|Volume 13, Issue 19 — October 12, 2016|
|Tales Of Install Nightmares: A Post-Mortem|
By Lee Distad
I’ve written a lot of columns that can categorized as either “How To Not Screw Up” or “Someone Screwed Up And Here’s How It Got Fixed.” It’s not lost on me that sometimes it sounds like I’m moralizing, and that feels awkward. Heaven knows I’ve made my share of mistakes — probably more than my share. As the saying goes, “Good judgement comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement.”
Since I’ve devoted my columns to highlighting other people’s disasters it’s only fair that I share one of mine, so I dug into my archives to jog my memory of a project that went off the rails through my own shortcomings and how I found a way to fix it.
Almost eight years ago, I designed a modest audio distribution system for the lakeside house a client was building. It was a six-zone Speakercraft MZC-66 system (wow, set the Wayback Machine!).
Because the house was due to be finished the following summer, I went out on a limb and pitched him on Speakercraft’s then-just-announced MODE iPod dock interface and MODE LCD keypad, which was to begin shipping in the spring. The plan was simple and elegant: two MODE iPod docks, one for the parents that would be available throughout the house and one for their kids that would be accessible primarily in the kid’s bedroom/rec room area, plus four standard keypads elsewhere.
Of course, there was one big flaw that was clearly visible in my design: I had specified vaporware and set a timetable for installing something that didn’t exist!
During the fall of that year the pre-wire phase went fine, as did final hardware trim-out in mid-summer when the house was finished. That was due in no small part to the fact that our installers were top-notch. None of this was their fault.
With two weeks to go until the client’s move-in date, I still didn’t have the new MODE hardware. Then Speakercraft told me that they might not be released until after Christmas. With a sick feeling of dread, I worked up the courage to call and tell the client that we would not be for move-in as promised.
Unsurprisingly, he was furious.
That was the only time in my life where I had to hold the phone a foot away from my ear.
Not that I didn’t deserve it: I overpromised, underdelivered and from the client’s perspective, pretty much ruined his family’s summer.
My salvation came from Speakercraft’s then-Canadian Sales Manager David McCoy.
After briefing him on the situation, and letting him know that my own credibility with the client was effectively zero, David called the client, took personal responsibility for the situation and restored the client’s faith in Speakercraft, the system and me. Miraculously, the MODE hardware arrived only two weeks later, and I don’t doubt that David’s saber-rattling at his colleagues was invaluable in getting the project back on track.
But the problems didn’t end there.
The next problem arose after the MODE hardware was installed and the programming uploaded. We had written the control programming for the two MODE keypads and four standard MKP-series keypads, but hadn’t tested the software in the office before the installers saddled up and drove out into the country.
That was an error.
And like the previous error, it was All. My. Fault.
Once installed, one MODE keypad was working fine, the other was not working at all and the four other keypads were acting erratically. If I had taken the time to test the system in the office, we would have known that. Instead, I had to drive two hours out to the lake with a laptop and troubleshoot the system from start to finish. The fact that the lake house had DSL was a miracle, or I would have had to pack up the MZC-66, uninstall the keypads and take everything back to the shop. Of course, it would have been better if I hadn’t had to rewrite the programing on site at all.
I ended up spending an entire day on site, on the phone constantly with Speakercraft tech support. The fix came from Speakercraft revising and updating their programming software, which I was able to download to my laptop on site. In a single day, thanks to my shenanigans, they went from Version 3.0.1 to 3.0.3.
Just so we’re clear, I ended up rewriting the client’s entire control file on site from scratch — a scenario I recommend nobody ever experience.
By the end of the day, the system was working as I had planned it. The lessons I learned were painful, but thankfully did not cause any lasting damage. In fact, the sight of me furiously working to make things right did a good job of restoring the client’s faith in me and our company. I was indebted to David McCoy who stepped up when I needed him and we remain great friends to this day.Leave a Comment
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|Is Your Service Department Screwing You Over?|
By Hope Roth
Recently, my husband had a major service issue with his car. This was a service issue so major, he contemplated leaving his car at the dealership and getting a new one somewhere else. The details will likely be for another post (lawyers might get involved). But I think there is a lot that we can learn just from the knowledge that a terrible service department can completely wipe out the vestiges of someone’s brand loyalty.
At many integration firms that I know, service is considered to be a stepping stone on the way to the installation side. Service calls are *hard.* You never know if they will take you five minutes or five hours. You’re often dealing with a customer who is angry and frustrated with their system. Documentation can be sketchy or non-existent. If someone cut too many zip ties, you might be dealing with a mess of wires.
The problem with letting your best techs move “up” to install is aptly demonstrated with my husband’s car woes: Service touches your system last, and they work with your customers over the long haul. You might love the people who sold and installed your equipment, but every time the service department gets something wrong, it undermines that relationship. The service department is what your customer remembers. My husband had no problem with the salesman who sold him his car. But if he ends up walking away in favor of a car that’s not in and out of the shop all the time? You’d best believe he will be buying that car from another manufacturer.
So how do you keep your techs and your customers happy? My company is small enough that we all wear many hats. I work on brand new installs and I do service calls. Our customers know that they’re always going to get the same level of support, be it a new install or a service call. But many companies are big enough that they need to split up service and install. So how do you keep that quality consistent?
First things first, you need to appreciate and support your service techs. A good service call takes a customer’s bad day and makes it better. That’s a value add. Let your techs know that you recognize that value. At the end of the day, most people just want to be treated well and given respect. If your crew works late to fix big problems, do you send them home early (with pay) if another job ends up being a quick fix? Do you give them all of the tools that they need to get their job done? Do your company policies make things easier for them? Are you giving them training and helping them to grow their skills? Do you let them know that service is an important part of your organization? Nobody should ever say that they are “just” a service tech.
You also need to set yourself up for success. Value engineering a system might get you to the numbers that a customer is asking for, but budget systems (especially ones that resort to inferior components) can be costly in the long haul. There are other important considerations as well, such as remote access, and automated monitoring and reporting. A service contract that includes preventative maintenance checks can protect both your customers and you. And what tech doesn’t like rolling up to a job site to update firmware, touch base with a customer and verify that everything still looks good?
The last thing you want is a customer picking up the phone, calling a competitor and asking if they can make this room work right.Leave a Comment
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|Is Amazon Alexa Good for AV?|
By Gary Kayye
Short answer is — NO.
Long answer is — YES.
But, Amazon’s Alexa is certainly the most over-hyped thing in the market right now — thanks to the recent CEDIA show and the fact that other publications seem to have very little to talk about.
What is Alexa? Alexa is the voice service that powers their Echo and provides capabilities, or skills, that enable users to interact with devices in a more intuitive way: using their voice. Examples of these skills include the ability to play music, answer general questions, set an alarm or timer and more. Alexa is built in the cloud, so it is always getting smarter. The more customers use Alexa, the more she adapts to speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences.
Yes, there were a ton of Alexa-enabled products launched at CEDIA that will, theoretically, help you NOT use control system interfaces (i.e. touch-screens and keypads) and allow you to, instead, speak to the home (or office) and perform commands. Does it work? Yes, if you’re an app-based control company. And/or you’re Amazon and make it work with Echo.
But, again, this is an alternative to a touch-screen or a keypad remote and, if the control system itself sucks, it will still suck with Alexa.
The best applications, and most reliable, are the one’s that Amazon has built-in natively into Echo and Alexa. The worst are the plethora of third-party interfaces that only worked at CEDIA because they had a handful of engineers making them work for the show.
Will this be solved by the time they ship. Sure, it always is, but, Alexa is a moving target. It’s a consumer-based solution and, as Amazon performs updates, adds features and integrates new versions of their software, the host of AV companies doing control using Alexa will be THE LAST TO FIND OUT. The analogy? Apple going iOS updates and, all-of-a-sudden the ClickShare or the handful of ClickShare knock-offs, stop working with iOS devices until they catch-up with their own software update to accommodate APple’s latest iOS update.
That may fly in the huddle-room for a few days, but NOT in the home. The homeowner who gets pissed off when Time Warner Cable is an hour late to show up and add-on the latest high-speed connection to their existing ports will be ripping-pissed-off when it takes the control system companies (and dozens of other third-party Alexa-based control product companies in AV) three or four days to catch-up with a software release. And, downright angry if it takes a week,.
Alexa is interesting, but DO NOT BUY IT. Don’t be an early adopter of this. Wait at least two years. Trust me on this one. Or, consider yourself a beta-tester and don’t get upset when shit-happens.
But, if you’re trying to integrate Alexa-app-based control and products — go for it. Those companies will have a deeper integration with Amazon.Not sure who those companies are? It’s easy to spot them. They include the host of mainstream consumer-based names you know off the top of your head and any other non-AV based company you’ve never heard of. Like, app companies.
Don’t believe the hype being created by those with nothing else to talk or write about.Leave a Comment
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|Savant Founder and Chairman Robert Madonna to Return as CEO|
Savant announced yesterday that company founder Robert Madonna will assume the role of CEO, focusing on delivering innovative solutions for integration professionals while continuing forward with the successful launch of consumer products established over the past two-plus years under outgoing CEO William Lynch.
“Everyone at Savant would like to thank William for his vision, achievements and leadership while at Savant,” said Madonna. “Under his management, we created strong consumer product offerings as well as key relationships to establish a presence for the Savant brand at retail that will serve us well into the future.”
“I have appreciated the opportunity to serve as CEO over the last two and a half years at Savant. The company has developed exciting new products and channels for consumers and I’m confident Bob and the team are going to continue to have success growing the Savant brand,” said Lynch. The company plans to have Lynch stay on as an advisor to assist in the transition.
With Madonna’s return to daily operations, Savant will accelerate bringing premium solutions to the market quickly, addressing the needs of both CEDIA integrators and the company’s growing retail channel that includes Best Buy’s Magnolia Design Centers and Magnolia Home Theaters nationwide, as well as on BestBuy.com.
Savant is here.Leave a Comment
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|CEDIA Casts Global Vision for the Future of the AssociationCEDIA and CEDIA EMEA today announce their intent to formally integrate to one unified worldwide association that the organization says will bring significant benefits to all members.|
“Many of our members may not realize that CEDIA EMEA has been operating under a licensing agreement since that office opened in 1997,” said Vin Bruno, CEDIA CEO. “While we have enjoyed a strong and productive partnership, we have identified that the member experience could be more seamless, the brand voice more consistent and our services to members improved through a formal integration.”
This strategic move towards formal integration follows the increasing globalization of CEDIA member businesses and is a natural evolution for CEDIA after the implementation of the new global brand last year. The integration brings with it several key benefits including streamlined governance, broad global support, and added value for all CEDIA members.
With integration, CEDIA will streamline its governance to make decision-making more efficient, representative and consistent. Instead of two separate governing boards, the association will be governed by a 13-member global board, comprised of nine elected directors who are home technology professionals matching the geographical diversity of the membership and up to four appointed skills-based directors.
To ensure continuity, stability and balance during the initial integration period, a CEDIA Governance Task Force has determined the slate, approved by both boards.
Sphere Custom Design & Installation – Salt River, Cape Town, South Africa
LiveWire – Richmond, Virginia
Erdmann Electric – Springville, Utah
Erskine Group, LLC – Vancouver, Washington
Archimedia – Cairo, Egypt
HomeTronics, Inc – Dallas, Texas
Inspired Dwellings – London, England
JAMES + GILES – London, England
The Thoughtful Home – Clayton, Missouri
The integration of CEDIA strengthens the voice and influence of the association, and its members, both globally and locally. CEDIA members will now have access to a much broader support system through CEDIA’s collective global staff and the deeper resources that it brings. As a global organization, CEDIA will also be able to better advocate for members who work across international borders, and deploy resources wherever they are required by members around the world.
Added Value for All CEDIA Members
Unifying as one global organization increases operational efficiencies while decreasing expenses and tax burdens; and these savings will be invested directly back into member programs. With combined resources, CEDIA will be better able to fund outreach to both consumers and the design/build industry and revitalize efforts to grow and develop membership in additional countries. Our unified voice and messaging will ensure that every dollar we spend in promoting CEDIA is amplified.
CEDIA Americas and Asia Pacific members are encouraged to vote in support of the global integration and new slate of board members. Voting for CEDIA Americas and Asia Pacific will be open September 15 – 20, 2016. Voting stations will be available at the CEDIA 2016 show in the CEDIA booth, as well as through traditional online voting, mail and fax. CEDIA EMEA members will vote at their annual general meeting, which is in November. The effective date of the integration will be January 1, 2017 and the new board will take office at the first board meeting in January.
CEDIA is here.Leave a Comment
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|Vivitek Ships Qumi Q8 1080p Pico Projector|
Vivitek’s new Qumi Q8 is a 1080p LED-lit pocket projector. The Qumi Q8’s LED light source is spec’d for 30,000 hours and it’s one of the first pico projectors to have Wi-Fi connectivity for content delivery. Ultra-compact in size at just 190x114x43 millimeters (DxWxH) and weighing in at only 1.3 pounds (621 grams), the Qumi Q8 is native 1920×1080. Spec’d at 1,000 ANSI lumens, the projector is spec’d to project up to a 120” diagonal image and a built-in 2-watt audio speaker.
Connectivity options include HDMI and MHL and Wi-Fi.
Here are all the specs.Leave a Comment
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|Sony Electronics Announces 4K HDR Home Theater Projector Line-Up at CEDIAToday, Sony Electronics is expanding its home theater line-up with the announcement of the VPL-VW675ES, a new, compact native 4K resolution (3840×2160) Home Cinema projector that supports HDR. The VPL-VW675ES is among the industry’s first home cinema projectors to support Hybrid Log-Gamma (HyLG) for HDR broadcasting services and user generated content – through a firmware update to be provided soon after the new HDMI specification is standardized. Sony’s newest home projector joins the existing ES line-up with home cinema standard HDR 10 support and is compatible with streamed HDR content. The VPL-VW675ES also includes a feature which enables customers to adjust the average screen brightness, depending on their environments or preferences, while maintaining accurate HDR reproduction.|
The VPL-VW675ES uses native 4K SXRD panels, with no artificial manipulation of pixels (pixel wobulation).Color reproduction is via Sony’s proprietary TRILUMINOS engine design, while Motionflow picture technology serves to deliver clearer, less blurry images when watching fast-paced, cinematic or sports action. It’s spec’d at 1,800 lumens brightness and a dynamic contrast ratio of 350,000:1.
The lamp is spec’d at 6,000 hours of operation (in Low Mode) and a built-in RF 3D transmitter makes it possible to watch 3D content, while a built-in auto calibration function resets the projector colorimetry to original factory levels. And, the VPL-VW675ES has HDMI with HDCP 2.2 on both inputs.
The VPL-VW675ES home theater projector will be available in November 2016 and will list for $14,999.99. Sony is here.Leave a Comment
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|Optoma Intros Ultra Short Throw HD Projector for Gaming and Entertainment|
Optoma today introduced its newest 1080p 1-chip DLP in the form of the GT5500, an ultra short throw projector that they are aiming at gaming, entertainment and sports rooms in a house. The 0.25:1 ultra short throw GT5500 features a 25,000:1 contrast ratio and a 100-inch diagonal image from just 13 inches away. Spec’d at 3,500 lumens inputs include dual HDMI (1.4a), VGA analog ports and it has a built-in speaker.
The Optoma GT5500 is now available for purchase online for $1,299 and here are the details.Leave a Comment
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|Vivitek Aims at H5098 Home Cinema Projector|
Vivitek’s new H5098 is being promoted as a professional-grade projector for home cinema. It’s a native 1080p resolution that’s spec’d at 50,000:1 contrast ratio and 2,000 ANSI lumens using single-chip DLP technology with BrilliantColor.
The H5098 can be installed on the ceiling with a choice of five different lenses, to cover the different projection throw ratio distances, making it ideally suited to designated cinema rooms in premium properties or for city dwellers in compact apartments. It’s a center-mounted lens with horizontal and vertical lens shift. It uses a six-segment color wheel.
Here are all the tech specs.Leave a Comment
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|SpeakerCraft Debuts New AIM Series 2 In-Wall LCR Speaker LineSpeakerCraft, from Core Brands, today expanded its flagship AIM Series 2 family of architectural speakers with the launch of two new in-wall left-center-right (LCR) speakers, the AIM LCR5 FIVE Series 2 and the AIM LCR5 TWO Series 2. Both are available for pre-order starting today.|
The new AIM LCR5 FIVE Series 2 and AIM LCR5 TWO Series 2 speakers use the company’s Arrayed Point Source (APS) Tweeter Module. The APS module incorporates three pivoting titanium dome tweeters mounted in a rotational sound baffle to precisely focus the high frequency sound into the targeted listening area, reducing unwanted reflections. Like their AIM Series 2 in-ceiling counterparts, the extra surface area from the three tweeters enables a lower crossover point; this delivers extra sound pressure in the midrange frequencies critical for clear dialog.
Both of the new models incorporate Dual, 5 ¼” woofers angled within the assembly to prevent “acoustic lobing” – again improving clarity in the vocal frequencies essential to home theater audio. And, both employ SpeakerCraft’s Acoustic Isolation Technology to minimize acoustic energy transfer to the mounting and surrounding surfaces.
The AIM LCR5 FIVE Series 2 matches its two woven Kevlar cone woofers with 1″ Custom Titanium Dome Tweeters. It boasts a 48Hz – 22kHz frequency response with a power handling of 190 watts at 8 Ohm impedance. The AIM LCR5 TWO Series 2 pairs its two glass and carbon fiber cones with 1″ custom soft dome tweeters. It delivers a frequency response of 52Hz – 20kHz with a power handling of 135 watts at 8 Ohm impedance.
Both of these new in-walls can be paired with SpeakerCraft’s new Dolby Atmos enabled in-wall height speaker – the ATX100– to take full advantage of the latest object-based surround audio systems, such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. In fact, the ATX100 is the first available in-wall height speaker to carry the “Dolby Atmos Enabled” moniker. The ATS500 System pairs the AIM LCR5 FIVE Series 2 with the ATX100 behind a single grille. The ATS200 System combines the AIM LCR5 TWO Series 2 with the height module, also behind a single grille.
The AIM LCR5 FIVE Series 2 and AIM LCR5 TWO Series 2 list for $879 and $749 respectively. All the specs are here: http://www.speakercraft.comLeave a Comment
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|SVS Launches Prime Elevation Speaker LineSVS just launched their new Prime Elevation Speaker line — an interesting line where there is no sideways or upside down. The speaker is spec’d to adapt to oddly shaped rooms, high ceilings and less than perfect placement locations for all the other speakers in a home theater as well. Using an angled front baffle and proprietary mounting hardware allows you to uniquely place the front, center, side or rear surround, and/or LCR speakers not exactly where they would normally go and then re-adjust the sound to make it feel like it’s coming from there.|
The SVS Prime Elevation can be used in the following ways:
- Down-Firing Height Effects Speaker — Placed high on a side wall, the directly radiated sound is a vast improvement over compromised “ceiling bounce” or in-ceiling solutions
- Up or Down-Firing Front, LCR or Center Channel Speaker – Placed above or below the viewing area, directed at listener, when placement at ear level isn’t possible
- Side or Rear-Firing Surround Speaker — Placed on side wall for rear effects or a rear wall for side effects when optimal placement is not possible
The SVS Prime Elevation induces a multi-angle wall bracket (patent pending) that allows it to be mounted on the wall in any of four directions: up or down-firing, and side or rear-firing, depending on how it’s being used, to get the best performance from anywhere in the room. It also features a universal mounting option with a ¼” 20TPI brass insert that works with many other kits. Even the magnetic SVS logo on the front grille is adjustable to accommodate positioning.
Featuring a rated bandwidth of 55 Hz – 25 kHz (+/- 3dB), the SVS Prime Elevation features a sophisticated SoundMatch crossover that seamlessly blends output from the light and efficient 1” aluminum dome tweeter and 4.5” polypropylene woofer. The optimized, angled front baffle affords the speaker its signature versatility and is designed with chamfers to reduce tweeter diffraction. The cabinet features a cast composite ABS and Glass Fiber woofer basket and acoustically inert enclosure to create a balanced speaker that works great for dialogue, action movie dynamics, dance music, vocals, sound effects and all other audio experiences.
The SVS Prime Elevation comes in three finishes with a hand-painted satin baffle. Pricing for Prime Elevation is $199.99 each for Premium Black Ash, and $249.99 each for Piano Gloss Black and Piano Gloss White. Here are all the specs.Leave a Comment
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|Extron Ships 17″ Capacitive TouchLink Pro Touchpanels|
Extron Electronics just announced the immediate availability of the TLP Pro 1720MG and TLP Pro 1720TG, 17ʺ wall mount and tabletop TouchLink Pro touchpanels with capacitive, edge-to-edge glass touchscreens. These 1920×1080 capacitive touchscreens provide a more responsive control surface. As with all TouchLink Pro models, these new, customizable touchpanels feature faster processing and more memory and both touchpanels feature video preview inputs that support high resolution, HDCP-compliant video from HDMI sources and XTP devices. For convenience, the touchpanels can receive power and communication over a single Ethernet cable. The TLP Pro 1720MG and TLP Pro 1720TG have stylish designs and powerful features that make them ideal for control applications requiring fully-customizable touchpanels with large control surfaces and multi-source video preview.
The TLP Pro 1720MG and TLP Pro 1720TG work in conjunction with any Extron IP Link Pro control processor and are designed for use in AV system applications that require complete, interactive control of a broad range of devices. All TouchLink Pro touchpanels operate using standard network infrastructure and are easy to install with reliable and cost effective Ethernet cable. They are customized using Extron GUI Designer software. This powerful interface design software offers ready-to-use resource kits to help design a wide variety of interfaces for rooms and presentation environments. For mounting flexibility, the TLP Pro 1720TG can be removed from its base and mounted on any VESA standard mounting arm or bracket. The TLP Pro 1720MG and TLP Pro 1720TG can be programmed using Global Scripter, with support for Global Configurator Plus and Professional coming soon.
Here are all the tech specs.Leave a Comment
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|Middle Atlantic Intros Value-Priced Select Series PDU with RackLinkMiddle Atlantic Products today announced the addition of new value-oriented IP solutions to its power hardware lineup. Ideal for small to large enclosures in residential, commercial and security applications, the Select Series PDU with RackLink offers versatile vertical, compact and traditional rackmount form factors that simplify installation and reduce the cost of service by providing intelligent power optimized for AV systems.|
The series is comprised of five 15-amp models in wide-ranging form factors: two-outlet compact, four-outlet rackmount, nine-outlet rackmount, 10-outlet low-profile vertical and 16-outlet vertical. All form factors are enabled with RackLink technology, creating a simple and cost-effective solution that puts intelligent control of power distribution right at the integrator’s fingertips, anywhere in the world. Middle Atlantic says that with intuitive setup and operation, pre-emptive problem notification and automatic problem resolution, Select Series PDU with RackLink ensures system reliability and uptime. Integrators can choose to control locally or virtually, via third-party control system or cloud. Additional Select Series PDU with RackLink features include control start-up or shut-down with remote sequencing, multiple IP autoping functionality and MOV surge and spike protection.
More information is here.Leave a Comment
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For all you REGULAR readers of rAVe HomeAV Edition out there, hopefully you enjoyed another opinion-packed issue!
For those of you NEW to rAVe, you just read how we are — we are 100% opinionated. We not only report the news and new product stories of the high-end HomeAV industry, but we stuff the articles full of our opinions. That may include (but is not limited to) whether or not the product is even worth looking at, challenging the manufacturers on their specifications, calling a marketing-spec bluff and suggesting ways integrators market their products better. But, one thing is for sure, we are NOT a trade publication that gets paid for running editorial or product stories. Traditional trade publications get paid to run product stories — that’s why you see what you see in most of the pubs out there. We are different: we run what we want to run and NO ONE is going to pay us to write anything good (or bad).
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A little about me: I graduated from Journalism School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (where I am adjunct faculty). I’ve been in the AV-industry since 1987 where I started with Extron and eventually moved to AMX. So, I guess I am an industry veteran (although I don’t think I am that old). I have been an opinionated columnist for a number of industry publications and in the late 1990s I started the widely read KNews eNewsletter (the first in the AV market) and also created the model for and was co-founder of AV Avenue – which is now known as InfoComm IQ. rAVe Publications has been around since 2003, when we launched our original newsletter, rAVe ProAV Edition.
rAVe HomeAV Edition, co-published with CEDIA, launched in February, 2004.
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