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Automate Your Home Theatre

By SmartHouse Writers | Monday | 03/04/2006

Lighting, control systems and motorised window treatments can make your home theatre sizzle.

Picture this: You and your guests settle into your comfortable home theatre. You press a button, and the lights slowly dim. Your visitors look around in wonderment. Maybe a curtain parts in front of the screen or closes in front of some windows. The display, amp and signal sources fire up and you enter another world.

This very special effect is possible with lighting control, motorised window treatments and an automated control system to operate everything -- in addition to all of your audiovisual components. These systems often provide the final dramatic touches for high-end home theatres. After all, merely dimming the lights can have a most dramatic impact on a night at movies.

So, if you want to add some real sizzle to your home theatre, consider adding these systems. They can make an ordinary home theatre experience truly great.

The lights dim…
With a lighting control system, you can set the optimum amount of light in the room to suit watching movies, sports, concerts or cartoons. When you need to take a break to answer the door or grab a snack from another part of the house, the right lighting can guide you safely to the exit from the depths of your home theatre. You can have lighting focused over a pool table whilst the viewing area of your home theatre is dimmed. And, when the movie is over, all the lights can come on again gradually. Virtually anything is possible.

Lighting control systems can be operated easily through wall-mounted touchpads that are about the size of a light switch and contain just a few buttons. They can also be handled by remote control devices programmed by you and/or a professional installer. The lights can even be tied into a whole-house control system and activated through a touchpanel or touchscreen.

Automated lighting and window treatments can transform even the most modest home cinema

The most reliable and expensive lighting control systems are hardwired. These systems often work through their own communications cable, so it's best to plan for them when your home theatre room is being constructed. Some manufacturers of high-end lighting systems also make scaled-down one-room lighting control systems that are ideal for home theatre use.

Newer wireless lighting control systems use radio frequency (RF) technology and are used often for retrofit systems, sometimes in addition to and in conjunction with a hardwired control system used in the rest of the house. A processor is typically placed near the home's electrical box and delivers control signals wirelessly to locations around the home, eliminating the need for a lot of in-wall wiring. Lamps can be controlled wirelessly by plugging them into RF modules that receive the signals.

Parting of ways
Drapes, curtains and shades can be essential in a home theatre, especially if your display is variously prone to being washed out by sun or artificial light streaming onto it.

There's a wide choice of suitable types available to match your interior, including wood blinds, shades, even shutters and many other types of window treatments. And, even better, they can be motorised to open or close at the touch of a button. With many types of motorised tracks and rollers available, the type of window treatment that can be motor operated these days is virtually limitless.

Motorised drapes can be used to cover a screen and then part when the movie is about to begin, just as in some commercial theatres. In addition to visual effect, motorised window treatments also help improve sound quality by absorbing unwanted sound reflections.

It's best to plan for motorised window treatments as early as possible in the construction of your home theatre so you can wire for them before the walls are finished. This is where things can get tricky, because motorised window treatments can run on either high-voltage wiring—which is your home's electrical wiring that goes to each electrical outlet and is better suited to lifting heavier window treatments—or low-voltage wiring that typically uses extra control wire between the switches and motors.

The motors for window treatments can run on AC, the alternating current that comes out of your electrical outlets and electrical wiring, or DC, the direct current from batteries and often bulky plug-in transformers. The system you use should depend on the size of the window and the type of window treatment you select. DC systems are typically used for smaller windows and light fabrics. Keep in mind that DC motors may run louder, as they must work harder. Advances have been made in the manufacturing of quieter DC motors, though.

Motorised window treatments can work in concert with a security system, whether in a home theatre space or throughout the house. Certain windows can be darkened when the system is armed, for example.
Automated window treatments can also save you as much as 10 percent to 15 percent on home energy costs by opening on sunny days in the winter to help warm a room and closing in the summer to help keep a room cool.

In control
If you want to control the lighting, the drapes and your audiovisual components, you may need an integrated control system. There are several types of control systems available for your home theatre only or for your entire house. Most home theatre control systems are hardwired with a central processor that's connected to your home theatre gear. The remote control you use, however, can be wireless.

Nevo SL Universal Wi-Fi Remote

Home theatre control systems can perform many tasks simultaneously, quickly and reliably. For example, they can control your security, heating and ventilation systems, as well as your home theatre. This much control can, however, be pricey. Fortunately, some manufacturers of high-end home control systems make scaled down one-room control systems that are ideal for home theatre use.

Control systems are typically operated either through touchscreens or keypads. Less expensive keypads are usually mounted on a wall near a room's entrance. Each button on a keypad can be programmed to set a scene or operate a single device. Touchscreens feature LCD panels that can be placed on a tabletop or on the walls. These allow users to scroll through pages of controls, one for each separate system, such as lighting or audiovisual. Some touchscreens can display video from a DVD player, satellite receiver or security camera.

Many touchscreens use RF, meaning the components you control do not have to be within the remote's line of sight, as they have to be with infrared (IR). Some touchscreens and other remotes use one-way RF, meaning that the signal only goes from the remote to the processor, while others use two-way RF, meaning that the remote receives a return signal confirming that the command was received. Two-way RF is useful if your equipment rack isn't located within view of your seating area.

A new breed of control called Internet protocol (IP) control, makes it easier than ever to command all the devices in your home theatre or your entire home. IP systems use computer technology to turn an area or the whole house into its own little Internet, with every device on the network assigned an Internet address. This type of control system can allow for enjoyment of computer system files in a home theatre. This technology is tipped to revolutionise home communication and entertainment so keep an eye out.


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