Putting audio and video into the garage used to be exotic, but the man-cave trend moved it to the front burner for a while, as did car enthusiast Jay Leno’s return to late-night television. The recession took the bloom off the concept, but like car sales, the idea is coming back and that reminds us of the peculiar challenges that come with cabling and content in an area better known for grease, grime, and more than a few spiders.
The AV Merry-Go-Round
Punch up a car on this client’s Apple iPhone and a former merry-go-round turntable rotates and points to the real thing parked in it space in a newly built 13-car garage in Paradise Valley, AZ. Bugatti, Bentley, Benz, and other marques each have their own slot in the 3,000-square-foot garage that was added earlier this year to the client’s existing home and connected by a glass-roofed skybridge walkway. The carousel’s original simple left and right operation controls are enhanced by a Crestron control system that uses 26 relays and 26 I/O ports to precisely line the turntable up with each car’s spot in the garage.
For a new garage to hold the owner’s high-end collection of Ferraris and Porsches, Cybermation, of Waite Park, MN, ran more than 50 feet of 25-pair copper cabling to handle a combination of connectivity to the main house’s HAI Home Logic Profile 700 automation system and security system, though systems designer Paul Novak says he’d use fiber-optic cabling if it were done today. A Kaleidescape media server in the main house is accessible in the garage via an Ethernet connection. The main garage floor also has a 46-inch Samsung LN46A750 LCD display mounted on a Sanus VMDD26B bracket.
That bit of engineering was done by a programmer at Theater X in nearby Scottsdale, which also designed and installed audio and video components in the garage. Even spaced on the interior wall of the circular garage are five Samsung 42-inch commercial plasma displays. A sixth, near the pedestrian entrance, is configured as a large touchscreen using a combination of Crestron automation and custom coding to create an overlay to control the AV. The video sources include any of six DirecTV satellite television feeds, three AppleTV boxes and a pair of Sony BDP-S370 Blu-ray players. These are located in the main house, over 200 feet away, in a trio of Middle Atlantic racks that also feed the home’s theater and whole-house audio systems. One bit of content that was created specifically for the garage is a slide show that displays pictures of the car collection that loops at the touch of a virtual button.
The garage’s audio is basic: six True Tone GG-8 speakers are in the ceiling, playing back a summed mono signal. “There’s no need for stereo or 5.1 because there’s no real focus on any one video display,” explained Jason Turunen, one of Theater X’s two owner-partners. The garage is the site of parties and gatherings, mostly of fellow car buffs (Leno has been known to stop by), so sound serves mainly a background purpose. The speakers on the video displays are deactivated, and the system has no subwoofers.
The challenge, Turunen said, was in the wiring, running a combination of 16/4 and Cat-5 bundled into a single strand and Crestron’s Cresnet four-wire, 24-volt cabling for system control, as well as Ethernet cabling. “It was one thing running cable back from the new addition across the skybridge in its own conduit, but the hardest part was running it back into the center of the existing house where the AV racks were located,” he recalled, noting that some strands ran as long as 230 feet end to end. “There was a lot of fishing and dropping light pens into walls and cutting drywall and using vents to rout the cabling,” he added.
The Autonomous Garage
Garages are often their own ecosystems, but they can also be considered extensions of the main residence. The garage that Phil Farber, executive director of IT for Benson Systems, in Gilbert, AZ, encountered in nearby Tempe, is a bit of both.
In addition to the two-car garage that’s part of the house, the client had a separate 3,500-square-foot garage/gym/guesthouse added on. The front of the structure is a two-car garage; behind it, accessible via the same kind of HAI key fob or biometric fingerprint scanner used to access the main doors, is the 2,000-square-foot theater and gym area. On one hand, the garage has its own AV sources–a 4.5-foot-high Middle Atlantic rack positioned on the center of one wall holds an AllSecure 16-channel DVR system, a SpeakerCraft BB1265 Big Bang amplifier, a Samsung BD-P2500 Blu-ray player, a Cox 8240 HD AV receiver, a Panamax M5300-PM in-line power conditioner, and a Denon ASD-3N iPod dock. From the rack, the garage AV is virtually self sufficient to feed the pair of Samsung LN55C630 55-inch LCD displays hung in opposite corners of the space, and the eight JBL Control Now speakers and SpeakerCraft V10 10-inch subwoofers under each video display.
On the other hand, though, the garage is one more node of a house system that has around 100 security zones alone, including Bosch dome and PTZ security cameras for the garage. Farber values the HAI Omni Pro II automation system for the house at about $200,000. The garage’s HVAC and other automation functions are tied to control panels for the house, and its AV system can pull content from the house’s AV sources. In the garage rack, a Denon AVR-988 is used as a matrix control switcher for signal routed from the Russound system in the main residence; the amplifier section is bypassed.
“Essentially, the garage is a zone of the house’s Russound system, while at the same time it’s its own place,” said Farber, adding that the biggest challenge of the project was give the AV and control systems a high degree of autonomy in the garage while still keeping them connected to and under the command of the main house automation system. “We put in a VM-1 Russound video matrix running component video and left-right audio on Cat-5 from the house to the garage, and we used UPB [data over the power bus] and had to put in face couplers to get the lighting controlled from the house.”
In addition to the two-car garage that’s part of the house, Benson Systems’ client, in Gilbert, AZ, had a separate 3,500-square-foot garage/gym/guesthouse added on. The garage is one more node of a house system that has around 100 security zones alone, including Bosch dome and PTZ security cameras for the garage.
As imposing as the finished project is, it still required the small particulars that AV in garages demand. For instance, even with the slick epoxy finish available for the floors and walls, garages still attract the kind of grime that home theaters rarely see. Thus, the AV rack in the garage is enclosed and sealed (though the client opted for a glass front door to keep the illuminated diodes visible). Farber says that most garage AV projects don’t have content sources in the garage itself, as this one does, which necessitated a higher degree of protection against dirt for AV components. But, overall, the amount of AV going into garages is on the upswing, he said.
“The extent to which you can insulate a garage in terms of temperature, and keep it clean with better floor and wall coverings has encouraged people to bring they stuff they enjoy in the house out the garage with them,” he added.
The Toy Box
One trend that residential systems integrators are encountering when it comes to AV in garages is that garages are increasingly outbuildings, separate from the main residence and thus require additional cabling and some planning when it comes to equipment. Then there’s the fact that a separate building can precipitate a toy-box effect, leading some clients to add more AV bells and whistles that they might in the main house itself.
For a new garage to hold the owner’s high-end collection of Ferraris and Porsches (the mere Mercedes and BMWs remain in the main house garage), Cybermation, of Waite Park, MN, ran more than 50 feet of 25-pair copper cabling to handle a combination of connectivity to the main house’s HAI Home Logic Profile 700 automation system and security system, though systems designer Paul Novak says he’d use fiber-optic cabling if it were done today. “The price differential between when we did this project a year or so ago and now has been pretty significant,��� he said, while acknowledging that the copper has worked fine.
A Kaleidescape media server in the main house is accessible in the garage via an Ethernet connection. The main garage floor also has a 46-inch Samsung LN46A750 LCD display mounted on a Sanus VMDD26B bracket. Video on the second floor consists of a 55-inch Samsung LN55A950 mounted near a pool table and a 32-inch Samsung LN32B650T above a poker table. Audio inside and out uses an ELAN System 12 distributed audio system. Six-inch B&W CCM618 speakers are in the main floor garage ceiling; eight-inch B&W CCM818 speakers are used in the game room ceiling upstairs.
“There’s no way to effectively have stereo imaging in a situation like this, much less 5.1, so we staggered the left and right sides of the stereo output, alternating each speaker in the ceilings,” Novak explained. “That way, we can keep the volume moderate but still have good coverage throughout the garage and minimize reverberation in the space.”
But he did note favorite locations of the owner in the garage and preset the EQ, level and balance to create a good stereo image at those particular locations. The audio sources can also be routed to a James Loudspeaker sound system that covers the approximately, 2,000 square feet around the exterior of the garage. A total of 22 James 61ODS six-inch speakers are located in planters and in trees, supported by three buried subs, whose above-ground ports are matched to the other metalwork in the landscaping.
“Subwoofers tend to get overlooked in outdoor sound system, which is too bad,” Novak said. “They really add a lot of balance to a system without being overwhelming.”
Cybermation just switched out the existing RTI RF handheld remote control for a Home Logic HR2 Wi-Fi remote, and plans are in place to upgrade the existing two Vitek HT816DNV 720p security cameras to the imminent 1080p HD security video standard.
If anything, the garage AV trend seems to be sticking around, so plan for future upgrades.
Dan Daley is a freelance writer in Nashville, TN.