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7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

#3: Moving Art Screens & Frames

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

Lets face it. TV is a huge part of everyone’s home life - and TVs have gotten bigger, higher resolution, smarter, and just plain better in every way at a blinding pace. We put mount these modern monstrosities in our living rooms, dens, family rooms, and just about every other place in our homes that we would consider a good place to spend significant time.

However, when it comes time for a Christmas party, family gathering, or other home-hosted social event, we would like to do something to hide this dominant feature in our home so it doesn’t make itself the center of attention. We would rather people think we use our wall space for something more cultured like, art for instance. Well, for before you go trying to cover your wall-mounted TV with temporary fake drapes, check out these more sophisticated fixes.

Hidden Vision Hidden Screen Solutions
Huntsville, AL prides itself in its innovative engineering, so a robotically hidden TV at your social gathering could be a great conversation piece. So in this spirit, the first option we will present is to camouflage the tv itself as a convertible painting or mirror. For this purpose, Hidden vision has a complete line of solutions that do just that. They provide a Flip Around, Flip Out, and Extended Flip Out system that allows your television to transform on command from an art piece / mirror to its natural TV self. The framing is elegant and the mechanism smooth in these high-tech motorized “transformers of the TV world”.

The Flip Around system is the most commonly occurring Hidden Vision appliance, and is available for televisions from 40-75 inches. The mount is easy to install, and the frame selection is elegant and numerous, allowing you to match the feel of any room you want to put it in. Once installed with your choice of artwork or mirror camouflage, the TV is ready to “transform” on command. There is a manual (non-motorized) version of this product, but really - where's the fun in that?

If there is a downside to this product, it is the sound produced by the motor during transformation. It has a very “industrial / sci-fi robotic” tone, which is kind of cool the first time, but could get annoying after many repetitions. If this is a concern for you, ask your installer to add insulation to the casing of the motor.

For the bedroom, Hidden Vision offers an “Extended Flip Out” system which allows you to install your television above your headboard so that you can watch television while laying down by extending the television above your sleeping position. For obvious reasons, the size limitation is smaller on this implementation, setting the max screen size at 43 inches. This is a pretty cool device if you like to watch TV in bed, but who has a 43 inch TV anymore?

Leon Speakers Moving Art Screens and Frames
If the sound made by the Hidden Vision system is just too much for you, or if you just want a more “integrated” system, the Leon Speakers Moving Art Screens are an excellent option. Their patented moving screens roll up like a traditional window shade within the TV / Picture frame enclosure. Their solutions allow for either wall surface mounted or recessed TV installations, are silent, and come with elegant framing choices. They provide several models ranging in max TV size from 65 inches to 120 inches (85 inches max for surface mount).

The Leon solution is exceptionally well engineered with the painting material magnetically fixed to the frame so as to prevent folding or warping of the image after extensive use. The structure is of ceramic coated aircraft aluminum and the Leon Electric Drive system is very difficult to hear during operation.

If you prefer a more grandiose reveal for your moving art, you might consider Leon’s Moving Art Frames. With these technological goodies, your TV will be revealed by moving panels that open up on your command. You can select from the barn-doors reveal offered by the Dual Eclipse model, the Eclipse Vertical model which reveals the TV by shifting the covering art piece up and down, or the Eclipse Horizontal which reveals by moving the covering art piece off to one side. The first two options make more sense than the third, as the resulting TV watching experience is somewhat unbalanced with the TV covering art-piece shoved off to a single side.

This solution is elegant, and quite impressive, but has little advantage over the Moving Art Screen, which is much more universally fitting for a variety of living spaces. In fact, the best reason to go with the Moving Art Frame over the Moving Art Screen would be that your television is not recessed, and its larger than 85 inches. Aside from that scenario, the recommended solution would almost always be the Moving Art Screen.

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

#4 Surround Sound System

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

When it comes to listening to audio, like real estate, its all about location. Where do you want to be? Right in the middle of it. To accomplish that, every audiophile needs a truly versatile surround sound system. Whether you want to lose yourself in a concert-like experience, or watch movies that sound like you are live on set, the critical selection of your equipment can make the difference between a system that sounds good, or one that blows your mind.

There are a number of packaged systems that are sold at big box stores as a unit that are supposed to be “good enough” to do the job. However, the problem is, a surround sound system has several critical elements - and as it turns out, the recommended solution for each of these elements do not emirate from the same source.

The critical elements of a surround sound system are divided into 2 sections. Section one includes the AV Receiver, the Surround Processor, and the Power Amp. Section two includes all the speakers, including Front Left and Right speaker, Center Channel Speaker, Surround Speakers, the Subwoofer, Back Surround Speakers, and Front Height and Width speakers.

Each of these sections has a pair of leading contenders that are each very capable of doing the job at state of the art levels.

For section one, the co-kings-of-the-hill are the Marantz SR8012 and the Concert AVR-9.

Marantz SR8012
The Marantz SR8012 is a whopping 11.2 channel AV amp with 8 HDMI inputs with support for HEOS wireless multi-room and network streaming. The video is processed with a true 4k and HDR passthrough and can feed up to 3 simultaneous video outputs. But lets talk about audio. To start with, not a lot of receivers can deliver 11 channels of sound. But when each of those channels boasts a power output of up to 205 watts, thats an entirely new level of performance. Let that sink in for a minute. Thats 2.25 kW of audio power you can pump into your home theater via your chosen speakers. That would move enough air to create a perceptible breeze in your viewing room!

The audio playback formats supported are wide, and dynamic firmware allows for upgrades to new formats with the same hardware in the future. Currently, they include FLAC, WAV, and ALAC formats are supported over the network or via USB source. The system is also pre-configured to accept Apple Airplay and Bluetooth.

The SR8012 offers Immersive 3D sound with effects from overhead – Dolby Atmos (up to 7.1.4 or 9.1.2), DTS:X™, and Auro-3D built-in. But in addition to fantastic clarity and sound quality, the SR8012 also gives you a great deal of control over the properties of your sound. Audyssey MultEQ XT32, LFC, Sub EQ HT, Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ are all at your fingertips making you the “audio director” of everything you feed through your system.

Audio Control AVR-9
This AV beast is a 7-channel 200 watt per channel AV receiver with 4 Dolby Atmos preamp outputs. It can be used with its built in amplification, or combined with the Audio Control 2-channel Bijou 600 or Ralto 600 standalone amps. The AVR-9 has 7 HDMI 2.0a inputs, 4 COAX SPDIF and 2 Toslink digital audio inputs, 6 stereo analog inputs, USB input, and an Ethernet connection.

It is compatible with leading control systems such as Control4, Crestron, RTI, and Savant. In addition, the AVR-9 comes with the new ‘Dirac Live for AudioControl’ room correction system - one of the most effective and flexible room calibration systems on the market today. The surround modes include Dolby Atmos; Dolby True HD; Dolby Digital Plus; Dolby Digital EX; Dolby Digital 5.1; Dolby Pro Logic IIx; DTS-HD Master Audio and the system is DTS:X™ ready.

If you choose to use an external amplifier (like the Bijou 600), you can seamlessly split and control a single 200 watt channel into 2 x 200 watt channels (at 4 ohms), or stack it to a 400 watt mono block to power an even larger individual speaker.

Which one of these solutions is best? Well, that depends. If you need 11 channels, its a no brainer, you go with the one that has 11 channels! On the other hand, the Dirac Live room correction system is really impressive, and the way it is integrated into the Audio Control AVR-9, is pretty seamless. If you are working with a HEOS multi-room audio distribution system, then the Marantz is likely going to be your selection due to its built-in Heos networking. The point is, both systems are top of the line and have their advantages over the other, but in reality, its the AV equivalent of picking between a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. There aren’t too many complaints about either one.

The Speaker Sets
Now, for the output section - KEF or TOTEM. Once again, we are in a situation that is an embarrassment of riches. We won’t attempt to go over every potential combination of surround sound speaker sets from these two giants of the industry. Even if we did, the speaker selection is really dependent on the room they are to be installed in. Suffice it to say that these two contenders each have several full lines of state of the art delivery systems for the carefully crafted sound you are now feeding them.

TOTEM offers a complete line of elegant surround sound speakers for rooms of all sizes, including Bookshelf, Floor Standing, On-Wall, Architectural, along with the appropriate Center Channels and Subwoofers for each. Regardless of the mounting preference, each comes with the unique TOTEM realistic 3D sonic experience and Industry unique Borosilicate dampening.

Likewise KEF provides a stunning variety of speaker designs that could be confused for modern art exhibits. Whether you are looking for tall, floor-standing speakers like the Muon or Blade / Blade 2 series, or the compact LS50, or the retro-industrial style Reference and R Series, KEF consistently delivers new, patentable technologies to your listening experience. The Uni-Q point source driver array, the “tangerine” segmented waveguide, the brilliant Z-Flex surround…the list goes on.

The options are in fact so numerous that it is best to consult a professional audio design engineer to custom prepare the speaker selection for your target room. If you live in the Huntsville / Madison / Decatur Alabama area, AV Enthusiast can consult with you and present the ideal setup to match your specific listening room and AV priorities.

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

#5: Doorbird Video Doorbell

doorbird Logo RGB tmdIf you live in Huntsville Alabama or Madison Alabama, you may be under the impression that security is not the biggest deal. After all, we are in the deep south where people look out for each other and there is still a sense of community, so our homes are relatively safe, right? Well, the truth is that according to neighborhoodscout.com the crime rate in Huntsville is 54.87 crimes per 1000 people. While this is better than Birmingham, of course (82.96 crimes per 1000 people), it is nearly twice the crime rate per capita of New York City (19.22 crimes per 1000 people). In fact, Huntsville is considered by this crime-stat-watching site to be safer than only 5% of the cities in the entire country. Who knew?

What does this mean for you? Lock your doors and windows at night, and get someone to watch your house when you are away. Of course, that’s a tall order, right? Who do you know that you would trust to watch your home while you are away? Well, how about YOU!? That’s exactly what the Doorbird Video Doorbell system allows you to do.

d21ikh on wallThe Doorbird can be set to alert you when someone approaches your door, and allows you to interact with the approaching person(s) through both video and audio to let them know they're being watched - all from your smartphone or tablet from anywhere in the world where you have internet access. In addition, the Doorbird can allow you to open and close your garage door remotely to allow package delivery services, dog walkers, housekeepers, or other expected visitors access remotely. To take it to the next level, the Doorbird also can be interfaced with a compatible SmartLock system to control access through the main doorways of the home as well.

face recoginitionStill not enough control for you? No problem, the DoorBird can be integrated seamlessly with a compatible whole house surveillance systems as a standard surveillance channel. With its IP based communication system - the DoorBird Video doorbell system allows you to keep close watch on your most valuable asset no matter where you are, without fear of it being disabled by a more sophisticated criminal.

Even the most sophisticated burglars who might use an illegal (but yet available) cell-phone system jammer to disable many cell-phone based alarm systems will be useless against the DoorBird. Because the DoorBird is connected to your cell phone via internet, rather than cell network, such a countermeasure would be a complete waste of time. In short, the DoorBird Video Doorbell is, in our opinion, an essential part of a well rounded whole house surveillance system.

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

#6: Heos Speakers!

7 Great Christmas Ideas for 2017 (continued)

For multi-room audio, its lonely at the top. There are only a select few brands that stand out above the rest in ease of use and wireless interconnectivity. While it may change in the near future, for now you are essentially looking at Sonos and Heos. In our humble opinion, the new line of Heos multiform speakers is currently holding a slight advantage, though the competition is quite close. The real choice to make though, is which speaker to place for each room you are targeting.

The entire HS2 line can be controlled through your smartphone or tablet, and whether you are looking for different audio streams for each room, or a nice balanced stream to flood the entire house with, the digital interface is easy to control. Here is a rundown of the properties of each, so you can match them to the needs of your target rooms.

Heos 1. The Biggest Little Speaker in Your Home

Heos Line 02
The Heos 1 looks a lot like a well fashioned computer speaker. Its angular face gives it an aesthetically futuristic appearance with a sort of understated air of sophistication. The sound produced features advanced DSP and custom EQ, providing a natural smooth tone with no hard edges, which is unusual for a speaker of its size.

The design excellence however does not stop at the sound quality, or even at the aesthetics. Its available Go Pack allows for rechargeable battery operation. As you know, here in Huntsville or Guntersville, Alabama we all like to host outdoor parties by the pool in the summer. With the Heos Go Pack, you can carry your Heos 1 speakers out to the patio for your poolside party, and then return them to their permanent place of residence in your office, bedroom, or bathroom. In fact, the designers even took into account the potential issue with humidity that is often overlooked in an indoor-outdoor speaker.

For those who cannot be convinced that wireless audio does not compromise latency (we’ve seen no evidence that it does in this case), there is a 20th century style ethernet port available for hard-wiring to your network LAN. In fact, if you want to go really old-school, there is a 3.5mm minijack for connection to a computer or other auxiliary audio source.

All in all, this “Little Speaker That Could” is a fantastic option for any enclosed space or office application.

Heos 3. The Speaker You Want To Feature
Designed for vertical or horizontal orientation, the Heos 3 takes its aesthetics really seriously. Rather than hiding it behind flowers or other furniture, you might display it on its own pedestal-table to be appreciated by guests. Like the entire HS2 line, the interface is remarkably easy to manage from your tablet or smart phone. It links seamlessly with the rest of the HS2 speakers in the home through the free IOS or Android app.

It creates an ambient sound that is far bigger than its footprint. To accomplish this, the Heos 3 combines a dual channel class D amplifier with a pair of full range drivers. If course, to feed the sound to the speaker, you can use WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, auxiliary input, or ethernet connections. This small area speaker is perfect for mid-sized rooms and high resolution sound as well as any speaker in its class.

Heos 5. Where Elegance Meets Performance

Heos Line 01
This is really the flagship of the Heos line. Its a mid-sized speaker with an enormous high quality sound. Its iconic wedge shape gives it quite the “conversation piece” status, and its soft blue power light combines with its futuristic design to conjure memories of what 80s movies thought the 21st century would look like.

We won’t bore you going over all the same inputs and control systems that we have mentioned before with the other Heos products, but it goes without saying, they are all there with the Heos 5 as well. The main advantage of this more powerful system is the 5 driver system. It uses 2 precision tweeters and 2 mid-woofers along with a passive radiator.

The ideal target for this speaker system includes medium to large dining rooms or bedrooms, and large offices and living rooms. This speaker is so good, even on the lower register, I would be tempted to use it for rooms too small.

Heos 7. Have Speaker - Will Party
There are, of course, many rooms that are too big for this speaker. They call those rooms football stadiums. But as long as you aren’t trying to replace the sound system on the runways of Huntsville Airport, or in Madison Stadium, This stylish but powerful speaker moves enough air to fill even the largest rooms with high resolution sound. The drive units include 2 tweeters, 2 mid-woofers, and 1 woofer.

Essentially, the Heos 7 is a larger, more powerful Heos 5, and yes one on one it is a better single speaker option for a very large room. However, in our opinion, the superior choice would be to pair 2 Heos 5 speakers together to tackle that same target space. The pair of Heos 5s would only cost a total of $200 more, and would give you so many more options for panning and true stereophonic presentation of your audio. Not to mention, the pair of 5s will produce more total decibels of sound than will the single Heos 7.

In any case, if you are dead set on a single speaker per room, the Heos 7 will certainly get the job done in anything short of a full-size ballroom.

Putting It All Together
So now you have all the speakers placed in all the rooms of your house, and its time to put it all together. For that, the Heos Drive is in a word, freaking amazing. This 4 Zone Whole Home Audio Distribution System has a Class D 8-channel amplifier and features Dolby Digital with stereo downmixing.

Each of the 4 zones in this multi-room amplifier has a pre-amp outputs. The integrated switching system has optical, coax digital, and analog inputs - a total of 8 in all. Any of these input channels can be routed to any zone, and each zone contains a port for connection to an external drive.

This thing is rack-mountable, and it has a super-quiet cooling fan to maintain long term reliability. The Heos Drive can handle any mix of speaker configurations, and of course, can be switched on the fly from one to another. Its rated at 60 watts per channel, and can be bridged for single channel high-power output at 130 watts.