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Living the Surround-Sound Life: The Best in Home Media

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February 13, 2015

In our digital, on-demand age, there are more options than ever for individuals to “plug in” at home and build their own media empires.

More and more people are storing and accessing their entertainment, music, movies, and so on through portable devices and remote “cloud” networks. Some are taking this technology steps further, wiring their homes as a do-it-yourself project or hiring specialists to pay a visit.

Mark Berggren, president of Metropolitan Group, an 18-year-old firm that does high-end technology installations, said DIY homeowners who want to use their existing wireless connections to upgrade their entertainment systems have a few options.

First, homeowners need a wireless “bridge,” which helps connect wired networks together. One common, inexpensive example is a NETGEAR 300 Mbps Wireless Bridge, at about $50.

For people interested in multiroom music only, Sonos speakers are a popular choice, Berggren said. Sonos creates its own wireless network above a homeowner’s network. Speakers start at $199, while the home theater starts at $1,800 per room. What it doesn’t do is give you any control over your other electronic devices.

“Sonos is essentially a boom box with a Wi-Fi card in it,” he said.

Similar to Sonos is Heos, a new system by Denon, Berggren said. “Denon's Heos is a bit more affordable version, with the same feature set and architecture, but with the ability to integrate with Denon Surround Receivers,” he said. Speakers start at $299 and can run off iPhones, Androids, and Kindles.

The upside of these systems is the ease of installation. The downside of using wireless is bandwidth capacity, he said.

“Like a morning commute, the spectrum is maxed out, and those who do not have a great network may find their systems suffer when traffic is heavy,” he said.

A longer-term and much more advanced option is “smart-wiring” a house, Berggren said. It’s a significant investment, though. Costs to smart-wire an entire home run from $2,500 for a 1,100 square-foot condominium to $50,000 for an estate, he said.

Once the home is wired, homeowners can install a central system and hook up all home technology from a single source—anything from music, to cable TV, to the thermostat and the home-security system, he said. Control4’s HC-250 Controller, at $750, is one type of central system.

To have music playing in four rooms, the Control4 4-Zone Matrix Amplifier is $1,195. “This allows any of four things to play at any volume in any of four rooms, or all in sync,” he said.

Ceiling speakers can run as inexpensive as $60 per speaker, while high-end invisible speakers like Stealth Acoustics’ Invisible Speakers (which can be painted over or hidden under wallpaper) cost $699 each.

“Centralization of devices simplifies the user experience, and can allow someone to set a mood with comfort, music, lighting, shading, and TV, when they walk into the home,” he said, adding that homeowners can control kids’ TV and games, too, by adding those to the central system.