Figuring Out Your Home’s AV Systems

Audio/visual expert Stephen Edelman on untangling your home-media options.

Whether you’re binge-watching Breaking Bad, chilling out to some Tchaikovsky, or rooting for the Jets or Giants, chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time around a big TV this winter, bonding with family and friends. Drowning in remotes or just feeling more ignorant than your smart TV? Relax. We’ve asked audio-visual expert Stephen Edelman, president of Function Control Group in Katonah, to help give us a home-AV tutorial. With more than 25 years of experience dealing with both residential and commercial projects, he’s more than up to date on the latest product and technological advances. 

What does a great home AV system entail? 

I believe it’s a synergic balance between audio and video. You can hear music in the spaces you want to listen in. The remote has to be intuitive and easy to use. You want the ability to access streaming content from services like Pandora and Google Play Music, and Internet radio is also a plus. You also want access to your own personal content, either from the cloud or from a drive somewhere on the network where you’ve stored your CD collection. And TVs where you need them—with most, if not all, the equipment hidden away in the basement or in a closet. Streaming video content is also very important, either from Apple TV, Roku, smart TVs, or some other movie player or hard drive collection of content. I would recommend either cable, FiOS, or satellite service, then add a DVD player somewhere where it’s accessible. Finally, don’t forget about the gaming platforms like Xbox, PlayStation, and Wii.

Stephen Edelman

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What’s the biggest TV screen you’ve ever installed?

It was part of an outdoor entertainment space in Brooklyn. We fabricated a 300-inch screen with special paint on the side of a building and installed a very bright projector that would handle the enormous viewing surface. My largest residential screen was a Stewart 160. It’s in an awesome space with integrated custom cabinetry, Bryston AV distribution, James speakers all around, and Savant control. And we used a digital-projection dual-bulb projector—in case one bulb fails, they can still use the system until help arrives.

What brands of TVs and other equipment do you recommend for people assembling their own set-up? 

Samsung, Panasonic, and Sony TVs are my top choices, and all those companies also make DVD/Blu-ray players and other electronic components. Other names to look for are Denon, Onkyo, and Marantz. All these manufacturers have been doing this for a long time and make affordable, reliable components. 

Where is the best place locally to purchase AV equipment? 

Best Buy has a huge selection, and, if you catch them at the right time, you can get a really good deal. But pricing is pretty consistent across the spectrum of appliance stores, so go somewhere for the good service.

Tell us about one of your more unusual projects. 

It was for an amazing house on an island in Connecticut. We had to truck everything out by amphibious vehicle and drive up out of the Sound, onto the backyard, and into the house. We used expensive finishes, like custom white lacquer grills on the in-wall speakers, and custom storage for the racks of components.

How much do you need to spend for a good home system? 

Some people can spend a million dollars in a room that’s 20 feet by 20 feet. Others spend $10,000 in a 12,000-square-foot home. It all depends on the client’s priorities and what they consider ‘good’ to be.

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How should someone choose an audio/visual company?

Find someone you know who is into AV and ask them who they use, or go to—they can point you in the right direction. If you are looking for a particular product, call the manufacturer or visit their website to find out who in the area displays, represents, or sells their product.

How often do you upgrade your own system? 

I have a Sonos distributed audio system and half a dozen TVs spread around the house. We use Apple TV, Roku, and gaming platforms to access most of our content and watch much less ‘live’ TV. I try to buy components that connect via Internet to the manufacturer, which allows for easy software upgrades and updates and helps keep equipment fresh long after original installation. I usually upgrade when something with added benefit comes along. 

How can big-screen TVs be camouflaged? 

Integrated TV/mirrors have gotten better; the technology now gives you a great picture when the TV is on and an actual mirror when it’s off, and you can frame them and recess them into walls. A company called Seura makes great products that fit the bill. There is also motorized art that conceals the TV in a frame and hides it when not in use. You can customize the art with any image or photo of your choosing or select from fine art options. VisionArt or Vutec are a couple of good choices. Of course, you can always have the TV on a lift or pop-up that will disappear into the ceiling, floor, or cabinet.

Why do most people call you in?

It could be anything, like questions about WiFi and/or cellular in their home, a new entertainment space, a new TV outside by the pool, lighting, et cetera. It’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the changes in this industry, from both an aesthetic and technology standpoint, and unless you do it for a living, you don’t know where to start. 

At what stage of design and construction should  clients contact you?

As early in the process as possible. One incorrect assumption is that everything is wireless now. To some extent, that is true, but appropriate infrastructure is critical for building that wireless capability. 

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What can be done about all those remotes?

You can get an app-driven remote, a handheld universal remote, or a combination of both. Once you get past a TV and four components, my advice is to get a universal remote. The remote and set-up from a competent programmer will be worth every penny.

What’s the next big thing for home AV?

Currently 4K video—it’s four times the resolution of current broadcast HDTV—is making itself known, along with surround systems with more speakers and, obviously, always more content from more providers.  

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