If you're thinking about hiring a professional to install a whole-house automation or entertainment system, there's no substitute for first-hand experience. That's why the best firms have showrooms where you can see technology in action, often in a home setting.
Audio Video Interiors of Middleburg Heights, Ohio, operates one of the nation's most impressive home technology design centers - so impressive that it won CEDIA's Best Showroom award in 2012.
We asked founder and CEO (and CEDIA Director) Michael Pope to give us a tour of the 20,000-square-foot facility he built in partnership with a number of specialty contractors, ranging from a custom kitchen/bath designer to a talented muralist known for doing major restoration work in nearby Cleveland.
The crown jewel of the showroom is a finely appointed 5,000-square-foot residence outfitted with state-of-the-art entertainment and connected-home technology.
"All of the major product categories in our repertoire are on display so we can show clients real-life examples of how a system works and let them try out the technology before they buy it," Pope says.
First-time visitors are taken on a tour of the facility that begins with the Wall of Fame, where more than 50 awards and numerous certifications are on display. "Then we take them to the residence area so they can get a feel for what a connected home looks like - how one button is used to set a scene or turn all of the lights on or off and how we can control the house using touch-screen technology and iPad apps. We show them the possibilities."
The next step is to sit down with the prospective client to find out what's on their wish list and present options that fulfill their needs.
"Our motto is Leading by Design, so we're very much in favor of designing systems on paper and approving them before we sell them," Pope explains. "We let clients pick and chose their way through their budget. When they ask how much a system will cost, I say, 'It's really up to you. I'm going to educate you so you can decide.'"
When you walk into the living room, your eye is immediately drawn to the 400-gallon salt-water aquarium. But what you don't see is even more impressive: a stealth surround-sound system with in-wall speakers, a drop-down projection screen, and a custom cabinet with a flat-panel TV that rises up on command.
"We show people what looks like a normal living room, and then we hit a button and transform it into a high-performance theater room," Pope says.
The projection screen even has an LED backlight with changeable colors so you can create a mood when the screen isn't being used.
The Theater Room
A custom, state-of-the-art theater room is the pièce de résistance of the AVI Residence. Highlights include plush leather seating, a digital projection setup with a huge curved screen that does masking for movies shot in the extra-wide 2.35:1 format, a movie server and a touch-screen control system .
"We have two of the best theater designers in the country, so they understand acoustics, lighting and all the things that make a good theater room great," Pope says.
A Smart Kitchen
The fully functional, custom-designed kitchen features built-in TVs, speakers, and touch screens that control lighting and sound, and it will soon be updated with "connected appliances" that tie into the central automation system.
"The refrigerator will send an email and text alert if its door is left open, and you can do things like set the oven to turn on or off from a smartphone application," Pope explains.
For the Wine Connoisseur
One of the most striking areas in the AVI Residence is a wine room featuring a custom etched-glass wall and an arched entryway with a steel "grapevine" gate. The mural on the back wall is based on pictures taken at Napa Valley and transferred to removable wallpaper.
An impressive outdoor living area, done in partnership with a local landscape architect, was constructed inside the showroom so it can be used year-round. The space is wired for video and features multiple speakers and subwoofers hidden throughout its landscaped areas.
"You can't see the system, but it really rocks - that's the beauty of it," Pope says, adding that the rustic outdoor kitchen is a popular attraction.
Pick a (Simulated) Sport
Another visitor favorite is the multi-sport simulator, which can be set up for golf, hockey, soccer, football, basketball, baseball, skeet shooting, or - for fans of The Walking Dead - Zombie Dodgeball (!). "When a family shows up for a meeting, we turn on the soccer game, and the kids will spend hours kicking balls against the goalie. They don't want to leave."
To learn more about home technology professionals in your area, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.