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Surround Sound: A Beginner’s Guide

How to Bring Magical Movie Sound to Your Home

Surround Sound: A Beginner’s Guide

When you go to the movie theater, you go for the big screen experience.  And yes, maybe the popcorn too.  All kidding aside, a great movie experience is not just about the big screen – it’s just as much about the big sound as well. Great sound makes you feel like you are in the scene - whether it’s bullets flying above you, car crashes with impact, or whispered dialog in a tense scene that draws you into the drama. 

To get that kind of immersive audio experience, you need a surround sound system.  Many options exist to bring movie surround sound into the home – from relatively inexpensive soundbars to full-blown twelve-speaker systems with high-end AV processors and amplifiers. 

All the choices and terminology for surround sound might feel a little daunting.  In this blog, we’re going to try to demystify it for you and get you on the track to figure out what might be the best surround sound system options for you in Nashville. 

TAGS: Dolby Atmos | Home Cinema | Kef | Marantz | Movie Surround | Sonos

Home Theater Setup

What to Look For in a Home Theater Setup

Home Theater Setup

Among those life decisions we always make around New Years, is the promise that we will “fix up the house”. To many, this means affecting repairs, adding landscaping, and other more mundane tasks - but to the AV Enthusiast, this might just mean finally adding that Media Room or Home Theater you’ve been meaning to add for the last couple of years. While many are both well meaning and motivated when considering this kind of “resolution”, the project often gets stuck in the idea phase - generating a litany of discussions about “how cool its going to be” as seemingly easier tasks are accomplished during the discussions.

Well, there is no better time than the present to tackle this project and get it permanently scratched off the to do list! To this end, here is an easy to follow list of tasks you will need to accomplish to get this thing up and running in time for the next big game or the release of the next season of (insert your particular binge-watching obsession here).

Soundproofing
When you are enjoying your home theater, there will likely be times when others in your home are engaged in some other activity. Nothing is quite the momentum buster as when a loved one sticks their head in the door of the media room at “just that moment” in the big game / movie / etc and say, “Could you guys turn that down a little?”. To eliminate this problem, many rely on specialized foam sound panels to reduce the radiant sound from the room and provide better acoustics within.

However, there are other steps that should also be considered in addition to these staples of the media room. For instance, prior to affixing sound panels to the walls, consider looking at the walls themselves - or the ceiling for that matter. The first thing to look at is insulation. Sound-dampening insulation will go a long way toward requesting the sound from your home theater to those in the room. The same insulation added to the walls should be added to the ceilings. When choosing your insulation, make sure you use acoustic batts. Many major insulators make this product, and it is designed to fit snugly between the studs in your walls. This will not only prevent sound from leaving your home theater, but also prevent your perfectly tuned sound quality from being spoiled by outside noises such as dogs barking, sirens, or other sounds experienced by those outside the AV cocoon you have so carefully crafted.

Once your walls and ceiling are insulated properly, you may consider replacing the drywall with zero-sound drywall. This, when combined with the insulation may in fact eliminate the need for the addition of acoustic sound panels altogether. If so, you can decorate your walls as you normally would without being tied to the foam-covering paradigm. This is usually preferable from an aesthetic standpoint. On the other hand, if you are going for the “music studio look” in your home theater, nothing beats floor to ceiling covering of specialized acoustic foam panels. To each his own.

Wiring for Sound and Video
While you have your drywall removed ton install your insulation, confer with your technology integrator about what wiring will have to be done for both sound and video prior to finalizing the insulation process. Keep in mind during your wiring efforts that technology is moving at a blinding pace, so any in-wall wiring should be installed in such a way that it can be updated without too much effort. Consider using conduits for bundles of wire that will allow a future cable to be pulled through as the older cable is removed from the other end. More importantly, where possible, use no wires at all. There are a vast array of wireless options for sound and video now on the market that will make updating your sound and video components in the future simple and easy.

Setting Up Seating
header space home theaterThis is one of the most important aspects of the home theater that is often overlooked. With the focus on selecting the right audio and video components, sometimes lost is the fact that people will be sitting in this room for movie-marathons, 12-episode binge-watching sessions, or at the very least 4-6 hour sporting events on a regular basis. Comfort needs to be a serious concern.

The options available are mind-numbing here and it is best to confer with your technology integrator on the latest available options. Aside from the obvious reclining options, drink-holder features, and possibly snack tray functions, options like tablet holders, reading lights, and “neck-pillows” also need to be considered. Also consider the likely makeup of your viewing group. Ensure that all potential body types are accommodated. No one likes to be “squished” when meeting for an event, and those with “slighter” frames don’t want to get swallowed by their seating. Try to have seating designed for all anticipated viewers. If you aren’t sure about viewer sizes, always err on the large side rather than the small.

It is important to get the seating set before designing the audio and video for the room so that your technology integrator can properly lay the sound out for the benefit of all in the room. If you have rows, obviously elevate each row so that no one is looking at the back of anyone’s head. If possible, stagger the seating.

Setting Up Sound and Video
Now that your seating is set, place your screen(s) in such a way that there is no “bad seat” in the house. Your technology integrator will be able to help you avoid placing your speaker sets in such a way that audio hot-spots are created. Your woofers and subwoofers are likely to be working overtime in some music and movie applications, so ensure that anything that can “vibrate” is well insulated or removed from the room.

As a general rule, the center of the screen can be placed at a distance from the floor so that the viewer’s eye-line is matched with 1/3 the screen’s height. This is a good rule, but if you have mutliple rows at differing elevations (stadium seating), the CEDIA recommendation is to ensure that no viewer has a vertical viewing angle greater than 15 degrees from the top or bottom of the screen.

The placement of the speakers is critical when it comes to the bass response. It is important that the bass response is similar from each listening position. This is difficult to accomplish, and will likely require the assistance of a professional technology integrator to properly plan. Likewise, the surround sound speakers should always be at least 4 ft away from each listener’s head. In addition, the back wall of the theater should be at least 4 ft away from the nearest seat to allow for proper envelopment.

Adding Lighting
A common mistake made when setting up the “house lights” in a home theater, is simple. Not enough light. During the feature, your lights may be dimmed, to give the true “theater” feel. This can be achieved with was sconces, recessed overhead lighting, of low-power dimmable floodlights. However, the room needs to be able to be “fully lit” between features, so some ambient lighting with “normal” brightness should be added to the theater’s accent lights. A second mistake often made in home theater’s is removing all light during the feature. This is not done in commercial movie theaters during the show. Lights are severely dimmed, but present - preventing the viewer’s pupils from dilating repeatedly which can cause disorientation during the viewing of most features. Your technology integrator will be able to help you select the appropriate lighting levels for “house lights on”, “house lights dimmed”, and “feature running” lighting programs.

How ever you set you lights - in the end, the most important thing is that you can control them from your seated position, either using remote or with voice programmed voice controls. Floor lighting might also be helpful since you and your guest viewers are likely to make trips to the kitchen or bathroom during showings.

Component Selection
Component selection is also an incredibly important factor, and the truth is, there are as many correct answers to this dilemma as their are home theater owners. It is important that you have a detailed consultation with your technology integrator to determine which components best serve your needs in the present - while keeping an open dialog with that provider for future improvements. The technologies involved in home theater design are advancing rapidly. As a general rule of thumb, if your components are 3 years old, they are likely out of date. This does not mean they need to be replaced - if its not broken, why fix it? However, if your goal is to always be on the cutting edge of home theater technology - you should add your technology integrator’s number to your “favorites” list in your phone.

Does It Have To Be Expensive?
Technically, no. But then - you must properly evaluate why you are putting in a home theater in the first place. If you are just looking at putting in a decent system to watch or listen to your favorite entertainment in isolation, you may be able to get something done on a budget. But, in no industry is the term “you get what you pay for” more accurate than custom home theater design. So, if you are trying to make an impression on clients, your boss, your dates, or your spouse’s social circle, or you want to become the go-to place for you and your friends to gather for mutual viewing - you should expect to make a reasonable commitment.

For many, the home theater is a way of projecting their success, both to treat themselves (of course), but also to “show off” a little to their friends. However, a good technology integrator can put together a system matching your goals and set up a budget adequate to achieve them. Additionally, a wide variety of financing options are available for such homes improvements.

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

#1: Surveillance System

We live in a world that is increasingly captured on video. At the bank, at the store, driving past traffic lights, even some Churches are streaming their services live on the web. In a world that is keeping track of everything going on around it, why would you NOT want to know what (or more importantly who) is going on around your house? While security is one of the most important reasons to record the events going on around your house, there are a plethora of others. Homeowner’s insurance claims for instance require a lot less paperwork when your have evidence of how that tree fell on your roof. Maybe you’d like to know if your school age kids are coming home from School on time, or just making sure they get there before you get home from work! Then again, maybe you’d like to archive your dog running from window to window in anticipation when you roll into the driveway, or see if that kid that picked your daughter up for prom bothered to open the car door for her.

Whatever reason does it for your, recent market evolutions have made this previously “unique” home technology much more common. When evaluating the options on the market, there is a dizzying array op competitors to consider. Fortunately for you, AV Enthusiast has already done the research, and settled on two phenomenal technology providers in this area that can meet all your needs.

IC Realtime
IC Realtime may have gotten a bit too “clever” with their name (try explaining how that is spelled on a radio commercial!), but their implementation is also quite clever. We will focus on their IP Systems, as they have the best application for this subject. The components of such an IP system include a server of some sort, some IP cameras, and a network video recorder.

While the video server options are numerous, including many pay-per-month service options, IC Realtime offers an exceptionally well designed dedicated video management system appliance. Their standalone (no monthly payments) is a hardware server located in the home, or anywhere with an internet connection if you prefer to separate the recorder from the location being recorded. It is called the ICM-7100SE. While the appliance title may not exactly be the easy-to-brand name you might expect from a company called IC Realtime, it is nevertheless very effective for this application. The server contains a terabyte HDD hard drive and runs on a dedicated embedded linux server with a 4 core 64 bit CPU. It sports 4x gigabit ethernet connections and can handle up to 256 cameras running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

A great server is a good start, but you still have to collect the video you want to store, and in this area IC Realtime truly excels. They have a complete line of IP cameras which can be placed to cover every area you would like to record. If you have a large area to cover, you might think you will need a lot of cameras, and you are most likely right. However, to minimize this issue, IC Realtime has developed IP cameras with very wide ranges of view. How wide a rage? How about 360 degrees? Not good enough? How about 360 degrees x 360 degrees? That’s right, IC Realtime boasts an integrated camera emplacement called the Beam720-24-W-1K which can capture the entire 360 degree environment, at EVERY angle. Using 2 panoramic cameras to stitch together a single spherical view with no blind spots. The use of one of these cameras can do the job of 3 or 4 cameras relatively easily, cutting down on your total costs.

As for the network video recorder, they offer a more-than-full line of such devices that can be matched to your system based on your desired resolution. These range from WiFi network recorders all the way up to 4K Network recorders. Your installation advisor can help you select the appropriate resolution based on what your needs are for the eventual footage.

Luma
Luma is a more balanced, end user accessible option for full home surveillance. Like IC Realtime, the Luma system operates with IP control, has several IP cameras, and a network recorder. Luma’s options are plentiful, particularly in the camera area, though not quite as numerous as those available with IC Realtime.

The recorders available with the Luma system are intense - perhaps even overkill for the application with 1TB and 2TB options, offering 8 and 16 channel options. Speedy, and reliable, with large capacities - the Luma 500 series NVR recorders are a great option.

The cameras come in 4 series, each with several options for both bullet and turret cameras. These are solid, hi-resolution options, and although they don’t have the technological marvel represented by the spherical camera IC Realtime offers, they will more than do the job.

Perhaps the best thing about the Luma systems - even better than their insanely overpowered recorders - is their easy to use interface that is consistent across multiple platforms (iPhone, iPad, Droid, Windows, Mac - you name it). This makes operating your system once it is installed a “snap”, which is probably what their parent company SnapAV was going for.

As a side note, either the Luma or IC Realtime systems can integrate seamlessly and directly with the DoorBird Video Doorbell mentioned earlier on this list. All in all, you can’t go wrong with either choice, and your best bet is to request advice from your integration specialist before making your final selection.

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

#2: Smart Lighting Control

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

Lighting Control has come a long way in a short period of time. It wasn’t that long ago that we all had to endure the lite night commercials for “the clapper”, which was marketed as a low cost novelty item for the elderly. Fast forward a few years, and we have computerized whole house lighting control available that can store specific dimmer values for thousands of devices, automate changes in “scene lighting” based on stored programs called up manually, run on a timed schedule, respond to voice commands. Though I suppose you could technically program the voice controls to respond to hand clapping, the jump forward has been amazing.

There are a number of companies that offer this fantastic family gift idea, and many of them operate seamlessly with other smart devices such as Amazon Alexa or Apple HomeKit. For the sake of brevity, we will discuss a system from Crestron, Lutron, and RTI.

Crestron
crestron panelCrestron offers a best-in-class technology suite called Pyng. The software runs on iPad, and interfaces with hundreds of various Crestron device control hardware systems available in their line. With this easy to use, mobile compatible software suite, Crestron gives the user unmatched ease of setup to control Audio, Lighting, Shades, Touch Screens, Thermostats, Door Locks, Security Systems, Keypads, Occupancy Sensors, and Photosensors.

Since the focus of this article is the Smart Lighting Control, we will focus in on that aspect of the Pyng capabilities. Crestron offers a large variety of wireless and hard-wired switches, dimmers, and photosensors that can be integrated into the Pyng software, creating a cast of characters to be directed by its simple user interface. New iPhones and iPads can be added in seconds. Once added, the Pyng software allows control from that device from anywhere offering an internet connection.

If your home has a lot of natural lighting, the integrated Crestron photosensors can adjust the room’s lighting on the fly based on the natural lighting available at the time. With the Crestron system, you are truly in control. A single Pyng system can control up to 200 infiNET EX accessories, and up to 20 touch screens, as well as providing 4 external gateways.

While the Pyng system is greatly scaleable, offers a wide variety of control options, and supports 17 languages, perhaps the best thing about it is the price. Its a free download for your iPhone or iPad. Of course - there is the issue of buying the compatible hardware controllers (which are not as expensive as you might think), but the ease of setup alone earns the Crestron Pyng a spot on our trio of recommended solutions.

Lutron
Lutron RA2 Select Repeater smallThe next control system on our list is the Lutron RA2 Select. This system is more laser focused on lighting, shade, and audio control, rather than being an overall home automation system such as the previously discussed Crestron system. Like the Pyng, the Lutron RA2 Select control system is delivered by iPad / iPhone application, and links to wireless devices installed on the target systems to be controlled.

One of the main features of this system is miniature wireless control switches that can be placed around the home called “picos”. These picos include a manual on-off switch, dimmer buttons, as well as an “alert” and “goodnight” button. This allows local off-script control of the immediate environment and an override control of the programmed system for shutting down for the night. If you hear a suspicious noise outside, you can simply press the Alert button and trigger interior and exterior lights to activate and the shades to open for instance. If you wish, you can program your Alert program to include audio as well - perhaps the theme from Cops or Hawaii 5.0 would be appropriate?

The RA2 Select system includes Repeaters, Picos, Light Controllers, Fan Controllers, Appliance Controllers, Temperature Controls, and Shade Controllers. None of these components are particularly expensive, and the installation is relatively painless, so the Lutron RA2 Select system makes our top 3 cut as a full featured inexpensive option to whole home lighting control.

RTI
If the Lutron RA2 Select system (in comparison to the Crestron system) is a step toward consumer-entry-level to whole home automation, then the RTI Home Automation System is a modest step in the other direction. This system resembles the sort of whole-house electronic control that Alfred might use to monitor the Batcave and Wayne Manor. This is not a reflection of price so much (all three options presented here are relatively affordable), but rather on the level of finish and versatility of the RTI System.

Streaming video from security cameras, virtual touchpads for audio, climate control, lighting, shades, as well as the real-time reporting of power used by each connected device is just a level of detail that leaves the competition in the dust. The amazing thing is that will all this additional level of detail, the learning curve for the user really isn’t that steep. Once connected, a new user can be taught to operate the system in just a few minutes.

If pressed to make a decision for most home owners in our area of operations (Huntsville, Madison, and Decatur, Alabama), the RTI would have to be given strong consideration for its additional versatility and “cool factor”. If you are looking for entry level cost and simplicity, the Lutron system might be your choice. Finally, if you can decide which is more important to you, then the Crestron system is a good middle ground between the two extremes.

In any case, all of these systems have extremely good user reviews and will make a great gift to your loved one - or to yourself for that matter!