As the house neared completion, we installed a fiber-optic starlight ceiling in the media room. After snapping a chalk gridline on the unpainted ceiling, we poked holes from below for the fibers to come through. The way the ceiling was framed meant that the man on top had to crawl on rafters to feed the fibers through. Veteran installer Ken Watts spent nearly 2 days crawling in the attic pushing hundreds of fibers through, one at a time. "Having worked for CTA for nearly 10 years, I'm comfortable working in attics and crawl spaces," says Ken. "Still, spending so many hours belly-crawling over rafters and working by flashlight was pretty exhausting. When I finally came down from the attic and saw the ceiling all lit up, it was definitely cool."
The finished product turned out beautifully. Phil enthuses, "When we press Watch Movie on the remote, and the lights dim and the fiber-optic stars come on, it's another 'Ahhh . . . Wow!' from guests. The star ceiling is really great."
We started the final installation in January 2007 and finished it in March, with nearly 400 man-hours needed to get the entire system dialed in. CTA designer and programmer Andrew Petroski recalls: "We arrived at the house with three vans packed full of Phil's electronics, and it was pretty mind-numbing to just sit down in front of a computer and stare at a blank programming file, knowing I had to create something that would bring all of that gear together in a simple-to-use interface."
All of the A/V components are housed in two Middle Atlantic racks in a small room off the media room. Though it's always nice to have a space dedicated to the electronics, this one was a little cramped when two or three installers were in there all working on different things. But the open-backed Middle Atlantic racks greatly simplify servicing and can be rolled out of the closet if need be.
The heart of the audio distribution network is an Elan System12 multiroom A/V controller, which can handle as many as eight audio zones and 16 video zones. Three Elan multichannel amplifiers, totaling 40 channels and 1,760 watts, drive all of the speakers. Because so many of the sources - two Escient music servers, an Escient DVD manager, a Polk satellite-radio tuner, and eight video cameras - require visual feedback, we used Elan Via touchpanel controls throughout the system. These panels can display full-motion video, enabling Phil to use them for watching TV or for monitoring any of the video cameras.
"One of my favorite things about the system is the convenience," says Phil. "I wanted it to be hands-on and easily accessible, and I didn't want to have to walk from one end of the house to the other in order to get to an audio controller. There aren't many places in my home that I have to go more than 10 or 15 feet to reach one. Also, I'm not computer savvy, so I didn't want a system that was so complicated that my wife or I couldn't use it. The Elan system makes it simple to find what I want to listen to and then select it."
John Sciacca began his career as a custom installer in 1998 at Custom Theater and Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, where he still works. He's still trying to figure out how to get the members of his family to turn the lights off when they're actually in the house, let alone from hundreds of miles away.
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