Wired Plus Wireless: The Best of Both Worlds

September 8, 2014 | Comments

It seems like everything is going wireless these days. But when it comes to implementing whole-house audio and video, many home technology professionals still prefer hard-wired systems.

That's not to say that popular wireless systems like Sonos or Apple's AirPlay don't figure into the equation. They do, but increasingly as part of a hybrid solution.

"The majority of our installations are still hard-wired, but we can integrate wireless technologies into them," explains Mike Reis, operations manager for Massachusetts-based Architectural Electronics, which has been operating in New England for 40 years and maintains showrooms in Newton, Osterville and Nantucket.

"Customers will often say, 'Isn't it all wireless now?' We explain that we service everything we install and have found that there's nothing more reliable than having a hard-wire infrastructure."

The company uses wireless "bridge" components to integrate Sonos and AirPlay functionality into the primary hard-wired system. Taking a hybrid approach allows family members to stream content from phones, tablets and other devices.

And with multiple bridges, you can set up personal streaming zones around the house. "We just wrapped up a project where the homeowner didn't want us to run wires in a couple of the rooms, so we used Sonos Play:5 speakers in those rooms."

It's also possible to integrate products like Roku to bring video streaming into the mix.

More Than Music

The thing that Reis and his customers find most appealing about integrating wireless into a hard-wired control system is that you have more music control options, and it's easier to expand into other areas of home automation, including whole-house control of lighting, shade, security, and heating/cooling systems.

"You can grow the system as opposed to it being just music," he says. "We can come back later and add shade or HVAC control because the infrastructure is already in place."

More often than not, Architectural Electronics finds it necessary to upgrade a home's wireless network when installing a hybrid system. "AirPlay, for example, is only as good as your Wi-Fi signal," Reis explains. It's important to make sure the Wi-Fi backbone is strong enough to ensure an interference-free listening experience, which usually means replacing off-the-shelf network components with business-class routers and access points.

Tricks of the Trade

Retrofit jobs are a big part of the work Architectural Electronics does, so its installation team is well-versed in running wire around homes, even those with brick or plaster walls, which are common in New England.

"We can get wires anywhere with minimal access holes," Reis says, noting that it's not as big a deal as people think when you know the tricks of the trade.

To learn more about wireless AV options, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.