Home Entertainment


Home Entertainment's Installation of the Year 2006

January 1, 2006 By Dennis Burger

Tucked away in the corner of this elegant Pacific island home, there’s a 400-square-foot room known simply as “the tech room.”

It’s a drafty, nondescript space with floor-to-ceiling stacks of amplifiers, superlative surround-sound processors, extensive media libraries, and imposing control equipment. And if, by some chance, you become a privileged guest in this home and have a chance to sneak a peek at the high-end audio/video components, you’ll want to hang around and admire them for a while.

Because beyond the doors of the tech room—which also houses a raised floor that conceals the starting point of 73 miles of wire, automatic fire suppressors, and a battery backup—you will be hard-pressed to find a single conspicuous piece of electronics, aside from a few flat-panel televisions, the occasional DVD player tucked within a cabinet, and a Crestron touchpanel discreetly and strategically positioned in each room.

The 500-square-foot theater is warmed with a silk Japanese lantern. The space is kept cool and dark via motorized blinds. The carvings (right) framing the screen are a frieze of leaf and flower patterns. (Click image to enlarge)

As you proceed through the home and admire its finer details—the exquisite woodwork and coral masonry—you might take note of another peculiar absence: The walls are devoid of light switches.

But unlike the ultra-high-end gear secreted away behind closed doors, the switches are not tucked away for aesthetic reasons. Simply put, they are just not necessary.

“The owner wanted a fully automated home,” says George Bliss, co-owner of Bliss Home Theaters and Automation in Westlake Village, Calif.

“And by that I mean fully automated. He wanted to get rid of the smorgasbord of controls on his walls—he wanted them combined into one touchpanel. No thermostats, no intercoms, no shade controls on the wall, no Jacuzzi controls, and yes, no light switches.”

Bass for the great room and home theater systems is provided by M&K MX-350 MK II THX Ultra subwoofers, which rely on two 12-inch drivers in a push-pull configuration: one front-firing, the other upward-firing from the bottom of the cabinet. The result is an astoundingly tight, deep, distortion-free and accurate low end. (Click image to enlarge)

George is quick to point out that lighting control in high-end homes is becoming very standard.

“But to control the lights the way we do is unique,” he says. “The lights in certain areas of the home turn on and off at certain times of the day.

We have some lighting automatically controlled by an astronomical clock, and there is also a ‘goodnight’ button that turns on baseboard lighting throughout the home in the hallways, galleries, and stairwells, and turns off everything else.”

“The most impressive thing, though,” interjects George’s brother and business partner Robert, “is how easy it is to use. If you were to walk into that house, you do not need any instruction besides knowing that there are no switches anywhere and that you have to use a touchpanel. Once you get past that, it’s infinitely intuitive.”

That ease of use would be impressive enough if the Crestron system were only tasked with controlling the home’s 56 lighting modules, which control more than 400 individual lighting loads. But that alone would hardly make the project worthy of the 2005 Ultimate Connected Home award given by Crestron.

The system also carries the burden of administering more than 30 individual zones of dedicated HVAC, a Kaleidescape DVD movie system with two servers and seven players, a massive Audio-ReQuest music server that houses the homeowner’s 30,000-plus albums, and an ingenious intercom system.

“You’ve seen those TV shows where the guy is up at the touchpanel talking to somebody? This house has that,” George says. “You can walk up to a touchpanel and have a conversation with someone on the other side of the house. Or you can touch another button and send a page throughout the entire house. When you push the call button on the front door, the large touchpanels ‘ding-dong’ and up pops a picture of whoever is standing there. And the first person who answers that gets control of the conversation. It’s really the future. That’s just taking Crestron and bending and twisting it to take it to that level. It really doesn’t want to do that.”

“The scope and diversity of equipment combined with the intricacy of the integration and programming make this the ultimate connected Crestron house. This installation has everything. Crestron does not offer a product to control tiki torches yet, but Bliss found a way to do it anyway.” (Click image to enlarge)
—Jeffrey Singer,
Crestron Electronics, Inc.

William Brewer, an ex-aerospace engineer and lead programmer for Bliss Home Theaters and Automation, is the person who single-handedly accomplished all of that bending and twisting. He likens the home—not just the tech room, but the entire house—to a massive supercomputer.

“It’s kind of like a piece of hardware with 10,000 chips and 50,000 wires.” And Brewer should know: A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in computer science, he joined the team at Bliss Home Theaters and Automation after losing his aerospace engineering job following 9/11. The transition, according to Brewer, was a logical one given the parallels between telemetry systems and Crestron systems as complicated as the one in this house. “You deal with a lot of the same things, a lot of various signal types.”

The bedrooms (right and bottom) feature private lanais. Here, the tropical theme continues in the custom pop-up cabinets at the foot of both beds. All of the linens were custom made in Italy and bear a 600 thread count. The sisal pattern of the master suite’s wool rug (bottom) mimics a grass mat look. (Click images to enlarge)

Despite Brewer’s background, the massive control and communications system, with its 1,100-plus individual cables for A/V and automation, was a monumental challenge. “The intercom system lets any large touchpanel talk to any other large touchpanel at any time,” he says.

“There are 14 touchpanels in the house, and you can have seven conversations going on at the same time,” he says. “So it’s not just one intercom—everybody can be communicating at the same time. Setting that up and organizing and implementing it became a real task. When we first turned it on, I wasn’t buffering signals right and it crashed everything, because so much data was being sent over the Cresnet [Crestron’s proprietary network technology] to these touchpanels.”




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