Explained: Phone Systems

The two main phone system categories in 2018 are:

  1. Traditional: A phone system that physically hangs on your wall and routes calls to your desk (usually over traditional copper wires.)
  2. Hosted: A system hosted online that routes calls to your desk over your internet connection. (Also referred to as HPBX or VoIP.)




  • Benefits: Owning the system means lower monthly cost, and many basic features perform with rock-solid simplicity.
  • Challenges: Higher upfront cost and user count is limited by your hardware. Expertise is needed to manage moves, adds, changes, security and troubleshooting. Also, telephone lines add monthly expense (exception below.)
  • Conclusion: Ideal for businesses that need a lot of handsets, but not a lot of concurrent phone calls.




  • Benefits: Lower initial investment and user count can grow and shrink fluidly. Running over the Internet simplifies your office network and lets you travel with your phone. Also, central administration (password resets, call forwarding) is easier.
  • Challenges: If you don’t segment your network, heavy Internet usage will impact call quality. Also, as your phone’s software evolves some features need to be re-learned.
  • Conclusion: Ideal for businesses that want to avoid hardware obsolescence, need a low entry cost, and need to remain flexible in both headcount and user location.




Hybrid systems allow a combination of handsets (some compatible with traditional systems and some compatible with hosted systems), usually via a locally-mounted phone system with added modules to allow for VoIP functionality. This is ideal for businesses that already own traditional handsets and want to modernize their system at the lowest cost possible.




While it would seem traditional systems cost more up front while hosted systems carry a higher monthly expense, there are two elements that complicate this:
  1. Hosted systems offer monthly savings in that they can piggyback on the same Internet connection your computers use. (However now traditional systems with SIP trunking have this same capability.)
  2. While owning your system usually shows savings after five years, they also require active support contracts unless you have an in-house expert.




Phone systems and service are offered in two tiers:
  1. Consumer: A homogenized, often drop-shipped solution that works adequately for certain small businesses. (think Vonage)
  2. Business: A combination of hardware and service designed to perform with your specific network, at the highest call quality available.



  • Benefits: Lowest cost. Impressive control over system and user settings.
  • Challenges: Lacks support when issues arise around customer’s unique circumstances.
  • Conclusion: Great for small businesses with tolerance for call quality and system reliability issues.




  • Benefits: Improved voice clarity via bandwidth customization, a backup plan in the event of an outage, and depending on the provider vastly improved tech support.
  • Challenges: Providers need to be vetted as not all deliver more than DIY quality.
  • Conclusion: Ideal for businesses that need reliable HD call quality without paying for superfluous bandwidth.



How to Choose

In 2018 most people are opting for hosted for its ease of management and future-proofed foundation. Unless complete ownership of your system is required we recommend hosted.

There are many players in the hosted field, and almost all offer the same array of features in both unlimited and limited calling tiers. When comparing providers:

  1. Make sure they are focused not just on your phone system, but on how it harmonizes with your specific network.
  2. Get client references both general performance and for emergency support.
  3. Ask about backup plans. If city construction knocks out your service, what will they put in place to keep you connected?



Other Questions?

Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.

Our Favorite Productivity Tools


Email is everywhere and therefore a necessity, but for internal communications we highly recommend Slack for its:
  • Organization – Trades the single inbox for a clean menu of topic-based channels and one-on-one conversations.
  • Search – A copy of Outlook or the local index it searches can be impacted by other factors on your desktop. Slack keeps everything online and gives faster and more accurate search results.
  • App Integration – Slack offers better integration with countless Apps for file sharing, to-do lists, video calling, etc. (Outlook has a ‘safe mode’ for a reason: Its plugins can break it.)
  • Mobile Experience – Slack’s organizational structure makes for a far cleaner experience on mobile than almost every email client.

Note: SLAM Sidebar lets you embed Slack within your Outlook Inbox.



File Sharing

Unlike One Drive which feels like a little bonus from Microsoft, Dropbox specializes exclusively in file sharing. Beyond its idiot-proof simplicity, its latest feature lets you browse through everything on your account from your desktop without taking up any hard drive space. The files only save locally once you open them.



Video Calls

For one-on-one calls Slack and Skype are great within users of the same platform. Hosting a larger meeting and don’t want anyone to have to create an account? Zoom is hands-down the easiest to use.




Windows and Mac come with remote desktop connection built-in (your firewall still needs to allow it.) We also find AnyDesk to be an incredibly easy and reliable solution for the technically challenged.



System Admin

AutoMate can report on memory & hard drive usage, anti-virus & warranty status, programs installed… On every computer in the office. You can also batch schedule tasks like software installations to happen overnight.



Password Management

1Password and LastPass are both big time savers if you’re juggling too many passwords. Both save you time logging in, let you share groups of accounts with coworkers, and provide alerts when a website you frequent has experienced a data breach.




We like Evernote for its cleanliness across devices, as well as its browser plugin for quickly pulling content into your notes.



Ad Blocking

Ghostery is a plugin available on all web browsers that prevents businesses from tracking your information. It also blocks ads from loading making many website load faster (try loading NY Times with Ghostery on and with it off.)




Ever wish you could get your information from one channel into another automatically? Odds are with IFTTT you can. Get your Echo’s to-do items synced to your iPhone’s reminders, or get your weather forecast delivered as a text message.




Smart phone alerts distracting you from your work? Stay focused with Pushbullet, which displays these alerts on your desktop, and more importantly lets you respond to them from the same keyboard you’re working on.




By dragging and dropping a file onto the CloudConvert homepage you can select the type of file you want to convert it to then and there. The result is downloadable moments later.




Working late? F.lux is a must for reducing eye strain. It tints the color temperature of your monitor based on time of day. Turn it on at night and feel the difference immediately.




Noisli lets you drown out the office chatter with your own custom combination of nature sounds and white noise.



Other Questions?

Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.

Explained: Cables

Category Cable

The standard for data, every new version gets better at transmitting more of it with less interference. Manufacturers must abide by these standards so that everything works together.
  • Cat5e: The standard of the early 2000s, and the current cheapest way to get up to 1 Gbps of bandwidth (less after 55 meters.)
  • Cat6: 10x faster at 10 Gbps, but dwindles after only 37 meters.
  • Cat6a: Extends that 10 Gbps to a reliable 100 meters.
  • Cat7: 10x faster again at 100 Gbps, but bandwidth drops off after 15 meters and it has one glaring flaw: There is still no industry standard for it. Manufacturers aren’t using Cat7 and another standard might come along before they adopt.
Category cables are backward compatible and use the lowest common denominator of the devices they connect. Speed is limited by the weakest component in your system.




The future of data uses pulses of light instead of waves. Benefits over category cable include immunity to electromagnetic interference, improved security, and the ability to travel much longer distances.

Downsides include price and its inability to carry power (category cable can run power along with data to minimize clutter around many of your devices.)

While fiber is the best choice for future proofing, it’s also the best for 4K video over 100 feet. Anything shy of fiber will compress the color sampling to a noticeable degree.




The current standard for carrying video, audio and basic control short distances across a single wire. It’s not reliable beyond 15 feet (you can find 50 feet high end options with varying levels of reliability), which is why we find it in home theater setups where all components are right next to the TV.

A work-around here is to use a balun or network extender, which converts the HDMI signal to a category cable which you run at a longer distance. Then you convert it back to HDMI at the other end.



Coaxial (RG6 / RCA)

Mostly found between your wall and the cable box, RG6 connections are problematic but exist because your cable company needs to encrypt the content they deliver for copyright protection.

RG6 is not relevant for TV connections anymore unless you want to use the built-in over air antenna, but we still use RG6 for extending digital audio connections (S/PDIF) and sending line level analog audio to devices like subwoofers and powered speakers.

RCA cables are also technically coaxial cables, and still the standard for unbalanced analog audio sources, like turntables.



Optical / TOSLINK

TOSLINK is a specific type of fiber cable for audio only. Most songs are delivered digitally yet amplifiers are inherently analog, so the signal has to get converted somewhere. Unfortunately most devices do not convert it well. To keep your signal digital until it reaches a digital audio converter (usually called DAC for short) that knows what it’s doing, optical is a smart interconnect.



Speaker Cables

The connections between amp and speakers, their effect on sound has been the subject of great debate. We do know that thicker gauge cable will move power better over longer distances (we avoid going over 150 feet in general.) We also know that you need to have high quality components for the speaker cable to have any audible impact at all.

We use 14/4 speaker cable as a standard for all in-wall and in-ceiling speaker runs. 14 stands for the gauge and 4 is the amount of conductors.



Lighting & Shading

These systems require proprietary cables that run two conductors for power, as well as two conductors for communication. Explore more about Lighting & Shading, or get in touch with us with questions.



Other Questions?

Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.

New Hire: Michael Dye

This month we’re thrilled to announce the addition of Michael Dye to our team as our new Architect Specialist. Michael has racked up over a decade of experience with Magnolia as a Project Manager, System Designer and Consultation Agent for end users and trade professionals.

Our Architect Specialist role demands a tricky combination of technical prowess and relationship management; A resource who can add real tangible value to the Architects and Designers we interface with on our projects. After meeting Michael it was clear that his passion for the industry, sharpness and absence of ego made him a fit for our culture. However it was his mock AIA Presentation that affirmed Architect Specialist as the ideal role in which to apply his talents.

Michael is well-versed and formally trained in many of our key brand partners (Lutron, McIntosh Labs, Bowers & Wilkins, Control4.) More importantly, he shares Cloud9’s philosophy on technology: Excitement over it’s potential, balanced with a healthy dose of practicality; A bridge between the bleeding edge and everyday life.

Also, we can nerd out with him on speakers and control interfaces. He’ll fit right in.

Conversation: Reddymade

We had the pleasure of chatting with Suchi Reddy of Reddymade Architecture & Design recently. She’s a risk-taker in the A&D field, and of particular interest to us was her drive to push new materials and their properties on projects. Her team in SoHo has conceived of and executed a wide gamut of projects across continents. Take a look at the highlights of our interview in the below video.

Conference Call Etiquette

Find a Quiet Place

Be kind to fellow attendees and choose a location with minimal background noise and minimal echo. If you must take a conference call on the go, be prepared for the call to drop out.

Use a Computer if Possible

Phones compress data heavily and clip the top and low end of your voice. For a clearer connection use a computer, ideally hard-wired to the Internet.

Avoid the Lap

If using a laptop try not to set it on your lap. Place it on a table or steady surface to avoid wobbling. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it can look like an earthquake to the other attendees.

No Backlighting

To be seen clearly, pay attention to the main light source in the room. If it’s behind you you’ll end up a silhouette to the other attendees.

Wear a Headset

If using a telephone or computer, your built-in speakers won’t have noise cancellation the same way a conference room solution would. A headset will prevent a feedback loop from taking over the call.

Don’t Interrupt

Noise cancellation blocks the voice of the speaker from being picked back up by the mic. By talking over the speaker, you confuse the technology and one person will get completely cut off.

Joke with Caution

Want to be witty? Comedy is all about timing and reading the room… Both of which are thrown off by the nature of conference calls.



* The Moderator *



Plan Ahead

Send an invitation including instructions and a link to any software that needs to be downloaded. Include a request to wear a headset or headphones to prevent feedback, plus any other tips you find relevant.

Arrive Early

Settle in with enough time to familiarize yourself with the mute button and the chat/comments interface. If possible, place a test call.

Interrupt when Necessary

Don’t be afraid to pause the meeting to address noisy participants. Everyone else will thank you.




* Software *




Zoom is our pick for easy video conferencing based on three categories:
  1. Ease of set up – No need to create an account or log in to use it.
  2. Professionalism – The interface is the most polished and least “cute.”
  3. Workflow – Layout is the most intuitive for screen sharing and annotations.


Google Hangouts is also easy to set up, but managing multiple Google accounts can be tricky and workflow intuition is spotty (it’s easy to add a sombrero on your head, but less so to launch screen sharing.)


Skype is a household name because it was first to market, but in 2018 we consider it to be the least intuitive to use in a commercial environment.



Other Questions?

Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.

Our Office Relocation Checklist

60 – 90 Days Out


Project Manager

Assign an internal PM to oversee the entire move. They will need to devote a lot of time and energy to this demanding project. Your PM should schedule a weekly meeting with all parties involved for status updates.

Rules and Limitations

Find out what your new building’s rules and limitations are! For example is union labor required, how late can vendors work, and how late is the freight elevator open? Your building may have rules that affect your move and it’s a good idea to anticipate every scenario before they happen.

Current Voice and Data

Find out who your fax line and phone line carriers are and what your terms of service are and if you own or lease your phone system. Will you keep your phone numbers when you move? Obtain a CSR (Customer Service Record) from your carrier with your account details.

Service in Your New Building

The building’s management can tell you what providers offer service for voice, internet and television. Ask if there are any historical problems with service in the building. Do your research before ordering your circuits, one provider may be better than another.


If construction is involved schedule a kickoff meeting with vendors, architects, general contractors, technology and furniture vendors. Open communication between all parties will help with a smooth transition.

Plans and Layout

In order to run cables and terminate jacks the floor plans and furniture layout will both be needed. Workstations will also need to be planned out.

Connecting Your Circuits

Who is responsible for connecting the building’s main telecommunications closet to the IT/server closet in your office, the carrier or your cabling vendor?



45 Days Out

New Server Room / IT Closet

Determine where the server room and IT closet will be located. Be sure to confirm electrical, cooling and security requirements are met. Be sure the location is centralized enough to avoid cabling distance problems.

HVAC System

What happens to the building cooling systems at night and on the weekends? You may require supplementary cooling for your IT closet.

Cabling Needs

When determining your cabling needs think of how you will grow in the foreseeable future. Consider voice, data, security, AV, and access. Added cabling in the initial project will save you money and time on future projects.

Identify Delays

Determine items that may cause delays due to long lead times. For example carpet, furniture, and lights often need to be installed before any work can be done.

Certificate of Insurance (COI)

Obtain a sample COI from your new building. You will need to have it on hand when vendors request a copy. The building manager should have copies.



30 Days Out


Moving Vendor

Select a moving company, find out if they will move your IT equipment. All IT equipment should be last on and first off the truck. Find out if they bill for time and materials or for a flat fee and decide which best fits your needs.

Port Phone Numbers

Schedule, with your current carrier, your phone numbers to be moved to your new carrier.

Backup Plan

Create a backup plan for the first few weeks in your new space. This is in case your circuits don’t arrive on time. See if employees can work from home and if phone numbers can be forwarded. There are also options for temporary internet services, like Clear.

DNS Records

Ensure you have access to your DNS records, these are needed to point your email to your new location. DNS records are always password protected, and it’s likely the IT person that set up your email last time has them.

Cleaning Day

Determine who is responsible for cleaning the new suite before move-in day.



15 Days Out



Assign and schedule individuals to manage different aspects of the move-in day. Tasks should include directing the movers, setting up PCs, garbage removal, answering calls, and a “go to” individual.

Test Connections

Be sure to place test calls and check the internet connection with a laptop before your move-in date.

Coordinate Schedules

Staggering employee arrivals can help to ensure workspaces are ready when they arrive. Having everyone show up at 9 am can often lead to a lot of waiting around.


Forward your mail, this can be done at your local post office or online at USPS.com.

Address Update

Change your address on your email signatures, business cards, website, promotional material, and letter header.



Other Questions?

Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.

Explained: Your Network

Both the most boring and most important part of the connected home. There are three ways to go:

  • Default: Whatever your Internet service provider gives you. All all-in-one box for wired and wireless Internet.
  • Mesh: A collection of small boxes that plug in around your home for stronger, more intelligent coverage.
  • Wired Mesh: A collection of small boxes each hard-wired to your Internet for even stronger more reliable coverage.


least tailored, weakest performance

  • Benefits: Easiest to set up and a single point of troubleshooting.
  • Challenges: A single broadcast point means weaker Wi-Fi the farther away you are. They typically run on default bandwidths, causing competition between neighbors.
  • Conclusion: Adequate for small spaces with one or two devices and no interference (we’ll cover interference later.)




medium tailored, medium performance

  • Benefits: Reasonably DIY, and most decisions happen seamlessly in the background (best frequencies to be on, hand-offs between nodes, etc.)
  • Challenges: Wireless repeaters only repeat the signal that makes it to them, so signal weakens with distance. Also, tech support tends to be very limited.
  • Conclusion: An impressively customizable solution for small to medium-sized homes with a modest number of connected devices.



Two of the most popular mesh network systems are Google Wifi and Eero. Both offer pretty advanced network settings, grant guest access without sharing your password, let you set bandwidth priority and parental controls. Both are easy to set up and use a really simple App. With a cheaper price and slightly more reliable performance, our preference goes to Google Wifi



Wired Mesh

  • Benefits: Wiring your access points gives each the strongest connection to broadcast, no matter location. More advanced controls handle large numbers of devices elegantly, as well as the ability to log into each device individually for troubleshooting.
  • Challenges: Wiring takes away the ability to tweak locations later, calling for heat mapping ahead of time to determine where to place access points.
  • Conclusion: The most powerful and reliable approach to home networking. Also the most expensive. Ideal for users with many connected devices or an intolerance for signal drops.



The two standards for wireless are 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz:
  • 2.4 GHz: Longer distance but slower speeds.
  • 5 GHz: Faster speeds but shorter distances.

2.4 GHz has been a standard for longer. The benefit is backward compatibility. The downside is it tends to get crowded (only 11 channels vs 23 on the 5 GHz range.)

The flaw with 5 GHz is that the higher frequency has trouble going through solid objects like walls and flooring.

The ideal setup is to make sure there are enough access points and run 5 GHz on all of them, while running 2.4 GHz separately for older devices.




Microwaves, baby monitors and cordless phones all run on the 2.4 GHz spectrum and can cause interference. Concrete, metal and mirror can cause major interference as well. Finally, nearby Wi-Fi networks on the same spectrum will be competing for bandwidth.

The ideal setup is to test your space ahead of time for potential issues and spread your access points strategically. Once installed, the system should scan and use the least populated spectrum.



All-in-one Devices

Putting a router, repeater and wireless access point into the same chassis is convenient but flawed, as interference can occur within its own crowded internal components.

Think audio – Separate components (pre-amp, amplifier, turntable) can isolate vibrations and deliver cleaner sound than an all-in-one box. We find the all-in-one solution is sufficient for around 70% of homes.



Our Preferences

For residences, we like Pakedge for its ability to group and prioritize categories of devices, and remedy issues remotely before they are noticed.

For commercial, we like Cisco Meraki for its granular control packaged in a clean interface, and for Cisco’s extremely fast reaction time to the last Wi-Fi breach.

We also prefer wireless access points that are powered over Ethernet, as running both power and Ethernet to each device can end up looking cluttered.



Other Questions?

Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.

Conversation: Gary Gordon Architectural Lighting

Gary Gordon initially worked for a lighting designer expecting to take his knowledge back to his role as Architect. Instead he found his calling, initially launching his own firm, and literally writing the book on interior lighting. Gary agreed to sit down with us and share his knowledge on the lighting philosophy, his methods for lighting spaces, and common pitfalls any space can fall into.

Explained: Smarthome Control

Smarthome control breaks down into three tiers:

  • Partitioned: Individual Apps for individual brands in your home.
  • Mini Ecosystem: Popular brands dropped into a single App.
  • Platform: Any brand woven into a single customizable platform.


lowest cost, highest maintenance

  • Benefits: Many manufactures offer intuitive Apps, with customization deep enough for the average consumer.
  • Challenges: The minor annoyance of juggling Apps tends to grow over time, and the ability to link multiple actions across devices is almost non-existent. Also some manufacturers don’t offer support.
  • Conclusion: An adequate solution that tends to become inadequate after two Apps, as the conveniences of each get overshadowed by the burden of switching between them.



Mini Ecosystem

medium cost, medium maintenance

  • Benefits: Platforms like HomeKit, SmartThings and Alexa offer a clean central location from which to control several popular brands, eliminating the need for multiple Apps. Opens the (albeit limited) opportunity for one-touch scenes.
  • Challenges: The simplicity comes at the cost of features, as homogenization strips your devices from some of their custom features. If manufacturer and ecosystem evolve their software out of sync issues will arise, which not all players are inclined to fix.
  • Conclusion: An elegant solution (if kept simple) when compared to partitioning control. Expectations should fit inside a smaller range of capability (On and off, dim and volume) for a positive experience.

There are a lot of entry level eco-systems on the market. Let’s look at two of the most popular: Apple’s HomeKit and Samsung’s SmartThings…




  • Benefits: Clean control for on/off toggling and level adjustment that works almost all (at least above 80%) of the time. Compatible with around 20 brands, some of which (Philips, Lutron, Honeywell) have proven reliability. Also, events can be triggered (or limited) based on motion, time of day or proximity to home.
  • Challenges: Doesn’t play nice yet with any non-Apple speaker brands, and Siri’s lack of syntax recognition requires stilted speech to use voice (which makes controlling individual lights and devices almost unusable.)
  • Conclusion: An intuitive and capable controller within its considerable brand and feature limits. For a fuller look check out our visit to HomeKit Occulus.




  • Benefits: Hundreds of compatible devices thanks to Samsung’s open-source approach, and deep customization available for power users.
  • Challenges: Confusing interface with a long learning curve, and the need for a plugged in hub adds to your tech clutter.
  • Conclusion: For those outside of the Apple ecosystem, SmartThings is a capable approach to wrangling multiple entry-level devices onto a single platform… but troubleshooting should be expected.




Same category? Not really. Alexa is less of an eco-system and more of an add-on, though technically you could control several devices exclusively via voice. 

  • Benefits: Amazon allows third party hardware to integrate Alexa, so it doesn’t always require additional hardware. As an add-on to SmartThings Alexa can order up pre-determined scenes.
  • Challenges: Performance with most devices is spotty at best, and weak syntax recognition requires you to state the exact device, room or scene. Alexa won’t understand even a close variation, so the convenience of voice is often overshadowed by the unnatural phrasing it forces.
  • Conclusion: A useful feature for simple single room control, but not yet reliable enough to serve as the main mode of communication with your home.

Alexa is aiming at being the way into a system rather than the system itself, which is why it’s now integrating with all the major players in our next category…




highest cost, lowest maintenance

  • Benefits: Little to no limit on device compatibility, fully customizable interface, and a central way to control multiple features of your home across multiple rooms with minimal effort.
  • Challenges: Higher cost as it must be done by a professional, and success largely depends on an intelligent system design.
  • Conclusion: The only elegant way to control technology across multiple rooms of the home without limiting features or burdening the process with too many steps. Platforms also offer granular control over levels of access for guests.

A common misconception is that platforms require you to go all in. Many now offer lower entry levels, for example single room home theater control that can expand as needs and budget increase.



Comparing Platforms

We don’t want to compare individual platforms because (a) we have partnerships with some and not with others, and (b) platform choice is largely based on personal preference. Instead we’ll share the two biggest questions you should ask:

  1. How does it feel to navigate the App? Look and feel is paramount, and both vary substantially across platforms.
  2. How long has the company been in business? Future compatibility depends on the continued development of drivers. If your devices evolve but your platform doesn’t, your system will face end of life sooner than expected.

Major Players:

Savant  |  Control4  |  Crestron



Types of Control

Buttons: Best for video channels and volume. You can navigate them without looking, and with the right remote you don’t even have to point it anywhere.

Touch Screen: Great for anything that needs to be customized: Channel icons, scene names, etc. Ideal for controlling multiple features across multiple rooms.

Voice: Through Alexa, Google or Siri it’s a great for very simple functions like turning on a light or raising a shade. Not good for complex requests.

Gesture: A potentially revolutionary way to control devices with natural hand movements, gesture has yet to arrive in any practical application. Hoping for market adoption in 2019.



Other Questions?

Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.

Hanging, hiding & hooking up your TV

Modern TVs can be integrated into the home a lot of different ways. Before we go over each, here are some tips for traditional display hanging…

Hanging your TV

  • Metal studs (commonly found in NYC high rises) are not designed to hold the weight of a TV. Attach a back board to the metal studs and your bracket to the back board for an installation that won’t sag the moment someone accidentally leans on it.
  • Cleaner than a hole in the wall for your cables is a larger hole for a back box that has a bracket and cable management built-in. If done right this will allow your TV to sit completely flush to the wall.
  • Look at your power cord ahead of time. Some razor thin displays can come with surprisingly bulky power supplies that can be difficult to hide (and hiding them behind the wall has to be done to electrical code.)




  • Make sure you leave enough slack so the TV can be pulled out far enough to access the back.
  • HDMI signals become unreliable after 25 feet. To hide your components in another room or closet we recommend running Cat6 (reliable up to 300 feet) and using a balun to convert the HDMI signal on both ends. (This solution future-proofs for 4K adoption, but not the eventual 8K standard without compressing the image. For 8K you need to run fiber, but converting it properly is challenging and requires more expensive equipment.)
  • Using a video matrix becomes financially advantageous after three or four TVs. This allows you to share sources instead of replicating them for each TV, leaving you with less to hide and lower monthly costs for certain sources.



Mirror TVs

  • Benefits: Cleanest way to get video into the bathroom, or to position as a room’s centerpiece without dominating attention.
  • Challenges: You have to choose between slightly better mirror or slightly better TV, and slightly better mirror is crucial so that the display is truly invisible when turned off. Also audio, video sources and control must be run elsewhere.
  • Conclusion: Ideal for background entertainment or information in smaller spaces like bathrooms. Living room applications are best suited for those who don’t mind taking an unavoidable hit in brightness levels.

Our pick



Art Motors

Note: There are two types –
Real framed art that moves, and fake art that rolls up like a shade.

  • Benefits: Opportunity to display high quality video and real art in the same space.
  • Challenges: The roller options use fake art and sometimes shadowbox the canvas away from the frame edge, which looks terrible. The versions that move the canvas above or to the side of the display require ample clearance.
  • Conclusion: Terrific solution for those with real art and a limitation of space. A less satisfying solution for those who order art for the purpose of covering their TV.

Our pick



Frame TV

  • Benefits: Ability to hide your TV in plain sight by displaying digital art with a natural look and minimal glare. Different matte styles and a very thin frame make for a believable experience.
  • Challenges: It needs to be tuned to the room’s ambient lighting (we go in depth about this here), and power and connection cables need to be completely hidden to pull off the illusion.
  • Conclusion: Not the best TV and not the best digital art display, but a really nice compromise between the two. White and black frame options make it a great feature among a group of hung pictures.




  • Benefits: No wall required, the ability to place your TV in he middle of the room, and myriad options (under bed, drop ceiling, furniture.)
  • Challenges: Furniture options require the lift to be bigger than the TV and the cabinet to be bigger than the lift, resulting in a huge cabinet that can’t really double for any other purpose. Under bed lifts need a lot of clearance. Finally, motors for larger displays tend to make noise.
  • Conclusion: A slick solution for rooms with lots of windows and no wall to hang a TV, but patience required as these things are pretty slow.

Our pick



Ambient Mode

  • Benefits: A built-in feature in some upcoming displays that offers an alternative to the giant black rectangle when not in use.
  • Challenges: By building the image based on a picture you take, it’s unlikely version 1.0 will look believable.
  • Conclusion: Samsung’s latest Ambient Mode is a clever feature that will at minimum allow walls to have a more uniform look at a glance.




  • Benefits: Ability to blend indoors and out with a rugged display that automatically adjusts its brightness as surrounding light changes.
  • Challenges: Cover must be used consistently or the display will need to be wiped down between each use. Extending audio and control outside required.
  • Conclusion: Not inexpensive, but one of the most figured out video applications for the home, built from the ground up for outdoor use.

Our pick

How to: Smart Shades

Shades have been the hardest piece of the smarthome equation for a long time. Fortunately options are growing..

  1. Retrofit – Usually a small motor that attaches to your loop chain and pulls your shades for you.
  2. Wireless – Custom made all-in-one shades you (or a pro) install into the top of your window casing.
  3. Wired – Professionally installed shades wired for power and control.



DIY, Your Techy Friend, Professional

  • Benefits: Low cost, easy to install, and Soma’s option even solves the battery issue with a small solar panel that tacks onto your window. Many options integrate with Alexa and HomeKit.
  • Challenges: While you can hide the accompanying solar panel you can’t hide the motor, or the wire that runs between them. Motors run noticeably slow, and offer limited programming and grouping control.
  • Conclusion: This is the shade equivalent to a Philips Hue light bulb. It’s a cool trick and a workable option for a single window solution. Occasional troubleshooting is required.


Pro Tip 1: Certain fabrics offer a level of transparency that lets you see outside, lets a fair amount of light in, but doesn’t let the outside look in. Our clients tend to prefer these “solar” shades in common areas, and full “blackout” shades in the bedroom.





DIY, Your Techy Friend,Professional

  • Benefits: Solid options start around $300 per window, and installation doesn’t require opening up your walls. Also, batteries can last years.
  • Challenges: While multiple windows can be linked, the ability to control them separately requires keeping a separate remote for each shade. Also, these systems are not designed for layered or heavier window treatments. Finally, some emit a buzzing sound when running (like Somfy.)
  • Conclusion: A good option for smaller home owners looking to spend as little as possible on a full-blown smart shade system. Integration with platforms like HomeKit is solid, and troubleshooting is rare (As long as your wireless network’s strength and reliability are stellar.)



Pro Tip 2: Some shades can only be installed by professionals. For DIY shades, make sure you measure in three different places both horizontally and vertically. If a window opening is slightly bowed and you end up even 1/8″ off, the shade can bind.




DIY, Your Techy Friend, Professional

  • Benefits: Unparalleled reliability and the ability to hide everything but the shades themselves. Increased power allows for heavier fabrics and drapery, and wiring unlocks superior control options.
  • Challenges: Installation, and therefore cost – Requires building a custom pocket to hide rollers, wiring for both power and control, stacking multiple rollers for multiple shades out of sight but still accessible for service.
  • Conclusion: The most reliable option for shade control as they run independent from a wireless network. Best suited for new construction or major renovations as the process takes six weeks and you cannot order based on design (the actual window needs to be finished and measured to account for imperfections.)



Pro Tip 3: Roller shades, romans, honeycomb and louvers all work relatively the same way. Drapery tracks are a different beast both in weight limit (which decreases if the track is curved) and in gather. Remember, open drapes tend to gather to 1/3rd the width of the window if pulled to one side, or 1/6th the width on both sides if split in the middle. 



There are two types of wired shades: Motorized and Smart.

  • Motorized shades automate the movement, but do not know the exact position of the shade.
  • Smart shades receive feedback on their exact position, which unlocks all kinds of programming and scene saving. For example, you can base default positions on the position of the sun via astronomical clock which saves energy and protects furnishings from sun damage.



Pro Tip 4: The most intuitive way to control shades is by keypad. It’s always where you left it (on the wall), and only requires a single ‘Shades’ button (press once to raise, again to pause, and again to lower.) With the right system you can place this button in the same face plate as your lighting controls.