John Sciacca Writes...
Random Thoughts (Blog)
Random Thoughts (Blog)
Random Thoughts (Blog)
This is a section of random posts --- things I'm watching, doing or listening to. Things that are exciting or pissing me off. Products I'm reviewing or things I come across that strike me as cool or bizarre.
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|Posted on September 13, 2017 at 2:50 PM||comments ()|
Apple’s annual keynote event was held at the company’s new complex yesterday, with a fitting opening tribute to Steve Jobs to inaugurate the purpose-built theater with his name. I’ll leave it to others to discuss the merits of the new Gen 3 Apple Watch, or iPhone X, or being able to turn oneself into a virtual talking pooh emoji, as the news that most caught my attention was that of the upcoming Apple TV 4K.
By the numbers, the new 4K TV will come in 32- and 64-GB sizes for $179 and $199, and the A10X powered devices will feature Dolby Vision and HDR10, Gigabit Ethernet, an HDMI 2.0a output, and “up to Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 surround sound” (same as the previous generation model.)
On the content side, Apple announced that iTunes users will get automatic – free - upgrades of HD titles in their existing iTunes library to 4K HDR when that version becomes available, and that 4K HDR titles will sell for the same price as HD titles.
The market leader in 4K HDR content delivery is Kaleidescape, with the company now offering more than 260 full quality UHD titles available for download, with deals in place with nearly all the major studios. And fresh from meeting with the company at CEDIA, I reached out to Kaleidescape’s CEO and co-founder, Cheena Srinivasan, to discuss what he thought about Apple’s entry into this space.
Cheena and I spoke candidly for about an hour and he shared his thoughts on the Apple announcement as well as Kaleidescape’s positioning in 4K HDR delivery and the company’s relationship with the CEDIA channel. Below are some of quotes from our conversation.
On 4K Marketing
“Here we are supporting true 4K because everybody wants to ride on this format designation, and 8 million pixels, with four times the pixel density of 1080p and…so what? Show me the benefit? And you can see the benefit on our content service. When it comes to showcasing the advantages of 4K, which have to do with picture quality, accompanied with lossless multi-channel audio, what I see happening in the market is that if you want a broad, widespread, multi-million household consumer penetration for a new technology, you’re going to have to take the path of ‘good enough.’ And if you strive for perfection and the position that Kaleidescape takes with its content service, you just don’t have the reach because it is very expensive to operate a high-fidelity movie service on a large scale. I think the struggle always becomes economics (price) to drive new content sales versus purity and quality aspirations in what those new standards were meant to achieve from those who invented the specifications, and whether the audience is consuming it in the way it was really meant to be. I think those two objectives are on a collision course. So if you take the Sony/Kaleidescape partnership* and what we bring to consumers in terms of the promise, there is no question about delivering with confidence the highest fidelity video, audio, immersive cinematic experience. Period. But that comes at a price. That’s what I see happening: compromising on what [4K HDR] is meant to be, with much lowered picture and sound quality expectations to say, a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, to promote a format that is marginally superior to streaming HD. And inferior to HD Blu-ray Disc.”
On 4K Content
“I’ve heard customers and dealers pound on us for 4K [content] because 2 years ago you had display products capable of rendering 4K video stream, but there was no content. I would have dealers tell me, ‘My customer is so crazy for 4K content he’s getting any 4K clip he can get on YouTube and he’s tired of it!’ It has taken a while to get some great 4K content, but many content owners were convinced that the consumer benefits of 4K HDR outweighed 4K SDR, especially when compared to Blu-ray video quality upconverted to 4K. Standards take time to settle, and HDR10 is prevalent. I think it’s a great thing to have Apple promote and endorse 4K and its merits including high dynamic range. There is no question in my mind that they would like those reds to pop and those colors to be vivid, and why would Apple want their playback to be inferior to other streaming services? In doing so they bring consumer education to the market.“
On The Potential Growth of 4K
“If you look at market forecasts of installed base of a few hundred million HD displays compared to 50 or so million 4K HDR displays by 2020, so the newer TVs are still a small fraction. A vast majority of population still has HD (not UHD) but it’s different for the custom channel, being early adopters of new technology, and endeavoring to provide the best for the client base that the custom channel serves. So, CEDIA is a test bed, always embracing the latest and greatest before it’s really ready for primetime. So by Apple embracing 4K it ensures a good chunk of library titles could be remastered and re-released in 4K, and assures that almost every new release movie will come out in superior quality. Which will mean these titles will also be available in this best quality to Kaleidescape customers for purchase.”
On Customer Awareness
“I think it will be good from the perspective that as consumers become aware of the benefits of new formats, there exists a portion of the customer base that says, ‘Wait a minute! I just got this new [high-end 4K HDR display], I’ve got to be able get better quality than this, shouldn’t I?’ That’s gives an opportunity for some number of customers to say, ‘You know what, I’m going to get the best out there.’ And that’s the role Kaleidescape has always filled.”
On Purchasing Versus Renting
I asked Cheena what he thought about Apple announcing that any HD titles purchased from iTunes would be eligible to download the 4K version of the film when it was available.
“You can take the position of rekindling consumer in content ownership again, because it’s not free if you have to rent it again, it’s only free if you bought that title in the past. It would enable a purchase behavior, which is also a good thing for Kaleidescape because purchasing content is always a lean forward activity, it’s a very deliberate conscious decision to say, ‘I would like to watch this movie later with my family because it was recommended to me or I may watch it again in the future. I’d like to watch this with my family, friends, at least enjoy some parts of it in repeat viewing.’ I can’t see anything negative about it, as it just raises consumer awareness to a behavior that the studios wish to encourage which is purchasing content versus renting content, versus streaming content on a subscription basis. The economics are very different between those three content consumption models.”
On CEDIA Channel
“I come back to value. In everything we offer, we always ask, ‘Are we priced to value?’ When we work with the channel that we do, we ask, ‘Do we believe in the value that the custom channel brings to the equation?’ I always tell people, ‘Look, in the end, a good quality system integrator is the one that really brings out the Kaleidescape magic. And when they integrate our system beautifully, they pay attention to all the details, the right HDMI cabling, the resolution, the integration, the control systems programming, and beautifully calibrated video and audio reproduction. That comes with passion, with pain, with labor, and that’s what you pay for. If you buy an expensive, luxury product that delivers the best experience, then you’re leaning on an integrator to make all of the pieces of the puzzle work, and that’s why I think that people that really do very high quality home cinema are few and far between -- because one needs to know many facets of how to put together a home cinema that delivers an amazing movie experience.”
On Mass Market
“When you look at a product that is geared after a mass market consumption you’re playing on a brand recognition: 4K must mean it’s better. HDR must stand for better color, vivid colors and eye popping images. OK. I guess that’s good, but that says nothing about picture quality; that says nothing about audio quality; that says nothing about true cinematic experience, or to specifications, or any guarantee of quality of service that this is pristine, predictable playback every time. But that’s OK. The discerning customer is the one that wants the best every time. The vast majority of the market is not really that. Watching movies on mobile device is anything but cinematic. We have taken the polar opposite view of a mass market service in what we do, and that comes with the very deliberate choices that we make in how we transcode the video, add lossless audio and various other unique things we do such as event cues for control systems automation, favorite scenes, etc., before we make the movie available for sale to ensure that the playback is pristine every single time, and that there are no glitches, audio drops, artifacts, etc. These are deliberate choices we make for the movies we offer in our store.”
On Apple Selling HD and UHD at the Same Price
“These are very different products. At the end of the day when someone tells me that the 4K HDR is the same as my HD price, it gives me two signals. One says, the marginal differences between the two are dictated by the TV you own and you shouldn’t be punished for owning a better TV by charging you a higher amount. And the second says there isn’t substantial differentiation between HD and 4K HDR, it’s hard to justify the price difference. At the end of the day, price is the outcome of embedded value, competitive differentiation and profit goals. If Kaleidescape were to say our HD and HDR pricing were the same, that would be a very stupid thing to do because downloading an HD title, which is Blu-ray quality, is roughly 30 Gig, whereas a 4K HDR title like Wonder Woman is around 75 Gigabytes, and Blu-ray quality HD version is around 38 Gigabytes. Some 20 Gigabytes of that is likely lossless multichannel master audio, the rest is rich video information. This is what the director wanted his audience to experience. I don’t think it makes any sense for us to just mimic someone else’s pricing strategy because we stand by the value differentiation we deliver. But if there’s a price reduction from the studios for content, that will benefit all services, including ours and we’d pass those savings to our customers”
On Apple and Kaleidescape Co-Existing
“The overall take for me, is how could this be bad news? [The Apple TV 4K] is a differentiated product – it’s like a Swiss Army knife – it’s a multi-purpose device. It’s for the mass market. And it’s going to increase the general awareness for 4K HDR. You look at this announcement, and then you compare it to our Sony partnership and you couldn’t find a starker contrast in terms of the audience that we’re going after. For those who have both [Apple TV and Kaleidescape], if you have a Sony projector, would you buy a movie on Kaleidescape or Apple TV? They will benefit from watching movies on Kaleidescape. But Apple TV has so many more uses besides movies. And for those with just Apple TV 4K, there will be a sliver of people there that will eventually get excited enough about the new video technologies – just like with 2-channel audio upgrades, etc. – to say, ‘You know what? I want something better.’ That will be an opportunity for us. We need a big player like Apple embracing 4K and HDR, we haven’t had it until now. We need to let them do the democratizing and let us focus on delivering the best flavor of it.”
* Announced at CEDIA, the companies will offer a joint promotion where any Kaleidescape Strato customer who purchases a qualifying Sony 4K HDR projector between now and March 31, 2018 will be eligible to download a movie bundle featuring ten 4K HDR movies from the Kaleidescape store valued up to $350. Conversely, existing Sony 4K HDR projector owners that purchase a Kaleidescape Strato movie player will also be eligible for the movie bundle to jumpstart their collections.
|Posted on November 5, 2016 at 9:25 PM||comments ()|
Previously our family did a Kit Kat battle with several Japanese flavoured bars sent courtesy of Chris Heinonen. (You can read that battle here.)
For those out of the candy loop and only familiar with the regular US wafer bar (along with the occasional White Chocolate version, the bastard of the candy bar world), it turns out there is a whole WORLD of bizarre flavored Kit Kats out there just waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, unless you live in Japan, this discovering process can be a lot tougher to do. However the Australians and the British are also rocking some of the most awesome sounding KK's out there. Cookies and are-you-kidding-me Cream?! Tirami-frickin-su?! Royal Milk Tea?! If that doesn't make you want to shout, "God save the Queen!" while you mounding down some wafer deliciousness, then I think you may be dead inside.
So, when I saw that Cookie Dough Kit Kats were making their rounds in the UK, I started pestering my new best-good-PR friend, Shereen Russell. (I checked. That is actually the correct number of eee's.) My pestering was actually to try and get her to buy this bar, try it, then describe it to me in excruciatingly, tantalizing detail.
Instead she went me three better and sent me three UK edition bars to try! So huge love to Shereen (@ShereenWildwood) and her PR company Wildwood (@WildwoodPR)!
So, with three new exotic candy bars to try, bars that had traveled 3987 miles to get to our mouths, I gathered the family around the table for a second Kit Kat battle. Ready? FIGHT!
Kit Kat Chunky
Immediately you notice that the UK bars are thicker, more like a traditional candy bar size/shape and less like the four-thin wafer bar we get in the US. We thought we'd start with Chunky as it seemed to be the most like our bar.
DANA: The chocolate tastes different from a regular Kit Kat. Like the thick chocolate around the outside. It's not as sweet, and I like it.
LAURYN: Oh! It has two pieces! That's great for sharing! It doesn't have the thin bars of chocolate in the middle like our Kit Kats. Overall it is very good and I like this bar.
JOHN: As Lauryn noted, the cross-section reveals less clear wafers than we're used to. This tastes more like cocoa than the US version. Less waffier too. This is almost like a chocolate milk, creamy flavour. Definitely close to the US version, but with a UK spin. More restrained and refined. This bar shows pleasure and disgust with just the merest raise of an eyebrow. The texture of the bar is thick and crisp and I like that. There is a nice denseness to the bar on the upper teeth as they bite into it and it has a good mouth feel.
Kit Kat Peanut Butter
DANA: The peanut butter texture reminds me of the nutty texture of the peanut butter in a Reeses. If you love peanut butter, this probably isn't going to have enough peanut butter inside for you.
LAURYN: (It should be noted that Lauryn has a very European feeling towards peanut butter; she doesn't like it. Though, unlike Europeans, she doesn't like Nutella either. She pretty much isn't down with any nuts. So she didn't even want to try this. It was only after I said, "If you're in for the battle, you're in for the WHOLE battle!" that she agreed to try it at all.) Ugh. Already I hate peanut butter so I don't even want to try this. It's very nutty. This has the chocolate bars in the middle unlike the other one. Not my favorite Kit Kat ever. I give this a 3.
JOHN: Interestingly, the Peanut Butter bar is in three sections. Lauryn thought this was perfect as we would all now get an equal serving. Looking at the cross-section of the bar, there is just this thin, scrim of peanut butter paste on the top layer of the wafers. Definitely has a strong peanut butter aroma though. You would smell this and immediately know it had some kind of nut inside. Maybe not immediately recognizable as peanut butter, but nutty for sure. This bar is very soft on the top and your teeth just sink and melt into the chocolate peanut layer. There is a lot less crunch on this bar, having an overall very creamy mouth texture. I am actually getting plenty of peanut flavour and think this is a pretty solid peanut chocolate combo. Would have liked a little more wafer texture and density though.
Kit Kat Cookie Dough
DANA: It's very sweet. I like cookie dough in ice cream but don't know about in a candy. It's really sweet. Not my favourite.
LAURYN: It smells weird but OH! This is so stinking good! I think this is the bar I've been waiting for! It's a really good Kit Kat! I wish it had a less amount of cookie dough, and more chocolate. On a scale of 1-10 I give this a 9.
JOHN: This is the Kit Kat I've been waiting to try. I love cookie dough, and when I saw this UK bar, I knew I had to try it. This is one of the unique international flavours that I've been craving (along with blueberry cheesecake!) In fact, to be honest, I really wanted to just eat this one entirely on my own. To hole up in a back room somewhere and slow enjoy my precious all by myself. Cross-section of the bar shows a huge top layer of cookie dough, like 2-3 times the amount of peanut butter. It has an unusual smell to it. Not really sure what the smell is, but kind of chemically sweet vanilla. I'm liking the flavor, though it tastes a bit more like Oreo filling than cookie dough. Though on the finish it is a bit batter-ey. This bar has a nice denseness to it; definitely better texture-wise than the Peanut Butter bar. Try as I might, though, I can't really pin any cookie dough flavours, but maybe more like cookies 'n cream flavour. But this is definitely my favourite of the three and I would certainly eat more of these given the chance. In the end, this isn't the cookie dough Kit Kat bar that I thought I wanted, but it is the cookie dough Kit Kat bar that I apparently needed.
|Posted on May 6, 2016 at 2:20 PM||comments ()|
I've been fortunate enough to watch nearly every Dolby Atmos encoded Blu-ray movie at this point, somehow
tricking lucking my way on to the disc reviewer's list. Believe me, friends, there are few greater feelings than to come home and see a Fed-Ex envelope on your doorstep holding a new Blu-ray that isn't going to be released for several more days!
Recently someone at Dolby asked me to compile a list of my top Atmos scenes in films and after coming up with it I figured, "Hey! Why not post this up on my blog?!?"
Below are some of the best demo scenes from 11 movies that I've reviewed. If you want to read my full movie review, click on the title/link and it will take you to my review at Residential Systems.
Beware...plot spoilers below...
Sonically, much of this film is dialog driven and takes place inside the cramped, indoor, underground concrete, missile silo-esque bunker of District 13. The mix does a really great job of relaying the claustrophobia and closeness of the acoustic rooms and spaces, providing lots of reverberation and background mechanical, generator, and air circulation sounds that really help to place you inside District 13 with Katniss.
Even before the titles come up, the film begins with Katniss disoriented and in an enclosed, echo-filled space talking to herself, with the echoes of voices and pipe sounds filling the overhead speakers and bouncing off the side walls. This cuts to a scene in a hospital room where Katniss reunites with Finnick and the sounds are replaced by the close, sterile buzz of fluorescent lighting.
At roughly the four-minute mark, the head of security, Boggs, escorts Katniss down deeper into 13 in an elevator and sounds of the doors clanging shut and floors whooshing by fill the ceiling. When they reach the bottom, the room fills with crowd sounds and chatter to set the busy scene.
More than any film I’ve watched so far, Gravity does an amazing job taking advantage of the four discreet overhead speakers. Where most times these speakers almost seem to be used as one channel to create space, or ambient, or just echo the music, here they are frequently used independently to bounce, swirl and shift the audio environment around the space of ceiling. The music does a great job of matching the onscreen tension, swirling and spinning to mimic Stone’s on-screen disorientation. As Stone floats off structure and out into space, the speakers are filled with static that drifts in and out as he tries to orient herself and reach Houston.
This film is filled with intense scenes, but one of the most intense demos happens near the end of chapter 4 and into chapter 5 as Stone enters the ISS, all sound focuses on her lack of oxygen and her breathing sounds with the sub channel beating out a steady thump-thump heartbeat pulse. As Stone is moving around weightlessly inside the ISS there are little clanging and debris sounds inside the cluttered cabin, and when the fire breaks out, alarms blare through the overhead speakers punctuated with tense music until Stone hits her head and all audio ceases. Flames then rip and roar through the ISS until she seals the hatches, quickly followed by crumping explosions and metal clanking and groaning before Stone undocks the capsule. Not out of the woods, as Stone is trying to float free, the escape pod gets caught up in parachute straps and there is a cacophony of alarms, beeping, and straining metal.
Let me just say up front: this movie is dreadful. Like nearly excruciating to watch. But it has a lot of cool visuals and some decent sound so at least hold on to that small glimmer of hope to help you struggle through. Don't even try to follow the mindless plot or horrible accents. It's all just one VFX nightmare gone wrong.
At 26 minutes in (chapter 3) we get the best demo scene in the entire film. It lasts a little over five minutes, making it absolutely terrific demo room fodder, short of an “Oh sh--!” bit of profanity at the very beginning that makes it less family friendly. The entire scene really demonstrates the swirling and object tracking of Atmos, with all the floor and ceiling speakers fully engaged throughout. It begins with Caine and Jupiter ascending outside the Sears Tower, where ships suddenly materialize overhead. The scene kicks into high gear when Caine’s ship is blown up overhead, causing lots of debris to rain down on the pair. They take off in Caine’s gravity boots and are chased around the tower by multiple alien ships, with lots of swirling audio overhead and around the room with really aggressive pans and tracking and things blowing up off to the side, overhead, and in back. Caine hijacks a ship and heads into the water, with the aliens in pursuit plunging in and out of water, with audio constantly rocking overhead and crisscrossing around the room, all amidst a constant backdrop of laser fire and explosions. Sonically, this is probably one of the best Dolby Atmos demo clips from a movie yet.
This movie seems to be a vehicle for Sean Penn to show how swole and ripped his body is these days and the film as a whole is kind of a twisted convoluted affair that travels to exotic locales around the globe as Penn tries to figure out who is trying to frame and kill him.
The marquee demo is found in Chapter 11 at the 57-minute mark and lasts about seven minutes. The first gun shots come in big and loud from the front right as Felix, Terrier, and Annie are attacked by multiple assailants. It’s a terrific demo scene with a ton of action and intensity and culminates in an amazing inferno of audio as fire crackles all around the room. Be warned, the scene is pretty brutal, especially near the beginning where Felix takes a rather unfortunate gunshot to the head, so demo it with care. The battle rages around the estate, resulting in shattering glass, splintering wood, and the tinkling of falling brass around the room putting Atmos’ object tracking to wonderful use. Throughout all the mayhem the dialog remains clear and understandable. The scene concludes with Terrier and Annie trapped in a bathroom, where the bad guys pour in a flammable substance and then light the room on fire. I had always thought that Atmos ceiling speakers were truly made to convey overhead rain sounds, but after hearing how well they are employed to handle the roaring fire of this scene, I’m willing to rethink that. The flames ignite with a whomp! that seethes through the room and then continues as the fire burns and rages all around, crackling right through your listening position. The fire billows and swirls and boils all around the room, raging overhead and leaping from speaker to speaker, putting you right in the middle of the inferno and sucking all the air from the viewing space.
This is actually a two-part scene starting around 1 hour 28 minutes and then concluding again about 10 minutes later. In the first part, Tris is taunted by Jeanine into attacking her and we get a lot of dialog that shifts in tonal quality and location based on the POV on screen and that room’s acoustics. When Jeanine speaks, her voice is often heard out of the ceiling via the speakers that Tris would be hearing, whereas Tris’s voice is muffled and dulled by the acoustics of the chamber she is in.
When Tris finally attacks, she dives through the glass barrier causing glass to shatter, cascade, and sprinkle all around the room. When Tris is digitally transported into the sim, we are treated to some awesome 3D as she is falling out of the sky. The screen is filled with 3D overhead views of the city, delivering terrific depth. All around Tris the buildings are shattering, disintegrating, and collapsing, and the audio fills the room with sounds of rubble and debris careening all around and overhead. The scene is also filled with awesome, tight, deep bass from multiple explosions. Part two of the fight happens when Tris decides to complete the Amity sim and she is forced to battle the deadliest version of herself.
The scene begins with Evil Tris jumping through a glass window that shatters around the room and then slamming Good Tris through a wall. They are once again transported into the collapsing city as they fight from building to building with Evil Tris battering and punching Good Tris through walls and floors and buildings in a very Matrix-styled superhuman battle. Evil Tris is finally defeated by peace—Amity—and she dissolves. This causes The Box to unlock and open, revealing the true meaning of the city and factions and Divergents, setting the scene for Allegiant, the trilogy’s climatic conclusion.
The entire film is a virtual CrossFit workout for your subwoofer, with deep, tight, massive soul-pounding bass in nearly every scene, yet it never dissolves into a massive, flabby, mindless rumble, but rather has constant nuance and layered texture to convey every rumble and explosion. From drums, to huge V8 engines, to explosions, to collisions, to gun blasts, all of it is detailed and clear while pounding and pulsing through the room. So shiny, so chrome!
From the opening seconds of the film, the soundtrack instantly immerses you in the world of Mad Max, with voices that swirl, echo, and shift around the room and deep-throated engine revs that pulse, throb, and roar throughout the room. There is more intensity and mayhem and just suck-you-into-the-action in the opening moments before the title even comes up on the screen than most other films can muster in their entire duration! While the entire film is a testament to amazing audio here’s one of the top moments. But, honestly, just pop some corn, dim the lights, and enjoy this epic ride eternal to the gates of Valhalla!
Near the 17-minute mark, the War Boys leave the Citadel in pursuit of Furiosa and her War Rig. The chase begins with a truck racing up from the back of the room and launching over the viewer’s head and they race after her amidst a throbbing guitar and drum driven soundtrack that reminded me of a Blue Man Group show, including the war party being spurred on by the Coma-Doof Warrior, a flame throwing guitar player strapped to a rig that has a speaker array that would be the envy of any coliseum’s PA. Vehicles are constantly exploding, with machines and people cartwheeling overhead through the ceiling speakers, or whipping past along the sides of the room, or racing up from behind. And the sound mixer, God bless him, never misses a single chance to convey every scrape, collision, or flaming moment of the glorious destruction. The vehicles and weapons have an insane amount of fabrication and creativity with nitrous boosters, exploding lances, circular saw blades attached to hydraulic arms, vehicles covered in porcupine-like spikes, fire grenades, and sawed-off shotguns, and all impart their own color to the majestic sonic tapestry.
At 21:45 a War Boy lancer throws a spear that passes right through the room and whistling past your head, and then at 27 minutes the party races into a massive sand and lightning cyclone storm that whistles and roars around the room. A vehicle gets swept up into one of the swirling vortexes and spins around the room before being thrown over your head and into the back wall behind you. The scene ends as Max is thrown from his vehicle and blacks out.
Yes, this movie is old. But according to the press release that accompanied this disc, “The new Dolby Atmos audio, remixed specifically for the home theater environment, delivers captivating sound that places and moves audio anywhere in the room, including overhead.”
The new Atmos audio mix is actually stellar, really amping up the scare factor with lots of subtle atmospherics and things skittering and crawling around the room. The audio designers really took advantage of every opportunity to expand the audio mix and fill the listening space with sounds both subtle and overt to capture the on-screen ambience and action. Sonically this 7.1-channel TrueHD Atmos mix is as modern as any blockbuster.
At 10 minutes in, a coach drops Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) off in the middle of nowhere with the sounds of desperate, hungry wolves crying and growling all around the room as they stalk the coach. Thunder booms and cracks overhead, and when the coach pulls into Dracula’s castle, the heavy iron gates roll closed from the floor to ceiling and ceiling to floor, closing us off from the outside world. As we get our first look at Dracula and his castle, the room is filled with tons of atmospheric audio effects. Throughout our time in the castle, we hear the constant sounds of wailing souls traveling around the room and overhead, the drip of water, the groan of walls, and the skittering of rats and other unseen, nasty creatures around the room, from side to side and overhead. Much of it is subtle but it does a wonderful job of creating the eerie, other-worldly soundstage of the castle.
In a way, this movie reminded me of when we used to play Sim City as kids. After a while you’d get bored of building city infrastructure and management and then you would just send wave after wave of disasters at your city and sit back and watch all the destruction, chaos, and suffering. Except the whole time it is California and mainly San Francisco taking the abuse. Over and over.
A big tremor comes near the 32-minute mark in chapter four, and cuts back and forth between a restaurant, offices at Caltech, and a San Francisco office building. While in the restaurant there are the sounds of screams from all around, and glass shaking and knocking together overhead as the quake begins, and then desks and walls rattling as people scurry to safety under their desks at Caltech. At the 34-minute mark we cut to the office building in San Francisco as a limo holding Blake tries to race out of the building, while the underground garage starts collapsing. It doesn't make it. The overhead speakers do a great job conveying the chunks of the building falling down all around you, putting you in the garage. When the billionaire boyfriend, Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd), gets out of the limo you get some nice groaning of girders overhead and around the room as the building strains under the damage.
At 36 minutes, there is a mass exodus of people leaving the building's lobby with screaming and moaning all around. The scene cuts back to the restaurant, as Emma tries to make it up to the ceiling while the room literally collapses and falls apart all around you. There's a constant cacophony of screams, falling bodies, groaning concrete, raining debris, and a steady bass rumble that will flutter your pants. After the big shaking is over at the 40-minute mark, you get some really nice subtle atmospherics of things falling and settling back into place before Ray comes roaring up in his helicopter to save the day. Of course, things are never that easy, and fireballs start erupting, the flames billowing up into the ceiling and combining with the steady whirr of the helicopter. The entire scene runs about 12 minutes with almost no slow bits, and ends in classic, "Only happens in Hollywood!" style at 44 minutes with a chunk of falling building whacking the helicopter, causing it to spin out of control, moving violently around the room.
As the name suggests, Genisys returns to the beginning, and the majority of the move is just classic summertime, popcorn fun, with tons of action, massive explosions, and terrific effects. The writers do a great job rebooting the series while still playing homage to its origins, and Genisys delivers a near shot-for-shot recreation of one of the original Terminator’s iconic scenes, immediately thrusting fans back into known — and beloved — territory.
Genisys is a reference Atmos soundtrack in all regards, truly made for home theater demos and rarely missing any opportunity to push audio boundaries.
At 1 hour 23 in Chapter 13 we get what I think is the marquee demo of the disc. It begins with Connor walking into the bunker/armory that Arnold has set up and his voice swirls all around the room as the characters try tracking him. At 1:25 Sarah blasts him with — I believe — a Milkor M32 MGL (Multiple Grenade Launcher), sending massive explosions, debris, and fireballs around the room. Secondary explosions continue in the background before a huge fireball erupts through the center of the room.
Shortly after, Connor gives chase on a motorcycle, and he jumps overhead and lands on the roof of the bus, his motorcycle flying off and causing cars to swerve into the left and ride side of the room as they try and avoid it. Arnold and Kyle blast away at Connor, shooting holes into the ceiling and you can clearly hear the thin metal of the bus’s roof buckling as John walks around overhead, letting you accurately track his movements through all four ceiling speakers. At 1:27 you hear John move down the left side of the bus and crawl underneath, where he throws Arnold through the windshield of a cop car providing a gimmicky, though effective, bit of 3D fun. Moments later Connor rips the brakes off the bus, throwing them past your head into the back of the room causing the bus to go careening and smashing along the Golden Gate Bridge. Fortunately, they don’t need to worry about not having any brakes because Connor rips out the axle at 1:28 making the bus flip in the air and spin end-over-end through the room delivering an epic amount of low frequency info into the room. The bus rolls for a bit before coming to rest perilously hanging from the side of the bridge, tail down towards the Bay. The audio space inside the bus is filled with great subtle sounds of the bus and the bridge with creaking metal groaning and other ambient sounds as Kyle and Sarah climb out to safety.
Christopher McQuarrie from The Usual Suspects fame directs this fifth installment of the Impossible franchise, and he delivers a film filled with twists and turns, crosses and double-crosses, along with numerous big chase and elaborate break-in schemes the series is known for. This is not a non-stop Mad Max level of action, but rather the majority of the movie is dialog based. Even still, the side, rear, and ceiling speakers are used to nice effect throughout for conveying the musical score or providing subtle ambience. But rest assured, when the team does plan an impossible break-in, it raises the bar and delivers the classic over-the-top, big action pieces that made the series famous.
Chapter 8 opens at 1:01 with the impossible break-in into a computer lab in Morocco to steal the identities of the Syndicate agents. Parachutists whisk past your head on both sides and darts shoot in from the ceiling down to the left side of the room. Ethan uses a device to send high frequency signals to break glass that provides a not-so-nice room filling, ear-piercing sound. In one of the film’s marquee scenes, Ethan dives into a hydro-cooled computer data vault center. Before he jumps, the room is filled with atmospheric sounds of water rushing and the steady rumble of machines and pumps running. The entire scene is based on timing and breath holding and getting the codes uploaded before Dunn hits the end of this hallway. All of this adds up to a really tension-filled demo that will have people fully engaged.
One of the film’s best demos comes at 1:05 when Hunt jumps into the cooling system’s water flow with a splash that flows up into the ceiling channels. When the water flow is interrupted, it cuts off through each of the channels with a nice chunk-chunk-chunk that circles around the room. As Hunt is sucked into the water, it swirls and bubbles and flows all around the room, with his heartbeat a steady reminder of the timetable. The vault’s arm swings by, whisking past overhead and passing just to the side of you depending on the POV. The entire scene is filled with the tension of Hunt’s breath hold, the steady deep bass notes of machinery and Hunt’s heartbeat, and other sounds swirling around the room, and cutting back and forth to different acoustic environments. Stop the scene at 1:08 to keep your audience on the edge of their seats, or continue on till 1:10 to see how it ends with a ton of ambient voices echoing off the hard concrete walls of the underground space that really establishes the acoustic environment as they revive Hunt.
Where Part 1 was a bit slow and plodding, focusing on developing and setting up the story for the final conflict of Katniss taking on President Snow (Donald Sutherland) after him having firebombed her district into ashes, this movie features far more action and picks up almost immediately following Part 1, with Katniss in an infirmary being examined. Katniss declares war on Snow and sets out to the Capitol bent on assassinating him. This creates all-out war as the rebels march on the Capitol avoiding various sinister booby traps and ambushes along the way. Or, as Finnick (Sam Claflin), said, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games!”
Chapter 9 starts at around 1:03 and “the arena has moved underground,” with the band climbing down ladders to the tunnels beneath the Capitol. This begins a lengthy underground scene that is filled with terrific audio, with lots of creaking sounds of pipes overhead, steam venting, water dripping and trickling, and shows that terrific demo scenes don’t need to include explosions and mayhem. The scene begins with a train racing by overhead, its audio perspective changing as the camera moves. The steady hum and buzz of fluorescents and low ceiling constantly reminds you of the cramped quarters. At 1:04, a train races by the right side of the room and into the back. Note the audio starting at 1:06:18, as water trickles all around the room, and especially as you are focused on Peeta how the drops change in location as he moves. Great stuff. Even during the conversation between Peeta and Katniss at 1:08, the quality of the dialog and the reverb and the distant sounds keep you in the tunnels and heighten the moment between them.
The big underground action scene starts just seconds into chapter 10 and lasts the entire chapter. It begins with creepy voices echoing in the distance, the voices swirling around the room and disorienting the group as unseen trouble approaches. This scene reminds me of Aliens, when they were being attacked from the overhead passageways inside the Nostromo. “Game over, man!” There are several false starts to the attack which does a great job of building tension in the scene as the band slowly moves through tunnels, Gale lighting their path with exploding crossbow bolts. When the attack finally happens, the scene kicks into high gear as the Mutts swarm. The battle rages around the room with concussive explosions, frenzied music, gunshots, and the snarling and growling Mutts coming in from all sides. Once they escape the tunnels, they immediately step into a firefight with gunshots that blast tile around the room, fire traps that come down from the ceiling, and razor floor traps that chew up the ground beneath your feet. This is definitely the most intense fight of the film, and features terrific audio, but use discernment when selecting this as a demo.
|Posted on September 5, 2014 at 10:20 AM||comments ()|
Riding in to work today I heard a classic on the radio: Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby." I remember the first time I heard this song I was in Berlin and I thought, "Wait a minute! This isn't David Bowie and Queen!!! What is going on here?!?" I thought it was just another case of those crazy German's taking things one step too far.
Of course, this isn't the first time that Vanilla's masterpiece has inspired a blog from me. I previously wrote about his advice for custom installers. But as I listened to the song this morning, really analyzing the lyrics, I realized that Ice had more to say to our industry. A lot more. In fact, literally each line of his masterpiece is a hidden message directed towards custom installers.
Follow along as I break down this lyrical greatness... All of the Ice Man's lyrics are in italics with the custom translation below. Please to enjoy, playa!
Yo, VIP, Let's kick it!
Hello, high-end customer! It is a pleasure to meet you. Let’s sit down and talk for a bit and see if I would be the right fit to be your custom integrator!
Ice Ice Baby, Ice Ice Baby
All right stop, Collaborate and listen
Before we get too far along, let me introduce myself. Also, I'd love to set up a meeting to discuss your needs. We can exchange ideas and design the right system for you. It is a colloborative process where we can figure out exactly what you need.
Ice is back with my brand new invention
Excuse me, let me just put my phone on silent so we aren't interrupted again. OK, I'm back. There is a ton of new technology that I'd like to tell you about that will make sure your new home is both smart and awesome.
Something grabs a hold of me tightly
Flow like a harpoon daily and nightly
If you hire me, I will follow through on the project and I’ll be available for your needs any time of the day. Or night. But, preferably during the day.
Will it ever stop? Yo – I don't know
Turn off the lights and I'll glow
We’ll definitely want to talk about automated lighting and maybe a back-up generator to make sure that your system stays on line in the case of power failure. We'll also want to put a UPS on media server devices like Kaleidescape to make sure that the hard drives don't suddenly lose power. Even if all the other power is out, the front panel of your Kaleidescape server should still glow blue.
To the extreme I rock a mic like a vandal
Light up a stage and wax a chump like a candle.
If karaoke is your thing, we can definitely build that into your system, and maybe install a stage for you to perform in your new theater. Obviously, a lighting design is going to be key. With the proper lighting control, we can make sure the stage is brightly lit when you perform, or dimmed to a candle-like glow during other times.
Dance, Go rush the speaker that booms
You say that you like listening to dance music? We’re going to want to have multiple subs in the theater to give deep, tighter, powerful bass. This will ensure that it sounds good no matter where you are in the room.
I'm killing your brain like a poisonous mushroom
I understand that I am telling you a lot of technical things and that we are discussing a lot of different concepts and ideas, so if you need me to explain something to you further, please let me know.
Deadly, when I play a dope melody
Anything less than the best is a felony
Our company is the best in town and going with any other firm would be a serious mistake.
Love it or leave it, You better gain way
You better hit bull's eye, The kid don't play
Our crew will make sure that your new system will be exactly what you want. But rest assured, if you move to a new house and leave the system behind, we will be happy to install a new system into your new home! Also, please don’t let visiting children come and press any buttons or mess with the rack.
If there was a problem, Yo, I'll solve it
My tech support skills are legendary and if anything doesn’t work, we’re going to fix it!
Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it
If you are having any parties, we can come and make sure that all of the systems are working correctly so you can just enjoy yourself and not worry about anything.
Ice Ice Baby Vanilla, Ice Ice Baby Vanilla
Ice Ice Baby Vanilla, Ice Ice Baby Vanilla
In case you missed it, this the name of my company. Don't worry; I will repeat it several times so you don’t forget.
Now that the party is jumping
With the bass kicked in, and the Vegas are pumpin'
Housewide audio is going to make sure your parties have great music in every room. Also, with zoned audio, you can play different music in different areas, so a lower level of jumping in the dining room and then maximum jumping levels out by the pool. Also, the speakers that we install will play loud and with plenty of bass without distortion or blowing out.
Quick to the point, to the point, no faking
I’m not going to techno-babble you or try to confuse you.
Cooking MCs like a pound of bacon
Burning them they ain't quick and nimble
We will definitely want to have heat sensors in the kitchen connected to our monitored security system in case there are any fires. Regardles of the amount of bacon that you choose to cook, our system should never false alarm.
I go crazy when I hear a cymbal
And a hi hat with a souped up tempo
While bass is important, the speakers that we install will also have detailed resolution with crisp, clear highs without distortion. We have speakers with ceramic, beryllium and even diamond tweeters!
I'm on a roll and it's time to go solo
I have an entire install crew, but I will probably do the programming myself.
Rollin' in my 5.0
With my ragtop down so my hair can blow
We have a large work van with a big engine that can deliver all of your gear and my guys prefer to roll the windows down rather than use the AC because we are doing our part to save the environment.
The girlies on standby, Waving just to say, "Hi!"
Did you stop? No – I just drove by
Kept on pursuing to the next stop
There aren’t a lot of women in the tech industry, but there is a whole movement to get more Women in AV, beyond just the marketing and PR jobs. Some companies are still using “Booth Babes” to attract people to come to their booths at tradeshows, but when they try to engage me in banal conversation, I just keep on walking to the next booth. If companies don’t think their products can stand on their own and need a bikini model to sell them, then I’m really not interested.
I busted a left and I'm heading to the next block
That block was dead
Yo – so I continued to A1A Beachfront Ave.
I’m sorry I was a little late this morning, but the Apple Maps program on my iPhone sent me to the wrong place. I finally opened Google Maps and found your house. Apple Maps, amIright?!
Girls were hot wearing less than bikinis
I actually think I stumbled onto a nude beach while I was driving around lost. I’m not even sure why I told you that. So, ummm, yeah…
Rockman lovers driving Lamborghinis
Jealous 'cause I'm out getting mine
I noticed you have a pretty awesome car collection. I’m quite a fan of Italian sports cars, especially Lambos, and would love to own one someday. But, che bella!
Shay with a gauge and Vanilla with a nine
We have a lot of specialty tools like laser levels and even fiber optic cameras to make sure that are installation is precise and accurate.
Ready for the chumps on the wall
The chumps acting ill because they're so full of "Eight Ball"
Some of those first generation “flat panel” TVs really weren’t that flat, and the new curved TVs also look kind of odd on the wall. But, we can mount anything even on brick, stone, wood, whatever.
Gunshots ranged out like a bell
I grabbed my nine – All I heard were shells
Falling on the concrete real fast
You live in a really safe neighborhood, but we also install security systems. Incidentally, the streets gun battle scene in the movie Heat is pretty amazing sounding as a demo for your new home theater system. You can really hear the sounds of shells clinging and bouncing all around you.
Jumped in my car, slammed on the gas
Bumper to bumper, the avenue's packed
Traffic was really awful this morning. I’ll make sure that I leave earlier to get here next time.
I'm trying to get away before the jackers jack
Police on the scene, You know what I mean
They passed me up, confronted all the dope fiends
A safe room is a great place to locate things like an alarm panel and security DVR. Also, we can make sure that you can access your system while in the safe room -- or from anywhere in the world -- until the police arrive. We really want to make it so difficult to get into your house that the bad guys would rather just move on to someone else.
If there was a problem, Yo, I'll solve it
Did I mention how technically proficient I am at solving problems? Because if anything – and I mean anything - doesn’t work, we’re going to fix it!
Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it
And I did mention that we can help out with the music at your next party….?
Ice Ice Baby Vanilla, Ice Ice Baby Vanilla
Ice Ice Baby Vanilla, Ice Ice Baby Vanilla
Again, this is the name of my company. I will be sure to tell you once again before I leave so you don’t forget.
Take heed, 'cause I'm a lyrical poet
When I’m not doing the custom installation thing, I also write for a couple of the industry’s largest publications, Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. A lot of people read my blogs and columns. Of course, the true musical genius of our industry is The AV Professional.
Miami's on the scene just in case you didn't know it
We like Niles Audio speakers because they include a lifetime warranty. This is great for outdoor speakers in high humidity, ocean enviroment. They were originally located in Miami, by the way.
My town, that created all the bass sound
Enough to shake and kick holes in the ground
As you would expect, I have a pretty impressive system at my house. My Definitive Technology Super Cube Trinity Reference subwoofer puts out a staggering amount of bass. It literally shakes the walls and windows in my home and is like a seismic punch to your soul. That is the kind of bass I’d like to make sure your theater has.
'Cause my style's like a chemical spill
I assure you that if we make any messes at your home we will clean them up before we leave! We use special solutions to clean video screens too.
Feasible rhymes that you can vision and feel
Your new audio system will produce such high-end sound quality that you will literally see it and hear it. You’ll be listening to more music than ever before.
Conducted and formed, This is a hell of a concept
We make it hype and you want to step with this
We will design your system from the ground up and I assure you it will be so amazing you will definitely want to hire our company.
Shay plays on the fade,
Slice like a ninja, Cut like a razor blade
Speaking of ninjas, Ihiji has this whole network ConnectNinja concept that is very cool. It provides a secure, cloud-based remote management system for your networks and devices. Here is a picture of me from a tradeshow I attended last year holding a Katana. Technically I think it is a Wakazashi blade, but we don't have to get hung up on the technicalities of feudal Japanese weaponry.
So fast, Other DJs say, "damn"
That is just how quick we can respond to issues if there is a problem. Often times the system can alert us to a problem via text or email before you even know about it! "Damn" indeed, right?
If my rhyme was a drug, I'd sell it by the gram
I realize this is a bit random to bring up, but I am available for freelance writing work, and I sell my stories by the post.
Keep my composure when it's time to get loose
We have a company motto, “Never let them see you sweat.” No matter what difficulty we might encounter on your project, we are going to keep our cool!
Magnetized by the mic while I kick my juice
We will run all of our wiring away from any high voltage lines so we don’t get any 60-cycle hum in the speakers or other electrical or magnetic interference.
If there was a problem, Yo – I'll solve it!
Check out the hook while DJ revolves it.
Did I mention that I can remote in to your system to fix a lot of problems without even having to come to your house? Pretty cool, right? Also, did you actually want a turntable in your system? We’ll need to make sure we get a pre-amp with a Phono input.
Ice Ice Baby Vanilla, Ice Ice Baby Vanilla
Ice Ice Baby Vanilla, Ice Ice Baby Vanilla
To recap, this is the name of my company. I hope you’ll give us a call.
Yo, man, let's get out of here! Word to your mother!
Before I leave, I wanted to make sure that you knew about our intercom systems. You can use the touchscreens in the house to contact your mother or any other family member.
|Posted on September 5, 2014 at 12:55 AM||comments ()|
You’ve likely heard the acronym KISS before, as in “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” It means, when faced with a problem or when coming up with a plan look for the simplest solution instead of trying to exacerbate it with an overly complicated solution.
Consider this urban legend: Back in the ’60s during the space race, NASA wanted a way for the astronauts to be able to write in the zero-G environment of space. They needed a pen that would write when upside down or at any other position and at an array of extreme temperatures with ink that would never stop flowing. NASA supposedly invested millions of dollars researching and developing and testing, ultimately creating the zero gravity “astronaut pen” by using pressurized ink cartridges to keep the ink flowing. The Soviet scientists looked at the same problem and sent their Cosmonauts into space with pencils.
Sometimes the solution to a problem is a simple tweak or redesign that makes for something better. Here are four products that I’ve come across lately that know how to rock and roll all night and party every day KISS style.
Crestron Cameo Wireless Dimmers/Switches
I hate installing lighting control devices. I mean I *hate* it. Even when you take away the fact that high-voltage can actually kill you, it’s still just a hateful chore. The problem is, when we are typically installing a lighting controller, it is in the process of replacing an existing one that has already been installed. And usually installed by an electrician that forced it into the box with all the delicacy of the Death Star’s garbage compactor and without any further thought to someone ever coming behind them and replacing it. Installing a new dimmer or switch means dealing with ultra-stiff Romex wire that is unwieldy, barely flexible and crammed and twisted into the plastic wall box in ways that neither man nor nature ever intended. The brilliance of the Crestron Cameo devices is in the way they accept the hateful, bare copper wire. Every other lighting device I’ve installed requires you to twist the Romex in a circular hook that you can tighten around the screws of the dimmer/switch. This requires pliers and squeezing and a fair bit of cursing to pull off successfully, and even then, there seems to be a fair chance that the thick and stiff Romex wire will slip off the screw when you are
delicately placing jamming the switch back into the box. But some mad genius at Crestron looked at this problem and said, “Damn! All this bending and curling is just insanity! Why would you not just stick the wire straight in?! I mean, the Romex is already straight, why force someone to make this God-awful job any harder?!” The Crestron Cameos have a screw to loosen the wire receptacle, but instead of twisting the wire around the screw, you slide it straight into a hole in the back of the dimmer. But wait! There isn’t just one hole, there are two! This lets you loop thru hot or neutral wiring like many electricians like to do. But wait! Every dimmer can also be a four-button keypad! So you can use it to create lighting scenes along with the dimming. So when someone wants to replace a light in a bedroom, they not only get a smart, dimmable lighting device, they also get a keypad that is programmable and capable of doing anything! Take that, problem! Of all the switches and dimmers I’ve ever installed, the Crestron models are by far the least hateful which is high praise indeed.
|Posted on September 5, 2014 at 12:40 AM||comments ()|
There are plenty of people that will gladly share all of their ideas on what you should DO while you are at CEDIA Expo. But I’m going to help you cull the list by telling you the 10 things you should NOT do at the Expo.
See, this will be my 16th Expo and I’ve managed to learn a few things over the years. So whether you’re a total Expo Noob or a grizzled veteran, there are probably a couple of things you can learn from this list.
...make a bunch of appointments.
You probably have reps calling or vendors emailing asking if you are going to the show and can they please, please, PRETTY PLEASE! set up an appointment to get together. Resist the temptation! Fake a stomach cramp, and when you're bent over, moaning and wailing, lick your palms. Or act like you no longer speak’a the English. Or that – whoops! - you keep accidentally hitting the kill switch on your new cell phone. Something! Because if you make an appointment it will be like s 20-ton anchor tied around your neck, pulling you down and dragging you to the bottom of the sea while the SS Fun & Easy goes sailing by to points of adventure and awesomeness. Inevitably you will see things that you want to just stop and check out and you likely won’t be anywhere near the right booth when the time comes. Or you’ll be in the midst of an awesome demo, and this appointment will be hanging over your head like some dreadful ticking time bomb. Also, if you make an appointment people will want like 30-45 minutes of your time and that is just far too much time to promise!
…miss out on training.
Have a technical question that has been eating into your mind like that bug in Star Trek II? Have a problem that no one else seems to know the answer too? Have a job coming up that you’re not quite sure which component to use? Or just want to strengthen your core knowledge of acoustics, networking, HDMI distribution, home theater design, automation and integration and more? If knowledge is your jam, then CEDIA is the place to get your training on. It’s the place where you can tap into the great fountain of knowledge and benefit from someone else’s many years of both success and failures. Expo is also the place to talk to that one elusive guy that seems to work at every company – but that is impossible to actually get on the phone or send an email to - that has the answer to every arcane tech question known to man. Expo is a chance to find that guy like a tech obsessed Javert and download his knowledge.
…be THAT GUY in class.
I’m sure that you’re smart. I’m sure that you know everything there is to know about everything ever. And I’m sure that you love to show off this knowledge. But no where do you love to do this more than when you’re in public surrounded by your peers. But please - and I’m speaking for the industry as a whole here - please resist the urge to play “stump the professor” in a training class. Honestly, we don’t care about the one time that you ran a Cat5 cable 101 meters and it still worked perfectly. Or how you found that bouncing WiFi off the mylar lining on a roof improved the parabolic response of the antenna. Or that you found that the Spectrometer 123XYZ doesn’t measure accurately at .0001 Lux. Or that you memorized Pi out to the 37th digit to more accurately calibrate room modes. Honestly. We don’t. In fact, when you start being that guy, and you hear that group moan rising up in the room all around you? Yeah. That’s a piece of our collective soul that died. Please, don’t kill our soul.
…grab every piece of literature you see.
My first CEDIA my co-workers called me the pack mule. That’s because I grabbed every brochure, flyer, and color slick from every booth I visited. “Oh! Your entire ‘2014 Every Widget & Part’ super catalog?! Might need that for later. Better grab two!” First off, you’ll give yourself a hernia, blow out a hammy, or get the arthritis lugging all that stuff around. Second, good luck packing it all up to take back home on the plane. And third, chances are you’re never going to look at it again. If you are really interested in something, ask if they will scan your badge and mail you information after the show or see if the information is available on a USB drive or something.
…walk around in a vacuum.
Where else can you go where you are surrounded by thousands of people that love technology every bit as much as you do? By people that understand your joke that ends with the punchline, “...because it was terminated to 568-B! DASH…B! BWA-HA-HA!”? Or by people that also know the unique feeling of a 900-degree soldering iron gently kissing their fingertip?!Or what it is like to hold a flashlight in your mouth while lying contorted in a cabinet and trying to reconnect something by feel alone? These are your people! Embrace them! While you are milling around, or grabbing lunch, or waiting in a demo line, or sipping on a delicious #craftbeer at the Legrand booth, ask those around you about their market, their company and what they’ve seen at the Expo that is cool. You might not only find out about something you missed, you might make a new friend! #BroHug
…wear new shoes.
There is a time and place to break in that brand new pair of sweet-looking and stylin’ kicks. When you throw those bad boys on, the ladies can tell by the way you use your walk, you're an Expo man, no time to talk. But Expo is no place to break in those moccasins, son. That’s because the Expo is a time when you will be doing *a lot* of walking. Like Trail of Tears level walking. Walking to the Expo. Walking all day at the Expo. Walking to dinner after the Expo. Then just randomly walking around for walking’s sake. This is a time to wear shoes that are tried and true; shoes that have become great and well-traveled friends with your feet over many previous steps. Don’t be a hero, take the comfortable shoes with you.
…party too hard.
I came up with a motto that has served me well in tradeshows and in life after attending a few CES shows. That motto is: “The next morning, you’ll never regret the drink you didn’t have.” There are a lot of events that offer open bars or open kegs or open shots or other ways to encourage you to enjoy copious amounts of free booze. Try to pace yourself and don’t feel like just cause it’s free you have to drink it all. If you hop around to a few events and have even a single drink at each one you could be hating it the next day. Try holding something in your hand – you know, so you look cool – and then nurse on it for a while.
…miss a Dolby Atmos demo.
I believe that Atmos will be the next big thing in home theater audio. Specifically I wrote, “Atmos represents the most significant upgrade in home theater audio ported directly from the commercial cinema since Dolby Surround EX was introduced back in 1999 with Star Wars: Episode One: The Phantom Menace. All other additions of height and width channels since them have been matrixed signals derived by the processor with no commercial counterpart or support, meaning there was never a theater mix to experience. This makes Atmos the first really saleable major home theater audio upgrade to come along in 15 years!” (More on my first impressions of listening to Atmos here.) Your customers are going to hear about Atmos and wonder what it is. You’re going to need to be ready to wire and install an Atmos-enabled system. At Expo you will have numerous opportunities to learn about and experience Dolby Atmos. Don’t blow it.
…forget to download the CEDIA EXPO ‘14 App.
The Expo moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. And there’s no better way to virtually look around than by downloading and using the free CEDIA Expo app! Use this digital concierge to keep up with the breaking news, exhibitor info and locations, events happening at Expo and local places to explore while in Denver. I used the handy “Locate Me” feature numerous times during last year’s Expo to help figure out where I was and how best to get to where I wanted to be. And all this free power fits right in the palm of your hand. And the best thing? No in-app purchases!
…miss the EXPO!
The CEDIA Expo is the premier event of the entire year for custom installers, so the number one biggest mistake you can make would be to miss out on the EXPO! I missed one back in 1999 and I’m still smarting from it! Will HDTV catch on?! Who will win the war between Blu-ray and HD-DVD?! I might never find out! Get yourself to Expo to make sure you don’t miss out on the next big thing!
|Posted on August 14, 2014 at 4:20 PM||comments ()|
Chances are you’ve heard a good deal of news recently about Dolby Atmos coming to the home market. If you’re totally in the dark, check out my blog, What Integrators Need to Know About Dolby Atmos to get up to speed on the basics of this new surround standard.
I was invited to New York yesterday (August 12) to visit Dolby’s offices – and more importantly, Dolby’s theater – to hear the home version of Dolby Atmos for myself. As an added bonus, I would also be getting the chance to hear Dolby Atmos’ commercial cinema version for the first time as well since the nearest Atmos equipped theater is about 90 miles from my home. Judging from the show of hands in the room, it appears that many people have already experienced Atmos in a commercial cinema, so it’s likely a large percentage of readers have already heard it for themselves.
Before I dive in to some of the details and describe what Atmos Home Theater sounded like, I want to say that I think Atmos is something you should definitely take note of. In fact, Atmos represents the most significant upgrade in home theater audio ported directly from the commercial cinema since Dolby Surround EX was introduced back in 1997 with Star Wars: Episode One: The Phantom Menace. All other additions of height and width channels since them have been matrixed signals derived by the processor with no commercial counterpart or support, meaning there was never a theater mix to experience. This makes Atmos the first really saleable major home theater audio upgrade to come along in 17 years! It also offers a great upsell opportunity for a surround system over a soundbar if clients want to experience the next generation of surround sound audio.
So, here’s what I learned from Dolby in New York…
The morning started out with a quick presentation overview from Brett Crockett, Dolby’s Senior Director Sound Technology Research.
Crockett explained Atmos is an engineered solution based on how the brain processes sound and that Dolby engineers “hacked your hearing” to reverse engineer how we hear and perceive sound. Atmos was introduced in 2012 with Pixar’s Brave, and there are now more than 150 films already mixed in Atmos and more coming continually.
The biggest difference between Atmos and all other surround formats is Atmos is not channel based, but rather uses sound objects; up to 128 of them. The metadata in each audio object tells the Atmos renderer where to move the objects around the room. All 128 audio objects from the original theater mix are represented in the home mix meaning nothing is lost. Spatial coding takes into account how many objects there are and where they are in space and the Atmos renderer makes a custom mix of the movie’s audio for your particular listening environment and setup with up to 24 floor and 10 overhead speakers.
Next up was a sit-down Q&A with Craig Eggers, Dolby’s Director Home Theater Marketing. Eggers explained the idea of overhead speakers translates well from the commercial cinema to the home but they can be difficult to install or add for many consumers, and Dolby’s goal is to bring Atmos to as many consumers as possible. This is one of the big reasons why Dolby developed the Atmos enabled speaker.
These speakers will be available from a variety of speaker manufacturers including Definitive Technology and Pioneer and will feature an extra set of drivers – and speaker binding posts – to drive the top-mounted Atmos speaker. All Atmos enabled speakers come in to Dolby for testing and certification to meet directivity, range and performance criteria.
Eggers emphasized that the Atmos renderer is scalable and adaptable and adding speakers increases the level of immersion and realism for the listener. During setup, the consumer or installer “tells” the Atmos renderer how many speakers are in the system, where they are located and what frequency range they can handle. This set-up will be done via on screen GUI and utilize a calibration mic similar to the way receivers incorporate technologies like Audyssey, MCACC (Pioneer) and YPAO (Yamaha) today. It will be left up to each receiver/processor manufacturer exactly how to implement this in their systems.
Atmos requires no changes to the Blu-ray or HDMI spec, though the Blu-ray player must be capable of bitstream output (for decoding by the Atmos renderer) and second audio channel must be turned off. Based on this information, it seems likely that movie servers like Kaleidescape would be able to support Atmos titles when they start appearing later this fall.
“Atmos needs to be experienced,” Eggers said, “and it is a technology that can bring customers into stores and introduce new customers.”
Eggers added, “Atmos represents an incredible opportunity to maximize in-store demo systems.”
I asked Eggers if there were different qualities or performance levels of Atmos renderers and he commented that the renderer is the same in all performance levels of devices, so an entry level receiver/processor will offer the same rendering capabilities of a higher-end model.
Knowing there are installers already gearing up to wire for Atmos systems, I pushed him for some specifics on speaker locations. The good news is that Dolby is preparing an Atmos installers guide that will be available at CEDIA which looks to answer all installation related questions. I got a look at this 39 page document, and it is very thorough and will offer specifics on speaker placement and location.
Following this session we were led into Dolby’s theater room for a demonstration of Atmos in a commercial theater setting to set an audio benchmark.
These demos were presented by Stuart Bowling, Dolby Worldwide Technical Marketing Manager, Cinema. Bowling wasn’t sure but thought the theater contained 31 speakers with 14 overhead. (It was difficult to count in the dark room.)
First up were two Atmos trailers, Amaze and Unfold. I have a 9.1 system in my home so I consider myself a fair judge of surround sound, but it was immediately clear the sound had a far more swirling, encompassing feel, creating a canopy of overhead audio that was far more immersive than the standard side channel only mix. I felt wrapped in sound, and the overall audio presentation had a higher plane, getting off the floor and up to screen height and well overhead.
We then watched a lengthy clip from Star Trek Into Darkness, the opening scene where Spock is trying to stop a volcano from erupting and destroying a civilization. There were several audio cues that really caught my ear, including a spear that sounded like it whipped right past my left shoulder, vines snapping all around and a thick cable breaking overhead and snapping across the sound stage. When the Enterprise lifted out of the ocean there was cracking and groaning sounds of metal overhead, and then lava blasts that you could easily track up and overhead.
Immersive, cocoon, canopy, spherical, these were the words that I found myself thinking as I listened, and the audio seemed to be a far more present and aggressive part of the story telling, making for a more involving and engaging experience in a way that current surround speaker layouts can’t match.
Next up was a Red Bull racing clip with an F1 car zipping through a city with terrifically detailed notes of engine noises and tire squeals that were precise and easily localizable in the large space.
Finally was a trailer with audio mixed by Gary Rydstrom and animated by Pixar called “Leaf” which reminded me quite a bit of the old “Jungle Sounds” demo put out by Dolby and THX to demonstrate Surround-EX many years ago. Leaf really let you pick out and track specific sound objects as they moved around the room, and also showed off the 360-degree swirling capabilities of Atmos as the leaf twirled around the room and overhead.
After this we were lead into a smaller room to experience an Atmos home theater system.
|Posted on August 6, 2014 at 3:45 PM||comments ()|
Getting complaints sucks.
I mean, who wants to open a letter or an email or pick up the phone to find an upset customer on the other end? Someone looking to tell you what you or your company did wrong or why they are unhappy? We’re primarily in the fun business, and we usually hear things like, “This is so great!” or “I love what you did!”, so dealing with unhappy people is not usually in the cards for us. But if you’re in business the unfortunate reality is that at some point you’re going to get a complaint, and how you handle it can not only determine the success of that interaction but possibly the success of your business overall.
A perfect example of how NOT to handle complaints can be seen in the epic social media meltdown of Amy’s Baking Company, a restaurant featured on Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares.” The owner’s took to social media to attack and defame their critics, all spiraling into a massive ball of viral disaster.
My business partner, Allen, was raised by a father that served in the diplomatic core, and he is terrific at handling and diffusing customer complaints. Here are some tips I’ve learned from watching Allen handle complaints over the years.
Generally this is a case where the old saying “time heals all wounds” doesn’t apply, and the more time that passes, the more the person is likely to stew about it meaning you will have a more difficult time coming to a good resolution. Small complaints usually come in via the telephone and the biggies usually arrive in a letter. Sometimes a complaint requires that you “gather facts” – debrief an installer, research a proposal or prior correspondence – and if that is the case, get on it immediately and respond by the end of the day.
Pick Up the Phone
Obviously, if the person is complaining via phone, you’ll be forced to deal with the issue on the spot. But if the complaint comes in via letter, email, or social media, responding via phone is usually the best approach. While a letter might be more articulate, it is also very one-sided – just you – and takes too long to arrive. Trying to address the issue via email often results in too much back-and-forth and there is the tendency for tone to be misconstrued in an email escalating or creating a problem that wasn’t there to begin with. And social media is too public a platform to address a problem. However, if the complaint came via email or social media, responding with something like, “I’m sorry to hear about this and I’m going to call you today to discuss” is certainly appropriate and lets the person know that they have been heard.
Before doing anything, take a deep breath, step back from the stress of the complaint and try to look at the situation from your client’s eyes. It’s easy to start building a case in your mind coming up with all the reasons why you are right and they are wrong, but that is the wrong approach. Much like my blog, Looking at Your Billing Process Through the Client’s Eyes, or WWJD – What Would John Do – try to put yourself in their place and imagine how you would feel. Also, just because you may technically be right doesn’t mean that your customer doesn’t have a point or change the fact that they feel bad. Also, you might win the battle, but ultimately lose the war if the customer never does business with you again and then goes on to tell others about their bad experience.
|Posted on July 29, 2014 at 3:25 PM||comments ()|
Churches, or rather “Houses of Worship,” or HoW as our industry likes to acronym them, have become big business for a lot of AV integrators on the commercial side. With large congregations sometimes exceeding thousands and ministries that include live bands, light shows and multi-screen video projection, they often need fairly elaborate AV systems.
The part of the country where I live is often referred to as “The Bible Belt,” and we certainly have no shortage of churches; I pass by dozens while driving to and from work. In fact, I pretty much pass dozens on my way to and from anywhere. In order to attract the attention of passers-by, or gather new members, or just out-church the church next to them, many like to advertise with some catchy religious-themed slogan on their reader boards out front. Every couple of days the message will change to something new and eye-grabbing like, “Know God, Know Peace. No God, No Peace,” “Honk if you love Jesus; Text while driving if you want to meet him,” “Staying in bed and shouting ‘Oh, God!’ does not constitute going to church,” or “How will you spend eternity---smoking or non-smoking?” Seriously, some of them are pretty hilarious and awesome. I imagine there is a book full of them somewhere, a veritable Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts for church signs they cull from.
One church put up this GIANT billboard that was just so horrifyingly awesome I sometimes found myself driving out of my way just to gaze and marvel at it. It was a picture of Jesus being crucified, but this Jesus looked more like Stallone circa Rambo and Rocky with huge, blood-red text that read, “You drew First Blood! But I’ll be back!” I mean, this Jesus was *totally* ripped and cut up, his stomach rockin’ an 8-pack and looking like his preaching consisted of CrossFitting from one city to the next beating unbelievers within an inch of their lives and then asking if they had their tickets to the gun show. His Last Supper would have been like 15 skinless chicken breasts washed down with a super dose of X-Treme Creatine Muscle Blaster Fuel followed by a dessert of multiple reps of pec and lat shredding.
We even had this bit of 3D Church awesomeness spring up that I literally had to stop, make a U-turn and drive back to take a picture of:
While driving to Florida for a recent family vacation, I passed a church sign that caught my eye and really made me think. Not so much about my eternal soul, but about the state of the custom installation industry. It read, “The good times are a blessings and the bad times are a lesson.”
For several miles after I thought about this, and it really resonated with me. And if you’ve been in this business for any length of time, say before 2005, then you likely experienced the inverted-V of the blessings, bad times, (hopefully) back-to-blessings period of the economy’s effects on your business.
Hopefully through the down time, you did learn some “lessons” that helped you to rebound and ultimately become a better installer, employer, and company altogether. Here are six lessons our company learned during the “bad times”…
|Posted on July 29, 2014 at 3:20 PM||comments ()|
When I started in this industry – back in 1998 for those keeping score at home – there were basically two types of CI firms: those with a showroom and those without whom we less-than-lovingly referred to as “trunk slammers.”
At the time, our company, Custom Theater and Audio, had a showroom we were renting; a space next to an interior decorator that we thought create a wonderful synergy as they would undoubtedly send us all of their clients once they finished selling them window treatments and couches and chandeliers. (Never worked out that way. Turned out in the late ‘90s interior decorators still hated all of our “black box” stuff and the idea of “ruining” their design space with something as horrible as a TV or speaker system was just a slightly better idea than suggesting they go with a camouflage design theme.)
Having had the “luxury” of working out of a showroom for the past 16 years, I often ask myself if we were opening our business now, would investing in a showroom make the most business sense? Or would a more streamlined, approach make us more fiscally successful? Here’s a list of pros and cons on having a showroom…
Business Credibility – There’s no doubt about it, a tangible, physical store front where people can come and visit any time they feel like adds a huge amount of credibility by conveying a sense of permanence. “Brick and mortar.” The words just have a sense of gravitas to them. If you are just working out of your house and decide tomorrow that this whole install thing isn’t working out, it’s pretty easy to just close shop. Take the magnet off the truck, change your phone number and poof! You’re gone. A showroom also suggests that you believe in your business and that it will be around for a while and that you’ve attained a certain amount of success to be able to invest in a showroom. Also, some people are just more comfortable spending money on luxury items with a company that has a storefront.
Demonstrations – Rush – Canada’s greatest export – has a song titled “Show Don’t Tell” and that’s exactly what a showroom allows you to do. With a showroom, you have a variety of systems set-up and always at the ready for demonstration. Instead of trying to TELL someone about something, a showroom allows you to SHOW them that concept in action. Want to explain exactly how easy a Sonos is to operate? Want to demonstrate how well a housewide HDBaseT HDMI-over-Cat5 matrix distribution system works? Want to show someone how to tame and control their movie collection with a Kaleidescape? Want to let someone know how powerful an iPad can be when it’s controlling a housewide lighting, security, HVAC, A/V system and more? All of these things are part of the everyday life of having a showroom.
|Posted on July 15, 2014 at 2:30 PM||comments ()|
Service calls are a large and important revenue generator for any custom installation business. In fact, those quick, “Can you come fix this?” or “I need a programming change” calls keep the trucks rolling and help many of us to stay in business in between the large projects. And there is an important cycle to the service call that must be maintained for us to continue to be successful in business: We do the work, we send a bill, the customer pays the bill, and the customer is happy and continues to think of us for all future needs.
Most people are happy – well, maybe not happy but at least willing and content – to pay for a service that they feel good about and that is fair and equitable. Say their TV was broken before some major event. You dispatched a tech in a timely manner. The tech arrived and fixed the issue. They got to watch their show. You send a bill. It’s warm and fuzzy all around. Happy ending.
But other times people will pay a bill even when they are not feeling good about it and which they think isn’t fair. And often times they’ll do it without saying anything. But if they feel wronged or aggrieved enough, they probably won’t ever call us back. Sad ending.
As I prepare invoices now, I start running it through a mental filter I like to call WWJD: What Would John (me) Do?
Essentially I ask myself, “If I were to get this bill, how would I feel about it?” Would I think it was fair? Would I feel like I was a valued customer? Would I understand why I was being charged for something? Would I want to continue doing business with this company?
It’s a pretty simple barometer that often helps me to reword things, clarify things and sometimes adjust the price for things.
Different areas demand different service call rates, and I’m sure we’ve all had those times where we charged someone $70-100+ to go out and literally press a button (oh, Tape 2 Monitor! It’s like you were an ATM built into every receiver!) and sometimes those calls do justify a full-priced invoice. Other times, a bill requires a little massaging.
Here are five things I use to help decide WWJD before billing clients.
Could I Fix It Over the Phone?
I do my darndest to help people resolve an issue on the phone before dispatching a tech. For one thing, it’s just easier to solve a problem and be done with it than to fold it into our busy schedule. If it is something simple like reboot a cable box, change the batteries in a remote, or making sure everything is on the right input and I can help them out on the phone, I’ll do it. That way if we do dispatch a tech and it does turn out to be one of those simple one-button-press fixes, the customer will at least know that we tried to help them before the service call and it helps to mitigate the bill. But you know the old saying…John can’t help them that won’t help themselves. I had one customer that absolutely refused to unplug something and then plug it back in. I even told him, “Sir, I don’t want to have to bill you to send a tech out to spend 30 seconds to unplug that. I’m trying to save you money here,” but he didn’t care. He wanted the service call and he knew what it was going to cost and he was willing to pay it.
|Posted on July 11, 2014 at 3:00 PM||comments ()|
With CEDIA EXPO just two short months away, it’s time to start getting excited for this annual spectacle custom installers have come to know and love.
This will by my 16th EXPO and far from familiarity breeding contempt, I think I actually come to look forward to the show a little more each year.
And having been to EXPO in New Orleans, Atlanta, Indy, and Minneapolis, I can definitively say that Denver is my favorite host city and I’m thrilled – THRILLED – that it is once again being held in the uber-clean and friendly mile-high city!
With that, here are the things I’m most looking forward to at this year’s show!
Kaleidescape Post Settlement
This will be the first tradeshow following Kaleidescape settling its decade-long dispute with the DVD CCA. For once the specter of that suit won’t be hanging over the company’s head and Kaleidescape will be free to focus all of its energy and resources on getting back to what they do best: innovating and improving the world’s leading movie server.
I’m looking forward to (hopefully) hearing a lot of exciting announcements regarding the company and developments with its unique movie download store.
Dolby Atmos Demos
If you haven’t heard, Dolby is bringing its new theatrical sound format, Atmos, to the home. I’m a freak for surround sound – my personal system is 9.1-channels – so I’m all for any new developments to home theater audio.
And with Atmos at home supporting up to 34 speakers -24 on the floor and 10 overhead – I’m hoping for some insanely awesome demos! The companies already announcing Atmos support include Denon, Marantz, Yamaha, Pioneer, Onkyo, Integra, and Definitive Technology, so expect to see me wandering around those booths at EXPO!
The Launch of Origin Acoustics
When an industry icon like Jeremy “SpeakerCraft” Burkhardt says his new company, Origin Acoustics, has some “killer” intellectual property and is looking to “reinvent” the architectural speaker category, how can you NOT take note and be curious?!? Plus, if anyone knows how to put on a great show, it’s Burkhardt. (Remember Lucent Dossier, anyone?) Jeremy, consider this my RSVP for the press event!
New Automation News
Whether you are a dealer for Lutron, Control4, Crestron, Savant, Elan, URC or other, CEDIA is the place where big automation announcements are made. CEDIA is where you discovered that the iPhone and iPad were going to replace touchscreen controls.
CEDIA is where Lutron unveiled battery powered shades and Radio RA2. Where Nest announced Control4 integration. Where Crestron announced Adagio and airConnect and 4K UltraHD ready DM and so much more. CEDIA is the place where the products you will be using next year are going to be introduced. Don’t you want to be there to see it happen?
The theme to last year’s EXPO was “Own the Network, Own the Home,” and that has only continued in importance for our industry.
As virtually every new device in the modern connected home is reliant on the network for communication, it’s more important than ever to own the network before it pwns you!
What’s a managed switch do? How do you incorporate multiple WAPs? How do devices communicate across different VLANs? You can get the know-how from experts at EXPO.
What’s Next for Wireless Audio?
More and more companies are getting into the wireless audio space, and being able to install audio throughout a home without difficult and costly retrofitting can open up millions of homes worth of potential new clients.
Whether you like Sonos, Nuvo, Russound, Bluesound, or Denon’s new HEOS wireless distribution is the future and something you need to know about.
Real Home Theater
I don’t care how big flat panel TVs get, to me home theater will always mean a two-piece projection system with a giant screen.
Last year’s CEDIA brought a true 4K projector from Sony for under $16,000 and an improved flagship for under $28,000, had JVC pushing black levels and contrast boundaries even further, had Digital Projection debuting the world’s first 3-chip DLP LED projector, and brought us the incredible performing ,value-priced Epson 6030. Can’t wait to see what this year’s projection announcements are!
Lifting Some Pints
There aren’t too many states as craft beer friendly as Colorado. The state ranks 4th in number of craft breweries (175), 4th in craft breweries per capita, 3rd in barrels of craft beer produced each year and 2nd in gallons of craft beer drank per adult! All that means you can find some amazing beer to drink while enjoying the post-EXPO nightlife.
One of my favorite Denver beers is Upslope’s Imperial IPA. Almost anything from Avery Brewing Co is also wonderful. And while not a Colorado brew, Denver is one of the few places outside of California where you can find Russian River’s Pliny the Elder on draft.
According to Denver resident and craft beer cook extraordinaire, Chelsea Mitchell, some terrific locations for getting your craft beer drink on are Falling Rock Taphouse, Fresh Craft, Euclid Hall, Star Bar and the Breckenridge Tap House and Cheeky Monk.
It’s not every day you get to listen to a company’s flagship speaker system powered by another company’s flagship amplifier that is connected to another company’s flagship projector.
EXPO offers some of the most awesome A/V demonstrations around, showing you the industry’s current state of the art. To get you excited, here’s a list of my favorite demos from 2013 EXPO.
Whatever your reason, make sure you have plans to attend CEDIA EXPO 2014! Click here and register with code CT1 and you can get in for FREE!
|Posted on July 8, 2014 at 1:20 PM||comments ()|
Nearly every custom installer I’ve met also loves a good craft beer. (Shamless plug: Check out my blog dedicated to craft beer reviews!) Beer is almost always part of the tradeshows we attend; either as a booth enticement or afterhours party conversation lubricant. Beer is often a crew pit stop at the end of the work day, either to celebrate or commiserate over a hard install.
Regardless of your personal take on Sam Adams beer, Jim Koch’s Boston Beer is now the largest craft beer maker on the market with over $600 million in annual revenue and a 1% share of the US beer market. In 1983, Koch left a 6-figure job with Boston Consulting Group, took an old family recipe and started a brewing revolution that has made him a billionaire and lasted 30 years.
What can we learn from this?
Find and Fill a Need
Koch described the American beer scene as “basically a wasteland” in the ‘80s, with drinking options limited to American pale lager macrobrews or imports that often lost their flavor due to travel time. Koch says, “There really wasn’t an alternative that was rich, flavorful beer delivered fresh.” So he made one.
The entire custom installation industry basically exists to “fill a need.” People want TVs mounted and audio distributed throughout their home and a simpler way to control devices. They look to technology to make their lives easier and more enjoyable and they look to integrators to make that technology user friendly. As new “needs” arrive, will your company be nimble enough to adapt to be able to fill them? Say moving into networking, or commercial, or security…?
Compete on Your Terms
When Koch explained to his father that he was going to quit a solid, well-paying job to get into brewing, his dad thought he was crazy. Namely because he would be competing against the mega brewers that were producing millions of barrels of what American beer drinkers seemed to like. Koch explained to his father, “I’m not going to compete with the big guys. They’re good at what they do. They make fine beer. Just like McDonalds and Burger King and Wendy’s make fine food. I can’t make beer that way, I can’t make beer that cheaply, [but] I can make the gourmet meal instead of fast food.”
Like Sam Adams, our products and services are often going to be higher than the Big Box retailers, but we can compete by providing a gourmet experience and service that provides a “gourmet” alternative that many people will be willing to pay for. We clearly can’t compete on price, but we can dominate on service and experience.
|Posted on July 2, 2014 at 5:10 PM||comments ()|
Customer: Hi, this is Mr. X. Do you remember me?
Me: Umm, I think so… We did a job for you quite a few years ago, right?
Customer: Yeah. You put in a system for me in my new house about 5 years ago. And now my remote isn’t working. I need a service call.
Me: OK. Well, can you tell me a little about your system?
Customer: You should know. You’re the one that put it in.
Me: Yes, sir, but as you said, that was 5 years ago. And as I look at your file I see it was actually 8 years ago. And I’ve probably installed hundreds of other systems since then. Tell me about the remote you’re using. What kind is it?
Customer: I don’t know. You should know; you put it in.
Me: I truly wish I had total recall for every single one of the systems and every single component that I’ve installed over the past 16 years, but I’m afraid I don’t. Let me just look through your file for a bit to see what we installed…OK. I’ve got it. So, what’s going on?
Customer: The remote isn’t working.
Me: What makes you think the remote isn’t working?
Customer: I don’t have any TV.
Me: OK. When is the last time you changed the batteries?
Customer: I just changed them.
Me: ’Just’ like right before you called me?
Customer: No. Like, I don’t know, six months ago maybe. But it’s not the batteries. They’re fine.
Me: OK. Can you try putting in new batteries now? I’ve found that often solves many remote control related problems.
Customer: No. I don’t have any. You can bring some when you come for the service call.
Me: OK. First let’s see if we can’t figure this out. So you don’t have any TV?
Customer: That’s right.
Me: Is the TV powered on?
Customer: No. There’s no picture.
Me: OK, but is it physically powered on?
Customer: I told you there’s no picture.
Me: Yes but there is a difference between it physically not being powered on and being powered on with no picture. Does the set have power to it and is it turned on?
Customer: I don’t know.
Me: There’s a little light on the front of the set…is it red or green?
Me: OK. That means that it is on. So that’s good. Is the receiver on?
Customer: What receiver? I don’t have a receiver.
Me: Umm, yes you do. It is the large box that has a big volume knob on it.
Customer: No. There’s no sound.
Me: OK, but is the receiver on…?
Customer: Can’t tell.
Me: Are there lights on it?
Customer: Yes. It says TV.
Me: What else does it say?
Customer: TV. That’s it.
Me: Well, I know that it will say other things. Like maybe ‘Dolby’ or the word ‘analog’ or ‘digital’ and there will be a number like -25 that indicates the volume.
Customer: OK. I turned it all the way up. It is now is flashing +15.
Me: Wait. Why did you do that? No. Turn it down to like -10. So when the TV comes on it won’t blow out a speaker or something.
Customer: (SOUNDS OF MASSIVE STATIC) OK. Wait. I was jabbing some buttons and now something is happening. There is really loud static coming out of the speakers.
Me: Why were you jabbing buttons? Wait. Stop. What does it say now?
Customer: OK. I jabbed some more buttons now it says Tuner 88.70 and is flashing the word 'MUTE.'
Me: Wait. What? No. You turned it to the tuner? OK. Please press the button that says 'TV' and then just turn the volume know till it says like -20 or -10 or something. Then don't touch anything else.
Customer: OK. It says TV again. and -30. Remote is still broken.
Me: You're not even using the remote right now... OK. So, the TV and receiver are on, but you’ve still got no picture or sound?
Customer: No. The remote is busted just like I said. I need a service call. I can be here this afternoon after 6PM.
Me: I’m pretty sure it isn’t a remote control issue and I’m afraid I can’t do a service call tonight.
Customer: Well, I don’t have any TV. I need you to come out. Today. World Cup is on.
Me: Have you checked the cable box? Is it on?
Me: How do you know it is on?
Customer: It is showing the time.
Me: Well, it always shows the time. Can you press the channel up button on the remote for me?
Me: Yes, I understand that, but I want to see if the cable box is on and responding to commands.
Customer: OK. Whatever. I am now pressing the channel up button on your remote. Press!
Customer: The channel number came up on the box. Then it went back to the time. Still no TV.
Me: And there is still nothing on the TV screen?
Customer: No. Nothing.
Me: Like, it is just a big, black, empty screen?
Customer: No. There is a box with a message.
Me: Like HDMI1 or something?
Customer: No. It says, ‘This box is not authorized.’ Then there is a phone number to call the cable company. Your system is busted.
Customer: Are you there?
Me: …(small pop of aneurysm bursting)…
Me: You need to call the cable company. Just like the box says.
Customer: OK. But I probably still need a service call for this remote...
|Posted on July 1, 2014 at 11:50 AM||comments ()|
With many customers migrating away from traditional multi-channel – 5.1, 7.1, 9.1 and even the full-magilla 11.1 – speaker offerings in favor of an all-in-one integrated soundbar, you might think that home theater surround formats peaked with DTS’ Neo:X which supports 11 simultaneous channels (the traditional 5-channel mix augmented with surround back, front height and front width). However, as with any technology that gets its start in the commercial cinema – surround sound, anamorphic projection, 3D, D-Box - it wasn’t really a stretch to imagine that Dolby’s new cinema audio format, Atmos, would eventually find its way into the living room. And by the end of the year, that’s exactly what will happen.
Last week several manufacturers – Onkyo, Integra, Denon, Marantz, Pioneer, Yamaha, Definitive Technology – announced plans to bring Dolby Atmos home in a variety of ways. As an integrator, here’s what you need to know in order to be ready for this next frontier in home theater surround.
What’s an Atmos?
Dolby introduced Atmos to the world in 2012 with Pixar’s Brave , and so far roughly 70 films have been made using this new audio technology. If you or your clients haven’t heard about Atmos, don’t feel too out of the loop; only about 130 theaters in the continental US equipped for Atmos playback. Atmos is based not on traditional speaker channels but on “audio objects” which Dolby’s Director of Sound Research, Brett Crockett, describes as, “Any sound heard in a movie scene—a child yelling, a helicopter taking off, a car horn blaring. Filmmakers using Dolby Atmos can decide exactly where those sounds should originate and precisely where they move as the scene develops. The Dolby Atmos system, whether in the cinema or a home theater, has the intelligence to determine what speakers to use to precisely recreate movement in the way the filmmakers intend.” Atmos supports up to 128 discrete audio tracks and up to 64 unique speaker feeds.
How Many Speakers?
Remember when you tried to explain to a customer that they needed five speakers for surround sound a few years ago? And they were all, “That sounds like a lot of speakers. I don’t think I need that many.” And then you increased your sales pitch to incorporate 7-channels. And then 9. Well, get ready to have that conversation all over again. Atmos is going to let you or your customer add speakers to your heart’s content. In fact, Atmos at home will support as many as 34 speakers with 24 on the floor and 10 overhead!
Crockett explains, “Atmos is also far more flexible and adaptable than channel-based home theater. In a channel-based system with channel-based content, the number of speakers is fixed—a 7.1 system always consists of seven speakers and one subwoofer. With Dolby Atmos, in contrast, you have amazing flexibility: you can get the full experience with just seven speakers or get an even richer, more detailed sound by adding more speakers. As you add speakers, a Dolby Atmos enabled receiver will automatically determine how to use them to create fantastic, immersive audio.”
5.1 is Dead! Long Live 5.1.4!
Atmos will bring a new nomenclature to how we describe a surround speaker configuration, adding a new dot subcategory to indicate how many in-ceiling Atmos height speakers are in the system. Manufacturers will be able to determine the configurations that a receiver/processor can support, and each Atmos speaker will count as a channel. For example, an 11-channel receiver would likely be capable of handling these designs:
7.1.4 – A traditional 5-channel layout with additional surround back channel and 4 in-ceiling height speakers
7.1.4 – A traditional 5-channel layout with additional front width channel and 4 in-ceiling height speakers
7.1.4 – A traditional 5-channel layout with additional front height channel and 4 in-ceiling height speakers
9.1.2 – A traditional 5-channel layout with a combination of either surround back, front width or front height and 2 in-ceiling height speakers
Do I Need In-Ceiling Speakers?
|Posted on June 25, 2014 at 12:35 AM||comments ()|
We routinely send out letters to prospective clients introducing our company and the services we offer, and one of the lines in that letter says, “Whether you are interested in concert hall sound or movie theater video...” I came up with that line, and I used to love it, as it created a visual that everyone could relate to. But now as I’ve gotten a bit older and gone to several concerts and movies, I’ve come to realize that this visual might NOT be the experience that people actually want.
The truth is, what we offer people in their homes is oh-so-much better than this experience. And now nine times out of 10 I’d rather have watch the performance or film on a Blu-ray in the far greater comfort of my living room and I imagine our clients would as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the *idea* of going to concerts and movies, and when I *think* about going to see a show, I picture how great it will be. I mean, what is better than a live performance of a band you love?! When I get there right before the show starts, I love the buzz and energy of the audience and the expectation of a great performance. And then the lights dim, the bands walks onto the stage, the sound system fires up and my enthusiasm slowly starts to wane after those first communal cheers start to die down and over the evening it eventually drops to the point where I start thinking, “Why did I want to come here again?” *
Most concerts are insanely crowded with personal space reduced to the thin layer of cotton you and the people around you happen to be wearing. You are left standing in a crowd of questionably hygienic people, engulfed in a strange mélange of odors that makes you kind of envy Third World countries, in what often feels like a protest that is about to go seriously south, as people – and I’m going to use this term in the broadest sense possible – “dance” around in a variety of contortions and convulsions. Honestly, if I wanted to feel like I’m about to be smothered to death in a crush of unwashed and what-is-that-smell? bodies, I’d opt for purchasing a subway token.
Further, I have to wonder why so many people choose to pay good money to go to a concert only to spend the majority of the show talking to the person next to them about everything BUT the show. And when I say “talking” I mean standing about a foot away and screaming into the ear hole of the unfortunate person standing next to them. “DUDE! DUUUUDE!!! I HAVE TO TELL YOU ABOUT THAT THING THAT HAPPENED AT THAT PLACE TO THAT GUY THAT TIME!” These are also usually the people getting so hammered on $12 Budweiser’s – actually an enthralling and engrossing mini-three-act play in itself, as you watch them carrying two hands worth of these oversized beers high in the air through a heaving crowd of people wondering just who is going to get a beer dumped on them and how they will react to the sudden golden shower – that I have to imagine the show is only a vague and hazy recollection the next day.
Also most shows seem like the guy running the sound board feels like he has something to prove to the crowd. Almost as if he’s not-so-secretly angry at all of us for coming and he wants to punish each and every one of us under a blistering and withering wall of sound; turning all his dials and sliders to 11 and producing devastating SPLs that constantly flirt with the edge of distortion while he exacts his revenge for some unknown slight. Or perhaps he is actually a Samaritan, feeling it is his job to perform sonic lithotripsy on the audience; using massive and unrelenting overdriven bass waves to cure the population of kidney stones one show at a time. Either way, after the first few songs, I’m generally starting to worry about how much damage this “fun time” will do to my permanent hearing.
* Lest you think I’m just some old curmudgeon yelling at the kids to take a shower and turn it down, here is a write-up from a terrific show that I recently went to, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers with Edie Brickell.
|Posted on June 18, 2014 at 11:10 AM||comments ()|
Because you are currently reading this, I’m going to make three assumptions…
1) You have fine taste in A/V writers.
2) You are currently alive.
3) You have a barely concealed disdain for your Internet Service Provider and would like to pay them as little as possible while retaining the maximum surfing speeds.
According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, American ISPs now have the lowest customer satisfaction ranking of any industry in the country. And bottoming out that grim list of corporate scum and villainy is Comcast and Time Warner, the two most hated companies in the US. So, congrats, guys! One of the reasons why we seem to hate our ISP so vehemently is the growing cost of service coupled with horrific customer service and reliability and speed issues.
One of the things at the root cause of these issues could very well be the out-of-date, old-tech, last-gen modem you ISP provided you when you signed up for service way back in the day. There’s also good chance that your ISP is charging you a monthly rental fee for that modem. These fees range from $6-8 and give you the “privilege” of using something you probably hate. But for around $80, you can buy one of the highest rated modems available...
|Posted on June 18, 2014 at 12:50 AM||comments ()|
Recently I found myself in need of a new garbage disposal, in-sink grinder thing for our kitchen. Our previous one had failed in a spectacular fashion, with a hole that blew through the side of it, spewing tons of water out of it when we ran our dishwasher. Like most disposals, ours was located in a cabinet under our kitchen sink, so we didn’t noticed the mini-flood until it filled the cabinet with water and then it overflowed out all over the kitchen floor.
To say that I know absolutely nothing about garbage disposals would not be totally true; I mean, I know the exact switch on the wall to turn the thing on and off and I know how to reach down into its disgusting and potentially deadly maw to retrieve some piece of silverware that has decided to end its life in the most grisly fashion possible. But since this unit came with our home, I had never had the need to shop for a disposal.
So, I knew I needed something and I had a basic idea of how it worked, but beyond that I was pretty much a total noob. And in many ways, this put me into the same position of many of our customers when they find themselves needing a new component and coming to us to get advice.
When I got to the Home Depot I headed to the disposal aisle and looked at the wares. They had several units set up ranging in price from $79 to $299, and a nifty display that let you hear the relative loudness of the different units, with the cheaper ones sounding like you were throwing handfuls of change and chunks of metal into a roaring jet turbine and the flagship models giving off a low kitten’s purr.
I stood there for a bit pawing over the different models and trying to decide which level of luxury my disposed and grinded food deserved when a Home Depot employee headed over and asked if I could use any help. I explained my situation and pointed to the model that I was considering – a middle of the road affair costing $179 – and asked which one he would buy. With no hesitation whatsoever he pointed to the cheapest model on the shelf, the Badger 5; a plain unit with a Spartan black, plastic housing, a small motor, and made bone-grinding sounds like what you would hear in a Saw movie.
I pointed to the model I had been considering, the stately named Evolution Select wrapped in a luxe red metal case, and asked if he would spend the extra $90 for that unit and he said, “Hell, no! Not in a thousand years.”
Now, on the one hand, I certainly appreciated the man’s honesty. (However, to not even be willing to consider that in a thousand years his needs for disposing of sink garbage might not change frankly just seemed a bit short-sighted in my opinion.) He could have just as easily said, “Hell, yeah! In fact, you should go all the way to the flagship model! That baby makes grinding up your garbage like a day at Disneyland! I can’t wait to rush home after work and just grind away!”
But the experience also gave me some great insights into the sales process and how I sell A/V gear to my customers.
|Posted on June 5, 2014 at 10:05 AM||comments ()|
What does this mean for Kaleidescape? Q and A with company founders
On June 2, Judge William Monahan of the Superior Court of California approved an agreement between the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA) and Kaleidescape to end the decade-long litigation.
At the crux of the lawsuit, the DVD CCA alleged that because Kaleidescape allowed users to play copied content without requiring the DVD to be in the player during playback, Kaleidescape violated the “CSS General Specifications” section of the license agreement.
In March 2007, Judge Leslie Nichols ruled in Kaleidescape’s favor, finding the company in full compliance of the DVD CCA’s CSS licensing. However this lower court ruling was appealed to California’s 6th District Court of Appeal, and in August 2009, this court reversed the lower court’s decision.
According to the appeal filed by the DVD CCA, “When DVD CCA became aware of how the Kaleidescape system functioned, it was concerned that the system did not comply with the pertinent specifications for CSS. In or about December 2003, DVD CCA demanded that Kaleidescape cease manufacturing and selling its system until modifications could be made to bring it into compliance. Kaleidescape representatives met with representatives from DVD CCA in January 2004 but were unable to convince DVD CCA that its system complied with the license requirements. Further attempts to resolve the dispute were unsuccessful. DVD CCA filed this lawsuit on December 7, 2004.”
In March 2012, Judge Monahan ruled against Kaleidescape, finding it in breach of its contract with the DVD CCA, and imposed a permanent injunction against Kaleidescape. Kaleidescape appealed the ruling and was granted a request to stay the injunction while the appeal was pending.
(You can read more about that decision here: DVD CCA 1, Kaleidescape and Innovation 0 and see my interview with Kaleidescape's founder and then CEO, Michael Malcolm, here: Kaleidescape Verdict: IT IS SO ORDERED)
This settlement definitively brings this lawsuit to a close.
Following the settlement, the DVD CCA issued this statement:
“Under the settlement agreement, two significant actions have occurred in the California courts.
“First, on May 19, 2014, at Kaleidescape’s request, the California Sixth District Court of Appeal dismissed Kaleidescape’s appeal of a California trial court’s 2012 judgment. The trial court had ruled that Kaleidescape’s DVD playback device known as the Kaleidescape System breached the License because it used CSS to make permanent copies of DVD content, which could then be played back without any need for the actual DVD.
“Second, following return of the case to that trial court, Judge William Monahan on June 2, 2014 granted the joint request of DVD CCA and Kaleidescape to put into effect the injunction previously issued by that court to prohibit Kaleidescape from using CSS in breach of the CSS License Agreement. The injunction was made effective as of November 30, 2014, and modified to give the trial court jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the settlement agreement.”
Curious what implications this settlement meant for Kaleidescape and its business going forward, I reached out to company founders, Cheena Srinivasan, CEO, and Michael Malcolm, for some clarification.
What does finally settling this lawsuit mean for Kaleidescape?
“Settling the lawsuit is a watershed moment for us because it paves the way for expanding our relationships with the studios which will usher in a new era for Kaleidescape. This dispute has been a painful distraction for over a decade. By entering into a settlement agreement, Kaleidescape can now focus on the electronic distribution of movies to Kaleidescape Systems, in the highest quality via the Kaleidescape Store. This will allow many more customers to conveniently build a personal library of the finest movies and enjoy an immersive movie-watching experience at home without having to handle a disc.”
What will this ruling mean for Kaleidescape’s dealers and customers?
“For dealers, it will be easier to sell the system because they will no longer have to answer questions about the lawsuit. Getting rid of the lawsuit removes concerns that some prospective customers have had in the past. Customers will have easy access to many more electronic titles from our Store and will be able to enjoy the convenience of digital downloads, the quality of Blu-ray, and a catalog of titles that’s second to none.”
|Posted on June 4, 2014 at 10:55 AM||comments ()|
“A war chest is a collection of funds intended to allow a person or organization to get through a situation that requires much more money than usual.” - Wikipedia
I’m not a financial analyst, so please cut me a bit of slack if my figures are off due to faulty research, but by my Googling – and the irony of using Google to look-up Apple is kind of delicious – I find that Apple’s war chest has cash reserves somewhere in the $150 billion range. Tim Cook recently announced an increase in the company’s share buyback program to $130 billion and also approved an 8% increase in the company’s quarterly cash dividend, so I’m sure that cuts into that figure somewhat, but any way you cut it, that’s a ton of cash to be sitting on. It’s what folks like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet call “walkin’ around money.”
And, while other companies have proven pretty voracious when it comes to spending and acquiring companies – Google dropping $3.2 billion for Nest and Facebook plunking down $2 Billion for Oculus Rift – Apple has been a little more Scrooge McDuck when it comes to loosening the purse strings.
Apple finally decided to part with some long-green in the recent $3 billion purchase of Beats. While this might give them some street cred with Dre and Jimmy Iovine as part of the Apple family, time will tell if this was money well spent or if the unsettled spirit of Jobs will crack open the walls of his black turtleneck lined sarcophagus to haunt Tim Cook for eternity.
But when you’ve got a spare $150 billion lying around, you can be a little aggressive when it comes to purchases and acquisitions. Coupled with the HomeKit announcement at yesterday’s WWDC (World Wide Developers Conference) that strongly suggests Apple will start aggressively getting into the home automation space, I thought of several other companies that Apple could easily buy to catapult it into a major player in the home automation world.
Sure, Crestron is bigger and been around longer, but its far more complex programming would make it difficult to fit into the mass market, “it just works” philosophy of Apple products. Control4’s Composer programming software is child’s play compared to Crestron’s SMPL, and I’m sure that Apple could find a way to make it even more mainstream. With a current market cap of $401.5 million, Apple could just peel off a few hundos and not even miss it.
This probably even makes more sense for Apple to acquire since Savant’s is the only automation system to be built entirely around Apple architecture. Heck, Savant is practically a long-lost relative waiting to come back to that rich uncle! Sure, Savant’s RacePoint Blueprint software isn’t going to be something the average Joe is just gonna jump into, but since it is built on OS X, surely the Genius Bar could get trained up to figure it out.
If you want to get into automation and control you are going to need a pretty massive library of control codes to work with all those millions of existing third-party gear. And when it comes to the “mine is bigger than yours” size of an IR library database, Harmony swings a pretty big, umm, stick. Plus, Logitech has already tried to spin off the Harmony division, only to change its mind a couple of months later. Plus, with Harmony you get one of the very few actually decent user programmable smart remotes on the planet. Imagine a Savant or Control4 system that programmed with the simple steps of a Harmony…
If you want to instantly get into a housewide, easy to use and install music distribution system, you can’t do any better than Sonos. Apple could even improve the Sonos experience by integrating a direct iTunes purchase/download option and put an Airplay chip in new models. Also, Apple loves to gobble up patents, and Sonos has some 200 of them. Sonos’ 2013 revenues were up nearly 100% from 2012 to a hefty $535 Million, so Apple could probably snap them up for around $3-5 billion, money definitely well spent. Plus, the sky seems the limit for Sonos growth trajectory, and it is going to be cheaper to buy them now than later.