Technology that empowers you – and your home
Many new devices and apps
We have so many choices today. There are a ton of innovative home applications hitting the market. You can buy wireless home monitoring & security apps, smart controls, lighting and sound devices, smart thermostats, remote smoke & carbon monitors, Wi-Fi gaming, hidden projectors and drop-down screens, service robots, and wireless vacuums. It’s quite amazing – our homes have been empowered.
Enjoy your place called home
No matter what the latest technology tools or toys are, we all enjoy having these things at home. We browse for new devices. You know, a better coffee maker, an improved cooking system, a better wireless system to stream music, or a better device to download a movie. Conveniences allow us to create unique places and enjoy special times. When the work day ends, enjoy your place called home.
Creating your entertaining space
Designate a space in your home where entertaining won’t aggravate other people at home or wake your neighbors at midnight. Customize your entertainment area and choose a theme. Find a great HD flat screen or multi-purpose HD projector. Add a new wireless audio system, maybe some gaming controls. You could go big and design your own in-home theater. Plan wisely and create a great space, then enjoy.
Research carefully and meet with leading retailers
You can buy a car over the internet, but savvy buyers inspect a vehicle in person and test drive the car before buying. The same is true when it comes to buying technology. First perform online research, read product information and view ratings, then visit a reputable retailer. Speak to technicians, test components, and compare warranties and financing options. Technology is costly, so invest wisely.
Secure and insure
It’s a good idea to secure your technology or home theatre area – a room that can be locked is best. Entertainment systems are obviously expensive, so avoid high traffic areas in the home. Words of Caution: Electrical components can be dangerous to small children or pets so safeguard the room, and technology is a major target for thieves so speak with your insurance agent about proper coverage.
Emerging Products: Soundwall
Fill Your Home With Art & Music
Technology fused with creativity has brought previously mundane household items to a new art form. Gas fireplaces, for example, can be accessorized with crystals and lights that can be programmed and operated with an app to turn an ordinary flame into a colorful light show. Speakers to broadcast music morphed from clunky brown boxes to cool, curvy little plastic cubes that can fit into the palm of your hand.
Whole house audio systems that used to be reserved for the wealthiest homeowners who could pay someone to install speakers are now accessible for as little as $35 for a Google Chromecast audio streaming system. Smart home devices like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home can stream music in your home and send it to your stereo system.
For people who enjoy both music and art, Boulder-based Soundwall has developed speakers that function as paintings for your home.
Soundwall has fused art and music with a flat-panel speaker made of aluminum artwork that wirelessly streams music. The entire surface of the Soundwall is the speaker, yet any visitor would assume the piece is there as an art object.
High-tech approach to sound
You don’t have to be standing directly in front of the speaker to hear the music. The Soundwall speakers use "Distributed Model Loudspeaker" technology that fills your space with omni-directional sound. Instead of the music coming from a traditional cone-shape like old-fashioned speakers, the entire surface of the artwork resonates with the music.
Soundwall has two categories of speakers. Their first product, called Solstice, which starts at $499, can be customized with art from a collection curated by the company or you can upload your own image for complete personalization. This product also gives you the option of changing the image since the art can be rolled on and off the speaker.
The company’s newest product, called Nova, starts at $900 and provides a multidimensional experience. Like Solstice, you can upload your own image or choose from the catalog of art more than 150 paintings available on the website. The image is then infused into the aluminum speaker.
With Nova, you can touch the art to control your music and to activate mood lighting that can be programmed along with your favorite music.
The Nova Soundwall has a touch bar along the side and can also be controlled by the Soundwall app. You can choose from a variety of preset ambient backlighting on the artwork, such as deep blue when you’re listening to jazz or warm red when you’re listening to romantic music. You can also choose a simple white backlight. The Nova speaker has been programmed to detect the presence of someone walking by and emits a warm glow.
While you can always use an app to control your music, the Nova speaker also offers the option of touching the right side to swipe up or down to control your volume. You can also touch the art to play, pause or skip songs.
One of the benefits of innovative technology for your home is that fun items such as voice-controlled sound systems and artwork that you can touch and program for music and mood lighting is accessible and user-friendly for "regular" people – not just the superrich.
Home Tech Theater
Create a Hollywood-inspired experience at home
Technology. Love it or hate it, but we cannot live without it. High tech items have become part of our everyday life. They make our lives much easier and more enjoyable whether a Nest thermometer, which can lower and raise the temperature in your home according to your habits and save energy and fuel costs, or a robot vacuum cleaner that knows how to navigate your home's corners and zigs and zags and cleans well.
Today, new high technology and home theaters have joined forces to offer homeowners a Hollywood-inspired experience, if you have extra room for a wide screen and comfortable seating. The best area of your home to outfit with a theater is a lower-level basement since there's typically less natural light--good for watching movies or TV.
However, as much as you may think you’d like to do it yourself, undertake this project with help from an expert since costs can mount, and you want to be sure you select equipment that remains up to date and is easy to use. Rob Dzedzy of Media Rooms Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and interior designer Sharon McCormick of Sharon McCormick Design, LLC, in Durham, Connecticut, share pointers to achieve the best results.
Read on for more information....
#1. Hire an audiovisual (AV) expert to work with you and your designer or architect rather than assemble components yourself. If you want a true theater experience with sound emanating from various parts of the room and other essential components, it’s best to bring in an AV expert. You can find someone skilled by going to the Custom Electric Design and Installation Association Web site (CEDIA).
#2. Research so you know the right questions to ask. Key ones are: How long have they been in business; what are names of clients you may call for recommendations; which products do they consider most important; which manufacturers do they typically work with, and is there any new equipment to know about? Also include the following, according to Dzedzy:
- Increase in 4K resolution. Better audio-video systems "upscale" the video so even standard-high definition (1080p) looks sharper with more colors because of the 4K capability.
- New video-projector systems. A typical projector uses a lamp to shoot the image onto the screen, and lasts between 1,500 and 2,000 hours before it burns out and needs to be replaced. Now LED and laser light source projectors are available that last 20,000 hours or longer.
- Large flat-panel TVs which today are more reasonable in price. They may be as large as 75" in diameter or greater and are available for indoor and outdoor use. This makes it possible to bring the home theater experience into a family room or outdoor area where a projection video system may not be feasible because of ambient room light, Dzedzy says.
- New audio systems. Dolby's Atmos uses special speakers to reflect sound off the ceiling for a more real-life theater approach.
- Video streaming. When possible, Dzedzy's firm hardwires the audio video system to a client's router so streaming is uninterrupted. Sometimes, the system needs to be connected wirelessly.
- Dolby Atmos speaker layouts come with surround sound options for two Atmos enabled speakers, or four Atmos enabled speakers and can also include a pair of front wide speakers.
- Dolby Atmos enabled ceiling speakers (or modules) deliver equivalent performance. While using two speakers of either type will provide a convincing and powerful effect.
- Using four speakers will offer the optimum sense of audio movement and precision in most rooms.
#3. Know how many will use the room and design accordingly. Most homeowners want seats with arm consoles and a drink/popcorn holder, want them to recline, and step back on risers, so everyone can see. In one theater McCormick designed, which measured 12' 6" by 23', she could fit eight seats with two larger for the homeowners. The screen was 56" high with the ceiling height at 10'. Many of Dzedzy’s clients request anywhere from eight to 16 seats. To accommodate that number, a room should measure between 16' to 20' wide and 20' to 30' long, and the ceiling be 9' to 10' high.
#4. Plan for the right floor, wall, and ceiling materials, as well as comfortable seats. A carpet with a good pad underneath is best for floors since it absorbs sounds. Walls can be lined with acoustic-absorbing material that’s wrapped with a decorative fabric. Everything should be dark so it doesn’t reflect light. And the ceiling should be sheetrock or drywall painted, though another option that adds glamour and sparkle is a fiber optic ceiling, similar to stars twinkling in the sky. Mechanicals can be installed in the ceiling if there's enough height, with beams possibly camouflaging them. All in all, the room should use a combination of absorptive and reflective surfaces for best performance. And be sure to consider comfortable stain-resistant materials on the seats such as faux leather or microfiber.
#5. Include some artificial light. Dzedzy likes to install LED lights along the floor, especially when the floor is graded to form a safe path; in wall sconces to wash walls and artwork such as movie posters; and in recessed cans. Controls can be placed at the owners’ seats to turn them on and off and dim them easily, which nowadays can be done from many smart phones as well.
#6. Don't forget bells and whistles in the design. Maybe, you want a popcorn and drink machine, curtains to frame the screen, glass porthole windows in doors, cinema-style marquee signs, and digital servers to store movies. Why get up from your chair? The right control system is crucial so with one touch you can start the movie and change channels, volume, dim lights, open or close motorized curtains, and adjust the room's temperature.
#7. Total wrap cost. The sky’s literally the limit, depending on the level of sophistication you desire—even the type of screen material can vary in price. LED and laser video projectors are slightly higher than the average high quality projector using a traditional lamp. Some run between $8,000 and $15,000. "The prices will come down as more products become available in the market," Dzedzy predicts. Large flat-panel TVs have already come down in price since they were first introduced for about $50,000. Now, you can buy an 85" for about $9,000 and 75" for $3,500, he says. The interior design of the theater can also range dramatically based on finishes.
#8. Parting advice: The best rule of thumb is to set a budget, factor in how often you'll use the theater, and how it fits into the overall value of your home. You don't want to price your home out of the market since a home theater is a great addition but won't appeal to everyone.
Once you’ve brought a bit of Hollywood movie theater design into your home, you can sit back, put your feet up, grab a bag of popcorn and a drink, and watch your favorite flick.
Barbara Ballinger is a professional writer, author, blogger and speaker who has long focused on real estate, design, and personal finance. She has co-authored many books, including Successful Homebuilding and Remodeling, The Kitchen Bible: Designing the perfect culinary space, and The Garden Bible: Designing the perfect outdoor space. She regularly contributes to the National Association of Realtors® Website and magazine.
Margaret Crane is a nationally known freelance writer, blogger and journalist who has co-authored with Barbara Ballinger several books and articles on real estate, design and family business. Her byline has appeared in Realtor® magazine. With more than a half-dozen titles to her credit, Margaret’s latest design book is The Kitchen Bible: Designing the perfect culinary space.