A family room plays host to a myriad of different activities. On Sunday morning, it might be the place where you and your spouse lounge with hot mugs of coffee and the New York Times. During the week, it might become the meeting spot for your son’s Cub Scout pack. And on Friday and Saturday nights, you might use the space to entertain family and friends. No matter how you use your family room, electronic systems can make every activity more enjoyable for everyone. A lighting control system, for example, could arrange the lights and music for a Saturday evening cocktail party at the press of a button. And if your family loves movies, you’ll certainly need a big-screen TV and surround-sound system. There are many other electronic features that are ideal for a family room as well, so read on.
A Big-Screen TV
A big-screen TV is one of the most important technologies to integrate into a family room. Everyone from your 5-year-old nephew to your 80-year-old grandmother will use it, and it’ll give you a great excuse to have your buddies over for the Super Bowl.
There are several factors to consider when selecting a TV for the space: the size of the screen, the shape of the TV, the sets resolution and where you’ll put the unit.
To find the best TV size for your family room, measure the distance between your favorite couch and the planned TV location before heading out to an A/V boutique or electronics superstore. Think about other places you might view the TV as well. For example, if your family room opens up to the kitchen, you may sometimes want to catch the news while you’re making dinner. Or your kids might like to stare at cartoons while eating cereal at the breakfast bar. When you get to the store, use your measurements to stand back and get a feel for how the TV image would look from those different viewing locations. If you have to squint to see the picture, you might want to move up to the next size. While a bigger set will ensure a great view from multiple locations, don’t forget that you’ve got to be able to fit that beast inside some sort of entertainment cabinet (be sure to compare the measurement of your cabinet’s TV opening with the dimensions of the TV). If the TV you’ve chosen won’t fit, go with the smaller size. With the money you save, you might be able to buy another TV for the kitchen as well. Or you could always save yourself the hassle of squeezing a TV into a cabinet by going with a flat-panel LCD or plasma TV. These types of sets can be mounted to the wall just about anywhere in the room.
Last but not least, make sure the TV can handle high-definition programming. Satellite and cable TV providers are offering an increasing number of programs in high def, and manufacturers are beginning to roll out high-def DVDs and players. Newer high-def TVs feature a resolution of 1080p for the crispest, clearest picture available on the market today.
You could own the best TV on the planet, and it wouldn’t mean a thing without great sound. To hear every bit of a show’s dialogue and special effects clearly, your family room will need a surround-sound system. There are two basic types of surround-sound receivers (in both cases, the component directs audio to the appropriate speakers): 5.1 receivers and 7.1 receivers. For a family room, a 5.1 receiver is adequate. Movie dialogue will spill out of the center speaker, main sounds will pour out of the other two speakers at the front of the room, effects will come from a pair of speakers at the back of the room, and low-frequency bass (the .1 in the 5.1 setup) will burst out from a subwoofer. If keeping your components out of sight is important to the family room aesthetics, any or all of the surround-sound speakers (as well as the subwoofer) can be built into the walls or ceiling. Another popular speaker design involves tucking the front three speakers into an entertainment cabinet and covering the openings with speaker grille. The remaining two speakers are mounted to a wall at the back of the room.
You’ll need a place to store your surround-sound receiver, DVD player, CD changer and other A/V equipment. An entertainment cabinet is a popular storage option for family rooms. Make sure the unit you select offers plenty of growing room. You may only own a DVD player and a cable box now, but who knows when you might bring home a digital video recorder and a larger TV. The cabinet should also be well ventilated and offer chases through which to run cabling. Be sure there are enough drawers to hold your CDs, DVDs and other media. And make sure there are doors that can be closed over the equipment when you’re using the room for other things.
Scene-Setting Lighting System
A lighting control system can magically change the look and feel of your family room to fit any activity. You simply press a button on a wall-mounted keypad or a handheld remote control, and the lights brighten or dim to the perfect level. Pressing a movie time button, for example, could fade out the lights to create the ideal atmosphere. Other buttons might set the lights for a cocktail party, to showcase your budding art collection and to illuminate your favorite reading spot.
Lighting control systems can be programmed by a professional home systems installer to arrange the lights in an endless number of ways. However, it’s best to keep a practical head when dealing with your family room. Your kids, friends, babysitter, housekeeper and overnight guests will need to understand how to use the system. The fewer buttons there are on the keypad, the easier it’ll be for everyone to use.
Motorized Drapery System
Even the most fabulous lighting effects will lose impact when there’s sunlight spilling into the room. Hanging draperies and shades over the windows is the obvious solution. But you’ll get even better results by putting those window coverings on a motorized track or roller. By doing so, you’ll be able to open and close the drapes from a remote control or from the same keypad used to operate the family room lights. Your home systems installer can coordinate the positioning of the drapes with the setting of the lights. In an entertain scene, for example, the lights could dim and the drapes could close simultaneously. With the addition of a photocell (a sensor that detects sunlight), the window coverings could open and shut automatically according to the position of the sun—a great way to protect your family room furniture from fading and to minimize heat gain.
With so much to manage in a tech-savvy family room, a remote control is a tool you’ll find invaluable. From anywhere in the room—even when you’re crashed out on the couch—you can turn off the entertainment system, dim the lights and close the drapes. But not any old remote can handle all of these tasks. Look for one that is programmable and has macro capabilities. A macro is a string of commands that can be launched by pressing one button. A movie macro, for example, could set the lights and entertainment system for family movie night. All you need to do is hit the button.
By Lisa Montgomery, senior editor for Electronic House magazine. To see more articles from the editors of Electronic House magazine about the connected home visit www.electronichouse.com.