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When did AV become not AV?

The luxury residential market is a truly exciting field when it comes to the use of smart technologies.  Where the main-stream domestic market has grown increasingly familiar with the term smart home over the last decade, largely thanks to platforms like Amazon Alexa and Philips Hue for example, the luxury residential space has been doing smart home for several decades.

How is this possible?

So how is this possible?  Surely the technology just wasn’t around 20+ years ago to create a smart home?  Well, that highlights a truly relevant point which is that the term smart home is a loose one and can be interpreted in a number of ways.  My interpretation (which does not represent the views of the BBC, for the record) is that a smart home is one where systems and services used for the control and management of a property are:

  • Designed or chosen with the specific intention of managing the property they are being chosen for, i.e the design process and methodology is a key part of creating a smart home.
  • Installed and configured in a way which enables certain functions to occur both autonomously, based on certain triggers, and with human interaction and input. Heating thermostats have provided this capability for decades and are one of the best smart home devices still to this day.
  • Capable of being altered or updated to suit changes with the property or changes to the lifestyle or behaviours of those who occupy it.

That said, if we jump back to a time before literally anyone could create a smart home with devices they bought from, we can start to see why, in the luxury residential sector specifically, there is a legacy term that is misused and applied very generically when we talk about the technology systems being designed for, and installed into, high-end properties.  That term is…. AV.

AV, as you have probably guessed, means audio visual, and from the early days of the high-end smart home the brands that we tend to know and love, such as Crestron, AMX and Control 4 for example, developed technologies and systems that provided the control and distribution of audio and video signals. The emphasis then was clearly geared towards that of entertainment, where expensively exciting movie and music systems were being installed into large private properties and the occupants needed a way to control them.

The term AV system now includes significantly more than just ‘audio’ and ‘visual’

As the industry matured, the term AV became synonymous with those brands. So much so that now when we see design briefs, specifications and plans for luxury property development, the systems relating to the control of the property are generally referred to and labelled as part of the ‘AV system’. The problem here is that this no longer just includes the TVs, cinema screens, music players and speakers.  Far from it, in fact.  The term AV system, as it is often used within luxury property development now includes significantly more, and it is common to see the following bundled in the AV system solution:

  • Security
  • IT Networks
  • Heating
  • Cooling
  • Audio & visual
  • Lighting
  • Blinds/Shading
  • Access control

It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is a very different beast altogether, and one which presents many, very real challenges to those individuals and organisations who are involved with either choosing, specifying, designing, installing or managing products and solutions that fall within this category.  Pretty much everyone then, from the end client, architects and interior designers, through to almost all trades who work as part of the construction and development team.

Why talk about AV now?

So what?  Why is this worth talking about in a post like this?  Well, it’s a matter of priority and understanding, or rather a lack of it.

In any property, be it a small studio flat or Buckingham Palace, there are 2 main services that are generally considered as essential for providing the most basic, acceptable standard of living.  Those are heating and lighting.  And without a doubt heating is the most critical of all the services in order to maintain a healthy and comfortable living environment (for regions with varying or colder climates).

However, the heating plant and the associated control systems are naturally less interesting than, say, a cinema room and the sound quality of the Dolby Atmos sound system, the colour and fabric of the powered curtains or blinds, or even the colour of the faceplate that surrounds the keypads on the wall.  This is perhaps one of the key reasons why, in the luxury residential sector, both the complexity of the HVAC plant infrastructure and therefore the complexity and cost of the required control system is not understood by the client, and those professionals who focus more on the interior design and aesthetic elements of the property.  It’s just not as sexy.

What many people therefore don’t often appreciate is that the HVAC infrastructure for properties of this nature are more akin to what you might find in commercial buildings, and therefore the control system can be expensive and requires a very specialist team to design and install the required solution to properly manage everything. A standard dial thermostat on the wall just won’t suffice when you have multi-stage boilers, water cylinders, pump-sets driven by frequency inverters, and so on and so on. And, as a twist of irony, the interface for the control of these systems is often found on the AV displays, keypads or user apps, which adds further technical complexity and requires advanced integration methods to be deployed.

It’s fair to say that the smart home is common-place and accessible for any size home, at almost any budget.  However, the complex nature and extraordinary capability of the systems being implemented in the luxury residential market bring a level of excitement and potential that you can only find when sufficient budgets are available.  The challenge for this sector, however, is ensuring that an appropriate portion of the budget is allocated for the HVAC controls.  This might not necessarily always apply, and some might argue its subjective nature, but if asked, I would always argue that the reliability of the HVAC system is more important than whether or not a TV is 4K or 8K compatible.

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