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7/1/2012

Save Energy with Green Technology

 

Last time I talked about designing a dedicated theater room that maximized audio and video performance while on a reasonable budget; this month I will be dedicating to “Green Technology” including Lutron’s Radio Ra2 wireless lighting control and Sivoia QS automated shade systems. For the full article including additional information on Lutron’s Radio Ra2 and Sivoia products, Solar panels, LED, CFL and low voltage lighting and energy management "continue here".  

 

These technologies have always been great for reducing energy costs and improving the look and feel of one’s home…but they were usually limited to a small number of people who could afford them and who were either building or remodeling. The newest generation of products are more flexible, outperform older technologies and include features such as LED dimming compatibility at a fraction of the cost and without the hassle of having to run wires to a centralized system.

 

Lutron Radio Ra2 Lighting Control

Lutron released their Radio Ra2 retro-fittable wireless lighting control system about 2 years ago and have continued to grow their product assortment which now includes wall dimmers and keypads (that can replace your existing switches and are available in 30 standard colors), plug in lamp dimmers, occupancy sensors, and a free iPad app to control and monitor everything; but which can also be used to integrate control of their Sivoia QS wireless shades and Thermostats allowing you to maximize your energy savings.

 

Lutron Sivoia QS Shades

Lutron’s automated shades have been an interior design favorite for many years as they pioneered the silent shade motor and offer a variety of unique solutions from horizontal shades for skylights and sunrooms to Venetian blinds with intelligent tilt alignment to maximize light or shade at any installed location depending on the time of day or year to vertical drapes as well as a host of traditional cellular and roller shades. In addition as I briefly touched on a few months back, they now offer a wireless battery powered cellular shading option for windows 14”x14” to 96”x96” ranging in price from about 150-1500 depending on size, fabric and features.

 

Want to know more???

Check out the full article "here" or contact me today at 425 922 8145 and schedule a time to check out some of these technologies at our showroom or to schedule a complimentary in home consult. I look forward to hearing from you today.

4/25/2012

Building a Theater on a Budget

 

Last month I discussed how to protect your home with steps to improve security and a quick tutorial on surveillance systems. This month as the title says I’ll be talking about one of the most enjoyable products I work with…Home Theaters and specifically designing systems that maximize performance while still meeting a budget. I like to say that we (at Madrona Digital) specialize in systems 5k-500k and within that range many things are possible. For the purpose of this article I’m going to walk through the building of a ‘reasonable’ 25k system that is a current iteration of what I want to put in my own house.

 

Questions to ask:

What’s most important – Audio/Video, and how important is each?

 -          High impact dynamic range that can rock a concert or blow me away is very important, having a nice big image with proper color is important…I’d like an ultra-wide screen for the most cinematic experience…and think 3D is cool but hate having to wear glasses

 

What’s my total budget – including build costs, room treatments, furniture and of course equipment and installation/calibration/programming?

-          Approximately 25k seems reasonable 15 for equipment 5 for build/furniture/ 5 for install/misc. parts. + 10% other tbd/overage.

 

How big is the room and how many people do I want to share with?

-          Room is 15x20, I’d like at least 6 seats…but 8 would be preferred.

 

Do you have a style or design for the room in mind?

-          I’m wanting a fairly stealth install, I want stuff hidden…but it is a dedicated room so I want it to feel like a theater. I also would like a modern look maybe with some sconces, cove lighting and a riser for the second row of seats.

 

Are there accessories/products/brands/features you’ve seen/listened to that you like and would like to include in the theater?

-          Yes, I’m partial to Yamaha AV receivers and have had great luck with Sunfire Subwoofers…I also know I do not like single chip DLP projectors as the rainbow effect gives me headaches. I’d like to include some kind of snack bar/concessions area (maybe a kitchenette/wet-bar) with a popcorn machine as well as some Movie posters that can be highlighted with spot lighting. I also want a large easy to use remote with hard buttons as I’m a perennial channel surfer…but if I can also have control with an iPad or android device that would be great too.

  

These are just a few of the questions I would ask a customer when designing a Theater. There are usually many more as well. To see the continuation of this post, the system I designed for myself and other systems ranging in price from 5k-100k click here.  I will also be updating the extended version with product links and in some cases personal or 3rd party reviews. 

 

4/1/2012

Surveillance and Security Demystified

 

With a recent increase in home break ins, theft, property damage and vandalism, I’ve been receiving a number of inquiries about residential security and surveillance systems; and what the difference is between the value offerings from Costco and Fry’s Electronics and the more robust professional grade solutions we recommend and install. The first thing to think about when looking at adding or upgrading a security or surveillance system is how important deterrence is, versus actual monitoring and response.

 

If deterrence is the most important factor; then automated lighting (and activity – such as leaving an upstairs bedroom TV on are easy and convenient first steps), as well as making sure to close drapes so people can’t easily peer inside. The next level of deterrence would be adding external cues that your home is protected, this includes any level of surveillance camera strategically placed (with wiring, even if not hooked up), motion activated lighting, and ‘non-generic’ protected by XYZ security system signs. Having a dog with a loud bark is also high on this list…for the tech savvy, motion detectors can be hooked up to audio systems capable of playing back recorded sound files such as a dog barking.

 

For clients looking for a more advanced level of protection and security we create custom security systems to meet their needs including the addition of multiple zones of motion detection and glass break sensors as well as the ability to send them alerts when something is tripped. To meet their surveillance needs we engineer systems comprised of a multitude of different cameras with varying feature sets depending on the location/application. To cover large area’s we frequently use Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) camera’s; for locations where low light viewing is important there is a great camera from Canon that can operate and record in color in almost complete darkness (and can record in mono-chrome in complete darkness thanks to its infrared light emitters). For less important area’s we often spec lower resolution camera’s so that budgets can be used where the most benefit can be derived.

 

Now that we’ve discussed the tricks to deterrence and the basics of more advanced security and surveillance systems check out the extended article.

3/20/2012

Outdoor Entertaining Revisited

 

Spring is here! Are you ready for BBQ season and outdoor entertaining? Have you been to a friend’s home for a party and they had music playing and you wanted to know what it would take, but have shied away from ugly rock speakers and white surface mounted speakers that clash with your exterior? Read on to learn how to maximize your experience with in obtrusive landscape lighting styled products from Sonance, planter style speakers from Niles Audio, premium rock speakers from Rockustics and wireless products from SoundCast.

 

Sonance’s Landscape Series of speaker is comprised of 4” and/or 6” landscape lighting style fixtures and a hidden underground subwoofer running of a remotely located 70v amplifier. The benefit of a 70v system for outside is you can easily add additional speaker when and where you want as your needs change versus needing more channels of amplification for each additional speaker which can add significant costs on larger systems. In addition to making a great sounding outdoor solution, Sonance will also work with clients, builders and architects to help design the perfect layout for even output based on landscape plans.

 

Niles Audio Planter Speakers have been a staple of the custom audio trade for many years. I’ve installed dozens of systems with these unobtrusive speakers as they provide a create 360 degree distribution of sound AND double as planters for flowers, herb gardens or with some creativity even small zen gardens or water features.

 

Rockustics Premium Outdoor Speakers are some of the best looking and performing rock speakers available and come in a large variety of colors, shapes, sizes and levels of performance to meet any clients needs. Check out www.Rockusticsinc.com to see all they have to offer.

 

SoundCast Outcast and Outcast Jr. are the best wireless outdoor speaker solutions I’ve come across. I’ve played with and tested them in a variety of environments over the past 12 months and am happy to report they work flawlessly at over 100 feet from their transmitter. The Outcast is a 2 way speaker system with an 8” woofer and 4 3” full range speakers and can easily cover over a 30ft radius…and can run for over 8 hours on a single charge. Pair it with an iCast and streaming your iPod music to it and control it from the SoundCasts top panel buttons.

 

Thanks for reading and let the fun begin!

 

 

2/18/2012

Spring Cleaning and Remodel Tips

 

Spring is almost here! For some of you that probably means getting ready for some pre-season baseball and hoping for some nice weekend weather to play some golf or tennis; or to get outside and play with your kids. In the Audio/Video/Installation world it means it’s time for spring cleaning, remodel planning and time to think about outdoor audio and video upgrades.

 

SPRING CLEANING:

When I think of spring cleaning there are a few things that come to mind. For dusting, I recommend using Swiffer 360° ™ duster. For screen cleaning a lightly damp (with warm water) microfiber cloth is safe and usually works well; for tougher smudges there are a variety of screen cleaning kits available, but check with your TV’s manual first, as many TV’s have different coatings that can be easily damaged with cleaning solutions (including regular glass cleaner). If you’re cleaning house and end up with a pile of old TV’s, electronics, computers or cables I use and recommend the local branch for the e-waste company Free Electronics Recycling which can be contacted at recycle425@gmail.com. Finally now that everything is cleaned up and ready for spring, the final spring cleaning recommendation I have is to check for any firmware updates for your components and to consider getting your TV and/or Projector’s recalibrated.

 

REMODEL PLANNING:

As spring arrives I usually get an influx of calls from customers looking at doing small and large scale remodels and additions, following are a couple of quick tips to think about if you’re thinking about making some changes.

1)      It’s never too early to contact a custom integrator. If a large or technologically focused project is in your future meeting with us even before an architect is very worthwhile and can generally saves a customer money (sometimes very significantly by limiting revisions and change orders).

2)      Wire AND Plan for the future. In today’s fast changing high technology world, standard wiring infrastructure practices of today may not meet your needs tomorrow so Planning and Wiring for what’s to come is critically important. Quick Tip: Cat6, 2” Conduit and future access are your friend!

3)      Consider Investing in control systems such as Savant™ or RTI™ that can be expanded to included automated control of your Lighting, motorized shades and climate control systems, as well as audio, video, security and surveillance. Quick Tip: Apple and Android devices make great secondary controllers.

 

OUTDOOR AUDIO & VIDEO UPGRADES:

Continuing with the spring theme, what better way to garden then with some great music playing all around! Outdoor and Architectural audio solutions have come a long way in the past few years. There are many outdoor rated surface mount speakers available in (paintable) white or black to fit any budget as well as rock, planter and landscape light styled speakers that serve the purpose of filling your space with sound while blending in (in ground subwoofers are also a great upgrade to maximize performance. On the video front, there are flat panels designed to work in our climate as well as outdoor video projection screens that can remain up all year round or removed during the winter months. For control, I recommend RTI’s weather proof U2 remote or URC’s new MXW920 remotes.

 

For more information, call me today at 425 922 8145 to set up an appointment to check out our showroom or to schedule a complementary in home consult visit.

2/1/2012

Why you should Hire a Pro:

 

I’ve recently been praised by a number of new clients who’ve chosen to work with me and who are now deeply thankful to have found us. So why should you consider “Hiring a Pro”? Read on to learn about some of the many benefits of hiring a professional/custom integrator like Eastside Audio/Video or Madrona Digital.  

 

First and foremost, what we do is definitely not rocket science…but if your system isn’t working 2 hours before a party, or the big game, having someone you can turn to can mean the difference success and failure.

 

Nearly 24-7 Phone, Text and Email Emergency Support:

On a Saturday in mid-December at a around 4pm I received a call from a client with ties to the Seahawks, who was having a football party at their house to watch their alma-mater play in a conference championship game on pay per view. Unfortunately some TV settings got changed about 5 minutes into the game and they lost audio and video…within a couple minutes I was able to walk the client through a few steps and was able to get everything working again for them.

 

Better Products AND More Selection:

We’re not just about moving boxes…but rather providing the best solution to meet a customer’s needs. We have access to many of the same name brand products that you can find at a local big box or club retailer, but also have access to many higher quality models and as well as custom installation items such as invisible speakers that are only available through professional channels.

 

Product Testing AND Installation Experience:

I’ve installed 1000’s of systems over the past 15 years and can honestly tell you that just because something has a name brand on it, or seems like a good deal…it may not actually be the right product for your situation. I’ve frequently had to tell customers to take items back because they won’t do what they want (even when the manufacture says it will). I’ve also had to charge clients more to integrate certain items then they would have spent had we used a similar product that would perform better.

 

Peace of Mind, Certified, Licensed, Bonded and Insured:

This is one of the lower priority benefits in my mind in that hopefully nothing bad ever happens with an installation; however, should something go wrong, using a professional who is licensed, bonded and insured can definitely help with the process of coming to a manageable resolution versus a “fly by night” contractor who can just disappear, leaving you the customer stuck to find someone new.

 

If you need more persuading on why you should hire a pro, just ask.

 

Also, don’t forget that spring will be here before we know it, and It’s never too early to start planning for your upcoming spring remodel and/or landscape projects. So call me today at 425 922 8145 to set up an appointment to let me show you some of the best new ways to enjoy TV, music and movies inside and out.

 

1/12/2012

"SAVANT" our newest addition, learn more!

 

As you read this I’m probably just getting back from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas; where most of this upcoming year’s new products and trends are showcased. In this month’s article I want to introduce you to Savant, which is one our newest product lines and is the only natively Apple® based home control, automation and media (iDevice) control system on the market.

 

 

What it can do:

  • Home Automation & Control— Savant puts you in complete command of virtually any appliance, device or technology in your home. And you can retain the same level of control from a half-a-world away using your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.
  • Home Theater — From a streamlined media room, to a full-blown luxury home theater, Savant can deliver a rich and dynamic viewing and listening experience while also maintaining uninterrupted access to critical whole house technologies.
  • Whole-House Audio — From smooth jazz to heavy metal, Savant's multi-room audio solutions provide easy access and distribution to vast libraries of media from any room in the house. Now everyone can enjoy a personalized environment filled with his or her favorite mood enhancing music.
  • Intelligent Lighting— Savant provides one-touch access to numerous intelligent lighting schemes tailored to any lifestyle. As an example, one simple tap on your iPad or iPod touch remote can activate your exterior floodlights and turn off all interior lighting for nighttime security and energy efficiency.
  • Climate Control — Savant’s home automation technology enables homeowners to monitor heating and cooling systems with total control of thermostats, window shades and draperies.
  • Safety & Security — Left home in a hurry? With a single press of a button from an iPhone, homeowners can lock exterior doors, activate their security system and view surveillance cameras.
  • Communications — Achieve complete in-home and external communication through robust iPad intercom features and a full IP  integrated phone system from Savant.
  • Energy Management — Smart Energy green technology from Savant allows homeowners to reduce energy consumption, conserve resources and save money, all without sacrificing comfort or convenience.

 

To learn more, schedule an appointment with me to stop by our showroom for a demo (or check out www.savantav.com).

11/15/2011

Eastside AV's Holiday 2011 Technology Gift Guide

 

Happy Holidays! Last month I talked about some hot new products that have just become available; including RTI's iPad/iPhone/iTouch (and upcoming Android) control system app, Lutron's new battery powered wireless cellular shading solutions and high value home theater products from Epson and Paradigm; this month you'll find my list of hot technology gifts.

 

Cell phones: We recommend giving the iPhone 4S or Samsung's Galaxy S2 platform devices (Sprint, ATT, T-Mobile)this holiday seasons as I would rate them currently as the best products on the market.

 

Cameras/Camcorders: Look at giving someone Nikon's D5100 Digital SLR (in a kit with 18mm-55mm and 55mm-300mm lenses) or for the adventure enthusiast look at GoPro's newest HD Helmet Hero 1080p camera so you can share memories of your greatest moments on the slopes...and your friends' worst wipeouts.

 

Headphones: Headphones come in many shapes and sizes and below are my recommendations for a variety of applications. K2's line of helmets with built in speakers are great for the slopes; "Power Beats" by Beats by Dr. Dre wrap securely around your ear for easy of listening. For wireless listening go with Sennheiser's RS120's as they can't be beat for wireless reliability and performance. If you're looking for maximum fidelity playback, I suggest picking up a pair of Sennheiser's HD558 or the Limited Edition "Detox" Headphones by Beats by Dr. Dre.

 

Mini/Micro Systems: For great sound in an elegant and compact form factor I would suggest giving Yamaha's MCR332 mini system, stepping up to their MCS1330 High Performance Reference level mini system, or checking out Denon's RCD-N7 mini system (with matching SC-N7 Speakers) as a great way to fill an office, bedroom.

 

Streaming Media Players: Give the gift of content from the likes Netflix, Pandora, Skype and Hulu with Roku's XD and XS media players, Apple's AppleTV2, or the new TiVo Premier Elite Cable box DVR (which will allow the recipient to record up to 4 Comcast programs at once and watch a fifth previously recorded show). If an all in one device for playing back music stored on a computer or someone's Pandora account then Sonos' Play 3 and Play 5 could be a just what to get.

 

TV's/Projectors: For the best picture, I recommend SONY's XBR HX929 series LED TV's; Sharp's 80" and 70" (240 Hz) LED TV's; and Panasonic's GT and VT series plasma TV's. For a truly cinematic experience; this year's hot item is Epson's new Pro Cinema 6010 front projector and for those with a high end dedicated theater, Sim2's Lumis 3D-S 3chip 3D DLP projector may be a dream come true.

 

Speaker Packages: For the ultimate in surround sound I recommend JBL's Synthesis Project Array System; for those on a more moderate budget, Paradigm's Cinema100 CT is a great 5.1 speaker package at just under $1000. If space and wiring are an issue, take a look at Yamaha's sleek new YSP4100 or YSP5100 sound-bar solutions. For someone wanting to get better sound from their computer then Paradigm's (wireless) amplified Atom Monitor Bookshelf would be the perfect gift (not yet available, but coming soon).

 

Universal Remotes: For a top notch do it yourselfer wanting easy control of their electronics we recommend getting them Universal Remote's (URC) manual programmable MX450 or computer programmable MX980 color LCD remote controls which can control through walls or cabinet doors with an optional RF receiver kit. For the home theater aficionado I recommend Remote Technology's T3V+ hand held color touch screen remote or their iPad control application (Professional programming is recommended for URC control systems and is required for RTI control systems, also for iPad control applications additonal device licenses are required).

 

 

Got questions or would like to set up an in home consult vistit? Call me today at 425 922 8145 or contact me via email at EastsideAV@hotmail.com, and let me know what I can do to help or when a good time to meet would be.  If you'd like to stop by our showroom in Bellevue, please let me know when to expect you so I can make sure to be available. 

 

Thanks and Happy Holidays!

Bryan

10/21/2011

Top New Home Technologies for 2011 and 2012

 

Happy almost holidays! Last month I talked about the design, efficiency and security that a proper automated lighting and control system can bring to your home; this month I'd like to take the time to talk about some of the newest and hottest items for the holiday season.

 

1) Remote Technology Incorporated (RTI), won the "Best New Product Award" in September at the CEDIA show, with the release their free iPod/iPad app which complements their existing Windows Virtual Panel App and upcoming Android OS App allowing for complete system control of your home entertainment and automation equipment easily and reliably from all of your portable devices (A product license, a capable control processor and programming is required).

 

2) Epson Pro Cinema Projectors, this fall Epson has upped the ante with their line of high value high performance Professional Home Cinema Projectors which don't break the bank. With current offerings available between 2000-5000 including a 3 year warranty, Extra bulb and Ceiling Mounting bracket they are this year's hard to be beat value projector. The projectors really shine with their high brightness levels allowing you to enjoy viewing all day without as much need for light control.

 

3) Paradigm, a full line manufacturer of high quality speakers released their completely revamped Cinema and Monitor line of speakers. The Cinema series offers a sleek new design in a high gloss black finish and comes with custom wall mount brackets. The Monitor line includes more traditional bookshelf and tower speakers available in a variety of finishes with enhancements in speaker driver design and technology derived from their extremely popular Studio reference speaker line which is consistently rated as one of the best sounding speaker lines for the money.

 

4) Lutron Battery Powered Cellular Shades are the product I am most excited about this year. Motorized and automated shades have always seemed like a luxury that few could afford but many desire. With Lutron's introduction of their newest line of Sivoia QS Cellular Shades, motorized shading solutions are now within reach for any home owner. Shades start at an msrp of 299 and by being battery powered limit the extraneous costs usually associated with getting an electrical or low voltage control signal to the shade motor. Power is derived from a series of high capacity D cell batteries with an estimated lifespan of 3 years. Control options include basic wall switch control as well as infrared remote and integration with Lutron's award winning Radio Ra2 RF and Network based advanced lighting and automation components.

 

5) Energy Management, Solar Power and Green Technology, are becoming a driving force in what we do at the commercial level and over the past few months a number of changes have been happening in the industry. Large companies like Microsoft and Google have left the space and now the smaller more innovative companies that have the knowledge and experience to create and implement these types of solutions are moving forward at a rapid pace to create end user residential solutions that integrate with many of the top tier home automation systems allowing you and our environment to reap the benefits.

9/20/2011

Form and Function Part 2, Lighting Control

 

In this month's article I'll be continuing my discussion from July, where I talked about how custom audio and video products have been designed to blend seamlessly into any space . This month we will look at how the addition of an automated lighting and shade control system can add dramatic effects to one's home environment, save energy and provide an increased level of safety and security.

 

Lighting and Shade control comes in many different forms and fashions from the most basic standard contractor grade switch and manually controlled drapes and blinds to local single room infrared controlled drapes and dimmers to fully automated systems where sensors can monitor and adjust lighting levels based on occupancy, the amount of natural light coming in through your windows, the time of day or even the angle of the sun relative to your residence any time of year; raising and lowering lights and blinds to create the perfect amount light while reducing heating, cooling, and electrical lighting costs year round.

 

From a design perspective our goal is to create simple to use interfaces that reduce what we call "Wall Acne" – (an over abundance of switches and dimmers and other technology interfaces on ones wall). To do so we use hybrid dimmer switches which allow you to control local lights while also allowing you to initiate a "Scene", where multiple lights in a room, or your whole house can turn on to predetermined levels (or off). An example of one of the most common scene's we program for client's is a "Bedtime" or "All Off" scene, but scene's can be created for anything you may desire, from "Landscape Lighting" to "Food Prep" to "Entertain" to "Midnight Snack". In addition to reducing the clutter on your walls, we can take things a step further by integrating your lighting control into a custom touch screen automation system and/or use faceplates that can be flush mounted into your wall and color or texture matched to any surface.

 

To learn more about these custom faceplate options please check out products from Trufig and Lutron.

 

From a safety and security standpoint an advanced lighting control system can do many things to protect you and your family. The number one feature client's rave to us about is the creation of night time lighting path scene's where at the touch of a button AND based on the time of day/night the control system creates low level paths of light allowing homeowners to go about checking on kids, grabbing a midnight snack or to come home late from a business trip without disturbing others. Another key feature of advanced lighting control are that they can save a program that mimics your household's lighting (and shading) habits for 2 weeks and can then be played back while you're away; deterring potential thieves. To take security a step further, many home security systems can be integrated into our lighting control systems so that when your alarm is tripped, your exterior (and/or interior) lights will flash full on, full off while simultaneously turning your main floor lights on to full brightness and keeping other area's dark to protect you and your.

8/11/2011

…Are you ready for some football/futbol???

Professional Sports Lockouts and “Weather” aside, it’s been a pretty nice summer; but as you read this you’re probably beginning to gear up for the fall with back to school shopping and working on figuring out your holiday and vacation plans.  You’re probably also looking forward to entertaining in your home as the days grow short and the nights grow longer.

 

As we enter the fall football season, now is a great time make seasonal upgrades to your entertainment system and home theater to maximize your enjoyment throughout the coming months.  One major upgrade this season is that many more games will be recorded and broadcast in 3D, so if you’re thinking of upgrading your main TV or home theater projector; now is a great time to do so.  In our store we’ve recently upgraded our small theater to JVC’s DLA-X7 projector offering outstanding 2D and 3D images so vivid and life like that you feel like you’re in the action.

 

If you’re happy with your current display but are looking for a little more impact from movies then I’d recommend looking into upgrading or adding a new subwoofer.  We offer a wide selection ranging from compact 8” cubes for under $500 on up to reference level room pounding solutions capable of delivering maximum impact in the largest of venues.

 

Along with upgrading your TV or home theater this season, consider adding a Distributed Audio (and/or Video) system allowing you to set the mood with some background music throughout your home…or keep up with all the action no matter where you are…OR BOTH!  We offer a wide selection of wired and wireless technologies such as SONOS to meet every need and now is a great time to contact us so we can help get you started.

 

Want to put together the ultimate game room with multiple screens and an audio system that will blow you away?  Then you should definitely contact us today and allow me and our team of engineers to design the system of your dreams.  Want a quick peek of what we’re capable of?  Check out the newly remodeled Bellevue Mercedes dealership where we just completed the installation of a 24 panel video wall as well as all the rest of their audio, video, lighting control, automation and surveillance. 

 

Want to experience the ultimate in home theater, stop by our showroom located at 14210 NE 20th ST, Suite B; in Bellevue and ask for me to give you a demo of our 650K custom home theater designed by world renowned acoustician, Keith Yates.

 

7/11/2011

Form Meets Function

In this month’s post I’ll be discussing how technology and design have come together to complement any space.  From remotely located equipment powering invisible speakers to TV’s that disappear in plain sight you can now have all the technology and convenience you desire installed seamlessly in your home.  Check back for the follow up to this article where I’ll be discussing how we can take any space to the next level with automated lighting scenes and motorized shades with both designer and blackout curtain options and how we can integrate climate control solutions onto a touch panel allowing you to live more comfortably while saving money on your heating and electric bills.

 

Custom and Invisible Sound Systems

At Madrona Digital, we pride ourselves on having an extensive background on creating systems that perform amazingly well, while going unnoticed on a daily basis.  With an array of products such as outdoor planter speakers to in ceiling can lights with built in wireless speakers to thin bezel and AMINA’s ™ line of invisible speakers we can give you the best of both worlds and appease even the most discerning interior decorator.  To go along with a hidden multi-zone or surround package we also specialize in creating robust wireless control solutions that are easy to use, allowing you to remotely locate your equipment behind cabinet doors or in a separate closet.  We also have extensive experience working with and designing custom cabinets that can properly accommodate all your speakers and equipment.

 

Disappearing Video Displays

Whether you’re a movie buff without a dedicated media room or want a TV in every room but don’t always want them standing out we have a variety of solutions to suit your needs.  For the movie buff without a dedicated room we recommend turning your family or guest bedroom into a part time theater with a drop down screen that hides in your ceiling when not in use.  For those that need a TV in every room we recommend a variety of solutions to fit any situation, including cabinets and drop down ceiling mounts that will automatically raise or lower your TV when you’re ready to watch.  For situations where a room serves multiple purposes we offer TV solutions that can act as a mirror when turned off as well as optional frames that can have your favorite picture displayed normally but roll up or move to the side when you want to watch TV.

 

6/20/2011

Universal Remotes…oh no!  Properly Programmed Control Systems…NIRVANA!

Ask yourself this.  How many remote controls do you have for your primary audio/video system? If your answer is one, congrats on having a properly designed and programmed control system; if your answer is none let me take the time to explain what makes for a properly functioning control system and what to look for when you’re ready to make your existing or next system, simple to use.

 

The Equipment:

A properly designed control system consists of multiple parts; including the actual remote/controller as well as a base station/control processor that wirelessly receives a signal from the controller through an internal or external RF/Zigbee/Z-wave/Wi-Fi or other antenna.  Additional control components and adapters may be necessary for Audio/Video components that do not normally integrate reliably.

 

Remote Control Interface and Design:

Whether you choose to go with a basic hard button remote or one with “soft keys” corresponding to labels on an LCD screen that change based on what you’re controlling, or a fully customizable touch screen there a few key things that make for a good interface

 

Hard button only remotes

Buttons should be limited to only the bare minimum for normal system control (such as volume +/-, channel +/-, numerical and navigation (up/down/etc.) keypad and transport controls (play/pause/stop/etc.) for more advanced control we recommend remotes with a combination of hard and LCD (or touch screen) Soft Buttons

 

Hard button + LCD screen remotes

These remotes are generally the preferred form factor for most control applications.  They tend to be the most flexible and convenient to use (allowing for single hand operation and minimizing the need to look at your remote to control your equipment).  Important design aspects for LCD (or touch screen) soft key remotes are to make sure that the most commonly used but more unique functions for a device are most prominent on the LCD screen when controlling that specific device.

 

Touch screen only remotes

These remotes really shine in dedicated theater environments and as full home automation systems; integrating audio, video, lighting, shade climate and security/access control and for remotely viewing surveillance cameras thanks to their additional screen real-estate and customizability.  With the additional real-estate comes the enhanced importance of color, style and design choices such as making sure button size, layout, spacing and labeling are easy to see and use.

5/12/2011

Maximizing the performance of your system

Madrona digital prides itself on creating systems that produce an immersive experience that excites your eyes and ears.  To create the best system on any budget there are a few key tips I recommend following.

 

1. Invest in a great set of front Right, Center and Left Speakers.  A good set of speakers will last a very long time (15-20 years is not unrealistic) and they will retain their value better than any other part of your system.

 

2. Go with the largest screen sized display that will fit your room. With prices on video displays possibly at the lowest point we will see, now is a great time to get a new TV with a large high quality image.  Things to note, not all TV’s are created equal, and numbers DO lie. So call me for my current recommendations.

 

3. Neutralize room acoustcs and glare. 

The right room design can minimize these challenges, but when building a dedicated room is not an option there’s still help.  Many high quality AV Receivers have room equalization technology built in, and there are many ways to integrate control of your lights and shades

 

4. Get the picture a director intended by getting your TV calibrated. 

Getting your TV calibrated is similar to cleaning a pane of glass; you can see through the dirt and smudges but it’s much more impactful when it’s been cleaned.  TV’s both new and old can benefit from being properly calibrated, making your picture crisper and more lifelike.

 

5. Don’t forget the neccessories. 

Don’t forget to budget for a Universal Control System, Line Conditioner (akin to a surge protector on steroids that improves the performance of your system), and the right quality cables and connectors.

 

6. Hire a pro. 

If the process of designing, building, installing and making your system easy to use seems daunting, we recommend contacting us and allowing our professional staff of system designers, installers and programmers to take the headache and stress out of the process and deliver and install a complete solution you can enjoy for years to come.

4/7/2011

Outdoor Entertaining

In our opening installment of Sound Bytes, we will be looking into how to get the most out of the largest area of one's home...The Outdoors.  Today we will be looking into the 3 key categories of outdoor entertaining: Audio, Video and Control.

 

Audio: Audio consists of the speakers and components required to get you moving to the beat.  On the component side you can go as basic as hooking up a pair of speakers to an existing stereo or as advanced as a dedicated outdoor theater...or more.  When it comes to picking out speakers there are many great looking and sounding options including traditional surface or in wall options, as well as custom solutions designed to look and feel and function like planters, rocks, landscape lighting and more.

 

Video: Outdoor video options range from weather resistant flat panel displays to inflatable projection screens to permanently installed video projection systems.  Things to take into account when adding video to an outdoor area are: how the sun will affect your viewing and usages patterns and what technology will allow you the greatest use of your space.

 

Control: Control is the melding of you and your technology resulting in a fun and enjoyable entertaining experience.  Solutions range from a basic weatherproof volume control to an in wall keypad or touchscreen that may include feedback such as iPod metadata, as well as an option for a waterproof remote you can use while in your pool or hot tub.

 

Things to remember: Be diligent and consult with a custom audio/video integrator before beginning your project.  Choosing the right products and control solutions make all the difference; enabling you to easily enjoy listening to music, watch videos and entertain your friends and family members for many years to come.  Contact me today to schedule an in home consult for your outdoor spaces or for any other audio, video, technology or control questions you may have.

 

3/14/2011

Eastside Audio/Video joins forces with Madrona Digital

Today marks a new chapter in the life of Eastside Audio/Video.  What does this mean for you:

 

First and Foremost I want to thank all my loyal clients who have showed their support of Eastside Audio/Video and patroned the business.

 

Going forward I will be operating Eastside Audio/Video as a division of Madrona Digital (www.madronadigital.com) located in Bellevue at 14210 NE 20th St, Suite B; Bellevue, WA 98007.  My current phone, email and website will continue to be live and will receive updates and will continue to be the most direct way to get ahold of me and it is my hope that I will be able to continue to provide the outstanding level of knowledge and service you've come to expect from us.

 

What this means:

1) We will now be able to accept credit cards as a form of payment in addition to cash and checks; and invoices will be billed by and payable to Madrona Digital.  (current outstanding balances notwithstanding)

 

2) I will now have full access to the resources of a larger firm including a fully licensed staff of electricians and low voltage installers, as well as additional project managers, engineers and programmers.  My primary role at Madrona Digital will be to focus on system design, sales and marketing and business developement; with some occasional installation and programming mixed in.

 

3) Madrona digital has a fantastic new showroom that is just opening up this spring to the public, showcasing high quality lifestyle technology products including a premier state of the art dedicated theater room with electronics from Wolf, JBL Synthesis, Mark Levinson and Wisdom Audio.

 

4) In addition to Wolf, JBL Synthesis, Mark Levinson and Wisdom Audio; Madrona Digital also offers a wide range of products from Crestron, AMX and Elan control systems, to Lutron Homeworks Lighting and and Sivoia Shade products, to Sonos's wireless music server system, Anthem projectors, amplifiers and processors, as well as speakers from Revel, Paradigm and Sonance.

 

5) We are now able to better service clients with remote properties locally, nationally and internationally through access to Madrona Digital's satellite offices in Palm Desert, New York, London and Geneva so if you're looking to make some technological upgrades or build a new property please contact us first so that we can assist you in the process.

 

A new chapter has begun and I look forward to continuing our relationship through this exciting period.   I would love for you to give me a call or email me to set up a time to come visit with me at the new showroom.  Thank you for the past seven years and cheers to at least 7 more...and please keep the business and referrals coming.

 

Cheers!

Bryan Levy

425 922 8145

eastsideav@hotmail.com

 

2/23/2011
Saving Money by "Cutting the Cable" and using streaming media devices
Recently I've received a number of requests from clients about canceling their cable or satellite TV service to save money and how to best go about watching content over the web/internet.

So here's what I've found:

First and foremost I do not recommend "Cutting the Cable" at this time.

Experience has taught me that controlling multiple devices and paying for the additional services (as well as equipment) required can add up quickly, none of which offer an inclusive experience and most degrade the quality and convience you're accustomed too.

What I recommend:

1) Call your Cable or Satellite provider to discuss your bill (be polite over the phone as this will generally get you further with their customer service reps then yelling or whining) and generally you will be able to save between $12-70/month by changing/upgrading/downgrading to a plan that best fits your viewing habits.

2) Call or email us to discuss what you're hoping to accomplish; such as: saving money on your bill, having access to more content, increasing your ability to search for programs to watch or ...?

3) Allow us to analyze what you currently have and how we can maximize your experience. My recommendations for accessing streaming/online media content include Netflix streaming for movies and Hulu plus for broadcast and syndicated programming. To have access to these sources I generally recommend using a network connected Blu-ray player (with the applicable apps/widgets) or a TiVo Premiere DVR box. If you are VERY tech savvy, a Gaming System like a nintendo Wii XBOX360 or PS3 or a Home Theater PC (HTPC) would be additional options (see 4 for more information on HTPC's as an online streaming media souce).

*Please note that both Netflix and Hulu plus require a monthly fee and can add a significant drag on your available highspeed/broadband network bandwidth. In some cases causing you to exceed your households alloted amount leading to additional charges being levied by your broadband internet provider.

4) Home Theater PC's for tech savvy clients. Just as I don't recommend cutting the cord, I also do NOT recommend utlizing a Home Theater PC as the primary source for a household's TV watching experience. The biggest drawbacks to using a PC in an audio/video application are lower quality audio/video reproduction, having to search/go online to a multitude of content provider's websites (FOX, WB, ESPN, etc.) and a lack of ability to easily control your content/media without using a secondary controller (keyboard/mouse/additional remote/etc.); additionally most HTPC systems stutter with streaming video content and require constant maintence, troubleshooting, resetting of one's home network, and staying up to date with software/firmware updates and hardware upgrades.

Even with all the negatives of using a HTPC, there are a few positives for those that want to explore and maintain this method of content delivery. The biggest positives to using a HTPC in this environment are that you can fairly easily access any/all content on the internet or your computer (or stored on your network with appropriate equipment and setup), you can have the ability to pause/rewind/record/etc. content (with the addition of Digital Video recorder software and TV Tuner/Cable Card Hardware) AND with a powerful enough computer running Windows 7 Home Premium or Ultimate you can fairly easily stream to other TV's/systems in your house with "media extenders" (such as an XBOX 360) or access your content anywhere with broadband internet and a remote access program running on a seperate device.

If you have additional questions, found this helpful or have other tips or tricks you'd like me to add; please don't hesitate to contact us. Got idea's for another blog post I'd love to hear from you as well.

Thanks

Bryan Levy


12/31/2010

10 Smart Consumer Electronic Tips for the Home Environment

1) Wire for everything now: If you are building or remodeling your home, wire it with a plan for future needs.  While no one can guarantee what the future will look like, we make it our business to stay current in order to offer great advice about technologies that are on the horizon.  Best of all we can help you sort out the hype from the reality and avoid common pitfalls along the way.

 

2) Plan for future TV technology now: If you're buying a new TV or video projector, make sure to ask about LED, 3D and how it will integrate with your existing equipment.  This may lead to spending a bit more in the near term by making sure to get a TV with discrete codes, adding a blu-ray player or upgrading your AV receiver at the same time, but the longer term enjoyment and ease of use generally far outweigh the near term costs.

 

3) Insist on Integrated systems: As you buy new electronic components, think of the big picture and how everything will be hooked up together and operated.  We recommend utilizing a universal control system to simplify operations and to maximize ease of use, look for components that have "Discrete codes" for turning your equipment on and off as well as changing sources and settings.  For best results contact us before making a purchase and we can advise you on what we've tested to integrate the best.

 

4) Don't buy yesterday's products: Many stores make large "special purchases" of older equipment and sell it at discounted rate.  We recommend shopping with us or a dealer that provides you with newest equipment and technologies.

 

5) Consider adding integrated lighting control with your home electronics system: Lighting sets the mood for home theater, entertaining, or just a quiet night in.  With the right equipment you can control some or all of your homes lighting simply with the press of a button on a wall keypad, touchscreen or the same hand held universal control system you use to control your TV and/or home theater.

 

6) Think with your wallet, but lead with your head: Planning, quality and long-term dependability are the most cost effective attributes that you can build into a home.  Plan ahead but be willing to spend a little more now to get what you want later.  Infrastructure and proper System Design are the 2 best investments consumers can make in updating technology in their homes.

 

7) Buy an experience, not a box: When making a large home electronics purchase remember to focus on "Who" you're working with, are they someone you want to build a long term relationship with and how well will they be able to provide additional service and support to you in the future.  Remember, you get what you pay for and if price is all that matters don't be surprised if there is no one there to help you in the future (many large and small companies have closed in recent years due to unsustainable pricing practices).

 

8) Don't think you have to put up with hard to use remote(s): Easy to use, all in one control systems are available for any type of system.  We specialize in creating custom programs for customers to make controlling multiple devices single button simple.  Looking for something to impress your friends and neighbors?  We can create design a custom program, layouts, sequences and graphics to match your lifestyle or decor and can even create hidden/locked sequences that can only be activated by you.

 

9) Consult a professional (like us): Designing and installing reliable, easy to use systems that improve the quality, efficiency and convenience of your life is our goal.  From simplifying and improving your TV watching experience to creating dramatic lighting effects which save you money to conveniently accessing your music, movie or photo collection from any room (or environment...or remotely) professionally designed systems allow for the best results.

10) Increase your service expectations: Your home electronics system is a big investment and at Eastside Audio Video we are experienced in many different skill sets to help you make the most of it.  Our expertise includes project management and installation services but also ranges from basic consulting and system design to creating technical CAD based drawings; from basic remote consolidation services to creating fully custom graphical user interfaces as well as interior design experience ranging from designing custom cabinet and wall unit systems to room layout and helping choose complimentary paint colors to accent a room.