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Created 3/4/2006

Our Broadband Condo: Communications and Audio

(February 2006)The most straight-forward part of the project was planning and equiping the condo for data and voice communications and for distributed audio. (The next page covers networked video/television—the more difficult part.)

Low-Voltage Cabling

We decided to run new low-voltage cabling throughout our condo. Although several emerging technologies based on existing wiring may provide a lower-cost solution in the future, we felt that spending the money to install Category 5e and RG6 cabling was a prudent investment.

We decided to provide outlet plates for the computer desk and the media cablnet (the main entertainment center); in the kitchen; and in the front and back of the two bedrooms. We ran Cat 5e to all locations, with outlets for data at all locations and for telephone service at most. We specified at least one spare Cat 5e at each location, with three spares at the computer desk and the media cabinet.

We ran RG6 coaxial cable to any location we thought might have a TV, with two RG6 cables at the computer desk and the media cabinet.

Andrea Renz of Russound with Sandy at CESWe had already decided to use A-BUS for distributed audio (see a description of A-BUS). We worked with Russound, who introduced A-BUS to the North American market, to determine the best combination of A-BUS components for our purposes. We decided on a fairly simple configuration, with a single-source hub in the media cabinet; a four-zone hub in the structured cabling panel; and three zones (the kitchen and two bedrooms) with amplified keypads and loudspeakers.

To provide cabling for A-BUS, we ran dedicated Cat 5e cables from the computer desk and the media cabinet to the structured cabling panel, and from the cabling panel to the keypads in the three zones. We ran speaker wiring from the keypads to the loudspeakers.

Low-Voltage Panels and Outlets

Plan for the structured cabling panel in our condoWhile our contractor was tearing out existing walls and starting to build new ones, we prepared detailed drawings and schedules for the low-voltage cabling, panels and outlets. We selected the Leviton Structured Media Center panel to centralize the low-voltage cabling, and created a diagram of the panel layout. Following the electrician's recommendation, we selected the 42" version of the panel to provide room for future growth.

The drawing shows the final version of our plan for the SMC panel, including the numbering system the electrician assigned to the cables. The Category 5e cables terminate near the top on the panel shown in green; the video cabling terminates just below that and to the right; and the A-BUS cabling terminates on the four-zone hub at the center left. Click to see a larger version of this drawing.

Our plan for the kitchen outletsLow-voltage outlets behind the PCWe provided detail drawings specifying the cabling and outlets at each location (kitchen, PC, media center cabinet, and the front and back walls of each bedroom). The diagram on the left is our plan for the outlet plate in the kitchen, with telephone, data and video outlets.

On the right is an enlarged diagram of our plan for the central outlet plate behind the PC, with telephone, data, A-BUS, S-video and two video outlets. Both locations also include spare Cat 5e cables for future growth.

We chose red outlets for A-BUS to emphasize that although A-BUS is based on Category 5e cables and RJ-45 connectors, it is not compatible with Ethernet.

Construction Progress

Open walls behind the new computer deskWe started the project at the beginning of August 2005. While we were there, our contractor started tearing out the existing walls so we could complete the construction plans after seeing exactly what was already there. The picture shows the aluminum studs, wiring and pipes in the walls in the original alcove. Later on, these were all removed and new walls built behind what is now the wine bar and computer desk.

Although the project was supposed to require two months, it was not completed until late January 2006. Hurricanes were the main source of delay: Katrina lured many local subcontactors, especially electricians, to Louisiana and Misssissippi; a few months later, Wilma came close and provided lots of emergency repair work for those who stayed behind in Florida. For months, we felt lucky if the electricians showed up one day a week; we finally got a committment that they would work until the project was finished—otherwise, we'd still be waiting.

We needed electricians to wire for both "line voltage" (electrical service, outlets, lighting, etc.) and "low voltage" (Category 5e UTP, RG-6U coax, speaker wiring and A-BUS). The same electrician did most of the work on both, and we're pleased with the results.

 Wall behind PC desk -- low-voltage cabling to the PC will run just above the white pipesBy October 2005, the walls were in place and we were getting ready to install the low-voltage cabling. The picture shows the wall behind the computer desk. The low-voltage cabling for the PC will run just above the white pipes.

Kitchen outlets showing cablingBy mid-December, all the low-voltage cables were in place and we were present while the electrician terminated them to the structured cabling panel and the outlets. The picture shows the outlet plate in the kitchen. The electrician labeled each cable very clearly; there are three blue Cat5e cables—two are connected, and one is a spare for future growth. (Compare this with our plan above—the electrician chose to use a 6-port plate to provide more space for future growth.)

Outlets and A-BUS hub inside media cabinetThe media cabinet in the living room supports the plasma TV and holds the A/V receiver, cable box and DVD/VCR. The picture shows the low-voltage outlets and A-BUS single-source hub mounted inside the rear of the media cabinet.

The outlets in the media cabinet are similar to those behind the PC (see the picture above), except that we did not include a telephone at this location. There are three spare CAT5e cables, and two blank plates provide space for future growth.

Next: Networked Video/Television