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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West Upgrade, Part 2

Apr 23, 2013 10:48 AM, With Bennett Liles

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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

Taliesin West, the winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright, got a big AV upgrade in its Cabaret home theater with Elan g! and a Digital Projection E-Vision projector. Jim Beaumont is back for part two on this very unusual AV project in the middle of the Arizona desert, coming up on the SVC Podcast.

Jim Beaumont from HomeTech AV Solutions and the Taliesin West project. That place was built, I believe, starting in 1937 and very futuristic for its day out in the middle of the desert back when that really was out in the middle of nowhere. It’s overlooking Scottsdale now. You took on a big project there. Describe the Elan g! AV control system that you installed. What made it fit this unusual layout?

Well it came down, the first order that we got, or I should say the first requirement we got from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation who operates Taliesin West was it asked that it be dead simple because there was going to be a multitude of different people with different skill sets using the space. In particular anywhere from 20 to 25 post-graduate architectural students that are picked to study at Taliesin West. They do their final presentations for their master’s degree using that space to present. In the past they’ve had to use a projector that was propped up on a table down there with a cord to a laptop, and it was not, you know, it was nothing that was too spectacular. So now that we’ve created a full-blown installed theater situation that they also need to use for presentations, we needed to make sure that when they came in there—they’re already stressed out with having to do this presentation to the board—that we didn’t make it any more stressful for them to figure out how to work the projection system. So Elan through their HC controllers, and in particular their HR2 remote—their new handheld remote—it’s really easy to use. It’s got the touch screen with the buttons. If you push the button that says Blu-ray on it, the Blu-ray player fires up. If you push the button that says laptop, it activates the HTMI connection at the front of the screen. All they have to do is plug their laptop in and away they go. That drove us to using Elan because of our really incredible experience with reliability and ease of use. And we’ve been an Elan elite dealer for a number of years, and we knew that we could count on them to back us up if there was any problems we ran across on installation. Like you said, that’s an unusual building that wouldn’t allow us to do anything that altered the look. [Timestamp: 2:55]

And the HR2, that’s basically just like a little TV remote, just a handheld thing that anybody can just pick up and operate.

Very similar. Most people will pick something similar when they change their cable box regardless if they have an integration system in their house. The great part about it is it’s WI-FI enabled, so we didn’t have to worry about them pointing it the right direction or infrared issues. [Timestamp: 3:15]

OK and the HC4, that’s a very compact single room system, but I believe it’s expandable. I think you can stream a digital music source and do video for an on-screen display with that, too.

Where the price point for the abilities it has, it’s pretty much standalone in the marketplace. You can get your Internet radio and other streaming sources on it. You can use it as an onscreen display with its video output on the back, but more importantly it allows for later expansion. So the small HC4 can be used currently in the standalone mode, but then as you add more and more onto an integration system, either across buildings or in this case across a campus, we can switch that into an extender mode which then allows it to talk to the main controller that in this case, in Taliesin West, will be located in the facility manager’s main hub where all the cameras and what not that are on the campus come back to. [Timestamp: 4:09]

And how is the audio system on that? How is that controlled? You can actually bring your own device to connect on that, can’t you?

One of the things too is you have these students that live and study on campus, and from what I was told by two or three of them when they came in and they saw this thing working, they were absolutely so happy that they were going to have “something else to do” is how they put it. So, you know, it’s situation where they can come in and they can either watch a movie, they can go ahead and click their iPhone or their iPad in, play their music that way. They can stream, you know, whatever they want as far as streaming content. The great thing is we’ve got a Denon amp in there which also has a networkable connection, and it can get its own Internet sources through there. So even if somebody doesn’t have their music with them, they have multiple opportunities to get content in there just with what’s in place. [Timestamp: 4:58]

And this place, you would think that out in the middle of the desert there wouldn’t be a lot happening, but I think it’s second only to the Grand Canyon in tourist visits for Arizona.

Yeah. That was actually news to me when I got there and I was talking with the director of preservation. Fred told me that they are the number two tourist attraction in Arizona after the Grand Canyon. They see anywhere from 110,000 to 150,000 tourists every year. And I can tell you it was back-to-back tours the entire time we were there, from the first tour at 8:30 in the morning until the last tour at 5:30 at night. [Timestamp: 5:30]

And so this isn’t going to be just a sleepy little system collecting dust. A lot of people are going to be using this stuff.

Yeah, and the goal is that they’re putting together a movie that the tours will now see, so currently the Cabaret is the last stop on the tour and they have somebody, a docent, that will stand up front and give them a presentation. They’re looking forward to being able to provide a video talking about Frank’s work and his life and Taliesin West. They’re going to switch and put the Cabaret at the beginning of the tour so you get the experience of seeing a short film that talks about not only what they’re going to see there, but also how it came to be, and that’s new so they’ve actually decided to change the way they’ve been running tours for decades to incorporate this new space into it. [Timestamp: 6:15]

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