New Hire: Brittany Sanchez

Brittany Sanchez joins us this February as Office Administrator. Brittany received a degree in English Literature from the University of Central Florida. Since then she has been living in New York building her career, her connections, and staying creative.

We’re excited to have her bright energy, and considerable writing skills, on the Cloud9 team. (We also fully expect her to turn us onto some vegan snacks.)

Keep a lookout for her upcoming personal blog on natural living!

Lutron Motorized Shades – Considerations

In 2019, Lutron offers two styles of smart roller shades that our clients keep asking for. The key difference is how they are mounted.

  • Standard Roller Shade (Sivoia QS) – Usually mounted out of sight.
  • Palladiom – Mounted proud.

The Trouble with Motorized Shades

It is an unfortunate reality of the motorized shade world that brackets are hideous. Lutron has historically solved this by tucking the roller and motor up into a pocket or cavity. This way the shade is only seen once it drops. 

This is a tricky endeavour anyway, but especially where space is tight (such as in New York City, where most of our jobs take place.) It becomes exponentially challenging when trying to hide rollers for both blackout and privacy in the same cavity. The rollers need to sit as close to each other as possible without any movement being obstructed (often by stacking one on top of the other and having them descend on opposite sides of the roller.)

The Solution

By designing a beautiful bracket system that doesn’t need to be hidden, Lutron has created a new opportunity to mount smart shades proud. This is Palladiom. The brackets come in all sorts of finishes, letting you match your door handle finish, for example. You can also match the hem bar on the bottom of the shade.

Palladiom also makes keypads with gorgeous finishes in metal, glass and plastic. Each button is backlit and engravable. They match the same high quality and minimal aesthetic as the shades themselves, and give a satisfying tactile response when pressed.

While easier to install in many ways, wiring for Palladiom shades is actually more of an exercise in precision. While wire slack for traditional roller shades can get buried in the same pocket, Palladiom brackets are so small that the wire needs to be in the exact perfect location, or else it will be visible after installation and tarnish the aesthetic.

Options and Impact

Because it’s Lutron, options within each approach are practically limitless. Fabrics, colors and transparencies all run a wide gamut of choices. What used to be an obstacle designers and architects had to deal with, is now a design element they can fine-tune.

And the impact should not be understated. If shade transparency is set too low, you don’t allow enough light into the room, but you also don’t grant yourself any more privacy than if you were to increase transparency to say three, five or seven per cent. By choosing transparency meticulously you can ensure privacy while still letting natural light through. Of arguably more importance, you can make your space appear bigger by seeing silhouettes of the world around you through the shades, rather than a single plane of material.

Finally, blocking UV sunlight that can bleach furnishings and overheat your home is of great value. Lutron can automatically do this based on an astronomical clock. Beyond time of day, it knows the latitude/longiture position of the building and can automatically adjust based on the position of the sun.

Lutron even lets you select separate colors for the inside and outside of the shade. Many buildings specify a single color for shades in order to maintain unity from street view. This lets you play with color on the inside of your home while remaining compliant from the outside.

Considerations

An important question to ask when specifying for shades is whether they should fall to the backside of the roller or the front side. If we’re mounting outside of the window frame, falling to the back of the roller probably makes perfect sense, but if you’re inside the window frame you need to ask whether the window will open and shut. If so, you might have window hardware that can get in the way, in which case the shade falling forward makes more sense.

Why is this so important to determine up front? When we wire the shade for power and control, spinning the whole shade around to flip where it falls will be a huge issue.

Performance and Noise

The mark of a really great shade is not only smooth motion, but sound implications. We’ve listened to other shade manufacturers out there, and were surprised at the audible mechanics present when adjusting the shade. Not the case with Lutron, whose Palladiom and traditional motors are as quiet as they come.

The hem bars on Lutron shades actually align with one another digitally. This lets Lutron know where each shade is in position to the rest, and maintain perfect alignment in movement. Without this technology shades can misalign or “sawtooth,” which is to put it lightly an undesired look.

What about Battery Powered?

When given the choice, we will always choose a hard-wired connection for its rock-solid reliability and independence from your wireless network. When wired is not an option however, Lutron does offer a straight-forward option with their Serena line. Nixing the need for hard wiring makes them far easier to retrofit, and the batteries last for around three years.

Questions?

Get in touch.

Disrupting the Cycle

Our Architect Specialist Michael Dye lays out the circumstances (and frustration) that led to us completely changing our approach to Architect relationships. Read now on Connected Design.

New Hire: Seth Zucker

This month we welcome Seth Zucker onto our install team. While earning a BA in music and a minor in Music Technology from The Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, Seth has been immersing himself in live music both on stage and behind the scenes. After earning his degree, Seth provided audio for live events (music, theater, corporate) while performing with his friends in his band Great Blue. Now Seth is expanding his audio sensibilities to all areas smarthome and smart office. We couldn’t be happier to have Seth’s technical prowess and meticulous installation skills as part of the Cloud9 team.

Savant Systems 2019

Savant is beloved as a smarthome platform for one crucial reason: It is incredibly simple to use.

It takes complex tasks across un-connected devices, and brings them into a simple interface with a barely noticeable learning curve.

That learning curve is around two items: The handheld remote and the App.

Handheld (The Savant Pro Remote)

The handheld remote is an example of refined design. It has the dedicated buttons of a classic remote, a touch screen for more advanced features, and voice control built in. Yet, it doesn’t overwhelm. There are fewer than 20 buttons on it. Hold it in your hand and you’ll immediately notice the weight, button placement and tactile experience just feel right.

Meanwhile, the touch screen on top (also ergonomically where you would expect it to be) floats your most commonly-viewed channels to the top for easy access. With one swipe you can adjust your other available features (music, lighting, shading, thermostat, etc.)

A central voice control button offers yet another way to order up channels, turn on lights, and activate scenes.

The Savant Pro is, without exaggeration, the cleanest and simplest way to wrangle all of your devices (Apple TV, Roku, etc.) into the same interface.

The App (The Savant Pro App)

Beyond TV, most Savant users will reach for the Savant Pro App on their phone or iPad to control the rest of their home. The quality and layout of the interface is drop dead gorgeous. It’s also the same no matter which integrator you hire (this is important for users with multiple homes.)

Savant’s App accomplishes personalization by using photos of each room to identify them. This lets you scroll through and select rooms without thinking, but more importantly lets you adjust the room by tapping elements in the photograph. For example, tapping a lamp in a rooms photo will turn it on right in front of you.

Smarthome platforms used to require a professional to physically come to your house whenever you wanted to change your favorites, or “scenes.” Savant changed this by letting users easily adjust a room’s settings, name it as a scene, and call it up later. You can even schedule its occurrence based on a wide array of circumstances.

Integration

Of course, a lot of Savant’s power comes from the programming behind the scenes. Their constant and painstaking generation of drivers to make 3rd party devices compatible is impressive. Their deeper integration with leading brands like Sonos, Lutron and Nest make controlling them through Savant feel as powerful as if you were using the brand’s native controller.

They’ve also integrated with Amazon Alexa, letting you control your home with any Alexa enabled device.

Climate

Nest is great for simple homes, but falls short when trying to control multiple styles of heating and cooling systems (i.e. radiant floors with a mini split system.) This requires separate thermostats and more wall acne… Savant is different. They make it simple to bring many zones across multiple systems into one clean system.

Video

Video matrixing (or sending one video source to any number of TVs) used to require big expensive switchers, which were typically limited to 16 inputs and 16 outputs. Savant, along with Video-over-IP technology, now allows as many inputs and outputs as you need, scaling infinitely over your network. (The same for audio.)

For most of our clients, this means that instead of having one cable box and one Apple TV for each room, they can have one for the parents and another for the kids. Anyone can then pull up any device onto any screen in the house.

Oh, and Savant absolutely slays it with video tiling. Their ability to turn one screen into a quad screen or picture-in-picture is as simple as dragging and dropping in the Savant App. They do this very, very well.

Camera Integration

Security cameras integrate smoothly into the Savant App via IP. The end user sees a little camera icon, bringing them into a live feed of all of their cameras in one clean space.

But how do you limit access to camera feeds so that not every guest will find them?…

Profiles

Savant makes it easy to assign different profiles for different users. You wouldn’t want your kids to be able to randomly turn on music in the master suite. You may not want a guest of housekeeper to have access to every camera. Savant makes it easy to assign different levels of access to different profiles, then sign into different profiles on different iPads, and distribute accordingly.

The Savant Approach

Savant does most thing exceptionally well. They look at user experience with the understanding that 99% of the time people are likely to control their home in a similar way. Rather than labor over the 1% that requires deep custom programming, they’ve decided to perfect the 99% and say “no” to the 1%.

It’s a similar approach to Apple, who limits both their product line, and the menu options within their software, down to a “don’t make me think” experience. Clearly Savant admires the Apple approach, seeing how they use the Apple ecosystem. The actual brain for a Savant system is a Mac Mini, and Savant programming can’t even take place on a PC. Every Savant programmer uses a Mac.

Network

Savant requires network communication for all of its devices. Consequently, a weak network equals a weak experience. Two important elements a Savant-ready network must have are:

  1. Wireless access points strategically placed across the home to blanket coverage.
  2. The ability to prioritize traffic so that more important tasks don’t get interrupted by less important tasks (i.e. YouTube streaming.) 

We like Packedge BakPak for homes and Cisco Meraki but businesses. The key takeaway, however, is that the typical router provided by your ISP won’t suffice for this demanding a system. Ensure you have a strong network, as your network is the backbone for your smarthome.

Other questions?

Get in touch.

New Hire: Ben Hostetler

This month Ben Hostetler joins the team in our Engineering department. Ben majored in Music Industry Studies (concentration in Recording & Production) at Appalachian State University. What followed was an eclectic career ranging from highs (Emceeing dance competitions) to higher highs (producing the world’s first non-Korean KPop band.) His intuitive understanding of AV schematics, mastery of signal flow, and temperament for problem-solving created the perfect bridge into our world of technology architecture.

We’re thrilled with Ben’s addition to our Engineering team, and look forward to driving more innovation through our design process in 2019.

Video Reviews: Lighting Control

You can find stylish, higher-quality alternatives to the standard light switch from a number of niche manufacturers. The three we’ve chosen are our favorites. They’re smart, they’re solidly reliable, and they look and feel fantastic.

Basalte

Based in Belgium, Basalte uses the square form factor popular in Europe. The two or four engravable buttons require only a light tap, while using your whole hand can turn off all the lights before you leave, or trigger your favorite scene.

Forbes & Lomax

These old-school toggle switches, buttons and knobs are like a shot of nostalgia for the 1930s. The difference is that these hide modern smart lighting compatibility behind their classic facade.

Lutron Palladiom

The leaders in smart lighting offer these clean and simple “Wallstations” in a wide variety of plastics, metal and glass. Engraved, back-lit, and oddly satisfying to press.

Companies to Watch in 2019

We are thrilled to be named one of the “Companies to Watch in 2019” by Residential Systems for their December 2018 issue. To be the only integrator on a list with leaders in tech like Lutron, Middle Atlantic, Control4, Azione Unlimited and Access Networks is a huge honor. Thank you, Residential Systems!

How To: Music Management

Access

Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon Music, Google Play Music, Pandora, Deezer and SiriusXM all come with access to over 30 million songs. Deezer and Tidal have the largest libraries with over 50 million, but Spotify has far more subscribers in part due to its broader compatibility with devices.

 


 

Resolution

Only Tidal and Deezer offer lossless uncompressed audio. Pandora delivers the lowest resolution at 192Kbpb, while Apple Music and Amazon Music cap out at 256Kbps. The rest can stream at 320Kbps.

Pro tip: Spotify does not stream at 320Kbps as a default. You’ll need to change quality to ‘Very high’ and ensure ‘Normalize volume’ is turned off (normalization reduces dynamic range on certain tracks by compressing them.)

 


 

Discovery

Pandora is the king of recommendation algorithms. The others all come with curated playlists updated on at least a weekly basis. Slacker Radio has particularly well-curated stations and playlists. Spotify shines with shareable user-built playlists, but their recommendations often lock you into a genre. Apple Music promotes more cross-genre exploration and has more obscure and live tracks to stumble upon.

Pro tip: In Pandora you can view every song you’ve ever liked by channel (even in the free version.) You can then create an IFTTT recipe that automatically adds these songs to a playlist on Spotify.

 


 

Extras

Tidal offers some great long-form editorial pieces, while Slacker and SiriusXM include live talk and sports channels. Most streaming services now include podcasts, though in our opinion Spotify navigates them most intuitively. (Apple Music doesn’t directly include them, but iTunes – which integrates tightly – does.) Amazon Music is the weakest in this category, though Prime Membership does come with podcasts and audiobooks.

 


Local Files

While Amazon Music won’t let you upload your own audio files, Apple Music, Google Play Music and Spotify will. Apple Music is particularly smooth at integrating your local without uploading them thanks to their iTunes integration. If you do upload them, iTunes Match is a great way to clean up your meta-data. For those outside of the Apple ecosystem, Media Monkey is a solid tool to make sure your songs are properly tagged and the right album art is downloaded.

Pro tip: Lossless collections stored on a computer need the right DAC (digital-to-audio converter) to send the full file to your speaker system. Audioquest’s DragonFly USB DAC is the best solution we’ve found for under $100.

 


 

Control

Sonos has the most powerful interface for managing multiple streaming services for two reasons:

  1. Cross-platform search: Its single search bar will show relevant results from all your services in real time.
  2. Playlists: Sonos lets you combine tracks from your local library and various streaming services onto a single playlist.

You can also stream directly to a Sonos speaker from within the Spotify App, and more recently from within Apple Music.

 

Voice

A growing number of smart speakers are integrating Google Assistant and Alexa, both of which integrate tightly with their own music services (Google Play Music and Amazon Music.) They also support specific commands on Spotify.

Spotify offers its own (very capable) voice control feature in its App. Finally, Siri (and therefore HomePod) works beautifully with Apple Music, but not with Spotify.

 


 

Vinyl Integration

Sonos is also adept at handling and switching between multiple inputs. Putting on a record will automatically trigger Sonos to switch to the correct input (unless you’re currently streaming, in which case you can manually switch inputs from the App.) You will also be able to listen to your records from every wirelessly connected Sonos speaker in your home.

Bonus: As of this month Sonos now lets you set max volumes by speaker, allowing you to hand over controls to guests without fear of upsetting your neighbors.

 


 

Other Questions?

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

Our 3rd Annual AIA CEU Summit

Yesterday we were thrilled to have hosted over 100 members of the Architecture & Design community at the Savant Experience Center in Soho for a day of education, entertainment and networking. With courses by Lutron, Savant, Seura, Leon, Sonos and Seura we were able to issue 223 CEUs to the A&D community in a relaxed and engaging environment. A big thanks to all of the presenters and attendees. Looking forward to next year’s AIA Summit

Connected Design Feature

We sat down with the editors of Connected Design to discuss our work with architects, our focus on design first, and our annual AIA CEU Summit.

Innovator Profile: Residential Tech Today

Our COO Chris Smith walked Residential Systems Today through our approach to earning Architect partnerships, keeping A players, and avoiding parking tickets in New York City.