CUSTOM INSTALLATION EQUIPMENT REVIEWS

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Nov 02, 2016 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE Nexia Bridge, $87; Trane XL824, $334

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Nexia Diagnostics monitors real-time HVAC performance
Z-Wave-supported Nexia Bridge built into thermostat
Minus
$9.99/month subscription fee
Cloud-based automation works slower than local systems

THE VERDICT
The Nexia system is unique in that it appeals to both do-it-yourselfers and those who want it done for them. Its combination of a simple programming structure with an assortment of welcoming and intuitive user interfaces makes it a system you’ll actually enjoy using.

I was beginning to worry that we’d run out of acronyms. After all, what would we do if we had to speak or write actual words instead of just using three- or four-letter shorthand? Saying “do-it-yourself” is so much more time-consuming than “DIY.” Thank goodness there’s a new acronym making the rounds: DIFM, which stands for do-it-forme. Although people have always wanted to have things done for them, the appearance of the acronym DIFM is the result of the wicked hangover that the DIY smart-home industry is suffering, after a couple of years when rapacious startup enthusiasm sucked all of the rational oxygen out of the air. The fact is that there are plenty of rooms in the smart home to accommodate the yourselfers, the for-me-ers, and the dedicated custom installers.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Sep 26, 2016 0 comments
As more and more devices become wireless, it seems that it should be easier to connect together all the TVs in the house without the mess of cables. Truth is that it’s not as simple as it seems. The new Nyrius WS54 (MSRP: $170) makes it about as simple as it can be. Plus, it works in a challenging situation where many other systems have failed.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jul 13, 2016 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,979 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Easy retrofit replacement of wired volume controls
Dedicated router creates private TiO Wi-Fi network
Exceptional level of user customization
Minus
Limited direct IP control of third-party components
Few streaming services supported—but more coming

THE VERDICT
With TiO’s unique approach to home automation, systems are a breeze to design and install, quick to configure, and intuitively natural to use—with the bonus of being highly configurable by the user without the need for a return service call from the dealer.

The folks at TiO (short for “Turn it On”) claim they’re taking “an entirely fresh approach to home automation” with a philosophy that considers the user to be the most important part of a TiO system. In other words, if a home automation system were a round hole and the user a square peg, the manufacturer should re-engineer the hardware hole into a square rather than force the user to become a round peg. Of course, making things truly and honest-to-goodness-ly easy for the user is way, way simpler to pontificate about than it is to accomplish.

David Vaughn Posted: Jun 10, 2015 9 comments

NEAR IG 6/IGS 12 Outdoor Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

NEAR 6XL Amplifier
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $4,656 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
In-ground installation allows the speakers to almost disappear
Incredibly clear audio at high, and low, volume levels
Designed to last in any type of weather
Minus
Expensive
Back-breaking work to install permanently

THE VERDICT
A speaker system designed for the rigors of outdoors with the performance of high-end indoor loudspeakers.

As a home theater die-hard, I spend way too much time indoors, regardless of the season. But my wife encourages me to get my vitamin D whenever the weather is nice, and there’s nothing like spending a leisurely Saturday afternoon lying by the pool while listening to music or some San Francisco Giants baseball. I’ve had an outdoor speaker system installed for the last 15 years. I think those speakers cost me under $1,000 (including amplification), and whereas they sounded great when new, they’ve gotten progressively worse as the years have gone on—even though I uninstall them in the winter to keep them from getting waterlogged when the rainy season hits. This isn’t a knock on the unnamed company that made my outdoor speakers; it’s just an acknowledgement of what happens when drivers bake in the California sun and have cheap “all weather” plastic enclosures.

John Sciacca Posted: Jun 02, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $4,070 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Incredibly simple setup
Terrific home theater integration
Easily handles both analog and IP sources
Minus
No native sources
Typical Class D sound quality

THE VERDICT
Auriel is a breeze to set up, provides control over legacy and modern sources, and offers home theater integration along with a variety of easy-to-use interfaces.

Housewide audio distribution systems varied little in their design and feature set for many years. Whether they were from Niles, Elan, SpeakerCraft, NuVo, or Russound, you could essentially count on them offering six analog audio source inputs, onboard amplification for six stereo zones, and connections for a variety of controllers, usually including an in-wall keypad.

Kris Deering Posted: Sep 17, 2014 2 comments
No matter how much you pore over the layout of your home theater and its dimensions, you’re going to need acoustic treatments if you want to experience your system’s full potential. Chair and speaker placements only do so much to counteract natural obstacles such as standing waves, modal peaks/nulls, and reflections. Even the best audio equipment and speakers can’t fully compensate for them; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Bad room acoustics can make the very best gear sound horrible.
Brent Butterworth Posted: Jul 15, 2013 0 comments

When I was wandering through websites looking for speakers to review in this test, I found companies I'd never heard of. Most were selling generic outdoor speakers, but one - OSD Audio - offered something with an unprecedented mix of cool and creepy: an outdoor speaker styled to look like a life-size German Shepherd."Special purpose," indeed.

Brent Butterworth Posted: Jul 15, 2013 14 comments

As I mentioned at the outset, bass is hard to do outdoors. You don't have "room gain" - i.e., the tendency of typical residential rooms to boost bass. Everyone seems to want their outdoor speakers to be about 1 foot tall, and it's hard to get deep notes out of such small boxes. Adding a subwoofer outdoors is complicated.

Michelle McCarthy Posted: Jan 02, 2013 2 comments
Acoustic treatments have long been considered home theater eyesores. While they’re essential to sound quality, their lack of style, to put it nicely, has left a lot to be desired. But many manufacturers have realized you can have it all and are now offering more aesthetically pleasing options. Here are five examples.
Bob Ankosko Posted: Nov 12, 2012 0 comments
When we home theater enthusiasts dream about automation, we envision pushing a button and sinking into the sofa, beer in hand: The lights dim, a huge screen descends from the ceiling, and a magnificent picture magically appears onscreen as your speakers come to life. But why stop there? With Somfy’s TaHomA system (and the help of a professional installer), you can bring window shades, drapes or blinds, and climate control into the fold and create automated scenes for a single room or the entire house.
Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 04, 2012 4 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
Price: $10,000 (23 shade system) At A Glance: Up to three-year battery life • Extremely quiet operation • Simple installation

Of all the “this is the coolest damn thing I’ve ever seen” things a home theater/wholehome automation system can do, the one that is consistently the most mesmerizing, most envied, coolest “coolest damn thing” is the control of motorized window treatments. (Although it sounds like something a doctor would prescribe for sick building syndrome, window treatments is the term people in the know use for what you and I would call curtains, blinds, and shades.) If you’ve never experienced motorized shades (or drapes or blinds)—and I mean experienced in the sense that you’ve seen them in action in someone’s home and not in a too-clean-to-be-believable picture-perfect designer’s showroom or a slickly edited online video—it’s difficult to grasp the enchanted feeling and quasi-mystical pleasure that even the least gadget-savvy person can get from being in a room in which some hidden electronic sorcery conjures the shades to obediently open and close (or stop anywhere in between) on command or makes the curtains part like the Red Sea as if Moses were holding a remote control in his hand instead of a staff. Even the reticent Wizard of Oz, himself, would rush out from his hiding place behind the curtain to watch it open and close by remote control if it were motorized.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 07, 2011 3 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $17,000 as tested At A Glance: Control one to 200 devices • No new wires for easy retrofits • Saves electricity and lengthens bulb life

Unless you’re one of the enlightened, you probably use the same simple lighting-control system that most everyone else in the electrified world uses—your finger. Sometimes it’s the side of your hand, or when your hands are full, a nudge with your elbow or shoulder. While the electrical hardware is reliable, this type of system is prone to user error (forgetfulness), doesn’t react quickly to changing circumstances (daytime/nighttime), and is often just damned inconvenient (you’re here, but the switch is over there). On top of all that, gangs of three, four, or more switches on the wall, no matter how fancy the wall plate, are unsightly and not especially intuitive to use when it comes to flipping the right switch to turn on the right light—especially in the dark.

Kim Wilson Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
We marvel at how thin flat panel TVs have gotten and it stands to reason that these lighter, thinner sets would usher in a new wave of mounts and lifts. Naturally, mounts have gotten smaller and lighter offering some unique designs that were not possible with previous generation sets. Lifts conceal your TV when you are not using it, offering even greater creativity and integration into your decor. These eight models will hold, lift, tilt and swivel your TV for optimum viewing in any location.
Kim Wilson Posted: Apr 25, 2011 0 comments
Buying furniture for your AV components and HDTV can seem like a daunting task with all the choices available and like any type of furniture there are all types of styles, designs and sizes. Here are six of our picks for AV furniture that fit a variety of styles and budgets.
Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Apr 19, 2011 0 comments
[Part one of this article can be found here.]

The wholehouse story.

Home automation is just too cool. There’s no doubt about it. Sure, it’s great to turn on your home theater system and go to the correct input or channel with the press of one button. But there are a number of good universal remotes that’ll do that. I want to be able to use that same remote to turn the lights on and off, lock and unlock doors, raise and lower shades, and, well, anything else I can think of. (I’d like it to cook and clean, but I’m afraid domestic robots are still a bit further in the future.) In last month’s issue, I highlighted parts of the latest incarnation of Control4’s expandable home automation system, specifically how the company’s three controllers and new 2.0 software update give you the ability to control your entire home theater, the lights in your house, and even door locks. Control4’s 4Store marketplace will ideally let third-party apps expand the system in ways that Control4 hasn’t thought of—such as managing the energy usage in your home. But there’s plenty more to talk about that we couldn’t fit in that issue. This time, in addition to the seduction of motorized shades, I’ll cover some of the nuts and bolts of putting a Control4 system together, as well as what it takes to program and control it.

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