This Integration Guide to Hidden Electronics was sponsored by Stealth Acoustics and Vutec as a supplement to Residential Systems, June 2013.
Managing Electronic Equipment in the Age of Minimalism
Media Décor, which was recently acquired by Leon Speakers, offers its Moving Art and Eclipse Art lifts. The former encompasses three lines—Elite, Illusion, and Allure—designed to conceal flat-panel displays, soundbars, and other associated hardware with fine art and slides into place when the television is off, while Eclipse Art lifts employ original art, mirrors (pictured here) and decorative panels to hide away fitted components. Modern tastes have been skewing toward minimalism for some time now, with everything from the industrial design of everyday products to the interior design of home spaces emphasizing a sleeker, less intrusive appearance. This accentuation of the simplest design elements to maximum visual and sonic effect has in large part come to define custom integration as clients are more often requesting AV designs that smoothly hide (then sometimes reveal) their expensive electronic gear. It is a shift that now goes well beyond requisite AV rack enclosures and mounts to include loudspeakers, control systems, and disguised televisions that all serve to secrete away the most expensive of home entertainment components.
Of all of the products used by professional integrators, televisions and loudspeakers have arguably undergone the most dramatic and steady weight loss. However, while TVs have become thinner yet wider, loudspeakers have not only lost weight, they have also morphed into miniature powerhouses that can be hidden away in walls, ceilings, and even a bed of roses if that is preferred.
“While we didn’t cure cancer or prevent toast from landing butter- side down when it falls to the floor, TruAudio did play a part in the whole progression of ‘hidden electronics’ when we introduced the industry to the first frameless in-ceiling speaker, the Ghost Series, back in 2008,” said Kary Wawrzyniak, TruAudio’s vice president of technical development. Wawrzyniak went on to note that the series has shaped TruAudio’s product innovation ever since, including the company’s Phantom series of frameless in-ceiling speakers and the recently introduced Trunami in-wall subwoofer. A good choice for retrofit projects, the Trunami uses a CAD system to squeeze an 8-inch woofer and two 6.5-inch bass-augmenting drivers in an enclosure small enough to mount between a 16-inch stud in a standard thickness wall and features a frameless, magnetic grille cloth that is both easy to install and minimizes the on-wall footprint.
TruAudio’s 2008 Ghost Series has shaped the company’s product innovation ever since, including the company’s Phantom series of frameless in-ceiling speakers (pictured here) and the recently introduced Trunami in-wall subwoofer.
Sonance’s Invisible Series of speakers, which added four new models last year, offers installation versatility with the ability to perform optimally while hidden behind up to an eighth of an inch of flexible materials, including topping compound, Venetian plaster, wood veneer, or wallpaper.
“They are a true full-range speaker, with the IS4 three-way model delivering a frequency response of 40Hz to 20kHz +/-3dB,” said Simon Wehr, director of marketing. “They are also more efficient than most other speakers in the segment, with a sensitivity of 90dB. Sonance Invisible Series speakers are specified in retail boutiques globally for Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Dior, Miu Miu, and Fendi, which is testimony to their performance, zero visual impact, and installation flexibility.”
SpeakerCraft’s Seamless Speaker System, which is rendered invisible behind paint, plaster, wall paper, and stucco, is comprised of the 100W FR1 and its companion 15-inch, 250W subwoofer.
Core Brands, which is home to a number of custom integration loudspeaker brands—including SpeakerCraft, Proficient Audio, and Niles Audio—has sought to define each of these companies with their own distinct style. In the case of SpeakerCraft, which has laid claims on being the inventor of the in-wall speaker, the Seamless Speaker System is a continuation of that theme. Rendered invisible behind paint, plaster, wall paper and stucco, Seamless, which is comprised of the 100W FR1 and its companion 15-inch, 250W subwoofer, “are speakers that the installer actually cuts into the wall and finishes over with drywall tape and mud, just like a drywall patch,” explained Mitch Witten, director, audio segment, Core Brands. “These are literally invisible—they look like part of the wall. We did a lot of acoustical engineering to get these to sound great.”
For Proficient, the new Protégé Series of in-ceiling and in-wall speakers was designed with invisible installations in mind. Using a thin-bezel design that eliminates plastic grille frames, Protégé is comprised of 31 products that range from top-of-the-line models to more affordable units, including in-wall and in-ceiling subwoofers.
For Proficient, the new Protégé Series of in-ceiling and in-wall speakers was designed with invisible installations in mind. Using a thin-bezel design that eliminates plastic grille frames, Protégé is comprised of 31 products that range from top-of-the-line models to more affordable units, including in-wall and in-ceiling subwoofers (pictured here).
“The Protégé Series speakers sound and perform and install exactly the same as Proficient’s legacy in-ceiling and in-wall speakers,” Witten said. “This is great for the end user because there’s no sacrifice of sound quality, and even better for our dealers because they don’t have to familiarize themselves with a whole new line of product.”
Niles Audio’s in-wall Cynema Soundfield soundbar is a 300W dual speaker with amplifier that installs behind dry wall and is secured by a thin metal bracket. Available in 48-inch, 55-inch, and 60-inch models the Cynema Soundfield can be connected to Niles’ SW series of compact subwoofer with the help of a wireless kit.
Wisdom Audio’s new SW-1 DSP subwoofer amplifier can be discreetly hidden in an equipment rack located in a closet or equipment room. Designed to work in concert with the company’s passive speaker systems such as the Insight Series, the SW-1 provides signal processing, as well as the amplification to power it and also features 450W of power and an in-rack stackable design, which does not require additional spacers.
“Each SW-1 DSP subwoofer amplifier is programmed at the Wisdom Audio factory for use with the specified subwoofer and labeled accordingly,” said Wisdom Audio’s VP of marketing, Todd Sutherland. “Installation and use within the rest of the system is simple and straightforward. Our range of passive Regenerative Transmission Line subwoofers are designed to deliver unparalleled quickness and tonality.”
Harman recently expanded its Revel 2-Series line of in-wall/in-ceiling speakers with the C283LP shallow-mount and the C263LP shallow-mount in-ceiling speakers, which fit into a mounting space only 2.8-inches deep. The C283LP shallow-mount features an 8-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter, and the C263LP shallow-mount employs a 6.5-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter. Both models are designed for easy installation using standard dog leg-type mounting hardware, feature magnetic round (or optional square) paintable grilles to blend into room décor, and fit standard pre-construction brackets and holes for existing Revel in-wall and in-ceiling models. Both models are also voice-matched to seamlessly blend with Revel's cache of in-wall, in-ceiling and freestanding loudspeakers.
A patented speaker system that combines energy efficient, dimmable LED lighting, and wireless sound into a single unit that installs like a light bulb, IAV’s LightSpeaker cuts a unique profile among newer custom integration loudspeakers. According to Krista Bergman, IAV’s director of sales and marketing, Lightspeaker is designed to fit into most 5- and 6-inch recessed lighting fixtures and utilizes a proprietary 2.4GHz wireless technology that is discreet from the home network while serving as a robust audio network.
Similarly, IAV’s Wireless AudioRock System is intended to easily and inconspicuously install in any outdoor location, with Bergman noting, “a typical AudioRock system can be installed in just a few minutes without running any additional wires.” The system includes a wireless transmitter with two source inputs and two separate zone outputs. Additional AudioRocks or LightSpeakers can be added to the transmitter or system as desired.
Ten years ago, Séura introduced its Enhanced Series of vanishing TV mirror solutions to the market and has built on that unique idea of providing a crisper TV image when the TV is on and a reflective surface when off with its recently launched Premier Series.
Stealth Acoustics offers five versions of invisible full-range speakers and two different invisible subwoofers from what company VP Steve Olszewski called “price-conscious entry level to audiophile quality.” Of these, the newest LR8G speaker is considered the heart of the line and best in value and sound when noting its competitive price point of $1,500 a pair.
“The LR8G has noticeably warm and natural bass response extending down to 40Hz, a well-defined and spacious high frequency output that extends to nearly 20kHz as well as a natural “equal loudness” overall response curve—this is a very pleasing speaker to listen to,” Olszewski said. “Forgetting that the LR8G is an invisible solution is easy when you close your eyes and just listen; you could be listening to a very well-heeled box speaker, or a top-shelf visible in-wall speaker. Yet, the true magic of this invisible speaker is that when you do open your eyes, there isn’t a grill, or box to be seen. We call this uncompromised accomplishment The End of Aesthetic Pollution.”
TV Lifts and Disguises
With thinner, lighter televisions, there are new TV lift options as well as more fascinating ways to accommodate the wider dimensions of today’s flat-panels. Media Décor, which was recently acquired by Leon Speakers, has been a long-time player in this field and continues do so with its Moving Art and Eclipse Art lifts. The former encompasses three lines—Elite, Illusion, and Allure—designed to conceal flat-panel displays, soundbars, and other associated hardware with fine art and slides into place when the television is off, while Eclipse Art lifts employs original art, mirrors and decorative panels to hide away fitted components.
“Our partnership with Lutron gives us access to the quietest mechanisms in moving art and art lifts that are easy to integrate into any control system,” said Noah Kaplan, president of Leon Speakers. “Our eight-year warranty on the electronic drive unit is unsurpassed. With the integration of our speakers, it is now possible to hide a complete theater-grade audiovisual solution within the design of any home.”
Vutec's ArtScreen line is designed to transform a flat-panel display into a work of art. Inside a stylish frame, the artwork ascends or descends with the touch of a remote. Available for flat-panels and projection screens, ArtScreen can be used in any multimedia room or boardroom.
Sanus’ EcoSystem Mini SA206 is designed to hide all of that clutter than can accumulate behind and around flatpanel displays.
“ArtScreen is a line of products with a ton of potential, but [is] often overlooked,” said marketing manager Vanessa Sayen, during CEDIA EXPO. “ArtScreens are a forgotten product that helps dealers open doors with architects and designers.”
Ten years ago, Séura introduced its Enhanced Series of vanishing TV mirror solutions to the market and has built on that unique idea of providing a crisper TV image when the TV is on and a reflective surface when off with its recently launched Premier Series. Led by the S1, the Premier Series fits televisions from 32 to 65 inches and features a new design that eliminates the gap between the mirror and monitor, allowing for a superior image, according to company co-founder and CEO Gretchen Gilbertson.
“Séura products allow customers to enjoy a television, a typical household amenity, in an atypical and unsuspecting way,” Gilbertson noted. “Besides providing the consumer with an elegant, high-performing product, Séura’s vanishing TV mirrors also provide dealers the ability to increase revenue by selling elegant audio and video solutions that don’t detract from a room’s décor. This allows dealers to capitalize on solutions in areas of the home that are typically undersold.”
Inca’s varied cache of custom-built lift products includes the intriguing floor lift (900814-400-FBE), which stores a flat-panel TV larger than 50 inches in an enclosure, raises it out of the floor, and extends it upward to any desired viewing height. The lift uses a box-like extension in deference to the wideness of the screen and includes several control options, including RF radio remote, touchscreen compatible controllers, simple rocker switch, and infrared systems.
Focusing on the space behind the flatpanel displays, SnapAV has designed the Strong VersaBox as a retrofit solution to hide gear.
“Inca units are different from their competitors in that each and every unit is custom made around the customer’s specific flatscreen TV and viewing locations required, allowing the dealer installer, designer, architect, and builder the freedom to specify as large a TV as needed to meet their discriminating customer’s required viewing angles or positions,” said Roger Fortier, who works with Inca’s technical support department. “The units can be manufactured in an ‘ultra silent’ manner, allowing them not only to be installed in the family room, but in the bedroom where quiet action or emitted sound is at a premium.”
To take modern televisions from a “low-profile to no-profile,” Chief has been touting its Thinstall swing-arm mounts that collapse to 1.8 inches or less when installed with a Thinstall in-wall box.
“This is the hidden electronics device,” said Derek Derks, business development manager for Chief. “When used with an in-wall box the mount, cables, outlets, everything becomes hidden behind the TV and instantly accessible only by someone that ‘knows’ the display is mounted on an articulating arm. It literally makes your TV look like its stuck to the wall with invisible Velcro.”
Crimson’s AU series articulating mounts for displays up to 65 inches are designed to be easily maneuvered into the chosen viewing position, stand a mere 1.09 inches from the wall when retracted, and a full 20 inches when extended.
“Unique features include post-installation leveling without the use of tools, three attachment points for wood studs or concrete walls for additional installation safety and security, [and] a built-in level for accurate installation,” noted Vlad Gleyzer, president of Crimson. “These mounts also feature smooth tilt adjustments of +15-degree forward and three degree side-to-side roll, snap-in-place security, and an integrated cable management system that preserves design and decor aesthetics.”
Focusing on the space behind the flat-panel displays, SnapAV has designed the Strong VersaBox as a retrofit solution to hide gear. Featuring a dual-layer design, Strong VersaBox houses all kinds of equipment, including a satellite box, WattBox surge protector, Episode mini amp, or Araknis network switcher. A snap-in cover keeps everything out of sight for a clean installation.
Sanus’ EcoSystem Mini SA206 is designed to hide all of that clutter that can accumulate behind and around flat-panel displays. A single-power solution, the Ecosystem is smaller than a traditional power strip and features switchable outlets, adapters, and USB ports, and it can easily be hidden behind a mounted TV or furniture to keep cables and components neatly arranged and out of sight.
“When combined with the Sanus Recessed Component Boxes (large or small) for in-wall placement behind a mounted TV,” added Lauren Theobald, marketing communications manager, “the electronics and cables for the television along with the small components are completely hidden. The recessed component boxes are perfect for use behind wall-mounted flat-panels and include the ability to hold power sources and elastic straps. The component boxes can be used with the EcoSystem Mini with additional power sources to integrate the outlets and conceal cables. Both sizes also allow for component organization after installation.”
Bill Ennis, GM of sales, eastern division, for Omnimount considers enclosed racks like his company’s RE18, RE27, and RE42 as important electronic components in hidden installations because they allow all of the gear that runs a system to be enclosed in a single unit and stored in a closet.
“Cooling is important when ‘hiding’ products because heat is a big killer of electronics. Our racks include a fully enclosed cooling system with pre-installed cooling fans on top and ventilation on bottom,’” Ennis noted. OmniMount’s collection ships pre-configured and assembled, so installs are not only hidden but easier.
Omnimount considers enclosed racks like its RE18, RE27, and RE42 as important as electronic components in hidden installations because they allow all of the gear that runs a system to be enclosed in a single unit and stored in a closet. The company’s racks include a fully enclosed cooling system with pre-installed cooling fans on top and ventilation on bottom.
VMP’s EREN-27 equipment enclosure answers the call from integrators for a solution that manages and organizes their installed equipment into a central location while maintaining the home’s aesthetic, according to Keith Fulmer, president of the company.
“Our 27U equipment enclosures provide a great centralization while at the same time offering a pretty complete solution out of the box,” explained Fulmer. “With five 2U shelves, five 2U blanks, integrated fans, casters, leveling feet, a tempered glass front door, removable side panels, and bi-fold rear doors, the EREN-27 has eliminated much of the guess work for integrators, while at the same time creating a functional, aesthetic, and affordable solution for many of their installs.”
Offering a solution for situations where a rack or entertainment center is too bulky, Crestron has created the DIN-AP3MEX processor, the latest in its 3-Series platform. Ideal for low-profile installations, the DIN-AP3MEX provides integrated Ethernet, Cresnet, and infiNET EX control (Crestron’s a wireless mesh network technology in which each device on the network is both a transmitter and receiver), so it can control a full range of wired and wireless devices. Crestron’s new wireless control modules, the INET-IOEX-IRCOM and INET-IOEX-RYIO, each smaller than a deck of cards, can be used with the DIN-AP3MEX to communicate with RS232, IR, and relay-controlled devices on the same infiNET EX wireless mesh network.
“As retrofit and upgrade projects continue to grow in popularity, integrators are looking for reliable, repeatable wireless solutions,” said Delia Hansen, Crestron’s residential marketing manager. “Other wireless control solutions often depend on Wi-Fi, with each one added bogging down the network, reducing the available bandwidth, and requiring direction communication to a central WAP. Crestron continues to release products that use the infiNET EX wireless communication protocol as it affords rock-solid communication, independent of the Wi-Fi network in the home.”
Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor to Residential Systems.