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October 4th, 2013

Por Qué?  No, 4K…  huh?

In the beginning…

When our TV sets were big square-ish tubes of heavy glass, there was standard definition (SDTV), which had a resolution of 640 pixels (picture elements, or dots) in width, by 480 pixels in height. Not too bad, especially considering that VCR tapes couldn’t even attain that level of clarity. Then for a brief moment when wide-screen TVs first came on the scene, there was enhanced definition (EDTV), which added more pixels in width to accommodate the wider sets. Then, the big event – HDTV (high definition). At first, the studios could only muster a resolution of 1,280 by 720 pixels, which is still officially included in the HDTV standard. But a few years back we were bathed in the glory of full resolution HD, which consists of 1,920 by 1,080 dots of resolution, creating the crisp, clear, image we have come to expect of HD.

More is better!

Our next upcoming official standard is Ultra-HD. Coming in with a whopping resolution of 3,840 by 2,160, it is essentially the equivalent of stacking four HDTVs together, or twenty-seven old fashioned SDTVs. Quite impressive. The other term being used is “4K”. While similar to Ultra-HD, 4K is actually a commercial cinema standard that is comprised of 4,096 by 2,160 elements. We already have some video projectors with 4K resolution, and quite a few big-screen TVs that natively display Ultra-HD. For the most part, the two standard are interchangeable, with nearly all of these high-res TVs able to display either format. In the residential world, Ultra-HD will likely be the de facto standard.

Can you see the difference?

Absolutely yes! And maybe no. If you buy a 50″ Ultra-HDTV and view it from a distance of twelve feet where your couch is, the human eye would not be able to resolve the extra detail. But if you have a 90″ set, and are only eight feet from it, or have a large video projection system in your home theater, you will surely be able to see and benefit from the added uber-clarity. Some may ask – With this new standard, how many frames, or full pictures are being flashed on the screen each second? Well, let’s leave that story for another time….


Sean Hotchkiss

Patio, Porch or Poolside = Perfection!

August 1st, 2012

Our friend, Michael Menn recently invited us to post an article on his blog regarding outdoor electronics:

We’ve all heard the term before – ‘Staycation’. Which really means that people are focusing more on the home environment, and turning their attention back to family, friends, and home life. Pretty healthy, really.  So with more time spent in fun areas of the home such as the patio, porch, and poolside, some may wish to have their everyday media available. TV, music, internet, movies – outside? Why not?

Read the entire post here…


Sean Hotchkiss

Three D’s or Four K’s?

February 24th, 2012

In a dedicated home theater, which is the best option for getting the latest tech – 3D stereoscopic viewing, or 4K super-high definition resolution?

I must admit, I haven’t been a huge fan of 3D for movie watching. The glasses can be awkward, and the effect just usually seems like a struggle for my eyes. Especially for a three hour movie – ugh! I have seen some really cool demos of video games in 3D, and have been quite impressed with that experience. To pull off 3D correctly, there are a few new technical challenges.

BRIGHTNESS     First of all, we need a lot more light output. Each eye must be shuttered off while the opposite eye is viewing the frame intended for it, so perceived brightness is cut in half from that alone. Then there is the fact that this process of switching from one eye to to the other cannot happen instantly, so both left and right images and shutters must be closed while the switch happens. This drops even more perceived brightness. The faster the technology is able to operate, the better, but we still end up with only 30% to 40% of our original perceived image brightness.

VIEWING ANGLE     Our next issue is that our brain fights the 3D effect the more aware we are of the edges of the screen. The 3D effect improves when the image extends much further than normal towards the edges of our peripheral vision, requiring us to sit closer or have a larger screen. This presents two problems for the projector. Firstly, for a given installation, increasing the screen size reduces the overall brightness, so now we need even more light output. Secondly, to have the image appear so big from our perspective, we need to have a lot more resolution from the projector so as not to see the ‘screen door’ of the pixel structure.

So what is ‘4K’? This term has been used for commercial cinema projectors with a horizontal resolution of at least 4,000 pixel elements. Typically, a 4K projector has a resolution of 4,096 x 2160, over four times the resolution of normal 1920 x 1080 HDTV. That’s a LOT of pixels! Do we have movies and TV shows available in glorious 4K resolution? Sadly, not yet. But it is coming in the next few years. In the meantime, 4K projectors will upscale existing HD content to fit their panels with some visual benefits (similar to line-doubling back in the day for us old fogeys). Given that 4K projectors are often used in very large screen applications, they usually have much more light output. Do you see where this is heading? Yes, a 4K projector could easily help with the obstacles listed above with 3D projection.

 As an example, Sony’s new VPL-VW1000ES is a full 4K projector (some other manufacturer’s claimed “4K” equivalent projectors are not) has 2,000 lumens of output and 3D processing built-in. That is nearly three times the light output of consumer projectors we were seeing only a few years ago. We recently installed and calibrated one of these Sony units in a client’s home theater, and I must say I was VERY impressed. ISF color temperature calibration could be considered unnecessary, and it basically hit all the industry calibration standards dead-on when set to the reference settings mode in the menu. Then I tried on the 3D glasses. After whining about having to wear the glasses, I looked at the image while MegaMind was playing. Plenty of brightness. Switching between eyes was nice and fast, with much less of the temporal warble I’ve seen in other projectors. Then I moved forward. On a nine foot wide screen, I was positioned only about eight feet away, which is generally considered too close. I still couldn’t see the pixels, just a nice smooth image. When the picture takes up that much of your field of view, it’s amazing how much better the eye/brain combo accepts the 3D effect. I would have to say it’s the best 3D experience I’ve personally ever had. In fact, the Sony 4K may just may be the best projector I have ever installed – and that includes the grand old days of large CRT projectors!

 To wrap this all up – If you are currently thinking of installing a home theater with front projection, or may be considering upgrading your existing projector, I believe you should seriously consider going with the new Sony 4K. I think Sony is still running a promotional price right now. Wonder where you can get one delivered and professionally setup by a CEDIA certified Home Theater Design Specialist? Oh Right! Grand Home Automation…


Sean Hotchkiss

It’s finally here – the CES 2012 Low Down!

January 9th, 2012

Grand Home Automation is always present for the latest in home theater industry news.

There is a lot going on in the world of home theater these days. At Grand Home Automation, we are always looking to stay on top of the latest happenings and innovations, and 2012 has gotten off to a surprisingly fast paced start. CES brought lots of new ideas for our Chicago, Detroit, and Grand Rapids home theater design teams, and we have seen lots of big news come from numerous corners of the industry.

One huge bit of news we saw at CES 2012 was Toshiba’s 4K glasses-free 3D TV. The company announced that the televisions are expected to ship by the second quarter of the year, which is a huge piece of news for Michigan home theater designers. Glasses have been cited as one of the main reasons why 3D TV has failed to take off as expected, and with more people adapting the technology, the standoff between users waiting for more content and content providers waiting for more users may finally come to a close.

CES also brought us a big offering from home theater company LG. The company delivered what is to date the largest OLED and 3D televisions on offer, measuring in at 55 inches. Making a large scale OLED television that comes with a reasonable price point for consumers had until recently proven impossible for manufacturers, but it seems that LG has found away to get around this, giving Michigan home theater designers a new option for flat panels and large screens on a budget.

It’s not all TV news, however. CES saw new amplifier technologies, loudspeakers, and even HDMI technologies. The home theater industry always gets a huge burst in January and the period shortly following CES, and with so many huge announcements made this year, professional home theater designers will have many new innovations to work with as these products are released. Electronic House is already prepped for the 4K TV, and a look around the industry shows that many of these new technologies will have a ready and waiting market when they finally hit the shelves.

With offices in Chicago, Detroit, and Grand Rapids, Grand Home Automation is the leader in smart home technology and home theater systems. Contact us today for more information about how we can work on your next project!

A Look into 2012 Home Theater Designs

December 21st, 2011

With CES just around the corner, there have been a lot of big changes in the world of home theater. Here, we want to take a look at what is big in the industry for 2012. What’s trending, what’s popular, and most importantly- what is going to give you the best home theater design experience for your money?

Make Way for the Cloud

A lot of fuss was made when iOS made the move to start storing data in the cloud. Were there going to be major privacy issues? Would media still be easy to access? Consumers were skeptical for about six seconds, but when everyone realized that Cloud storage meant synching on the fly and letting go of the tethers, the technology was rapidly adapted to. Home theater companies have absolutely been watching what happened with iOS, and the simple fact is that they are taking the idea and running with it. Cloud media storage is huge right now, and there is no doubt that it is going to get bigger. While discs may not go away entirely in 2012, there is no doubt that a massive surge in Cloud storage is going to put a huge dent in DVD sales and start the decline of the disc in a huge way.

Internet TV Finally Taken Seriously

Internet TV has been around in some form for quite a while now, but it just hasn’t gotten the steam that many hoped. Hulu Plus and Netflix were doing okay (although Netflix made some simply massive mistakes in 2011), but the thinking is still largely that Internet TV is only for those times when you can’t find what you want through your cable company’s current lineup. With more than half of televisions expected to carry GoogleTV by year’s end, however, this may start to change. A huge increase in apps, as well as a surge in devices that can install and use them might also spell a significant increase in Internet TV, media streaming, and online viewing as a whole.

Sound Bars

While prepackaged home theater kits have long been a great way to make up for the HDTVs shipping with inferior speakers, even the wireless solutions present a hassle for many people seeking an easy setup. Sound bars are absolutely surging in popularity, and many believe that 2012 will see a major increase in sound bar technology, sales, and implementation.

3DTV- Finally Coming to More Home Theaters Near You?

3DTV was expected to be huge when it was unveiled a couple of years ago, but the technology has gotten off to a lagging start. Many find the glasses cumbersome, the number of available channels and movies is simply too low to justify the cost, and oh, yes, the cost itself. Simply put, 3DTV hasn’t gotten a lot of early adopters. 2012 looks to be the year that this finally changes, with prices expected to lower throughout the year and much more content to become available. With numerous companies looking to make models that don’t require glasses, however, it might just be worth waiting a little bit longer!

Grand Rapids home theater customers have lots of options when it comes to custom design, but staying on top of the trends can be a big benefit. Not only does it keep you covered in terms of state of the art technology, but it makes future upgrades a lot more affordable. There are lots of big trends coming our way if CES was any indicator, and getting the right professional home theater design can turn your existing Michigan home theater into the envy of everyone you know.

10 Products to Enhance Your Home Theater System

March 15th, 2011

A great home theater system is more than just a place to watch your favorite shows and movies, it is an experience. With a solid setup, you can turn your viewing area into a space that allows you to become fully immersed in whatever you are watching, whether it is the latest Geico commercial or a James Bond film. HD video and audio technologies have come a long way in recent years, and even many older shows are being reworked to offer HD and blu-ray quality. Let’s take a look at 10 products that you can use to turn your ordinary Michigan home theater into an extraordinary one:

1. A great wireless lighting system that lets you dim and raise the lights for a total theatrical experience

2. Sony’s XBR– one of the highest performing HD, 3D, and Internet televisions on the market today

3. This Furman Elite-20 Pf I Power Source offers top quality and maximum protection for your home theater system

4. This Liberty Cable wall mount makes it easy to hang and tilt televisions up to 65” for perfectly angled viewing

5. Need more cable without signal loss? This HDMI extender from Liberty AV Solutions offers the perfect answer

6. Rigging your own system? A 250 foot reel of HDMI cable allows you to cut and crimp to fit, preventing tangled cords and excessive clutter.

7. A great digital media switcher from AMX makes it easy to select the components you want to use

8. Got digital media you want to share between devices? The MAX-CSE Encoder delivers it to any compatible device in your home

9. Leviton’s Connected Home structured cabling lets you distribute your home theater signals throughout your home

10. For an audio experience that is hard to rival, consider Leviton’s SpecGrade speakers

Home theater enhancement can be achieved a number of different ways these days, as technology seems to be growing at a record-setting pace. Building the ultimate Michigan home theater system is a great way to bring the best of the theatre into the comfort of your own home, and these 10 components can help you really make the most of the experience!

An Update on the Elf Foundation / DeVos Children’s Hospital Project

January 9th, 2011

As mentioned in 2010, Grand Home Automation partnered with the Elf Foundation to help create the hospital’s “Room of Magic”. This room is a private custom home theater, designed to bring entertainment and happiness and to foster a sense of fun and magic that can go a long way in the healing process. There is no doubt that a stay in the hospital can be traumatic for children, and the goal we share with the Elf Foundation is to help create a fun and fantastic experience for kids at Michigan’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

As 2010 came to a close, we were very proud to be putting the finishing touches on the project, which features a Crestron TPS-6L with the Streamline graphics kit. This new custom theater system is a perfect fit for the newly rebuilt and redesigned hospital, and it takes kids away from the previous setup of VHS tapes and into a totally immersive and exciting home theater experience. The system installed by the experts here at Grand Home is just one part of a massive redesign that is intended to improve not only quality of care for these patients, but quality of life as well.

The Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is truly something spectacular, and we have been so proud to be able to take part in this project. Grand Home Automation is a trusted name in upscale Michigan home theater design, and it was nothing short of wonderful to be able to take that reputation for quality and to be able to use it to really help make a difference for children who find themselves needing to spend time in these facilities. While each of the patient rooms at DeVos now has a state of the art television, the theater is designed to provide an unrivaled experience. Taking a break from doctors and illness is important for every patient, and we are proud to have been able to partner with the Elf Foundation to create a state of the art AV system for this amazing hospital.

HDMI and you: A quick look at your options

September 15th, 2010

In February, WireWorld released it’s highly buzzed-about Platinum Starlight HDMI 1.4 cable at the price of $1000 per meter, boasting a silver/platinum alloy casing and twice the bandwidth of a normal HDMI 1.4. In fact, any trip into the home theater department at Best Buy will show you there are many options available when you’re choosing an HDMI cable. Does it matter which one you chose? Is a $1000 HDMI cable any different than a $50 cable? It’s important to ask yourself these questions before you end up with out-dated technology, or even worse, get taken for big bucks.

HDMI is, besides a cable and jack, a set of specifications that allow your TV and BluRay, PlayStation, projector, or sound system to communicate. Since it’s introduction in 2004, it has re-defined how HDTV’s and digital transmitters read signals. HDMI cables are designed to hold a maximum amount of digital bandwidth for both visual and audio components to preform at optimum levels. With the right setup, HDMI cables can make a big difference in your home theater experience.

The secret is in the encoding of a digital signal between two or more devices. The analog signal read by old TV and home theater technology uses a special analog signal to transmit information. This signal was easy to transmit without the use of such special cables, but often lost part of the signal due to all kinds of different types of interference from micro waves to sound waves to dust particles, etc. This was acceptable for old analog TV’s because they were designed to run on these weak classifications. The introduction to digital media and High Definition meant TV’s could use more pixels and more colors to enhance the viewing experience, but needed a stronger signal to transmit all the additional information. Digital signals are transmitted using strands of zeros and ones (binary code), eliminating much of the interference found with analog signals. Which brings us to the question of weather or not the quality of your HDMI cable matters when you’re installing a home theater system.

While the HDMI standard is rapidly changing, the current model for maximum performance is HDMI 1.4, so be sure the one you’re buying isn’t outdated. The Platinum Starlight cable may offer twice the bandwidth of a $50 HDMI cable, but there are currently no home theater systems available that can utilize that kind of space. So unless you’re trying to get a signal from Voyager II, this kind of bandwidth won’t matter. And while their casing may bar 99% of signal interference, there isn’t much to be had with a streaming digital signal’s zeros and ones. In fact, with most home theater systems the difference between a $20 HDMI cable and a $50 HDMI cable can’t be noticed, unless you have multiple high-end components that will be running simultaneously. Even HDMI cables for monitors found in the computer section ($20) are comparable to the ones found in the home theater section ($50), with little to no noticeable difference unless you really really know what you’re looking for.

So while the temptation is there to plug the highest-quality HDMI cable available (again, $1000 per meter) into your brand new home theater system, even with the rapidly expanding code of HDMI specifications, most of the time it’s a waste of money that won’t optimize your viewing experience any more that a $50 cable available in any electronics department. Don’t be fooled by the high price tag and fancy name, an HDMI is an HDMI, no matter what it’s made of.

Suspension of Disbelief

September 15th, 2010

Ever catch something in a movie or video game that makes you go “waaaait a minute…?” Ever find yourself wondering why nobody in her school recognizes Hannah Montana even though she looks exactly like plain old Miley with a wig on? This is called Suspension of Disbelief, coined by Victorian poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner) in the early 19th century. Essentially it happens when (and Coleridge used it namely with mythological creatures and fantasy in his poetry) the creator of a particular work (film, literature, art, etc) asks his audience to believe in some type of fantasy, even though it cannot exist in the realm of the real world. For example, George Lucas prefaces the movie Star Wars with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” This is a direct request for viewers to remove themselves from reality and enter into a world that is completely un-like the world we live in. With this preface, we know as viewers not to question the reality of what we’re watching, just to go with it and have fun. With the rapid expansion of technology in the film/gaming industry and the ever-growing demand for means of entertainment, this theory holds tight more than ever.

When it comes to your home theater, Suspension of Disbelief can be split into two categories, similar to fiction and non-fiction. The fiction category is how you’d classify all the Hannah Montana and Star Wars stuff, where you’re being asked within the story to leave your comfy chair and enter a world where things are different than the world you live in. The non-fiction category refers to the technical aspect. Have you ever seen an old episode of Dr. Who or StarTrek? You as the viewer are asked to ignore the ridiculous special effects, bad dialogue, silly costumes, and awful audio effects and immerse yourself anyway. The audio and film industries have made unimaginable leaps and bounds in technology since those campy old SciFi flicks, and your home theater experience should be no different. Rapidly improving 3D TV’s, projectors, gaming systems, HD surround sound, and HDMI specifications are all but eliminating this kind of Suspension of Disbelief, allowing you to jump head-first into your favorite movie or video game, without having to “ignore” the technical stuff. And it’s only getting more realistic. Your 3D TV will put you right in the middle of fantastic places. Your HD surround sound will make your experience more intense. Your internet-ready projector puts millions of streaming movies, TV shows, and video games instantly at your fingertips. And you can have this all in the comfort of your own home. Now that really is movie magic.

25 Stunning Home Theaters

May 26th, 2010

There’s not another room like it — the home cinema is, without a doubt, the oasis of the home.

Very few things are more relaxing than kicking back in your favorite theater seat (which of course is the best seat in the house) and taking a load off after a long day. Home theater installers know this, and can design an infinite number of setups to complement any home’s personality or atmosphere to create a truly unique and breath-taking experience, inviting you to fulfill your escapist fantasies, time and time again.

Here’s a list of stunning home theaters that provide jaw-dropping design inspiration.

1. Forget your blues with this striking theater color scheme

2. Free your mind” in the The Matrix Theater

3. If you have a passion for theater acoustics, you’ll love The Gullion Theater

4. This beautiful home cinema seems like a suitable alternative to the chill of a cold winter day

5. James Bond is a perfectly chosen film for this perfectly classy design

6. The warm lighting and color scheme must make for a comfortable viewing atmosphere in this setup

7. An incredibly beautiful and almost surreal looking theater

8. The Kips Bay Theater features very unique and visually appealing architectural elements

9. This relaxing, yet solitary theater rendering takes the term “admit one” a little too literally, perhaps

10. The Runco WindowWall is a perfect addition to this fantastically elegant theater

11. This may just be the the ultimate viewing experience for the big game

12. The light browns and hand-carved wooden panels kick up the class on a classic setup

13. Quite simply, a breathtaking theater rendering set in paradise

14. A social home theater boasting contemporary design and a booming 7.1 surround sound system

15. It’s not difficult to believe that this huge theater has no problem comfortably entertaining large groups of guests

16. This home theater setup is a very classy looking creation

17. Try not to fall asleep while taking a peek into this incredibly relaxing cinema

18. There’s a unique sense of style in this modern home theater creation

19. A colorful theater scheme that seems to play subtly on a more retro appearance

20. The large plush chairs make for an incredibly comfortable looking theater setup

21. It would seem inappropriate to watch anything but science fiction in this amazing home theater setup

22. This spacey home cinema indeed borrows heavily from the space sci-fi style, as well

23. This warm theater design utilizes open space and looks positively awesome

24. Enjoy the open air in the comfort of this unique theater

25. This interesting concept for home theater design is out of this world