In Tune with Nature Page 2

A Wired Wonder
Just as nature is full of contrasts, like a lush green oasis springing up in the middle of a dry desert, Tim Orman's house provides quite a contrast to the Hicksons' home. This thoroughly wired home just outside of Austin, Texas, quite possibly contains every electronic gadget known to man. (Actually, Tim eyed my digital camera rather covetously, so maybe there's one gadget he has yet to add.) It's the kind of house that most readers of this magazine (and certainly its editors) can only dream about: multiple home theaters, including a dedicated room with a top-of-the-line Runco projector and stadium seating; speakers and keypad controllers everywhere; emergency generators to provide backup power

for the artificial creek that runs through the property (you read that right, an artificial creek); and sunshades that automatically roll down when the sun comes out and roll up when it gets dark or too windy (the controller monitors a weather station that continually checks wind speed). Tim's enthusiasm for household electronica is absolutely infectious, and it was clear that he took as much joy in showing off his home as he does in living there.

As with the Hicksons', Tim's indoor and outdoor listening areas are integrated into one system. But that's where the similarities stop. Ian Turner, the custom home installation manager for Dyer Electronics in Austin, somewhat sheepishly told me that they'd installed nearly 20 miles of CAT-5 cable (not to mention other wiring) in order to give Tim the flexibility to accommodate any current—or future—desire regarding the Phast system that controls everything. Tim can play any source in any zone; his and hers TiVos constantly monitor the airwaves; and, for those times when Tim can't be outside—say, when he's working in his home office or drifting off to sleep in his bedroom—he can watch and listen to the creek or the falls, thanks to the two camera/microphone combinations that are strategically placed in the trees above the creek.

Tim's three-story home provides enough patios (five in all) and landscaped areas to incorporate just about every outdoor option you can think of. There are in-ceiling speakers around several of the patios, as well as in the breezeway that separates the home's two wings. Other patios and the front deck use white on-wall Niles speakers. The spa area contains some very well-hidden rock speakers, while the creek area uses black Niles outdoor speakers mounted inconspicuously in the trees. As befits such a wired domain, each keypad installed throughout the house is programmed to control just about every zone. This means that, if Tim felt so inclined, he could turn on the speakers by the creek and listen to the outdoor music mixed with the sounds of the running water through any speakers inside his house.

Just when I thought I'd seen everything, I finished my tour of the property at Tim's greenhouse. The greenhouse—pretty much the ultimate outdoor environment brought indoors—contains a pair of on-wall speakers with a keypad controller and is fully automated: When the outside temperature is right, the windows open; when conditions warrant, the windows close, and the heater or air conditioner fires up. It's hard enough to leave the greenhouse's comfortably lush environment. It's doubly hard when you can work with the plants and listen to good music.

Certainly, it's easy for a technically oriented person like me to lust after a technology-rich home that succeeds so well in bringing the inside and outside environments together. But I've described this home to a lot of people, many of whom—like the Hicksons—simply never thought about electronics in their home before. Invariably, the thought of sitting outside with family or friends and listening to music or play-by-play commentary hits home.

Having an outdoor system isn't about blasting your neighbors or being able to host Headbanger's Ball parties in the backyard. It should be about bringing great sound, loud or soft, to your outdoor activities. For many people, the old saying "what you don't know won't hurt you" can be changed to "what you don't know won't entertain you." So listen up: Think outside the home theater box, and you'll see just how much more fun the outdoors can be.