pool
An intimate pool area with an outdoor TV and lighting from Wicked Smart Homes.

As the demand for projection screens escalates, often so does the need for creative mounting systems. Unlike free-standing screens, motorized systems can be protected from wind, dust, and other outdoor elements. “Motorization used to be an afterthought; now it’s a necessity,” Dunn says. A relatively new application that’s gaining momentum in outdoor environments is dual-sided, 360-degree screens. These afford the luxury of viewing content from both the front and back of the screen, making them well-suited for applications where the interior opens up to the exterior. One group of friends can watch through the open French doors of the kitchen while another group partakes from the swimming pool, for example. Taking this revolutionary design to the next level is the fusion of a 360-degree projection screen with a bug screen. From this one product homeowners enjoy life-size visuals and protection from mosquitoes. “It’s become the ‘secret sauce,’ to differentiate my outdoor designs from my competition,” Dunn says.

Outdoor AV - Haven Smart – Projection Screen
HavenSmart uses a 360-degree projection screen with a bug screen to differentiate its outdoor designs from its competition.

Get the Lay of the Land

You collaborate with interior designers when integrating technology inside homes, be sure to do the same with landscape architects when deploying outdoor systems. By understanding the layout, you’ll be able to place cabling and speakers away from irrigation lines and sprinkler heads and choose complementary speaker styles and colors. Most outdoor speakers are engineered to withstand water, extreme temperatures, and other conditions, but Dunn goes a step further in his cabling and speaker plans by always placing cabling in conduit and wrapping the stems of vulnerable landscape speakers with plastic or concrete sprinkler guards, sometimes painting them to match the landscape. “Who knows if and when someone will drive a spade through a speaker or brush one with a weed whacker.” He also recommends revisiting the project after a rainfall to make sure water isn’t settling anywhere on or near speakers.

Outdoor AV – Wicked Smart Homes – Patio
An outdoor patio by Wicked Smart Homes.

Blanket the Backyard with Security and Wi-Fi

In the past, homeowners were satisfied having Wi-Fi access on the deck and a security camera pointed at the entrance. No longer. “They want to see every part of the property, especially if they live on the water, and connect to Wi-Fi from anywhere,” Dunn says. “We install multitudes of cameras now, for a wide variety of applications, from watching the kids play in the pool while Mom makes lunch to surveying the shoreline for trespassers entering the property via the water.”

Along with an increase in the number of cameras installed outdoors, Dunn and Bolduc are finding that homeowners want those cameras to be exceptionally smart. Features like analytics to discern animals from people, and pan, tilt, and zoom controls are resonating. As for the camera styles, bullet is working best for Dunn. “We’ve learned through experience that they withstand sea salt buildup much better than dome cameras. Every six months or so our clients were asking us to clean their dome cameras. Cleaning requests ceased once we switched to bullet-style cameras.”

Wi-Fi is following a similar outdoor path. More access points installed in more places are covering more ground. Especially for waterfront homes, the extra coverage ensures consistent, reliable connectivity for streaming music to speakers and launching home control apps even at the boat dock.

Also by Lisa Montgomery: 5 Home Theater Trends Shaping the Industry

Go for the Full Effect

Colored LED lighting is fun, but it can be a tough sell for indoor environments — unless there’s a home theater. Outside, however, it’s an open canvas, Bolduc and Dunn agree. Homeowners like the idea of having colored lights for parties, holidays, special events, or to simply personalize the space. “Still, the best way to sell homeowners on the merits of colored lighting, we’ve found, is to start with conventional lighting for security purposes,” Bolduc suggests. “Once they understand how powerful and practical lighting can be outside, they can more easily envision lighting’s fun factor.”

Outdoor AV – Wicked Smart Homes - LED Lighting
A Wicked Smart Home project demonstrates the impact of outdoor lighting.

Cultivate Future Opportunities for Outdoor Amenities

Even if your clients aren’t interested in tech for the outdoors, plan for it anyway. Run a j-box with four-conductor wire and Cat6 at the front and back of the house. “It’s a profitable SKU that makes adding speakers, displays, and other equipment a breeze later on,” says Dunn. “Your clients may not have a pool, gazebo, or outdoor kitchen now, but given the outdoor entertainment trend and the ongoing pandemic, it’s wise to be prepared for anything.”

Lisa Montgomery is a home-tech journalist, whose work has been published in a variety of magazines and websites. She reports on topics including home AV, smart lighting, and full-blown automation systems.