The Joys Of Troubleshooting

Everyone who knows me knows that I have an aphorism for every occasion. (I have sports metaphors too, but that’s not the topic at hand today.)

One of my favorite aphorisms (although really, I have so many, it’s hard to choose a favorite) is that “Professionalism isn’t about not having problems: Everyone has problems. Professionalism is about how you deal with those problems.” Nowhere is that more true than when troubleshooting.

I freely confess to beating this drum all the time. It was drummed into my head while I was being trained. And it was further drummed into my head all through my AV design career. And even today, as a distributor rep, I find I’m still called upon to remind my dealers of the essentials of troubleshooting.

The ability to solve problems and come up with lasting solutions is essential to being an AV Pro. And the rubric I’ve carried with me all these years is still second nature: Diagnose. Analyze. Repair. Test. Prevent.

As much fun as those steps are, it can be reduced even further: Identify the problem, and implement a permanent solution.

One veteran AV dealer I’ve known for years shared with me an issue he’d been having in his showroom. Like many dealers I know, he uses his showroom as a testing area to install and evaluate new, sometimes-unproven products.

Beta testing new products in your own lab is always a better solution than doing it on the clock in your client’s homes. That should be so obvious that it can go unsaid, but I’ve seen plenty of examples of the opposite, so here we are.

Back on track here, he was having an issue where the HDMI distribution to the TV in the main floor living area between the kitchen and the sitting room was cutting out repeatedly either in brief bursts or for extended periods.

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That should have been clear cut. “Oh, it’s the video distribution system, or the cables, or something,” you may find yourself thinking.

Clear cut, but incorrect.

Here’s what happened, and it had no direct relation to the video system: His team had installed Somfy window shade motors around the house, controlled by a Crestron controller. Every time the Somfy motors engaged, the Cat5 HDMI hub in the rack down in the basement cut out. So every time a shade went up or down, the TV cut out.

Even more strange, it did the same thing when the convection fans kicked in in the oven in the showroom’s galley. They didn’t always cook in the office, but it does happen.

“It was infuriating,” he told me, “The rack is power conditioned, and neither the shades nor the oven’s 220V are even on the same circuit as the AV rack.” Which just made the fault that much more puzzling “And yet,” he continued,
“There was something, some noise in the building’s power that was interfering with the Cat5 video distribution.”

Several solutions were tried, including plug-in ground-loop-hum interrupters, to no avail.

In the end, the solution was to change units and switch from the distribution switcher that he was using and substitute a different unit from a different brand.

And it worked. For whatever reason, the new unit was immune to the AC line noise that the shade motors and the oven generated. Even after over a month of testing, the installation remained fault-free.

In this case, while running down the source of the problem was maddening, the solution was both simple and direct. That’s not always the case; some problems can be the opposite: Easy to diagnose, but a royal pain to fix.