Originally Posted by Selden Ball
When purchasing equipment through an installer, you aren't really paying for just the equipment. The "line item" prices include his overhead costs, and reduces the price he needs to quote for installation. You aren't just paying for the hardware, but also for his expertise. As a result, if you decide to purchase equipment on your own, he'll have to charge more to run cables and make things work together, in addition to taking longer to get it to work properly, since he probably won't be familiar with it.
.4 and .5 series (and the previous .3) Integra equipment include HDMI switching with at least a half-dozen inputs. They're essentially the same as comparable Onkyo models, repackaged for custom installers, and come with longer warranties. Integra receiver manuals are freely available for downloading from Onkyo's Web site.
Your description suggests that you might be getting "whole house" audio control. That's just a start toward whole-house automation. Getting everything to work together is not easy, including proper amplification for the speaker systems in other rooms. If you really just want simple per-receiver IR control, you need to tell the installer that up-front, so he doesn't waste his time and yours installing something you really don't want.
Don't forget to include ventilation exhaust fans in the closets into another open space (attic?). Enclosed equipment gets hot, which drastically reduces its lifetime.
Another thing to discuss with the installer is making sure it'll be easy to add additional speakers and speaker cable runs in your main TV room. This year's Onkyo (and Integra) receiver models (most of which will be released this fall) will include support for Dolby Atmos, which will make good use of additional overhead speakers.
Bear in mind that having a TV over the fireplace is going to be uncomfortable for those watching it. Craning your neck up to look at it can get painful after a while. Looking down is easier than looking up. That's one reason for considering not using in-ceiling speakers: you may want to change the orientation of the TV and speakers by 90 degrees to use another wall.
I hope these comments help a little.
Selden - Thanks for the reply. I guess the thing that bothers me the most is I don't really have a choice in all of this. The custom installer that my builder chose is the only authorized person do work on my house before closing. If I don't install this stuff now, I'd have to spend much more ripping out drywall to re-do everything. As for the IR control, would one controller for all components be fabulous? Yes, without question. I'm the type of person that likes to have options and with a controller like that, I'm at the mercy of the custom installer once again. Like I previously said...I'm an amateur when it comes to this stuff and maybe no matter which custom installer it was, I would be looking at the same price and the same issues. I guess I'm just stubborn and frugal.
I won't have "whole house" audio control. I'll have one system that runs my downstairs living space and another system to essentially listen to music upstairs in the living room and outdoor patio. I won't have speakers in any of the bedrooms, bathroom, or office areas. I don't like the tv above the fireplace (located in the corner) either, but my options are very limited. Windows take up the wall to the south of the fireplace and a piano will take up the space on the other side.
I'm probably going to have him run the wires, install the ceiling/outdoor speakers and I'll attempt to do the rest. Will it turn out as nice as he would've done it. No, but I can live with that if it saves me $2k. I have more important things to take care of before this audio system (furniture, fence, washer/dryer, fridge - just to name a few).
Again, I appreciate the reply. If anyone else wants to chime in, I'm all ears. Thanks.