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Crestron Experience Center - Hands-On Home Automation

February 16, 2009 By Brent Butterworth



Click the images below for bigger versions:
Crestron AMS-AIP
Crestron AMS-AIP with controller and iPod dock
Crestron Experience Center - Hands-On Home Automation
Crestron Experience Center - Hands-On Home Automation
Crestron Experience Center - Hands-On Home Automation
This training room allows students to try their hand and see the results on the wall in the background.
Crestron Experience Center - Hands-On Home Automation

The Crestron Experience Center in Las Vegas is one of the few places in the world delivering hands-on demos of the wonders of home automation.

With its new Las Vegas Experience Center, Crestron—which in home automation is perhaps even more pervasive than Microsoft is in the computer business—seeks to make its creations more accessible to dealers and customers. The Experience Center is one of only a few places in the world where one can witness home automation at work.

Missouri may be the Show-Me State, but face it—we’re living in a Show-Me World. We rarely believe someone’s claims unless they can prove them. We rarely grasp a concept unless we can see it demonstrated. And Internet commerce notwithstanding, we’re rarely content to buy a product unless we’ve tried it first.

These strictures make life tough for the people who sell home automation systems. Such systems are so complex, so customized that it’s prohibitively difficult and expensive for most dealers to set up demo rigs. Their customers generally have to buy on faith. For most of us, that’s a mighty uncomfortable prospect.

Enter the Crestron Experience Center, Las Vegas.

Crestron AMS-AIP

Why Vegas? As anyone who’s been reading the Home Portfolio section in Home Entertainment for a while has probably noticed, Vegas is a hot town for custom home theaters. But perhaps more important, it’s one of the hottest towns in the world for hotels. And according to Crestron, almost all of the town’s luxury hotels—including the MGM Grand, the Venetian, the Wynn, and the new CityCenter—use Crestron gear both for their luxury suites and for their boardrooms and operation centers.

When I heard in late October that the Experience Center was about to open, I grabbed my camera, my iPod, and a handful of cigars and drove up Interstate 15 from Los Angeles to check it out. The Center occupies a suite in an office building a few blocks off the Las Vegas Strip. Although the name Experience Center conjures up images of grand spaces and Disney amusement parks, Crestron’s take is far more conservative: It’s basically an office with lots of Crestron gear on display. But most of the displays are live—touch a button and things actually start to happen.

My tour guide for the visit was Kevin Dry, a Crestron applications engineer and a former custom installer. He started me off with what he seemed to consider Crestron’s greatest point of pride circa late 2008: the Adagio AMS-AIP, which may be the most impressive all-in-one audio unit ever created.

Receiver Roulette

Crestron AMS-AIP with controllerThe AMS-AIP packs a whole rack worth of gear into a chassis the size of a large A/V receiver. It incorporates a 7.1 receiver with Dolby Digital, DTS, and 100 watts per channel, but it’s far more than just a receiver.

It also routes sound to four additional rooms (six if you’re using the receiver in 5.1 mode) using internal 45-watt-per-channel digital amps. Cool, huh?

That’s just the start. The AMS-AIP also features Audyssey MultEQ XT room correction technology for the receiver section, as well as Gennum’s acclaimed VXP video processing chipset.

Crestron uses the VXP not only to produce a pristine picture from all the video sources connected to the AMS-AIP, but also to deliver picture-in-picture and split-screen functions.

The best thing about this floor display was that the AMS-AIP was actually plugged in and connected to speakers, a Crestron IDOC iPod dock, and a Crestron home automation system.

I didn’t have to touch the front panel. Instead, I controlled the receiver through Crestron’s TPS-6X, a small touchscreen that operated all the key functions of the AMS-AIP and also let me browse music on the IDOC.

Yep, the artist and album names, song titles, and album art all appeared right on the touchscreen.

I’d seen the AMS-AIP before in static displays at trade shows, but staring at its rather ordinary faceplate simply doesn’t convey what this machine can do. In fact, hardly anyone who owns one will ever touch the front panel. The idea is that you shove this thing into a closet and use Crestron touchscreens and keypads to control it. According to Dry, the AMS-AIP works with any Crestron controller.

Dry reported that the Monte Carlo and Mandalay Bay hotels are now using the AMS-AIP to provide audio for their most luxurious and capacious suites—the kind of accommodations into which only the highest of rollers ever sets foot. That’s not to say it’s only for billionaires, though; he said its price is modest enough for it to be used in average homes.

Three Aces

Dry then took me to a display of three large touchscreens: the TPS-12, TPS-15, and TPS-17. You could think of these as the aircraft carriers of Crestron’s line—they’re the most visible and powerful manifestation of what the company can do.

These large displays let the homeowner control every last function of even a 10,000-acre, 10-building estate.

The funny thing is, Dry didn’t spend any time discussing the screens themselves. That’s because there’s nothing interesting about them. They’re just touchscreens. What’s interesting is the programming that goes into them.

The main feature Dry wanted to demo is Crestron’s Green Light technology. With two taps on the TPS-15, he pulled up a screen that shows the floor plan of a house, what lights are in each room, and the current dimmer setting of each light.

A display on the left side of the screen showed such statistics as energy use, energy cost per hour, and carbon output caused by the lighting system’s energy use. Dry used on-screen controls to lower the levels of a couple of the lights, and all the energy use and cost numbers started to drop.

“If you run the lights at 90 percent, you can’t see a big difference in illumination,” he explained, “but there’s a big difference in the energy costs.”

The Green Light software lets your installer plug in the wattage of the light bulbs you’re using, as well as the local utility rates. It also has a screen showing the yearly cost, cost savings, and carbon output of both the lighting and the heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) system.

On to some In-wall wildcards and some serious training...

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