By HARLEY RICHARDS
Advocate business editor
Putting a kitchen in the showroom of an audio-vidio store might seem a bit odd.
But it’s a good way to illustrate what a home integrator like Audio Innovations can do, says owner Phil Maczuga.
Visitors to his Clearview Industrial Park shop just south of Red Deer can see how a video panel beneath the cabinets can be used for television and accessing the Internet. Its touch-screen controls can adjust lighting, temperature and music in the house, and it provides a real-time view through security cameras and can unlock doors.
The unit can be controlled off-site via a handheld computer, including moving and looking through security cameras.
Nearby, a bathroom contains a mirror that produces a TV image with the push of a button, a great room boasts a bar and a 106-inch projection screen that drops down in front of a 52-inch TV, and a second theatre room is slated to receive a 159-inch screen and other “best-in-class equipment.”
“People can visualize what it’s going to look like in their homes,” said Maczuga of the home-like setting. “That was the whole intent was to show how we can incorporate electronics into your house without making it look like you have a lot of electronics in your house.”
TV screens can be installed that descend from a ceiling or rise up out of furniture and countertops.
Speakers can be mounted on and even out of sight inside walls. Lighting and temperature can be linked to alarm systems to minimize power use while homes are unoccupied.
Audio Innovations even has a wine cabinet that remains hidden from view until a lift is activated to raise it up. And in addition to functional bathroom mirrors that double as TVs, it carries decorative wall mirrors that transform into televisions as big as 65 inches in diameter.
Maczuga, who has worked in the audio-video industry since 1981, said the advent of flat-screen TVs and improving picture quality at declining prices have had a huge impact. People now mount televisions on walls and in other non-traditional places, which makes home design and wiring more important.
That’s where integrators come into play — showing clients their electronic options and helping make these happen. Often, this impacts how a home is constructed.
“We like to be involved at the blueprint stage,” said Maczuga, who uses the term “system designer” to describe his role.
Efforts are even made to anticipate the wiring requirements of future technologies, including the installation of conduits through which new wiring can be fed.
“As much as possible, we future-proof our clients.”
He estimates that 75 per cent of Audio Innovations’ work is related to new construction, with the remainder retrofits.
Maczuga expects home automation to increase as costs continue to come down and the Internet becoming a more stable platform to work from.
“Five years from now, home automation is going to become something that’s just done.”
Audio Innovations has been operating for a decade, but Maczuga bought into the business five years ago. He was serving as director of purchasing for Visions Electronics in Calgary when then-owner Scott Hanrahan approached him about opening an outlet in Calgary.
Maczuga didn’t think the company was ready for such growth, but agreed to move to Red Deer for two years to help it develop.
“Then we fell in love with Red Deer, and now I have no intentions of leaving.”
Maczuga has since bought out Hanrahan and another silent partner. Head installers Tim Jackson and Kevin Kolodychuk have become his new partners.
“We can do everything we want inside the store to show clients how great the system is, we still have to depend on our installers to get the job done and train them.”
Audio Innovations moved to its new premises on June 22, jumping to more than 5,000 square feet from the 1,400 square feet it had previously. It now has six installers, as compared with the three that Maczuga was originally working with.
“Five years later, we have houses that have 15 or 20 rooms of audio.”
The business is also doing more commercial work.
“Boardrooms have become a very big thing with the drop-down screen,” said Maczuga, describing how these can be wired so that lights dim, blinds lower and the projector operates electronically.
Geographical expansion remains a possibility, he said, although smaller centres like Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Kamloops, B.C., are now more likely options.