AV & automation create the ultimate voice-powered playroom
A client’s retirement present to himself, ‘The Games Room’ is a shining example of home automation and system integration at its best, encompassing everything from control of client’s vintage jukebox to his gas-powered fireplace. Charlotte Ashley explores.
Tasked with handling project specification, infrastructure, home automation, multi-room AV, HVAC, blinds & lighting, security and more, you’d be forgiven for assuming the kit and planning that went into the 12-month project in Esher completed by Mike Ranpura and the team at Smart Life AV was for a large-scale residential project. Instead, it was the brief for delivering the quintessential games room for a client looking to invest in bright, fun space to enjoy in his retirement years in style.
“This project came about as I had recently done a CPD training course (through CEDIA) for a local architect’s firm and he introduced me to the client,” recalls Ranpura, managing director at Middlesex-based Smart Life AV. A couple of visits to the company’s showroom later to see what the company could do, and homeowner was sold on blending old and new in a retro-themed games space that could be controlled by voice or at the touch of a button.
“When I met with Mike, I frankly didn’t have much idea what was possible. He took me to his showroom where I got first-hand experience of what was possible across lighting, audio and automation in general, and it really opened my mind,” explains the homeowner.
The space to be enhanced with the latest AV and home automation technology was a 10-metre extension to the clients’ home (and adjoining living room) in the town of Esher in Surrey, England – a small space compared to some, but far from short on potential. “This was a really fun project because it was probably the most amount of different control and pieces of technology in one project, especially as it was just one room – the amount of things happened in there is more than you’d sometimes find in a full-home install,” says Ranpura.
“…the amount of things happening in the room is more than you’d sometimes find in a full-home install.”
For control of the games room, ELAN automation and Amazon Alexa are combined to work harmoniously to fulfil the client’s key request for what the installation should deliver: “ease of use” for him and his wife, who would both be using the space often. An Echo speaker is on hand to pick up voice commands, with a bespoke ELAN interface available across touchscreen, remotes and the family’s phone or tablet on hand for manual control.
Shining a light
A simple command to Alexa “Turn on sunshine” brings the room to life opening the motorised QMotion window blinds for it to be filled with any colour of the homeowner’s choosing via multi-colour tape lighting.
“One of our favourite parts of this project was being involved with the lighting design, choosing the fittings and watching how the game room transforms into a jaw-dropping space in the evenings,” comments Ranpura. A combination of both 240V and RGBW LED tape circuits support different scenes throughout the extension. “It’s here where I think we delivered on creating a bright and fun space that can be intuitively controlled via a clean, simple interface for our client.”
The power of voice
Voice for some can be divisive and incorporating the technology can be cast aside in the planning stages of projects due to client’s privacy concerns, but for Ranpura, voice has been a great success – and all down to how its applied. “I’ve personally found voice control to be a great selling point, and it was with this client,” he says. “When prospective clients come to you wanting an experience and to see the latest technology, if you can integrate it with something they familiar with and make it do something cool, they’re going to like it.”
“Every client that I’ve spoken to has had positive feedback for voice control. He continues: “From an installer’s perspective, it is down to the way you implement it and you have to be very careful. If you understand how voice control works, however, then you know that the phases that you give have to be different enough for them not to sound at all similar or be too long.” Ranpura concludes: “It just needs to be nice and simple.” For this purpose, every phase is programmed manually to recognise the most important commands for controlling the most frequently used technologies in the room, which the installer says works well for the homeowner.
Such commands programmed on the system include “Alexa, turn on darts” – this resultantly creates a special lighting scene suited to playing darts. Others include “Alexa, turn on Sky” for occasions when the homeowners just want to sit back and watch Sky TV, and “Alexa, turn on fountain/fireplace” which activates or deactivates the nearby decorative water fountain or fireplace.
“The homeowner has lots of options for listening to different things in the room – from his limited edition Elvis jukebox to Spotify, or simply listening to the TV through the ceiling speakers – and it was important for Alexa control to be available,” says Ranpura.
The installer admits that the aforementioned gas fireplace proved to be one the biggest challenges of the project, not least because it was a surprise to the homeowner that was hard to keep as so. “Fireplace control was a tricky challenge. I didn’t put it in the original quote and was well aware that providing control of a gas fireplace sounds kind of insane, but I actually managed to track down the inventor of the device.” After a couple of conversations Ranpura says the inventor uttered the magic words, “theoretically, it should work” to control it as part of the wider ELAN system, and the rest fell into place.
“It was a lot of pressure to deliver it but it was big convenience for him, because the remote that comes with the fireplace and its start-up procedure was very confusing (even for the tech-savvy). Now, with this integration, one-button press is all that’s needed to turn the fireplace on. It was pretty cool for us to do,” he explains.
In addition to voice and management from mobile devices, the family can use ELAN HR200 remotes (providing control of the TV and wider ELAN system) featuring a small colour touchscreen in all four of the space’s TV areas (games room, living room, family room and kitchen). A 7-in TP7 touchscreen is also centrally located in the games room for always-on, guaranteed access to the system, if the family are not near a remote.
The extension has two equipment racks to automate nearly all functions in the games room and adjoining living room. From a smartphone, the client can adjust the indoor and outdoor Rako-controlled lighting system, the Heatmiser and Coolmaster HVAC controls, and AV through ELAN and Blustream matrices. From the ELAN app, the family can also access live streaming from the home’s surveillance cameras, in addition to having the option to change settings from anywhere in the world.
An ELAN S1616A is installed for amplification and zone control, with two Sonos Connects supporting music across multiple areas (games room, kitchen and bedroom) via Play speakers. A Sonos Playbar was additionally deployed in the games room, with Origin Acoustics in-ceiling speakers (10 D64s, with 5 D67s in the living room) and REL T/9is subwoofers installed to “comfortably fill the room with quality sound” according to Ranpura.
Several Panasonic TVs display feeds from centralised Sky cable boxes, 4-megapixel Hikvision CCTV camera and other media players. With the ELAN app, the family have the option to switch between functions with a few taps, outside of scenes and schedules already preconfigured for extension.
“It was important to the client that we didn’t have intrusive wires and equipment scattered throughout the rooms, and everything that was specified worked from an aesthetic point of view,” Ranpura comments.
Future-proofing was also important should the homeowner choose to renovate upstairs; “By using the two equipment racks, we could centralise all the main components in a dedicated rack room whilst taking into consideration future expansion of the system by having a secondary rack in the loft.” This included running CAT6A as standard and linking two Luxul network switches together with fiber optic cabling.
“Compatibility was obviously extremely important, so the fact that ELAN keeps up with the latest 3rd-party devices to cover every home function from heating to security was great.” Ranpura, also a Loxone partner, has now completed 10 projects using ELAN (working with exclusive UK distributor, Indigo Distribution) and says he is a firm fan of the system.
The client, once a complete novice to the world of home automation, now arguably owns one of the most extensively automated games rooms in his suburb. “The room is great fun, and I think having things like voice control just adds to the spirit of the space,” says the client.
He concludes: “The Smart Life AV team were easy to work with, had a good sense of humour, clearly understand what they are doing and are very attentive, particularly in project management. I would highly recommend them to anybody who wants to introduce home automation to their house.”
Blustream video distribution
ELAN control system: TP7 in-wall touchpad, S1616A multi-zone audio controller and HR200 remotes
Hikvision CCTV cameras
Rako lighting system
REL Acoustics T/9i subwoofers
Penn Elcom accessories
Sonos Connects and Playbar
Origin Acoustics D64 & D67 in-ceiling speakers
QMotion blinds system
Yamaha 5.1-channel AV receiver