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Outdoor AV Manufacturers Offer More Options Than Ever

For the home entertainment enthusiast, there are no areas within their dwelling that couldn’t benefit from a bit of sound and video.

SONARRAY utilizes satellite speakers that are spread in an array facing inwards throughout the perimeter garden beds and is coupled with a subterranean subwoofer equipped with a canopy. For the home entertainment enthusiast, there are no areas within their dwelling that couldn’t benefit from a bit of sound and video. For interior spaces, innovative customers have specified speakers, televisions, and automation control systems for unconventional areas, such as bathrooms, closets, and wine cellars. That this desire stretches to the great outdoors isn’t a big surprise, but with nature’s elements coming into play, the considerations can be vastly different, with everything from aesthetics to weatherproofing exerting demands on the final custom solution.

“Outdoor AV entertainment is as thrilling as a drive-in, but better, where action from a movie or music from a concert video should be delivered with full fidelity, with focused, accurate, and low distortion sound quality—all key to a high quality ‘live listening experience’ for the customer,” noted Mark Casavant, senior vice president of global product development for Klipsch.

That live outdoor experience comes with some equally live integration challenges, which include the size of the exterior space, the effect of weather conditions on sound and viewing quality, and providing affordable, durable AV equipment that also maintains its aesthetic appeal come rain or shine.

Speakers Outside the House

“What’s often overlooked in outdoor speakers is the difficulties in delivering high-quality sound outside,” said Dennis Goettsch, SpeakerCraft’s brand manager, before outlining what the company views as the most critical aspect of outdoor speaker design: sound pressure levels (SPL).

“You need to be able to produce higher sound pressure levels in an outdoor speaker because you don’t have a defined, enclosed space as you have indoors,” Goettsch explained. “Yet, you may have to achieve that high SPL with just a 30- or 40-watt amp, so the outdoor speaker must be efficient. The task gets even tougher if the speaker is mounted where it doesn’t play directly into the area you want to cover.”

SpeakerCraft has had much success addressing this issue with its Outdoor Elements series of speakers, which uses ported enclosures—designed to prevent water and insect incursions—to provide deeper bass, more bass output, and better sensitivity. The company’s tribute to bass can also been heard in its 250-watt mono amp BoomTomb subwoofer, which when buried in the ground can be easily camouflaged within the landscape.

At Sonance, SPL is also a primary concern; one that is addressed with its SONARRAY SR1 system and answers the company’s design question, “How do you achieve extremely high sonic performance and evenly distributed SPL throughout a space without having a negative impact on the design cues?” SONARRAY utilizes satellite speakers that are spread in an array facing inwards throughout the perimeter garden beds and is coupled with a subterranean subwoofer equipped with a canopy.

Using unique Tractrix horn-loaded speaker systems in products like its AWR 650, Klipsch has zeroed in on focusing sound to create a dynamic outdoor audio experience. “Our dealers were asking for a solution that filled the gap between the lower cost rock speaker and weatherproof cabinet speakers and our higher end scalable SLS system,” said Simon Wehr, director of marketing for Dana Innovations, Sonance’s parent company. “SONARRAY SR1 fills that gap perfectly and provides the opportunity for our dealers to take a larger slice of the rapidly growing outdoor entertainment market.”

Discreet speaker placement while maintaining sound integrity is a paramount concern for most outdoor speaker manufacturers, including TruAudio whose dual voice coil outdoor speaker has been a hit with integrators.

“It’s funny, our dual voice coil is in demand because it allows an integrator to use one speaker instead of two,” said Brock Belliston, director of design and engineering for TruAudio. “They can save some money getting stereo from one speaker. There are also some tricky outdoor areas where proper speaker alignment can’t be achieved. So, the dual voice coil is a nice, inexpensive solution.”

In addition to the dual voice coil solution, TruAudio has also developed the Swivot technology mounting solution for its outdoor audio range, which allows integrators to direct sound more precisely.

Noting the maintenance of a high-level experience in outdoor audio as one of primary challenges it faces with product production, Crestron has developed the Sonnex Multiroom Audio System, which includes a high-powered amp, pre-amp, advanced DSP, and a full 24×8 matrix switcher, making it ideal for both outdoor and indoor applications.

“From an audiophile standpoint the characteristics of a yard are incredibly challenging,” said Delia Hansen, Crestron’s solutions manager for the residential market. “You need products that offer not only strong dynamic range, with a lot more power than interiors, so THD is critical. So you can play louder, keep your lows, mids and highs, and really enjoy the music.”

The Sonnex System stands alongside Crestron’s Air Speakers, another flexible outdoor solution that offers weatherized construction, high power handling, and extended frequency response.

Crestron’s Sonnex System stands alongside its Air Speakers, another flexible outdoor solution that offers weatherized construction, high power handling, and extended frequency response. Using Tractrix horn-loaded speakers, Klipsch has zeroed in on focusing sound to create a dynamic outdoor audio experience.

“Because of the high efficiency of Klipsch speakers, they require less power and are less demanding on (whole house) amplification systems,” said Casavant. “This also greatly enhances the inherent reliability of Klipsch speaker systems, even when they are pushed hard, they don’t blow up, they just keep on playing. They are easy to drive and robust in power handling to deliver the “dynamics of real life” in music, games, and movies. As people are more concerned worldwide with energy efficiency, we believe our design approach becomes more relevant for the future of home entertainment. If a customer can experience better sound while consuming less electrical energy, it is a win/win.”

Niles Audio’s latest outdoor audio line, the GS Garden series, is specifically designed to blend seamlessly into its surroundings while providing superior quality. The stake- or wall-mounted GS5 satellite speaker looks like a landscape lamp fixture while the companion GSS10 In-Ground Subwoofer has a small footprint with only its mushroom-style diffuser protruding from the ground.

“We manufacture a wide range of high-quality planter, wallmount and stake-mount speakers to satisfy every client’s unique needs,” said Mitch Witten, brand manager for Niles Audio and Sunfire. “Demanding environments and harsh climates can wreak havoc on lesser speakers, so all of Niles outdoor products are designed to withstand anything that mother nature can throw at them, from biting cold and heavy snow to searing heat, baking sunlight or pounding rain.”

Ticking the flexibility, expandability, and affordability boxes for outdoor audio installations, Soundcast’s portable Outcast speaker system features an omnidirectional design for 360-degree listening, as well as a built-in, down-firing subwoofer and an internal rechargeable battery that allows it to be wireless.

“OutCast is weatherproof for pool splashes and rain,” noted Mike Weaver, Soundcast’s president. “Its sound performance covers a typical backyard area with ease and for extra large areas dual OutCast systems can receive the same source signal for expanded coverage. Just plug-in OutCast to charge, unplug, and place it anywhere and start enjoying full-range music in an instant.”

With integrators often concerned about outdoor speaker placement, Phase Technology has employed director radiator speakers to cover an area in front of the speaker in a specific location and 360 radiators to produce a uniform sound field in all directions.

“Our SPF-85 addresses most of our installers’ concerns with outdoor placement. First, they are very reliable,” said Ken Hecht, vice president of R&D for MSE Audio, Phase Tech’s parent company. “The material used for the cabinet is extremely strong. The speaker can handle the weight of a car. They also pass the weedwhacker test. Even if they are somehow chipped, the material is uniform throughout, so the chip won’t show.

“They can be used in either a conventional 8-ohm mode with home runs or 70V daisy chains,” Hecht added. “If you are using many speakers, it makes the job of running wires much simpler. Lastly, with 360-degree dispersion, the amount of speakers needed to cover an area evenly is a quarter that of direct radiators.”

To eliminate stereo sound imbalances that occur as people move around outdoors, Paradigm has designed the SM (stereo/mono) speaker, which when used in multiples throughout an outdoor space, offers, “rich, pure-fidelity outdoor sound from a single speaker,” according to Mark Aling, senior director of marketing. “In small outdoor areas less suited to a stereo pair or where a single speaker is preferred, their unique dual-directional sound field provides wider-than-normal dispersion.”

Aling also highlighted Paradigm’s Rock Monitor speakers, which he noted are realistic enough that people often have a hard time distinguishing them from the usual landscape rocks found in high-end gardens. This particular kind of outdoor speaker has become a hallmark of custom AV outdoor audio, with the trick always hinging on delivering sound quality to complete the visual deception. This is the entire goal of Rockustics, which they, as noted by Duke Ducoff, vice president of sales for parent company MSE Audio, “have worked very hard to make rocks that fit within indigenous parts of the US in texture and color to match surroundings.”

Ducoff continued, “In addition, we have different pots and planters to unobtrusively introduce sound in areas where the users do not want to see speakers.”

Honing close to a custom shop philosophy where every project gives them an opportunity to create something new and unique, Leon Speakers still found time to produce its handcrafted Boundary range of outdoor speakers that features an attractive mahogany finish inspired by the varnishing technique used on the hull of classic sea vessels.

“Our goal is to bring a fresh perspective into what really can be done in these outdoor spaces with the proper planning and design,” said Robert Waissi, senior industrial designer for Leon.

Backyard Cinemas

Outdoor television manufacturers face a number of vexing factors of their own when trying to deliver superior viewing quality. In addition to creating enclosures that combat climates that wreak havoc on exposed electronics, providing a viewing window to rival indoor cinemas has always been a challenge, especially when taking into consideration extremely sunny conditions.

For SunBriteTV, the solution has been the integration of high brightness LCD panels that feature high haze, anti-reflective screens on all of their televisions, in addition to providing a range of weatherproof mounts and accessories to fulfill the proof of any outdoor cinema project.

“With the Signature Series, we were able to retain all of the great weather-proof features of a SunBrite but hit some very affordable price points—as low as $1,495 for a 32-inch model (3260HD),” said Tom Dixon, vice president of marketing for the company. “By breaking the ‘affordability barrier,’ we have opened the market up to a much wider range of consumers. The second most requested product is our new Marquee Series TVs. Based on our original Pro Series, the Marquee models have the ability to be placed in bright, direct sunlight without suffering from any isotropic black-out effects.”

RTI’s U2 weather-resistant
universal system controller is
completely sealed with a high contrast LCD, which allows users to see custom buttons, graphics, and text in daylight glare.
Séura has faced many of the same obstacles and has overcome them with an ultra-bright television combined with a dual-layer anti-reflective screen. For more unpredictable climate conditions, the company also manufactures the Storm line of outdoor televisions, which CEO Gretchen Gilbertson said was developed from the ground up in Green Bay, WI.

“Our geographic location offers the most extreme weather conditions, from the bitterly frozen tundra in the winter to extreme heat in the summer, our products were tested in our own actual weather conditions,” Gilbertson explained.

Control in the Environment

With the sound and video perfected, any integrator worth his salt would include remote control features that are just as weather-proof, yet as elegant as the AV they have just installed into their project.

The U2 weather-resistant universal system controller from RTI is the company’s most requested for its outdoor systems and is completely sealed with an easy-to-read, high-contrast LCD that allows users to see custom buttons, graphics, and text even in daylight glare.

“The U2 also allows integrators to completely customize control to the user’s particular system via eight programmable soft buttons and 33 programmable keypad buttons,” said RTI VP of sales and marketing, Pete Baker. “And to expand the controller’s capabilities, RTI automation devices are available for even more powerful control, including RF transmission through walls and cabinets, power sensing, relay control, and RS-232 communication.”

Crestron’s UFO Waterproof Remote (UFO-WPR-3ER) delivers all of the benefits of an advanced wireless handheld controller for outdoor adventures, with Hansen noting that it is very popular among Crestron dealers.

Of URC’s cache of outdoor AV control products, the MXW-920 has also been in high demand. Waterproof and providing RF and IR control, the MXW-920, when combined with an MRX-1 Network Base Station and a couple of accessories (RFTX-1 transmitter and MRX-250 antenna), controls audio and video, and can control indoor and outdoor lighting.

“With the universal popularity of iDevices, we also get asked about convenient control using iPads and iPhones from the patio, deck or backyard,” said Cat Toomey, director of marketing for URC, acknowledging customers’ fascination with the integration of mobile devices with their AV systems. “Our new mobile apps for both our Complete Control Product line and our Total Control line make this a reality and allow dealers to have an easy start to a consumer conversation [that] typically leads to dedicated remotes and controllers for the total experience.”

Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor to Residential Systems.

Robert Haecker

Triphase Technologies, Carmel, IN
What product has become an invaluable tool in your outdoor AV business?
The outdoor box and rock speakers have become invaluable tools in our outdoor AV business. All models by Klipsch perform well, are competitively priced, and have proven to be durable. In addition, we feel the Klipsch rock speakers look more realistic than other brands.

John Zaldivar

Greenline Home Theater, Inc., Miami, FL.
What product has become an invaluable tool in your outdoor AV business?
Although all Soundcast products have helped us in many ways, such as SurroundCast, SubCast, and the UAT audio transmitter, I would have to say the MVP product is their OutCast multi-purpose speaker system. We have tried many other wireless options and none has even come close.

David P. Maples

AMBIENTI Audio Video Architects, Park City, UT
What product has become an invaluable tool in your outdoor AV business?
I like the TruAudio outdoor speakers with the new Swivot design, although I am partial to rock speakers and use them where I can, even though in Park City they get buried in snow for six months. The Swivot’s versatile mount allows them to be positioned (aimed) properly, even in challenging locations.

Tim May

Alamo Electronics, Cincinnati, OH
What has become an invaluable product in your outdoor AV business?
The Signature Series from SunBriteTV has become the most valuable tool in our outdoor AV business. Before the Signature Series arrived, people had wanted to buy an outdoor TV, but at a cost of thousands of dollars they simply couldn’t justify it. The Pro Series is great, but with the arrival of the Signature Series the price barrier was broken and these outdoor TVs came within reach of a whole new market.

Franklin Binns

Electronic Lifestyles LLC, Long Island City, NY
What product has become an invaluable tool in your outdoor AV business?
The Séura Storm has been an invaluable product for our outdoor business. The product offers a high-quality TV solution for rooftops, patios, and sun decks. In terms of picture quality and aesthetic, nothing matches the Storm. Other competitors have issues with direct sunlight hitting the glass. This usually washes the picture out or creates blotches in the picture. Séura’s Storm has no issues with this. It provides a consistent brightness and clarity through all elements.