One of the greatest pleasures of owning your own home is the availability of outdoor space. In addition to having more room for the family to spread out, the home entertainment potential cannot be underestimated. This, coupled with innovations in outdoor audio and video technology, has helped homeowners find deeper aesthetic and functional value in their backyards, while giving electronic systems contractors and manufacturers a new frontier to be creative and grow their business.
THE BEST DISGUISE
The rock speaker remains the most iconic example of innovative outdoor audio’s evolution. A natural-looking option designed not to interrupt well-manicured landscapes, it continues to influence current manufacturing options in the category, including StereoStone, one of the category’s pioneers. Continuing to find new ways to improve on that innovation, VP of sales and marketing Alan Rottner said that StereoStone is working to bring greater power to the often low-fidelity quality of outdoor speakers.
A DSI Entertainment Systems (www.dsientertainment.com) California installation featuring Sonance outdoor speakers.
“We are currently engineering an amplifier with some 600-plus total watts for outdoor purposes,” Rottner said. “As surround or even ‘stereo’ sound outdoors is really not a true option, because there are typically no walls or ceilings, this amplifier will be able to deliver power in a mono mode as well as be able for use as a subwoofer amplifier.” Zeroing in on aesthetics and longterm durability, Sonance’s Visual Performance rock speakers use Samarium Cobalt for magnets and Santoprene for woofer surrounds. “Minimizing the visual impact of a product allows it to be used in areas where conventional speakers would be ruled out,” Sonance senior speaker engineer Todd Ryan noted. “The reliability and performance of a customer’s system is always a great way to get referrals.”
Members of Polk’s newest Atrium Garden sub/sat system
Also using a camouflage design is Klipsch with its RockSpeaker, part of its hidden LightSpeaker system, which combines a long-lasting LED bulb and wireless speaker into a single unit for easy installation. Using a standalone transmitter, the LightSpeaker wirelessly connects to the RockSpeaker. “The sheer convenience of the RockSpeaker is a major selling point,” Klipsch’s VP of product development Mark Casavant said. “You can have several RockSpeakers in your yard without having to rip up your landscape to run wire, and they are super easy to move around.”
Similarly, Phase Technology’s RockSolid speaker takes on a rock façade to deliver omni-directional sound via the company’s SolidDrive technology, while TruAudio is enhancing its range of rock and cabinet speakers all of which use a special UV protection material to preserve color and prevent fading and comes with a lifetime warranty.
RTI’s weatherresistant U2 is designed for wireless control of AV systems in harsher environments.
MORE SHAPES AND SIZES
But the trend isn’t all rocks and stones. Niles Audio’s planter speakers are also an attractive twist on the camouflage trick. Featuring a unique 0.5-inch dual voice coil woofer and two one-inch fluid-cooledTetron tweeters, the company’s planter speakers are voiced by its president Frank Sterns, to ensure optimal sound quality.
AmbiSonic Systems, SpeakerCraft, James Loudspeakers, and Polk Audio have all taken an approach to outdoor systems that is becoming increasingly popular: the subwoofer/satellite system. Utilizing a light-fixture aesthetic, all four systems use multiple speaker satellites driven by a buried or disguised subwoofer.
“AmbiSonic satellites and subs are configured in a continuous array of multiple speakers, immersing the landscape in a seamless, sparkling field of sound,” VP of sales Ben Gosvig said. “Runs of up to a quarter mile, with dozens of satellites and subs, are possible on a single daisy chain wire run. Due to the 70-volt design, all speakers in the array sound identical, with no loss of fidelity or dynamics.”
Digital Home Technology’s John Goldenne is more imaginative about blending speakers into outdoor elements.
While SpeakerCraft offers traditional rock speaker with its Ruckus Landscape speaker, the company also has introduced the OG (On Ground) Three, a ground speaker that Alex Chiou, manager of loudspeaker development, said, “gives designers more flexibility to explore different looks for their customers’ backyards.” The speaker is driven directly into the soil with a ground spike, can be placed almost anywhere, and pointed to the listening area. Adding the company’s Rox Sub improves the sound of the OG Three’s three-inch full-range aluminum cone driver.
James Speakers, which helps its dealers with designing and configuring its systems, uses a similar set-up for its outdoor sat/sub system that is often offered as complete integrated systems with amplifiers and DSP control, while Polk’s Atrium Garden sub/sat system, introduced last year, features a bass module that doubles as a plant stand or side table.
Other audio manufacturers have also moved away from the rock-inspired design to focus on directionality and to give end-users more options for hiding and disguising outdoor audio. KEF’s All-Weather Ventura Series, which was taken through more than 1,200 hours of salt testing, encompasses three rugged models that are packaged with ratcheting mounting brackets for 180-degree rotation, while Triad Speakers’ mountable Sonoma Twenty outdoor speaker taps in the company’s CoNEXTion system to provide unobtrusive full-bodied sound, especially when used in multiples. And, having revised its enclosure models with upgraded components, Terra Speakers recently introduced its own all-weather speaker, the AC.17e dual 6.5-inch woofer/1-inch tweeter model that reaches optimal performance when married to the company’s AC.Sub subwoofer.
Terra’s AC17 outdoor speaker
The commercial sector has had a lock on the outdoor video display market for years, but growth on the residential side has become increasingly conspicuous.
“For SunBriteTV, the outdoor video segment is very strong,” the company’s VP of sales and marketing Lynn Stearn said. “In spite of a down economy, our sales have continued to increase every year. We believe there are two reasons for this. First, the outdoor video is still an emerging technology, and second, we have expanded our product offerings to reach a broader market.”
To attract cost-conscious end users, SunBriteTV introduced the “value-engineered” 3230HD—a 32- inch ASA-rated plastic resin, all-weather model minus control-system integration choices—last year; the company’s Model 5510HD is markedly more high-end at 55 inches with control-system integration, a concealed IR emitter window, an external speaker system, a line of water-resistant mounting solutions.
Integrators also have options in Runco’s outdoor video product the WP-OPAL42 LCD featuring the manufacturers OPAL image enhancement technology to address common flat-panel issues such as ambient light and Pantel’s range of screens, which the company’s CEO, Joe Pantel said will soon include an 82-inch model.
SunBriteTV’s 4610HD outdoor video panel
As exciting as outdoor audio and video is, being able to control integrated components cannot be under appreciated. Keeping the everchanging conditions that their outdoor remote controls will have to endure in mind, RTI and Niles Audio created remote controls to tackle tough environments.
RTI’s U2 weather-resistant universal system control has a high-contrast LCD that, the company says, makes it easier for users to see custom buttons, graphics, and text in the glare of direct sunlight. The display utilizes eight programmable soft buttons, and 33 programmable keypad buttons provide the flexibility to customize system control.
“RTI’s proprietary, award-winning Integration Designer software takes the difficulty out of programming the U2,” VP of sales and marketing Peter Baker explained. “The ability to expand the unit’s capabilities using available RTI automation devices allows for even more powerful control, including RF transmission through walls and cabinets, power sensing, relay control, and RS-232 communication.”
Niles Audio’s Solo-6 MD addresses similar user needs and is a six-source, weather-resistant keypad with a profile and functionality that pays homage in many ways to the Apple iPod, providing metadata and the requisite weather-proof sealing.
James Loudspeakers’ subterranean subwoofer
COMING SOON TO A PATIO NEAR YOU
As ubiquitous as it might be becoming, the pressure to “green” everything on Earth that consumes energy has not escaped the outdoor AV market, noted SunbriteTV’s Stearn who said she anticipates LED TVs to grow in prominence and with them slimmer model options.
An improvement that might come a bit sooner is greater and better wireless integration of outdoor products thanks to more robust communication technologies like ZigBee and faster Wi-FI networks.
“As today’s entertainment options continue to expand into the great outdoors, the capabilities of control solutions will need to adapt to meet the challenge. Music and video began pushing this development,” RTI’s Baker noted.
In the end, however, all anyone really wants are quality products that make expensive purchases worthwhile. “I think consumers will emerge from this economic environment looking for higher quality products with less of the disposable mindset of the past,” Polk Audio product line manager Al Baron said. “When they make an entertainment purchase they may look at it as something that they expect to own and use for a very long time. This change in mentality will most likely translate into higher ticket, better quality choices.”
Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor for Residential Systems.