In the News
March 1, 2005
A team of crafty home technology integrators built a real-world showroom for manufacturer Pioneer Electronics that illustrates the digital solutions promise of today's residential audio/visual design.
Talk Of The Town Video and Home theatre Design (TOTT), Allendale, N.J., was tapped by Pioneer as the lead architect for the Pioneer Pure Vision Loft, a private showroom nestled in Manhattan's tony Chelsea district. Decked out with plasma TVs, wireless digital controls, surround-sound speakers, DJ-ready CD scratch tables and lounge seating, as well as a full bar and kitchenette, the loft gives a glimpse of how aesthetically pleasing a completely wired home can be, while also allowing visitors to imagine that they've arrived at their own luxurious New York City party pad. Decorative plants and mood lighting adorn the loft, and with the push of a remote-control button, a Matisse print in an ornate wooden frame silently rises to reveal one of the loft's three 43-inch plasma screens.
Getting visitors to yearn for a cutting-edge A/V system in their own home is exactly the Pioneer loft's objective, says Chuck Miller, director of A/V sales and installation for home theatre design at TOTT. "One of the things that is interesting about this space is that it is clearly a New York City urban loft space, but what we have here also makes sense in a suburban residential home," he says. "It's all the same common components."
The loft appears to be a sophisticated, almost artsy configuration of screen placement and speaker alignment. But its location in a 50-year-old industrial building called for expert construction and remodeling capabilities to mask a complex network of data and power lines, noise-dampening technology and integrated systems, says Peter Winslow, director of marketing at TOTT.
For instance, when Miller performed the initial walk-through at the site, he found that the loft's large, barren front room created an echo-chamber effect. "One of the main problems with the room was the acoustics. When we first walked in, all we saw was this hard, blank floor, hard ceilings and hard walls," he says. "There was so much reverberation that you couldn't even talk on a cell phone in there."
Enter AcousticSmart, Merrick, N.Y., which partnered with TOTT to add acoustical ceiling treatments—or "acoustic clouds"—throughout the loft. Difficult to see unless pointed out, the acoustic clouds softened the room noise and sharpened the overall sound quality.
The walls of the loft presented problems, too. "In Manhattan, you are dealing with concrete walls and cinder block walls," Miller says. "They are not your typical studded walls that have space behind them, so it's very difficult to run wires through them."
To get around that, Miller and his team used wire mold to cover bulk wraps of speaker, radio frequency and power wiring from all of the electronic components to the main gear closet in the rear of the loft. There, custom racks from project partner Middle Atlantic Products, Riverdale, N.J., organized the output and power lines with the incoming signals from digital audio, high-definition cable, satellite TV and high-speed Internet. Assisting TOTT in the wiring was Crestron Electronics, Rockleigh, N.J., which provided integrated controls for all the loft's equipment. Switch Electrical Contracting, Little Falls, N.J., supplied electric power for the screens and lighting.
TOTT and Pioneer even made improvements to the loft's decor with the help of Garfield, N.J.-based Chris Marut Woodworking, which built custom cabinets designed to mesh with particular corners, wall spaces or A/V components. Becker Designed, Chantilly, Va., provided stands for the plasma screens in the game area, and Madison-Fielding, Port Chester, N.Y., provided Planter Speakers for ambient audio on the terrace. The ArtScreen system from Vutek, Pompano Beach, Fla., was used to enable the Matisse artwork to slide over a plasma screen. But when all was said and done, there was a hum. "We had a problem in this space with electrical noise," Miller says. "It was coming in through the [wall plugs] and would show up on the panel as a hum and as a hum bar moving through the picture of the plasma screens."
TOTT again tapped its extensive list of partners, this time summoning Furman Sound, a Petaluma, Calif., provider of power conditioning technology. "Furman has a long history of making products for the stage, rock concerts and things like that, where you absolutely can't have any hum in the video or sound," Miller says. "We actually got their engineering staff involved, and they came up with a solution to make a product that totally isolates the AC current coming in the building. It takes the AC out of the wall and presents to the electronics as if it was never connected to the wall."
Long-standing ties with such specialists helped make the loft project a smooth one, according to Winslow. "Each of these companies grasped the nature of the loft project immediately and then responded without hesitation to requests by TOTT, based on our established business relationships," he says. TOTT also has a close relationship with Pioneer. In recent months, for example, the two companies teamed up to host a Pioneer Plasma Tour and other corporate marketing events. "We understand the potential competitive advantages of strategic partnering with vendors, and we actively seek other companies with a shared vision for joint business development," Winslow says.
TOTT's broad range of partners, in fact, helped take some of the load off Pioneer in the loft project, according to James Miceli, a district sales manager for Pioneer's home division in Long Beach, Calif. "TOTT did most of the work and performed all of the coordination for the subcontractors," Miceli says. "The partnering was especially useful to them, and we liked the idea that experts were taking care of every step. Installers who know the pitfalls save you money by not having to double back if they run into a snag."
Gaining such insight didn't come easy, as TOTT traveled a 15-year road to get where it is today. Early on, the company was assisted financially by a grocery chain called Inserra Supermarkets, and the original TOTT location was for the most part a video rental store in front of an Inserra market, Miller says.
Eventually, Inserra support helped TOTT grow to three locations, with stores in Allendale, Hoboken and Ramsey (video rental only), N.J. TOTT has kept the video rental storefront model because it drives walk-in business from customers that normally might not enter a high-end A/V store. "People come in to rent a tape or maybe to buy a TV and say, 'Oh, by the way, can you install that?' That kind of is how the whole thing grew," Miller says. "Today, basically 99 percent of what we sell gets installed, and we do very little retail."
And a continued flow of satisfied customers keeps the business coming. "The A/V business, in general, is pretty much run by word- of-mouth," Miller says. "You do somebody's house with a grand home theatre or something like that, and then they tell a friend, have a friend over and that friend comes back to you and says, 'Hey, I saw the theatre that you did for Dr. so and so. Can you do one in my house?' So it's a networking kind of a business in that way."