High end, high tech

Ion Smith of Cyberhomes discusses how smart home technology can be seamlessly incorporated into luxury home designs.

It’s not that many years ago that smart home technology was available only to high-end luxury homes; but walk into any high street technology shop and you’ll find shelves full of ‘smart devices’ at affordable prices. While these Internet of Things (IoT) devices might be great for the DIY-er who has the time on their hands to get them working (those ‘plug and play’ claims don’t always ring true) are they also the best and most secure choice for someone building a luxury home today?

When you’ve invested in your dream home, you want to ensure that all the technology in it works reliably, is easy to use, and doesn’t need any understanding of computer networks to keep going. That’s where a home technology professional is invaluable. By designing and installing the right cable infrastructure you can ensure that your technology works reliably now and has the ability to be upgraded in the future as new technologies emerge.

High street stores will tell you that ‘everything is wireless these days’ and therefore you don’t need to run cables. But that’s just not true. The bandwidth of a cable (how much data you can send down it per second) is vastly greater than even the best Wi-Fi available. Wi-Fi performance quickly tails off the further you are from the nearest access point and with construction methods like foil- backed plasterboard, Wi-Fi is fighting the laws of physics to provide decent coverage. Our simple rule is, if a device is going to be in a fixed location then run a cable to it – free up your Wi-Fi to provide connectivity to just the devices in your home that have to be mobile.

Hiding technology

So your architect has designed you a beautiful building and your interior designer has created amazing living spaces within your home – are you going to spoil that by putting technology everywhere?

That’s the beauty of a custom-installed smart home solution. Firstly, the majority of the equipment isn’t in the living spaces. Most of it will be located in dedicated equipment racks in a plant room; using that cable infrastructure to distribute the data to the various devices around the home.

Sure, speakers have to be in the living spaces as you’ve got to be able to hear them, but they too can be very discreet. In-wall and in-ceiling speakers take up no space in the room and grills can be colour matched to the décor. It’s even possible to have speakers that are plastered over.

Of course certain devices, such as the TV, need to be on display in order to use them, and with the demand for ever larger screens they can have a big impact on a room. That doesn’t mean that it has to be on show when not in use though. There are numerous ways to ‘hide’ TVs when they are switched off. A TV can simply turn into a mirror when not in use if that suits the room layout; or a piece of artwork can automatically unfurl in front of the screen. More elaborate solutions involve using motorised mechanisms either to move the TV itself and hide it in bespoke cabinetry or move it to a more inconspicuous location; or you can have motorised panels and sections of wall that completely disguise there is even a TV in the room when it isn’t in use.

High resolution audio

Everyone is familiar with the drive for improving TV resolution. A few years ago there was the switch to digital, then to HD and now we’re moving to 4K Ultra HD and it won’t stop there. Yet since the popularity of the iPod, many have become accustomed to poor quality, highly compressed audio. Thankfully that’s changing as it is now possible to combine both convenience and quality in sound. There’s good choice available in the quality of in-wall/in-ceiling speakers available from respected audiophile companies and other premium ‘Hi-Fi brands’, so they are no longer a compromise in sound quality.

The cable infrastructure allows you to move large amounts of data around so you no longer have to choose formats like MP3 or AAC to keep the file sizes small. In fact it’s now possible to have ‘better than CD quality’ audio in every room in the home. High-resolution audio (typically 24-bit, 192 kHz as opposed to

CD’s 16-bit 44.1 kHz) is readily available for all genres of music. To appreciate this quality everything in the audio chain needs to support hi-res audio: source, amplifiers and speakers. Arrange a demo and hear the difference.

For media rooms and home cinemas sound quality is improving there too. New surround sound formats like Dolby Atmos introduce more speakers into the room, including ‘height channels’ in the ceiling to completely immerse you in the movie’s soundtrack. These additional speakers can all be hidden from view, using false walls and ceilings made from acoustically-transparent fabrics.

Ease of control

With an IoT devices solution you’ll have an app for the lighting, a different app for the heating, another one for your music etc. What started out as convenience of having everything controlled on your smartphone soon becomes confusion around trying to find the right app. With an integrated home control system, such as those from Savant Pro, Control4 or Crestron, all your home’s technology is controlled from a single app. There may also be wall-mounted touch screens and other remotes to ensure control is always at your fingertips.

Once all your technology is ‘talking to each other’ – that’s when your home can become truly smart. Open a window while you’re at home and the intruder alarm will automatically tell your heating system to turn off the heating in that room – just one of hundreds of possibilities.

Ion Smith is director at Cyberhomes