Outdoor Entertainment

by lbanyay@solagroup.com

Technology has infiltrated nearly every aspect of life. With the popularity of outdoor living spaces, it’s no surprise consumers want to create a total room that includes technological conveniences much like their indoor counterparts. It’s important to understand the differences between indoor and outdoor tech installations, including products used and consumer’s entertainment wish lists.

As with any project, determining how the client wants to use their outdoor area is the first step. After establishing end goals, work backward from there. If the home is in proximity to neighbors, be sure to consider them. “You want to enjoy your space, not alienate your neighbors,” Greg Peninger, president of ProTex Technologies, Cedar Park, Texas.

Stay Connected

President and CEO Steve Janz of Inglewood, Calif.-based home automation contractor Technospeak is seeing outdoor Wi-Fi as the most popular outdoor tech installation. “Wi-Fi coming from a house doesn’t always make it outdoors because low-emission windows have metal oxides in them that will block Wi-Fi signals,” he explains. “Don’t rely on the fact of good indoor Wi-Fi; a router next to the window doesn’t guarantee great Wi-Fi in the back yard.” Janz says indoor router manufacturers don’t necessarily offer outdoor access points; rather, an outdoor network connection should be separate from the indoor one.

The popularity of these outdoor access points partially stems from many houses today are at least partially automated and controlled through a tablet or cellular phone. “People who have iOS-controlled devices do not quite have the range a PC might,” Janz explains. “They need to have a stronger Wi-Fi network to work well or it can be very frustrating.” Home automation features may also control outdoor elements, such as fire elements, pools, lighting or fountains, to name a few.

“There are more and more elements coming online in the house,” Janz says. “Generally speaking, if you are putting in a system that has smarts to it, run a conduit to it. It’s fairly cheap and it’s a great idea for future planning in case a client wants to integrate it with the rest of their home. The more integration in the home, the smarter a home will be. Everything will be online and can talk to each other.”

The constant connection of Web-based social media, Internet and streaming services also makes outdoor Wi-Fi a must-have for many. “Some people who want outdoor TVs in their outdoor living room but don’t want a separate box for that TV might install an Apple TV or Roku so they can stream Netflix and Hulu, which necessitates a good Wi-Fi connection,” Janz says. “Wi-Fi is starting to trump everything because mobile devices are so important to everyday use.”

Entertainment

The second most common installation Janz conducts is the outdoor television. First and foremost, ensure the TV is protected from the elements. “Completely sealed roofs are great, which means that in temperate climates you can use an indoor TV outside and cover it with something like a barbecue cover when it’s not in use,” he says.

When installing outdoor speaker systems, Peninger and Janz note that outdoor living spaces have fewer acoustically reflective elements, which translates to needing more speakers outside than in a comparably sized indoor area to cover the same amount of space and get the same volume level.

Although sound systems are popular, they aren’t as prolific as one might think. “Younger people are listening to audio on their headphones or with portable speakers so there are a lot fewer people who want to fill their giant backyard with sound,” Janz explains.

Peninger installs audio systems, but also has found clients request a second theater environment outdoors, particularly for sports fans or for those who like to entertain in their pool.

Janz, too, has clients who enjoy outdoor movie nights. “Plan for conduit from an AV hub where you might want to put a projector to project onto a manual pull-down or inflatable screen,” he says. Janz does note, however, that there presently is no waterproof projector for residential consumers.

Proper Equipment

Peninger recommends always using outdoor-rated components even if the speaker or display will be covered. “It’s essential for the long-term enjoyment of the outdoor entertainment space to use components rated for outdoor use,” he says. “There are many factors outdoors we don’t contend with indoors, such as significant moisture variations, dust, insects and extreme temperatures.” He also recommends getting a maintenance agreement with the installer because of the increased maintenance requirements of outdoor equipment.

Outdoor-rated televisions cost 50 to 150 percent more and are several inches thicker than indoor televisions of the same screen size because of built-in ventilation systems and thicker screens. All outdoor products, whether they be televisions, speakers, wiring, etc., are UL-listed and need to be constructed of proper material.

Understand the difference between weather- and water-proof, too. Weatherproof can be splashed; waterproof can be submerged. Some televisions can handle direct sunlight, but not all. Janz says to avoid putting TVs in direct sunlight anyway because of the poor watching conditions.

Accessibility to better outdoor-rated equipment plays a role in the increasing business of outdoor tech installations, Peninger believes, in addition to the stabilizing economy. Areas with predictable nice weather, of course, are more popular for this type of job.

 

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