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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!

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.