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Truly Custom

Brian Rockett is not the kind of guy who throws tantrums when things don’t go as planned. Seemingly impossible challenges don’t appear to rattle him much either, and it’s a sure bet he’ll never cry no matter how tough things get, even when no one is looking.
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Form–and Audio–Follows Funct ion in Chicago High-Rise

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(l-r) Brian Rockett, along with Keith Spale, from Burr Ridge, IL-based Procom, had to master the capabilities of an unfamiliar product called Trak-kit, to motorize the vertical movement a flat-panel TV across the family room in this Chicago high-rise.

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Brian Rockett is not the kind of guy who throws tantrums when things don’t go as planned. Seemingly impossible challenges don’t appear to rattle him much either, and it’s a sure bet he’ll never cry no matter how tough things get, even when no one is looking. These are good qualities in anyone, and they served him well recently, when, surrounded by a lofty urban skyline and an AV blueprint promising to take him into totally uncharted territory with little more than an eightminute instructional DVD and his own mettle, he deftly helped demonstrate man’s dominion over technology.

How Rockett found himself in this situation is a story that begins like many in the custom install channel: with a client. In this case a friendly, easygoing, tech-savvy one he had worked with before as part of the team at Procom, a Burr Ridge, ILbased systems integration firm founded and owned by systems mastermind Keith Spale. The client–an executive at a company residing in the upper levels of Fortune’s 500–is a family man with a home in the suburbs.

Outfitted with Procom-implemented AV systems on a number of levels, this house in the ’burbs was complemented within the family’s living arrangements not long ago by a two-bedroom condominium serving as a retreat in downtown Chicago. Residing above the city with stunning views of Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain, and Lake Michigan just outside its windows, the high-rise getaway was turnkey ready for occupancy when the family bought it, but it had no plan for AV.

A Blank Slate for Integration

The client had distinct ideas of what he wanted. The challenge was implementing them all without spoiling what spread out before the eye just outside the windows. Looking south, east, and west, the condo’s family room takes in a floor-to-ceiling panorama and has its own terrace.

The client wanted a large-screen TV in the space and 5.1 surround sound, but was unsure how to integrate the technology without obstructing the view. Ultimately the client came up with a concept that seemed perfect. Why not mount a flat-panel TV on a track that moves out from an unobtrusive position as needed for viewing, and then returns when not in use, keeping the view totally unspoiled? An internet search ensued, revealing a New York company manufacturing the Trak-kit, an automated system featuring a dual-motor track that could be surface-mounted or recessed into the ceiling to ferry the display around the room to desired destinations.

Capable of facilitating linear, rotational, and even vertical display movements, the Trak-kit is an off-the-shelf system including cable management that keeps installations clutter-free. Procom was rapidly discovering that this was to be a highly personalized, custom project, and that the Trak-kit just might offer a solution.

Getting on Track

A full 18 feet of Trak-kit track was shipped to the site, and the Procom team began in earnest to contemplate how it all would go together. “The client simply wanted to bring the screen into the middle of the room and stop it,” Spale explained. “That’s what he felt would meet his needs for optimal viewing. For aesthetic reasons, however, we agreed that the track would have to be extended all the way over to the opposite wall from where the screen was to be housed in its ‘sleep’ position. It logically followed that if the track would have to run the length of the room, we may as well incorporate other viewing positions along the way that could accommodate viewing from a bar area and more.”

A Sharp Aquos 60-inch LED TV was selected for use with the Trak-kit and suspended using an arm and hardware provided with the system. From its sleep position flush against a wall dividing the kitchen/dining area from the family room, the screen can now move out into one of three positions with a simple touch of a button on an RTI remote. Position one stops it directly in front of the couch, while position two rotates it 45 degrees clockwise toward the bar area. A third position brings it parallel with the angled wall of the terrace.

The Trak-kit comes from the factory ready to be integrated with a Crestron system. With $90,000 allotted to the family room AV budget as well as the rest of the entire condo’s systems, Crestron control wasn’t an option, according to Rockett. This is where the integrator’s skills came into play. After watching the product’s instructional DVD and discovering that he was basically on his own in terms of using any other control system, he set to work reprogramming the track’s motors from scratch.

“This was a test of everything I ever learned and have yet to learn,” he recalled. “I had to get inside the Trak-Kit’s smart motors myself and then program them with a language I’ve never used. “I went through it line by line, both determining and then setting acceleration speeds, how many clicks had to be registered on the track before making required turns and stops, and every other motion, plus actions required if it ever hit anything along the way. It took a long time. Believe me, I knew the system well when I finished.”

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AV sources for the family room include a DirectTV satellite box, LG BD-550 Blu-ray player, and a model PSX-2 i-Pod docking station from URC. Gefen send/receive baluns manage distance factors for HDMI; all components are housed out-of-sight in a rack enclosure from Middle Atlantic stored in a closet off of the condo’s main entry.

Syncing the Audio with the Video

Programming the display’s motions along the track was indeed arduous, but giving proper location to the room’s 5.1 audio in relation to the screen’s different viewing points was an even larger task. With a total of 12 SpeakerCraft AIM8-ONE eight-inch aimable ceiling loudspeakers spanning out overhead in the family room providing sound reinforcement, as well as the left-center-right speakers mounted at the bottom of the Aquos screen, Procom took an unorthodox approach to its routing of audio signals. Unable to rely simply on the traditional use of a receiver or some sort of preamp to accommodate the space, the team was forced to get creative to bring proper sound to the room’s multiple listening fields. The result of their efforts introduced an Ashly ne24.24M 8x12 processor into the scheme. Working in conjunction with a Marantz SR-5005 receiver, the Ashly matrix supplies the routing magic that keeps audio localized to the Aquos screen regardless of its viewing position. Outputs from the Ashly processor are routed to a Speakercraft 12-channel amplifier, to provide amplification for the system, and each speaker in the system is powered by its own dedicated channel.

“The Marantz is doing all of the video upscaling,” Spale noted. “But basically we’re using the device strictly for preamp functions. With six channels of surround coming from the Marantz, next we move to the Ashly for the routing phase of signal distribution. We created presets that accommodate every viewing position. With a press of the button on the main controller, the Ashly automatically changes the loudspeakers for the appropriate viewing environment, giving us true 5.1 surround that’s localized optimally at every stop along the track.”

“It’s not common for this Ashly piece to be used in a residential application,” Rockett added. “It’s a commercial processor, but it delivers phenomenal results for our needs. There was really no other way to do this that I know of with presets that can be easily built and quick to recall. Getting the six surround sound signals to hit 12 different speakers in different combinations to suit the intended listening environment is clearly a trick in any system.”

AV sources for the family room include a DirectTV satellite box, LG BD-550 Blu-ray player, and a model PSX-2 i-Pod docking station from URC. The latter is a favorite of the family’s, because it offers access that far transcends that found standard on an i-Pod. Gefen send/receive baluns manage distance factors for HDMI; all components are housed out-of-sight in a rack enclosure from Middle Atlantic stored in a closet off of the condo’s main entry.

“Everything here delivered real performance in relation to the costs,” the client happily reported, now that the project is complete. “Having an undisturbed view to the outside world was paramount to us. We were able to preserve that and meet our AV needs too. The frosting may have changed a little along the way from how we first imagined it, but we definitely kept the cake in every respect.”

Gregory DeTogne is a freelance writer based in Naperville, IL.

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