An Integrator’s Guide to Designing AV Systems for the Great Outdoors
Niles’ new GS Garden Series features a 4-inch, two-way stake-mount or wall-mount speaker and a complementary 10-inch in-ground subwoofer.
In medical science, the buzz is all about extending our lives. In AV, it’s about extending our lifestyles. And what better way to accomplish this than by bringing all that AV technology has to offer to the great outdoors? From the outdoor kitchen to the pool/spa area to the family patio, consumers want the same amenities and quality that they have experienced inside their homes transported to their outdoor surroundings, presenting new opportunities for integrators.
“When your house is in order, it’s time to focus on the outside,” said Mike Detmer, president of Niles Audio. “We have a robust outdoor AV heritage, as our OS10 set the benchmark 15 years ago. Recently, we’ve been focusing on our premium audio solutions for custom installers. We’re refreshing the outdoor mix; our new line is robust with a variety of models and colors.”
The key to great outdoor sound is uniform sound dispersion, according to Detmer. “Premium home owners like to have sound under the eaves, but we also want it to shower in from the perimeter of the patio or deck to outdoor living spaces.”
Niles’ new GS Garden Series features a 4-inch, 2-way stake-mount or wall-mount speaker and a complementary 10-inch in-ground subwoofer. The speakers are designed to withstand temperature extremes of minus 50 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit and are backed by a limited lifetime guarantee. And, Niles’ GS geo-realistic rock-style speakers are created from actual rocks that the company molds.
“We see the outdoor lifestyle growing with pools, kitchens, and more and more outdoor features,” Detmer added. “As consumers increasingly want more of the outdoor lifestyle, we want to support that with quality products to enhance their experiences. We’re even updating our weatherproof planters with the same technology as that in our rock speakers.”
Combining Quality and Aesthetics
The Aguaceiro Multiclimate Airspeaker from Clark Synthesis is the newest member of its Aquasonic product line and complements the company’s line of underwater pool speakers, said president, Bill Phillips.
(Below) Monitor Audio Climate Outdoor speakers come in four models, are weatherproof, and are paintable (paint scrim included). The brackets enable the speaker to be angled in any direction and fit over a j-box for ease of installation. Brackets and hardware are covered by magnetically attached end caps for a neat and trim appearance.
(Right) SunBrite TV is launching its new consumer Signature Line following market research demonstrating a need for weatherproofing. The Line features 55-, 46-, and 32-inch models with 1080p resolution and a standard array of connections: HDMI, component AV, S-Video, composite video, and VGA.
“Our goal is an outdoor speaker that can be put anywhere in the yard,” he explained. “So many outdoor speakers have to be placed under the eaves because they really can’t handle the elements. If our speakers are buried under six feet of snow, or subjected to ocean salt fog, or baked in the sun, we warranty they will work. The Aguaceiro also is designed for use with indoor pools with extreme humidity. And we plan to introduce a rugged amplifier for the line later this year.”
Phillips noted an increase in outdoor cinema applications, as well, requiring audio performance on par with what consumers expect inside the home. Yet, dealers need to ensure that speakers blend seamlessly into the landscaping, he said. “Ours come in a deep green color attractive enough to be noticed, but designed to disappear in the landscaping. Our subwoofer is designed for burial, but can also be placed in a planter. Dealers also should remember that speaker placement is important for sound in the customer’s landscape and not in the neighbor’s yard, Phillips said.
And that overly loud sound may flow through a neighborhood and offend others, noted Jay O’Brian, director of sales east for Kevro International. “But what if outdoor speakers offered exceptional clarity at moderate volume levels and simply didn’t need to play as loud? Sound pollution is reduced. Neighborly relationships are preserved.”
O’Brian said Monitor Audio’s Climate Outdoor and 100/200 Series in-wall and in-ceiling speakers feature driver technology derived from the brand’s upscale high-performance home speaker ranges. “Our all-weather speakers can handle the power while delivering outstanding clarity, and do so at soft background levels or blast at partylevel volume. Let’s reinforce an old trend: Let’s listen.”
Park|Stevens is a new brand that launched right before CEDIA EXPO 2011, with the sole purpose of designing and manufacturing audio systems for outdoor use. Products, which are distributed under exclusive agreement with Bay Audio Inc., are meant to address the needs of the homeowner, the landscape architect, and the integrator, according to Bay Audio’s Ira Friedman.
“We’ve found high-end clients can spend as much on their outdoor audio system as their entire whole-house audio system,” Friedman explained. “Traditionally, manufacturers have approached outdoor speakers in a simplistic manner: by ‘weatherproofing’ an indoor speaker. However, virtually every aspect of an outdoor system differs from a whole-house system. Acoustics are different. Imaging issues change. Aesthetic considerations are different. Wiring runs are different. And, of course, environmental issues are different.
Sonance developed its Landscape Series system to allow its dealers to capitalize on the outdoor AV opportunity by delivering the level of performance, aesthetics, and reliability that was previously only available inside the home.
Park|Steven allows integrators to choose from six different mounting methods for its PS4 satellite– from traditional house-mount to a direct-burial method. They can mount the PS10 subwoofer four ways–from an under-deck mount to direct burial. The speakers meet or exceed IPX-4 testing for salt water spray, temperature, and humidity extremes, and proprietary driver technology gives the significant output and broad dispersion. The PS4 reaches 100dB of bass to 68 Hz. The PS10 subwoofer produces 116dB of bass to 28 Hz.
The Next Home Theater?
As far as trends go, outdoor technology is becoming the “home theater” of this decade, where homeowners are spending more time and money enhancing spaces once untouched by technology. Sonance is encouraging its dealers to fully commit to the opportunity, said Simon Wehr, director of marketing at Sonance parent company, Dana Innovations. “We developed our Sonance Landscape Series system to allow our dealers to capitalize on this opportunity by delivering the level of performance, aesthetics, and reliability that was previously only available inside the home,” he said.
Sonance’s vision has always been to deliver technologies that blend into the space without compromising the design vision of the architect or interior designer, he explained. “Outdoor spaces are no different, and the closer we work with landscape architects, the more we begin to understand that they are just as passionate about their creations,” Wehr stated. “Our focus has moved away from traditional cabinets and rock speakers (which landscape architects refer to as dinosaur manure), to far more camouflaged solutions, such as satellite speakers that can be hidden under plants or in the foliage of trees and subwoofers that can be buried under ground or placed inside of planters or furniture.”
Sonance also moved into high-quality 70- volt solutions, resulting in far simpler daisy-chain cabling configurations for the dealer, allowing them to spread speakers throughout the entire garden, no matter how large the space.
“The result is far more evenly distributed sound levels, with no hot spots or dead zones, and less disturbance to the neighbors,” Wehr said.” The new HS-10SUB 10-inch subwoofer is the newest member of the Sonance Landscape Series, providing an above-ground alternative to the company’s LS-10SUB and LS-12SUB. The HS-10SUB, which goes on sale in Q2 2012, has the industrial design of a simple neutral cube, which allows it to be incorporated into a planter box, piece of furniture, or part of the outdoor structure, thereby having zero visual impact.
Expanding Access and Control
Control systems, too, are becoming more accessible for different environments from the house to the pool house, and many homeowners have outdoor Wi-Fi access for music, lighting, video, and home theater screens. “They want a more seamless solution for outside access. That’s why we developed this high power access point for greater coverage over majority of usable space,” said Nick Phillips, VP of sales and marketing for Pakedge Device and Software Inc.
The Aguaceiro Multiclimate Airspeaker from Clark Synthesis is the newest member of the Aquasonic product line and complements the company’s line of underwater pool speakers.
Pakedge’s WAP-O3G Outdoor Ultra High Power Wireless Access Point (WAP) was designed specifically for optimum performance and extreme durability in outdoor custom installation applications. It also works as a wireless bridge between a main network and any additional networks in nearby buildings, such as a guesthouse or pool house.
“We develop product based on both dealer market research and feedback from customers who are often looking for fewer outdoor access points,” Phillips said. “Our older model had a lot of components with a bigger housing and antenna; it was bulky and challenging to mount at times. We’ve now integrated the antenna into the housing and are still able to maintain exceptional range, so the new product has the same great coverage and is easier to install.
URC recently introduced its first water-resistant remote control, the MXW-920, to further help its installer network extend home entertainment and control to the outside of the house, as well as the inside.
“We consistently see that people are expanding their homes by maximizing the outdoor space they have,” said Cat Toomey, director of marketing for URC. “A core part of this is always entertainment, because ‘outdoors’ typically translates to times of fun and relaxation. We believe people want the flexibility of taking their entertainment out on the deck, patio, or poolside with them, and that means they should be able to easily bring control with them outdoors.”
Crestron’s new waterproof UFO-WPR-3ER, two-way, RF remote has a 2.8-inch color LCD display, providing true feedback and dynamic text capability and enabling the display of metadata for complete information on the current song, movie, TV show, or radio station.
At Crestron, the Sonnex audio distribution system includes remote amplifiers that can be mounted much closer to speaker loads, using the Sonnex Link, said Scott Dunnet, Crestron regional sales manager. “Sonnex Link offers the ability of the system to transmit up to 24 sources over 48 channels of digitally uncompressed audio to remote amplifiers over a single shielded Cat-5e wire up to 200 feet away. This distance can be increased up to 2,000 feet with the use of the Sonnex Link over fiber extender, with the additional benefit of having the extenders optically isolated from the main system. This is ideal for outdoor runs, guesthouses, pool houses, or other buildings, as lightning surges and other electrical disturbances will not affect the entire system.”
Crestron’s new waterproof UFO-WPR- 3ER, two-way, RF remote has a 2.8-inch color LCD display, providing true feedback and dynamic text capability and enabling the display of metadata for complete information on the current song, movie, TV show, or radio station. “It also has a magnetic dock to easily set it aside,” Dunnet said. “What makes this remote applicable to more than the pool is its ability to withstand the marine environment. Not only will it float, but it can be completely submerged up to 10 feet and will withstand the salt water of the open ocean.”
“From our perspective, it’s all about the elements, whether that’s rain, snow, salt, or anything Mother Nature might present,” said Jeff Lasch, senior product manager, mounts, Sanus Systems. “We want to make sure the mount and the TV perform just as they would inside when they are outside. We don’t want joints of the mount to rust or to corrode, which would hinder performance and aesthetics. This is why we included stainless steel hardware in our VXF220 full-motion mount.”
The VisionMount VXF220 all-weather fullmotion mount is manufactured with a special rust-resistant coating and stainless steel hardware. The mount offers robust, dual extension arms that support even the largest TVs and allow the user to extend the TV up to 20 inches from the wall, as well as tilt, swivel, and pan it in any direction.
Peerless-AV’s PeerAir line of wireless mounts for flat-panels and projectors are designed for indoor and outdoor use, said VP of brand development Brian Eble. “Two years ago, the company was not even in the technology business but [Peerless president] Mike Campagna and I were looking for how we would grow the company over the next five years; we concluded that wireless was one of the next big trends. Shortly after that we introduced the HD Flow solution and formed a new division called the Emerging Technologies Division to embrace many of the new technologies.”
URC recently introduced its first water-resistant remote control, the MXW-920, to further help its installer network to extend home entertainment and control to the outside of the house as well as the inside.
Eble encourages integrators to get involved in projects (particularly outdoor projects) at the conception stage, making their work part of the overall budget, not an afterthought. “Many integrators have formed relationships with landscape companies and can recommend that customers consider outdoor entertainment,” he said. “And, if an integrator is invited to pitch a project and discuss an outdoor area, he can then recommend a landscape company. Some CEDIA dealers now have patios built into their showrooms to demonstrate integration of AV, lighting, and controls in an outdoor environment.
Get Out and Watch It
Ciil Technologies approached Peerless- AV and asked for a series of mounts that can be used outdoors and not rust or corrode, Eble said. “This is how Peerless began a partnership with Ciil; we supply their mounts. Ciil in turn was very impressed with the HD Flow wireless multimedia kit and asked us to design a weatherproof enclosure for the receiver. Peerless produced the box for Ciil and has now made it available to anyone. Ciil manufactures a sealed outdoor TV featuring no external vents, fans, or filters. The TVs can even be fully submerged into a tank of water and still run without fail, according to the company.
While Ciil is relatively new to the market, SunBrite TV is one of the pioneers in outdoor video. SunBrite is launching its new consumer Signature Line following market research demonstrating a need for weatherproofing. The line features 55-, 46-, and 32-inch models with 1080p resolution and a standard array of connections: HDMI, component AV, S-Video, composite video, and VGA.
To ensure that cabling’s not a weak link when the weather turns bad, SunBrite includes a proprietary watertight cable pass-through system. The 46-inch model is already available for $2,995. A larger model, beyond 60 inches is scheduled for an April release, said Tom Dixon, vice president, marketing, SunBrite TV.
SunBrite TV products, Dixon pointed out, are specifically built to be outside, not refabricated from indoor models. And, in a category that has most lost any semblance of profit margin for dealers, the company is still offering a profitable line of flat-panels. “We’re offering a video product consistent with margins potential through the rest of [a dealer’s] product lines. It’s an upside sale,” Dixon said.
Despite a steep drop in new-home starts, Dixon sees the outdoor kitchen space a viable outlet for integration sales. “Close to two million affluent households have them,” he noted. “Dealers already wire AV systems in these houses, and we see SunBrite TVs as a natural add-on sale. If a dealer has 100 core clients, 90-percent have high-end outdoor kitchens, so we know there’s discretionary income. For affluent consumers, some 4.5 million U.S. households, we see a lot of equity and housing prices bottoming out. People don’t sell, but they invest in outdoor spaces; they’re in there for the long haul.”
Ciil Technologies approached Peerless-AV and asked for a series of mounts that can be used outdoors and not rust or corrode on projects like this one.
More time outside is coupled with increased time on media from devices such as iPhones and iPads. “Music consumption has transitioned from a social affair, such as sharing the latest LP with friends, to a personal affair with the birth of the Walkman and MP3 player, and back to a social affair with AirPlay, BlueTooth, etc.,” said Walt Zerbe, senior product manager, Russound.
Russound’s AirGo outdoor sound station is the first portable, weatherresistant, amplified speaker for use with Apple AirPort Express. The AirGo outdoor sound station meets all of these needs and brings the outdoors, music, and iPhone together, Zerbe said. “Wireless music products are very desirable today as they are easy for a consumer to setup and enjoy. The quality and availability of wireless has grown to a point where it’s stable and readily available. There has been an explosion of Wi-Fi-based AirPlay products; to date all of the products have focused on the indoor market. The AirGo outdoor sound station is the first to focus on the outdoors.”
At Soundcast Systems, the most popular weather-resistant product is the OutCast multi-environment wireless and battery-powered stereo speaker system that can be picked-up and toted anywhere, inside or out, said Soundcast president Mike Weaver. “Users can plug any iPod/iPhone/MP3 player directly into the OutCast or transmit wirelessly from an i-device or PC/MAC for premium sound enjoyment of their music libraries and internet radio anywhere and anytime. The system is wireless, lightweight, portable, and sounds great.”
Soundcast now offers optional, customized, exterior speaker adhesive skin wraps for its OutCast speaker systems to personalize any look, such as a favorite sports team or garden foliage. Weaver said, “It is clear that the convenience and freedom of wireless audio is here to stay, and that in 2012, consumers will demand that outdoor audio keep pace with some of the innovations we have seen in the indoor wireless audio market.”
Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer in Boulder, CO.