John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

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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Custom versus Production

Posted on May 27, 2014 at 10:45 AM Comments comments (1)

We so frequently work with custom builders on custom projects where things like, “I need that wall reframed for my center channel” or, “We’re gonna need to have the electrician do this for us” are just standard operating procedure that we may lose sight of the experience that non-custom purchasers typically experience when they buy a “mass built” home from a production builder and want it outfitted with some audio/video system.


In the past I worked with one client who wanted music around her new home. We sat down and went over her floorplan and came up with a system that met her needs and budget. She even gave us a deposit on the work and we were all set to proceed with our pre-wire, when the builder informed us in no uncertain terms that we were forbidden from setting foot on the jobsite. Despite the fact that the client had signed a contract on the home, that the house was in fact being built for her, it wasn’t actually her home until the final payment had been made and the closing papers signed, and no other trades were allowed to work on the jobsite. Thank you, and good day.


Even worse? This builder didn’t offer any kind of solution for the client. Instead of just, “No, you can’t have them do it, but we can do it for you,” they offered nothing in the way of an audio system. The only solution was to wait until the home was finished, and then they could go crazy installing whatever they wanted. But because this was a multi-story home, there would be no way to go in and run the wiring after the fact. Essentially, the client was screwed and forced to miss out on something that could have easily been built into her new house. (This was before wireless solutions like Sonos, so feel free to spare me the comments about that.)


Recently we worked with another client whose home was under construction and paid his builder to have his home “wired for surround sound.” When he came into our store and asked what kind of a system we could install for him, I started asking him what I thought were some pretty basic questions about the wiring. As in, what did “wired for surround sound” actually mean? He assumed I would know, after all, I was the expert, so I should tell him what it meant.


“Well, first off, what type of wire are they pulling?” I asked.


 “They said it was everything that I would need,” he answered.


“Umm, OK. And where are they pulling it to?” I queried.


“They said they are pulling it where it needs to go!” he said, getting agitated.


“O…K… So, what kind of front speakers do you need? In-wall? In-ceiling? On-wall? Bookshelf? Floorstanding? Where they pull the wire is going to determine that…”


I explained that “wired for surround sound” was about as vague as saying, “I bought a car.” What kind of car is it? How many seats does it have? Is it a compact or a convertible? Two door or four door? Is it a Toyota or a Tesla?


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Troubleshoot Like a Boss

Posted on May 21, 2014 at 10:20 AM Comments comments (0)

The day will come when you will press the “Watch TV” button on your fancy remote control – or however it is that you turn your system on – and…nothing will happen. Or something will happen, but it won’t be the right thing. Generally the problem will boil down to you’ll be able to see it but not hear it or you’ll hear it but not see it.


Before you panic and start spiraling down into an Apocalypse Now-level descent into madness, try these five simple troubleshooting tips. Chances are one of them will get you back on track before the first commercial break!


Go on, be a Boss!




Power Down

Before you get too deep into troubleshooting, check to see if this was just some one-off glitch. Press the “System Off” button on your remote (or manually power everything down), wait a second, and then try powering it back on. It’s possible – especially with a smart remote and if you control your system via infra-red (IR) instead of radio frequency (RF) – that some component just missed its turn on or input flip command and starting over from ground zero will get you back on track.


Check Batteries

The batteries in your remote control are going to die. And probably when you least expect it and when you need them the most. And I don't care if you just changed them; humor me and change the batteries anyhow. Because in my years of experience, “I just did it,” often means that you replaced the batteries about a year ago. Maybe. And even if the remote LOOKS like the batteries are fresh, let’s just change them for laughs. I don’t know how many battery milli-amps, milli-joules, pico-watts or whatever it takes to generate a significantly powerful IR signal to change your receiver’s volume or change the cable box's channel from 12 feet away, but I DO know that a battery change -- even when you have "JUST" done it -- magically seems to fix a variety of ills. Also, if you have a rechargeable model, at some point that battery is going to stop holding a charge and will need to be replaced. Might not be a bad idea to get a spare if yours is more than two years old…


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Sharing Could Be a Kaleidescape Killer App

Posted on May 20, 2014 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Saying that “a great part of owning movies and TV shows is sharing your collection,” this past week Vudu announced a new service titled “Share My Movies.” By enabling sharing and adding the email addresses of up to five friends, users will now be able to digitally share their collections of UltraViolet movies and TV shows for free. What’s more, the shared content can be streamed up to three times simultaneously, meaning you can finally have that remote Hobbit viewing party to really get in some deep conversation to hash out as to exactly why Tom Bombadil couldn’t make a 9 hour cut of the film.


When I heard Vudu’s news, I chuckled to myself. Not because it isn’t a cool idea, but because it reminded me of a conversation I had with Kaleidescape’s founder and then CEO, Michael Malcolm, a few years ago.


When it comes to collecting movies and TV shows, who is more rabid than a Kaleidescape owner? The average system owner has 380 films in their collection, and tends to add 50 movies a year; far more than the typical movie buff. I postulated to Malcolm about the possibility of a Kaleidescape owner loaning content to another owner. Beyond being cool, I thought this would be a terrific way to help develop a community amongst owners who love and enjoy movies and would probably be thrilled with the opportunity to share their collections and explore beloved gems from someone else.




This seemed like a natural extension of a feature that Kaleidescape already allows, giving owners the ability to share bookmarked favorite scenes and scripts (a script is a series of multiple actions, say, show cover art, play a scene, show another cover art, play another scene, etc.) with other owners. (Sharing scenes and scripts requires that both owners already own the movies.)


My reasoning with Malcolm was that I can loan a physical copy of a disc to any of my friends at any time, what if I could digitally loan a copy of that disc to another Kaleidescape owner? Maybe it’s a classic Twilight Zone episode, or an obscure foreign title like Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, or a concert, or just the latest blockbuster that someone was on the fence about purchasing.  Or maybe it’s just one of those classics in your collection that you love and want to share with another.


The technology is totally in place for Kaleidescape to handle this since it is just a matter of shuttling data from one server up to the cloud and then back down to another server, something they’ve proven they can reliably and securely do with their download store. And just like loaning a physical disc, the disc could even be unavailable for local viewing when it is out on loan. The benefits of this kind of loan, of course, are that you don’t have to worry about the disc being lost or damaged or otherwise Bogarted by your “friend” or that you’ll have to worry about that awkward moment when you’ve got to be all, “Yo. Bro. Dude. Give me my frickin’ Indiana Jones trilogy back already!”


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The Cost of Doing Business Locally

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (1)

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it's enemy action.” – Ian Fleming, “Goldfinger”


Remember in the early, Wild West days of the Internet when we used to counter the specter of online retailing with the ominous threats of getting ripped off, receiving the wrong product, or being stuck with some grey-market or broken good that could never be returned? Yeah. Not so much anymore.


Today people love buying off the Internet. In fact, truth be told, Amazon is probably one of people’s most trusted business partners. And we’ve adjusted our strategies to account for this, realizing that we are often going to be competing against some faceless warehouse 3,000 miles whose only goal is to move boxes and is totally content to make low, single-digit profit margins.


Recently, however, I had three separate encounters within a 24-hour period (thus, my opening quote), that made me aware of an issue that has probably cost you and me more business than we care to know: Sales tax.




I had three gentlemen come in to discuss different system options last week, and when I followed up with proposals, two of them said that while my price was the same as Amazon, they were going to buy from the Internet because they would save the 6% sales tax (our local rate). If I wanted to not charge them sales tax – or discount the sale an equivalent amount – they would love to buy from me, but, otherwise… (One of the guys then asked if I could research a receiver for him, prompting me to reply, “How much of my time do you expect me to invest in something that you’ve already said you are going to buy somewhere else?” He seemed genuinely perplexed.)


The third gentleman asked how much he would save if he paid us in cash. When I explained that we actually preferred not to get large cash payments, and that the price was the same either way, he explained that when he gets paid in cash, brother, that money goes straight into his pocket. I explained that my business partner and I have had a policy since day one that we were always going to do the right and honest thing, and that we felt it would always pay off in the long run. He looked at me like I had suddenly sprouted a third eye.  


The big on-line, non-tax-collecting elephant in the room is Amazon. It turns out Amazon only has to collect sales tax in 21 states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin. And many of those states have had to fight – or are still fighting – with Amazon to get the estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.


Even so, it isn’t just Amazon that you are competing against. A visit through the terms and conditions at Sony.com had the message, “Except for products shipping to Mexico, prices do not include any sales, local or other similar taxes.” Since you can order pretty much any product Sony offers – Flagship 4K projector or UHDTV? New hi-rez audio player? Yep. – that could be a pretty fair “discount” that you now potentially have to compete against.


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Ingram Micro 2014 Expo: How we are all better together

Posted on May 7, 2014 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Ingram Micro held its Spring Vendor Expo last week in Scottsdale, AZ. Ingram is the world’s largest technology distributor, owing AVAD and DBL Distributing, two companies serving as major distribution partners to the custom installation industr. The Expo featured more than 125 different vendors, including Samsung, Vizio, Sanus, Sony, Microsoft and Hisense. Ingram invited key dealers from around the country to attend the Expo and meet with their sales and vendor partners to discuss business opportunities. For many that weren’t able to attend CES it was an opportunity to see exciting new technologies like UHDTV and Samsung’s curved displays.


The theme of this year’s expo was “How We Are All Better Together” and it kicked off with a featured presentation by Tom Bamrick, VP and GM of Ingram Micro CE. This was followed by a panel moderated by Ed Hecht, VP/Publisher of Resi System’s sister publication TWICE. Panel members included Stephen Baker, VP of Industry Analysis at NPD, Craig Birmingham, VP of Sales at Ingram Micro, Wayne Newton, Sales and Business Development Leader at Belkin, Garry Wicka, Marketing Director at Dell and Stephen Panosian, Director of Marketing at Samsung, and Rick Beiderbeck of Arizona’s Spencer’s TV and Appliance.


Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive at the hotel in time for the panel, (I was waylaid watching OmniMount’s & Ergotron Communications & PR Manager, Betsey Banker getting zapped by a TASER. Click link for the video!) but Hecht told me after that the main themes were the need for business diversification, and how home automation is growing business segment especially as things like security cameras and lighting control are becoming more DIY.


Frank Ratel, Ingram Micro’ Sr. Business Development Manager, educated vendors on opportunities available within the government and education sector and explained resources and programs available from IMCE to support growth in these markets.


Samsung had a three-and-a-half hour reseller training session explaining it sees big audio growth segments being led by soundbar, multi-room audio and GIGA Audio. Industry sound bar leaders include Samsung, Bose, Vizio, Sony, LG and Sonos.



Samsung’s Senior Product Manager, Digital Audio, Bill Hadam, explained that Samsung expects tremendous growth opportunities in wireless audio, which Samsung sees as “the future of audio.” To capitalize on this, Samsung brought in many industry experts to assist in design and development and launched its premium audio initiative, Shape. In the Shape world will be speakers, soundbars, Blu-ray players, TVs, HTiB’s and the Link Mate to support legacy systems. Each Shape component includes 6 months of premium Pandora subscription which can be stacked, meaning a 4 Shape sale would get someone 2 years of Pandora premium. They announced upcoming support for iHeart Radio, rdio, Spotify, 8tracks and Samsung’s own Milk music service.

 

Another anticipated audio growth area is the Sound Stand TV speaker base option. As people continue to replace older 40-46 inch flat panels in the main viewing area with bigger and better sets, they will naturally want better audio to travel with these sets to the bedroom or wherever the old set will be going and Samsung sees Sound Stands as being a popular, lower-cost alternative.



I’m not totally sure how to categorize GIGA other than as an insanely loud, portable DJ/PA speaker system meant to power spontaneous block parties or post soccer celebration flash mobs to insane volume levels. The new GIGA MX-HS9000 system has dual 15-inch subs and 3400-watts of power that can “match the decibel level of a helicopter.” (Samsung was unable to confirm what kind of helicopter. I mean, is it an Apache, a Blackhawk, a Little Bird or one of the stealth copters used in the Bin-Laden raid…? Rotary-wing loving audiophiles need to know!)  I can say that the GIGA system powered an after party in a large ball room, and at roughly 35% volume was so loud it was bordering on painful. Samsung says that GIGA has been successful beyond expectations and that dealers that have brought product in can’t keep the systems in stock.



The big video stories for 2014 will be UHDTV as well as curved. Samsung explained that bigger screens require higher pixels per inch (PPI) which is why UHDTV will be important. According to CEA research, 8% of households plan to buy a UHDTV in 2014, however lack of content and pricing remain the big questions and concerns on consumers’ minds.



Based on Samsung’s research customers will pay more for curved TV and there is a much higher close/purchase rate after people have experienced the curved TV for themselves in person. One of the features unique to the curved line is Auto Depth Enhancer designed to improve contrast and make foreground images “pop.” They did caution that calibrators should definitely disable this feature as it “would be impossible to calibrate the TV with this feature on.” Video processing, scaling and input switching on the curved models is handled by an outboard box. This box connects to the TV via a proprietary “One Connect” cable, currently limited to 3meters but will be available in a 10meter soon.



Chris Ely, Senior Manager Industry Analysis CEA, gave a forecast and state of the CE industry discussion. Ely said that weather has negatively impacted Q1 CE sales and that tech sales are “suffering” at the hand of pent up demand for durable goods like cars and houses. However on the bright side, consumer credit is growing and the CEA is optimistic about the 2014. The “CE Big Five” sales leaders are smartphones, tablets, HDTV, mobile PC and digital cameras.  Top trends in video include Ultra HDTV and Internet streaming devices and leading audio are wireless speakers, soundbars and headphones which continue to be one of the top planned purchases for 2014 across all spending levels.


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Hanging With Bad-Ass Betsey Banker

Posted on May 2, 2014 at 6:35 PM Comments comments (2)

There are PR people. There are *cool* PR people. And then there is Betsey Banker.


Betsey handles the PR and marketing chores for Ergotron and OmniMount, companies that manufacture the really sexy stuff of the technology world like projector and flat panel TV wall mounts and standing desks. If you want a mount that can go flat to the wall, tilt, swivel or even – I kid you not! – raise up and down, OmniMount has a solution for you.


So, as an OmniMount dealer and reviewer, I get the opportunity to work with Betsey fairly regularly to test new products. You can read my latest review of Omni’s new projector mount here. And here is a review of the Ergotron Just Stand desk that I use at work. Though Betsey and I are in disagreement as to whether or not me standing up at work counts as “exercise” or not, either way studies strongly suggest that I will live longer and healthier by standing instead of sitting all day, so Dana can thank Betsey for every extra irritating day of life she has with me. Betsey is also way into beer, joining #BeerClub on a semi-regular* basis.

(* When her other many social clubs like book club, boating club, hiking club, backpacking club, estate sale club, yoga club, biking club and club-club don’t conflict.)


Betsey lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, and you might recall that when I visited last year to attend Ingram Micro’s  spring expo Betsey took me on a little “fitness hike” that turned into a desert mountain death march. (If you’ve not read that tale, I strongly suggest you do now. It will give you a more complete picture of the Bad-Ass which is Betsey Banker.) So when I was coming this out to Scottsdale this year Betsey said that she was planning a day of activities for us. Much like God promised that He would never destroy the earth again with a flood, Betsey assured me there would be no more 102-degree desert mountain death marches.


I arrived at the airport and texted Betsey that she could find me standing outside by a Shaolin Priest.



I apologize for the picture quality, but this was a stealth selfie – a stealthie - where I captured the Shaolin Priest. Now, to be fair, I can’t confirm that he was indeed a Shaolin Priest as I didn’t see him do any serious karate moves or grab any pebbles from people’s palms, but I assumed that being subtle was the best way to deal when taking a selfie with a potential karate master in the background.


First up on our agenda was swinging by the Omni building where Betsey works.



Betsey wanted to take me in for a tour, but I had already seen a bunch of pics from inside the office and saw that it was really just a bunch of office cubicles with people standing up at their desks – you know, so they don’t die and all – and not much else going on but regular office type work, the likes of which I get to live on a near daily basis. I asked if I would know anyone in there and she said no. I told her they probably *would* know me but it would totally be as the guy that wimped out on the fitness hike and got face-punched by the PLAY mount.” (Yes. You should click the link and read that story. It ends with me bleeding and going to the doctor.)


To be fair, it’s not everyone that gets a warning sticker put onto a product for actions they’ve performed while going above and beyond the call of mount installation duty.


Actual OmniMount label included on all new PLAY mounts; created to commemorate my awesomeness in the field of brilliance. For accuracy sake, it should really show the blow to the bridge of the nose, but we shan't split hairs...


In a way, I’m a bit like the guy/hero that spilled hot coffee in his crotch to inspire the “Caution: Liquids inside are HOT” on all McDonald’s coffee cups.


Betsey conceded that it was *possible* that this reputation might very well precede me in the OmniMount offices.  I asked Betsey if there was any way that she could make me be “that guy that just wrote the great projector mount review” instead and she truthfully admitted that she didn’t think she had enough PR power to pull that kind of social rebranding in such a short period of time. And, while it would have been great to let the fine folks at OmniMount have a laugh at my expense and meet the “guy that got face-punched” in real life, there were too many other pressing things on the agenda, so I talked Betsey into heading on…

 

 


We headed off to lunch and Betsey took us to a very cool place call Ohso’s. What made it so cool was they had like 40+ beers on tap. As we’re going through the beer list Betsey, who also loves big, hardcore, pipe-hittin’ IPAs (obviously, because she’s awesome and Bad-Ass Betsey Banker), asks me about some of the beers.


“What’s Hopslam? Have you tried it?”


“What?! Hopslam?! They have Hopslam?!”


“Yeah. Why? Is it good?”


“It’s a Top 10 Beer. Oh my God, it comes out like once a year and I’ve never seen it on draft! It’s like impossible to get. We have to get it! It’s a Top 10 Beer!


So our waiter comes over and – despite the fact that the menu says Hopslam is from Sierra Nevada, when I know for an abso-damn-lute fact that it is from Bell’s – assures me that they do indeed have Hopslam on draft. In fact they just tapped the keg like a day ago and have been trying to keep it on the DL so they didn’t cause some kind of citywide panic. I’m chatting up the guy, giving him my creds as a bonafide beer geek, and he’s way into it as we talk about favorite beers and beers we’ve tried. You know, the totally platonic, mating ritual that happens between two beer loving bros. So (obviously) we order Hopslam which our waiter (obviously) confirms as an epic decision on our part


Except he comes back and tells us that despite the fact that they just had it like an hour ago, the keg hath now runneth dry. I know that I shouldn’t have let my heart get too vested in that beer, but the beer man had raised my appetites up and now there was just no way to bed them back down again. I ordered something called Myrcenary that was admittedly good, but I might as well have been drinking runoff water from Fukushima as much as it was bitter in my heart.


The OmniMount people will be happy to know that we spent practically the ENTIRE lunch talking about different products and ways that I could help them engage the industry and suggestions I had for new products and other TOTALLY work related things that would be expected of their awesome PR star. Totally.


After lunch, Betsey took us to Total Wine so we could scout out some future things that she could get for #BeerClub. I’ve never been in a Total Wine before and I have to say that the experience was both exhilarating and soul-crushing. The selection was immense and impressive with just tons and tons of variety, but knowing that this kind of just-walk-in-and-buy variety is out there to be enjoyed by regular people on the daily and not to me was torturous. (Torturous in a different way than a desert mountain death march, clearly, but painful and soul wounding none-the-less.)


The guy saw us looking and I asked if he had something – Greenflash’s Green Bullet Triple IPA – and this immediately sparked another broversation about beers and my man was well up to the task. He was showing and suggesting different IPAs that I should try, and when he pulled out an Avery Maharaja, I knew that I had found a kindred spirit. On the way out I also grabbed a copy of Total Wine’s Guide to Understanding Beer (or something), a 200 page guide on beer styles, varieties and choices that I’m assuming was free ‘cause I just grabbed it off a table and walked out…


So out in the car Betsey starts punching away on her phone and she says, “So…I thought we would go and visit TASER. Their corporate offices are here and my friend works there as an engineer.”


“Cool,” I say. I’m really familiar with TASER and had now idea their corporate HQ was in Scottsdale.


“And…how would you feel about getting TASER’ed…?”


“What?!”


“Yeah. They’ll TASER you after the tour is over. I’m totally going to do it. You don’t have to if you don’t want to...”


It was at this point that I told Betsey that I was not going to let her guilt or peer-pressure me into getting TASER’ed. I mean, this isn’t high school and we’re not talking about trying a beer. This is me being a grown-ass man and GETTING TASER’ED! Even as I was saying it, I knew I was totally wussing out…


“I figured you’d say no, but I’m still gonna do it.” Bad. Ass. Betsey. Banker.



We pull up to the building and it has a really cool, kinda future vibe about it. Even cooler is this super awesome double locking, round, cylinder vault door that you go through to get into the building. There were a bunch of signs up saying “No unauthorized photography” so unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures. I mean, I didn’t want to volunteer to get TASER’ed and I certainly didn’t want to give them any reasons to non-voluntarily TASER me either… But, the entrance was way cool, like something out of Cyberdyne Systems from Terminator. There were all kinds of video monitors and you FaceTime chat with the receptionist who buzzes you in after she determines that you’re a non-TASER requiring threat.


Once inside, the building has a really cool Men In Black kind of vibe and Betsey’s friend met us and gave us the factory tour. He showed us the different bodies of TASERs made over the years and how they developed the tech and how now it is the leading non-lethal law enforcement solution around the country. I had no idea how big TASER was as a business, but he said they had yearly sales of $160 Million. (The company’s CEO was actually on CNBC the day that we visited.) We got to see them factory where they assemble the units and cartridges. He said the big engineering goal is to make the units smaller and lighter and to give them more capacity. (Two shots is the current maximum.)


So, the way a TASER works is that it shoots two electrical probes into you at a range up to like 25 feet. The probes have needle barbs that penetrate clothing and into skin and then stay put so they can work their sweet-sweet TASE-ing magic. The probes are tethered to the TASER pistol by thin trailing electrical wires and this is how the voltage travels into the victim/volunteer. The cartridge then gives off 15 electrical blasts per second and lasts for 5 seconds (law enforcement version) or 30 seconds (civilian version.) The thinking is that a cop is going to then immediately cuff and apprehend the post-TASER’ed person whereas the civilian will just drop the pistol and run away while the person is going through 30 seconds in heaven.


When the blast hits you, it fires off all the muscles in your body causing you to go stiff as a board and basically just kerplunk falling to the ground. (This is actually where the few TASER related fatalities have happened; where the person will fall and hit their head on something and then die of brain trauma.) Unlike other non-lethal weapons like pepper spray, there are no ill-effects to bystanders, it doesn’t matter if the person on the receiving end is hopped up on drugs or has a high pain tolerance and there are no* lingering effects once the voltage stops. 

(* Betsey might disagree with this...)


After the tour is over the receptionist is all, “So, are you gonna take a hit?”


Betsey, sweet, innocent, naïve Betsey has never seen a TASER in action so she is all, “Oh, yeah! Definitely! I want to try it.” John, grizzled, worldly wise, John HAS seen TASERs in action in documentaries and he is not so inclined to experience “a hit.” I felt the silent corporate disappointment shaming echoing mercilessly throughout the TASER hive mind.


So, they make her sign a release form – “Just the one…?” the girl asks looking at me, her eyes completing the sentence with “…you total puss?” – which Betsey starts reading and then says, “Who am I kidding reading this thing? I’m just gonna sign it and do it anyhow.” Bad. Ass. Betsey. Banker.


While it isn’t necessarily a requirement for all employees to take a hit – some civil liberties law or something I imagine – nearly everyone at the company has done it and it is like a total team building thing. And when the word goes out that someone – and a girl! It’s the girl not the guy that’s gonna do it! – is going to take a hit, the lobby starts quickly filling up with TASER employees to watch the festivities.


They say that it usually isn’t as painful for girls because the TASER affects muscle and it is usually the big strong guys that suffer the most. They obviously don’t know Betsey Banker and all the 20 mile bike rides and hikes and yoga that she does. And at this moment I thought, “Hmmm…”


They give Betsey a T-shirt to keep from making a hole and getting blood on her clothes and then they bring out a gym mat. Two guys stand beside Betsey to help her as gracefully to the ground as someone can fall while their body is in the throes of electrical TASER agony. And, the guy authorized to deliver the hit stands behind her with the exact same pistol and TASER cartridge that cops use to take down bad guys and, well, this is pretty much what happened…


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Bad. Ass. Betsey. Banker.


Here is a much shorter video from the back where you can watch Betsey perform a pretty sweet dolphin kick post TASE, when she was in what she described a state of full body bliss and relief once the voltage stopped.


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Betsey said it was almost like how you feel totally spent and wiped out after a spa day. If the spa was being run by the fine folks of the Spanish Inquisition. Apparently, even as “blissful” as that moment might be, Betsey says the five seconds preceding it weren’t worth the effort. Go figure.


Betsey said she wasn’t able to really think of anything during the five seconds except for “thereisnowaythisisjustfiveseconds!!! whenwillthisstop?!?!?” She also said she knew she was making a sound and she was kind of embarrassed about it but she also didn’t even care or know if she could stop. Ah, those crazy TASER electricity dreams! Also, Betsey’s TASE moan *kinda* reminded me of this:


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I wish I had some AutoTune skillz can I can only imagine the remix that could be made from that. I asked Betsey if she would take a 30 second hit for a TASER company Polo shirt and she said absolutely never ever never no.


Afterwards, the receptionist helped Betsey to the bathroom to get cleaned up. Turns out that the person that TASE’d Betsey also TASE’d her. Oh, and, fun fact! It was her dad! She said that watching Betsey get TASE’d brought back all kinds of bad repressed memories of her own TASER’ing.


When we walked out of the building, all I could say was, “YOU JUST GOT FRICKIN’ TASER’ED! YOU…JUST…GOT…TASER’ED!!!”


Yes, Betsey Banker is more man than I am.


And, I’m almost afraid for what next year’s trip to Scottsdale will bring… God, I hope Glock doesn’t open up a factory there…


(But, seriously, thanks for an unforgettable day, Betsey! You’re a trooper, super woman first-class for sure!)

Don't Forget the Best Seat in the House!

Posted on May 1, 2014 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (0)

If you’ve ever taken a cross-country flight in coach, then you know the almost inhuman, Geneva-Convention-straining state of a truly uncomfortable seat. The anemic cushion causes lower back pain, the narrow width confines the hips and thighs, the rigid, mercilessly limited recline locks the spine into a preternaturally upright position, and leg movement is restricted to the subtlest of ankle rotation barely capable of staving off deep vein thrombosis. Sure, these Torquemada-esque contraptions might not have been designed with torture explicitly in mind, and might even slightly increase your odds of survival in the event of an emergency—and, don’t forget that your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device in the event of a water landing—but comfort and ergonomics certainly take a back seat to, “How many of these things will the FAA legally let us cram into the cabin?!”




When you think about it, our clients can easily spend as much time as a cross-country flight watching an evening of movies or binge watching on their favorite TV series. Usually we are so focused on the design, installation, and integration of the audio, video, and control systems that we forget the part of the system that the client’s body actually interacts with: the seating.


A nice theater seat can be the finishing touch on a theater design, completing the room not only visually, but also the use and enjoyment of the system. A well-made chair cradles the body in comfort, swaddling you in a loving embrace of supple leather or fabric, perhaps even giving a massage, a bit of heat and a place to set your Spieglau IPA glass. Conversely, a bad seat can mar the experience, even if only on a subconscious level. Something as simple as how the footrest hits you wrong in the ankle or calf or how the back is too high and cuts down on surround channel information, or a rogue spring that feels like it is eager to perform an impromptu - and likely unwelcome - proctologic screening, can ruin your experience.


While many customers may opt to use a sofa or something less formal than dedicated seating, having an upscale option to what can be found at the La-Z-Boy will not only set you apart but also provide another sales opportunity. You wouldn’t show flat panels and speakers that you don’t sell, so why have seating taking up valuable floor real estate that you don’t offer for sale?


Please click here to continue reading and to see the seats I used on my Mega Install job!

Hot Potato: After Hours Service Calls

Posted on April 16, 2014 at 1:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The other night, as I was just settling in to a wonderful post-work IPA, my cell phone rang. It was 7:15 and it was one of my clients. I answered the phone to see what they needed. The crisis? They couldn’t find Wheel of Fortune on TV. (I’m not even kidding.) They had moved to a new home with a new cable provider and couldn’t find Wheel. She grew up with Vanna, enjoyed watching Wheel every night, and by God, where was Wheel of Fortune on the new TV we sold her?!? (This escalated to the point where she was talking about switching cable providers or rewiring for satellite before I explained that with the NCAA tournament in progress, Wheel was pre-empted that week, and I assured her that she could return to enjoying her evening of puzzle solving and letter turning with Vanna the following week.)


Just two nights ago my business partner was awoken when his phone received multiple, rapid-fire texts from a client at 11:30 PM saying that the audio system was having an issue and wasn’t working and when were we going to come out to fix it?!


I have another client that routinely emails me updates about quirks in her lighting system between 12-1 AM. Even though we’ve pretty much determined that there is a high likelihood of an electrical mis-wire or that the LED tape lighting she insisted on using with a dimmer against my recommendation is likely at fault.


I’m sure you have many similar stories. These are all work invasions into our personal time that rob you of your much needed downtime away from work. , I know that with my iPhone next to me on the couch or in my pocket or even charging in the other room, when I hear it beep or buzz, I am compelled to look at it. And whether you respond to them immediately or not, just knowing that there is a waiting message is like some kind of ticking digital information time bomb that can fill you with anxiety and stress. For me, when I see that it is a message or email from a client, I can’t *not* look at it.


In our modern connected world, most clients today take it as a given that you will freely share your email and cell phone information with them, and take it as a real affront if you don’t offer to share this information. And for the majority of them, this isn’t a problem. But when people start crossing the boundaries – or when there is a real after hours emergency – how do you handle this?


Please continue reading and share your thoughts at Residential Systems...

HRA: Hi-Res Audio, Hard Road Ahead?

Posted on April 10, 2014 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (1)

One of the trends at the International Consumer Electronics Show this year was a renewed push toward better-than-CD quality, high-resolution audio (HRA). In fact, there was even an entire section of the Tech Zone dedicated to “The Hi-Res Audio Experience” and several HRA panels, including one hosted by TWICE’s Joseph Palenchar.


According to the Consumer Electronic Association’s research, consumers are “ready to embrace high-resolution audio.” In fact, the CEA findings indicate that 39 percent of consumers with a moderate interest in audio are willing to “pay more for high-quality audio electronics devices” and nearly 60 percent “are willing to pay more for higher-quality digital music.” Even more impressive is that nine in 10 consumers claim, “Sound quality is the most important component of a quality audio experience.”


That’s all well and good, but does the public at large–specifically our clientele–need, want or even care about HRA? The interest in better audio seems to be one of those things that is almost cyclical, coming back around with just slightly more frequency than Halley’s Comet. Remember things like Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s Ultradisc, DVD-Audio, Super Audio CD, or DTS 96/24?


While I’m personally a big fan of HRA – I have quite a few albums downloaded from hdtracks.com – I think that HRA has quite a few significant hurdles to overcome before it is able to be anything but a niche, audiophile curiosity.



 

Streaming

Most people are content to receive their audio fix via streaming services now. Between Sirius/XM, Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify, MOG, Songza, etc. this is the modern way most people listen. And currently there aren’t any streaming services that support HRA. (A French service called Qobux – unavailable in the States – does offer 16/44.1 quality FLAC files for €19.99/month.) For the public to really care about HRA, it will need to be widely available on the services they use and support. We’re seeing a similar thing happening in video right now with all of the attention that Netflix is getting in its support for 4K video streaming.


Price
There isn’t any shortage of places to go on-line to purchase HRA albums. Between HDtracks, Acoustic Sounds, Blue Coast Music, SuperHiRez, iTrax, and even audio companies like Linn and Bowers & Wilkins, you can quickly fill a cart with as much music as you can afford. And that’s the next big problem: the cost. Most HRA albums cost between $20-25 which seems an extreme upcharge for purchasing data. Compare that to the cost of REM’s album, Murmur which is $24.98 (192/24) at HDTracks versus $9.99 at iTunes or $6.99 for the physical CD at Amazon. Or Miles Davis’ seminal Kind of Blue which will set you back $24.98 (192/24) at HDTracks, but only $6.99 from iTunes or $7.99 for a CD at Amazon. Or hi-res audio darling, Rebecca Pidgeon’s The Raven for $24.98 (176/24) at HDTracks, but $11.99 from iTunes or $9.38 for a CD at Amazon. In almost every case, there is a massive price disparity between HRA files and other versions. Where people will generally pay a few dollars more for a superior product–think of the typical difference in price between a DVD and Blu-ray–they generally won’t pay twice as much


Please click here to continue reading at Residential Systems...

Learn from the SEALs: Jobsite Situational Awareness

Posted on April 1, 2014 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (0)

"In military-speak, situational awareness is defined as the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening to the team with regard to a mission. More simply, it's being aware of what is going on around you.” – “SEAL Survival Guide: A Navy SEAL’s Secrets to Surviving Any Disaster,” Cade Courtley


It’s tough not to be impressed and a little fascinated by SEALs, especially the more you get to know about the brutal training that is designed to weed out all but the superhumanly toughest of any BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) class. My cousin made it through BUD/S (he was part of the class chronicled in Dick Couch’s “The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228" ), earned his Trident, and was a member of Team 7 for several years, and some of his stories from training are truly legendary. (One night, they were forced to run along the beach, boots in the surf, for miles. While they were running, the instructor followed along in the back of a pick-up all the while saying, “NOBODY LOVES YOU…NOBODY LOVES YOU…” in a droning monotone over and over into a megaphone.)




When the instructors weren’t trying to freeze, drown or beat the recruits down, they were training and hardening them for things that would help them – and their future Team – survive when it all goes sideways in the bush.


At any moment, leaders of the class can be called on to count off the muster. When asked, you needed to know the whereabouts and status of each man in the class: how many are present, how many are in medical, how many are off doing something else. Get the muster wrong, and you get wet-and-sandy. Importance: No matter what is going on, always know where every man is so you never leave anyone behind.


When they would “drop and push ‘em out,” they had to face a specific direction. And there is no pulling out a compass and doing a quick check; drop and face the wrong way, and expect to get the instructor’s attention which is never a good thing. (Expect to hear a calmly disappointed, “Get wet and sandy." ) Lesson: Always know where you are and where you are headed so you don’t get lost.


At standing rest, they would position a canteen on the ground pointing towards the nearest body of water. To SEALs water is safety, and always knowing where the nearest water is for concealment, exfil or escape could save your life.


While we probably/hopefully don’t have to worry about being ambushed or IED’d on a jobsite, there is something to be learned from heightening the situational awareness of you and your team on a job. Beyond just the normal things like not walking off a rafter or drilling into a water line, paying attention to the little things can save big problems later.


Click here to read several things you can learn from the SEALs to be better on the job!


To read my cousin's post on what a silenced weapon really sounds like, click here...

Pakedge Steve: Network Tech Support Jedi Master

Posted on March 21, 2014 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (3)

We have been steadily plugging along  at our mega install job, getting all the gear racked in, terminating all the wiring, installing all the touchpanels, and programming and testing all the systems and subsystems.


All told, we have 109 Gigabit networking ports on this project. Because the entire home is going to depend so completely on the network being robust and up 100% of the time, I knew that this wasn’t something that we could screw around with using off-the-shelf routers and switches. Between the Control4 processors and touchscreens, the Kaleidescape movie server, the Lutron HomeWorks lighting system – and its 350 loads and 30 drapes – and everything else, if the network were to go down on this job, it would be a system destroying disaster where literally *nothing* would work. (Pretty much my current reoccuring nightmare at this point.)


For that reason, I went with Pakedge for the network backbone. To be honest, prior to this job I’d really only known Pakedge by reputation, but everything I’d heard about that reputation made me feel confident that they were the right solution. Also, their prior PR manager, the ever-sparkly Olivia D, sent me a Pak wireless access point to experiment with in my own home, and I was thoroughly impressed with its quality, performance and 100% uptime.


For this job, we went with a K6 router, 24-port managed PoE switch (SW24P), 24-port managed non-PoE switch (SW24GBM), seven 8-port managed switches in racks around the home (S8Mpd), five dual-band wireless access points (4 W7 and 1 W7O for outside), a C36 WAP controller and the P8 power manager. (I have grown to love this P8, for it's ability to bring the system back on line in the correct order in the event of a sudden power failure. Again, hoping to ward off the reality of the "NOTHING WORKS! NOTHING!!!" nightmare.)


I honestly didn’t know a ton about “managed” switches and all of the configuration and optimization possibilities, but both our reps and Pakedge had assured us over and over prior to the sale that they would be there to hold our hands and give us all of the support we needed to make sure this thing was configured and running perfectly. And prior to starting the networking configuration on this project, the part I was the most concerned with was the correct terminating of all those many, many Cat5/6 wires. I figured once we had that done correctly it would be mostly a matter of plugging them into ports on the Pakedge gear and then standing back and watching the magic happen.


Our company's most computer-savvy tech is the closest thing we have to an “IT professional” and he handled the majority of the network configuration, setting up a VLAN and subnets so the Control4, Lutron and Kaleidescape systems could have top priority and get out of the muck-and-mire of living down in the Mos Eisley spaceport with the rest of the house’s networking scum and villainy.


Things ran mostly pretty smooth with the network, but we noticed that randomly throughout the day the system would seem to just lock us out. For like these random ten minute periods, we couldn’t access the Internet, we couldn’t get into the router, we’d love connection to our Control4 processor. At first we chalked it up to just ghosts in the machine, or the slow internet service, or the fact that we were hammering away at the programming, but after a particularly long lockout, we finally called up Pakedge for a, “Yo! What’s going on here?!” love in.


Fairly early in the conversation, we mentioned “Sonos” and it was like we just read an incantation from the Necronomicon. The Pak tech immediately said that was definitely our problem and that the system had to be specially configured to handling the constant network chatter and blathering that the Sonos spouted forth. He walked my tech through some setting changes in the Pakedge menus with names like IGMP Snooping and Spanning Tree Protocol. Click-click, and the problems went away like magic. (Though, I can’t understand why a garbage, off-the-shelf router from Wal-Mart handles Sonos fine, while a $1500 enterprise-grade Pakedge switch would get tripped up by it. The only thing I can guess is that when given free reign on a managed switch that is NOT being managed, the Sonos goes all Augustus Gloop at the chocolate factory; eating up all the food and splashing around in the chocolate river and making all sorts of network ruckus and mayhem. Someone feel free to enlighten me in the comments.)


A few days later we were troubleshooting an issue where we were unable to remotely access the Control4 processor. We talked to Control4 and pretty quickly determined that things looked OK on their end and directed us to call Pakedge for some help in configuration. This is around 11 or so on a Friday morning. So we call Pakedge, and this is where Steve, the Steveinator, network Jedi, enters the picture. What we think is going to just be a simple, “Hey, Steve, can you clicky-fix our remote access issues! Toodles!” call turns out to NOT be that.


Steve takes over the computer and starts poking around and looking at settings. He starts asking some gentle, probing questions like, “What are you trying to do?” and “Who set this up?” and “Who is the IT expert on your staff?”


Fairly quickly it becomes obvious that somewhere along the line of our initial setup and configuration we veered off the path to “the right way” and we have plowed miles ahead, and we're now deep – DEEP! – in the murky, scary, backwoods, uh-oh-what's-that-shack-for?! of West Virginia of “totally messed up.” And it was one of those mess-ups like when you miss a crucial plot point in a linear video game where even though you’ve been playing for an extra 1000 hours, you need to go back and totally restart and redo what you missed.


I’m not sure that you can actually hear someone take a deep, cleaning breath through the emotionless box of a chat window, but I picture that’s what Steve did. (I also picture him taking a super cool, Don Draper drag on a cigarette, blowing a long, lazy cloud of blue-grey smoke up into a slowly twirling ceiling fan, powering down a stiff, three fingers of his favorite single malt, cracking his knuckles and saying, “OK. Let’s do this thing." )


What he actually said – in the nicest way possible – was that we had so badly messed up configuring this network that it would be easier if we just factory defaulted everything and completely started over from ground zero. I tried to keep it light and breezy by asking him just where we had gone so wrong and he replied, “You want the whole list? :-)” Ouchey.


I told him that we had to do whatever it took, but that if he burned our network house down, he would have to stay with us until we rebuilt it; we couldn’t leave the project in complete ruins, with absolutely nothing working. He asked me how long I was planning on staying and I told him, “As long as it takes. I’m here for the duration.” Steve assured me that with enough time, anything was possible, and that he could make it right.


So, Steve set about rebuilding our network using Pakedge best practices. From his top-secret Steve-lair in the middle of network super computer land, Steve moved the mouse around, pointing, clicking, changing, rapidly circling things to show us something important, all the while rebuilding and reconfiguring.


When I walked into that house at 9:00 in the morning, nearly 95% of everything was done and working. I thought I had a day of tweaking and fine-tuning ahead of me. Yet, several minutes into the Steve Marines-corp style “I’m gonna tear your down, rip you apart, then rebuild you, make you stronger, better, more of a man than you’ve ever been!” network rebuild, nothing in the house work. For several hours. At one point I’d been just sitting in a chair watching Steve move the mouse around with nothing working on our end for about 3 hours.


Undaunted, the Steveinator kept plowing ahead. There were a quite a few moments where he would change something, ask us to try it, change something else, ask us to try it again. After several of these attempts we couldn’t establish even basic communication between the main rack and the sub-rack. And then we lost the ability to see any of the Control4 components on the network. Then the main processor disappeared and wouldn’t come back. (Amazingly, the Kaleidescape system remained rock stable throughout all of this; continuing to stream movies, plowing through the network traffic and totally shrugging off the mayhem going on as the world burnt down all around it.)


Steve typed, “I need a minute to think about this…” in the chat window and then disappeared for a bit. It was like we were in mission control and the Apollo module had just gone behind the dark side of the moon. Would it come back?! Would the people be alive?! I turned to my tech and said, “I’m starting to feel sick. I feel like I’m going to throw up into this sink…”


Finally, we got to that breakthrough moment when systems started popping back on line! Communication was restored throughout the house! After working with us for like 8 hours straight, the house was back up and by God online! Lyrical ballads and epic poems were written in Steve’s name! Children were named after him and ships sailed forth to proclaim his might across the land! Angels broke froth in song! I might have hugged my tech.


This experience really convinced me of a few things.


1)    You absolutely cannot underestimate the power of the Force. Wait. I mean, you can’t underestimate the necessity of a solid AND correctly configured network. With modern systems, if the network is down or kludgey or intermittent, performance will suffer.


2)    You can’t just meddle around in the big-boy world of networking. When you start working with real, hardcore, pipe-hittin’ enterprise grade networking components, you must know what you are doing. We have made a commitment to go through and view all the Pakedge training videos and at least attempt to bring ourselves up to speed on the best practices.


3)    When you buy high-end gear, you get high-end performance. With the Pakedge equipment that we purchased, we had all the right tools in our box, just not a full understanding how to best implement them. I wouldn’t say that we were doing the equivalent of trying to hammer in a nail with a screwdriver (though Steve might...) but we were certainly not employing the systems to their full capacity. Beyond that, the gear gave Steve the tools HE needed to make things right. With his expertise, he was able to move from component to component and configure everything for max performance.


4)    Most importantly, when you buy high-end gear, you get high end service and support. This was no call to India where the person on the other end was reading from a pre-built script or wanting to just get us off the line to get to the next call. Steve was a total pro with a really solid understanding on Control4 as well as Pakedge that spent 8 hours working on our job. He could have easily said, “You guys totally messed this up and it is just beyond my ability to fix your entire system for you.” He could have also groused the whole time about how much we sucked and why didn’t we know what we were doing. But he didn’t. He stayed with us and literally reconfigured everything for us. Explaining what he was doing along the way and keeping in good spirits. I won’t do another job where networking is this important without using Pakedge because I know that if I run into drama, I can call up and get Steve on the phone and have a SEAL Team 6 Network operator on the other end of the line.


Steve, we owe you the tallest of cold ones. And when I see you at CEDIA, expect a hug.

Why DISH Made Me Stop Being Agnostic

Posted on March 19, 2014 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (3)

When I started off as an installer back in the late '90s new clients would frequently ask my opinion on whether I thought they should go with cable or satellite. (Over-the-air antenna is not really an option in our area. Unless you really like watching all ETV all the time, in which case, brother, we have got you covered!) My pat response was that our systems were technology agnostic and they would work fine with either one and it was really up to them and what they wanted to do. We could work with and support either system just as easily.


Of course, nearly every customer ended up going the cable route because it is just easier. You don’t need a set-top-box at each TV; just plug in your cable and you’re good to go. You also spare yourself from the potential stigma of being ostracized by your neighbors and POA due to the shame you’ve visited upon the community by having a satellite dish on or near your home. (I can remember one particularly fun meeting where I had to meet a client at his jobsite with the entire POA to discuss the dish location, and whehter it could be buried in plants - no - or painted green - no - or in any other way made completely invisible. I remember there being yelling.)


But now that I’ve been on this merry-go-round for a while, and I’ve had a chance to live with DISH’s Hopper and Joey system at my own home for a couple of years, I’ve changed my tune.


Now when people ask me this question, I’m no longer neutral and I strongly recommend they go with satellite, specifically DISH's Hopper system. Here’s why.




Service Calls


The number one phone troubleshooting call that I receive without a doubt is in some way cable box related.


“I’m not getting a picture on that TV you sold me.”


“There’s no sound on that system you sold me.”


“That you remote you sold me isn’t working my TV anymore.”


“I’m not getting all the channels on my TV.”


"My TV won't turn on." ("The TV physically won't power on?" "No." "You press the power button on the TV and it won't turn on?" "Well, it powers on. But there's no picture." *goes off to weep bitterly*)


In the customer’s eyes, the “TV” and all things related to it are our problem. They can’t separate the actual TV from the cable box attached to it. So when the TV has a black/grey/blue screen of death, they call us, because, undoubtedly, “that TV we sold them” must be broken. In reality all of these things are typically cable box related, and are usually resolved by rebooting - or in many cases, replacing - the box. But depending on the client, asking them to reboot their cable box by unplugging the power cable could be akin to suggesting they do a little impromptu open heart surgery on a neighbor. With a cable box, it is not an IF the box goes bad or has a problem, it is WHEN and HOW OFTEN the box goes bad and has a problem.


In the two years that I’ve had my Hopper, I’ve had to reboot it less than five times. And when I do need to reboot it, there is an easy-to-access, red “RESET” button right on the front panel. Also, I don’t think that I’ve ever had to give any phone tech support that is satellite related.


Discrete Power


If Scientific Atlanta, Motorola, and Samsung would add discrete power commands to their IR library, it just might go a long way towards healing some of the wounds and deep-seated hatred I feel towards them. I mean, why NOT give a discrete power command?! It’s not like it would add one infinitesimal cent to the cost of manufacturing. For a while SA gave us a “power on numeric” that we used as a workaround, but a firmware update took that feature away. I guess us installers were abusing it by actually using it or something. (And, by the way, them taking this away was really extra-special sweet because it meant we had to go around and reprogram a bunch of remotes that were now no longer turning the boxes on and off correctly with the macro we had built. So bully for that!) As it is, you have to just issue a power command and blindly hope you aren’t turning the box off. Or leave it on all the time and play a game of cable company Russian roulette as you wait for them to randomly reboot the box at some point.


With DISH, I get my discrete commands and never worry about getting out of sync. And if I somehow DID get out of sync, I get a nice graphic on the TV which says, “Press Select to watch” instead of a screen-of-death.


Picture Quality


I had been somewhat skeptical that satellite actually looked better right up to the second where I turned the Hopper on my Elite Plasma for the very first time. Instantly the picture was just…better. It’s cleaner, with no noise, or macro blocking or banding or motion artifacts or any of the other yucky stuff you get from cable and their extra levels of heavy-handed, secret sauce compression. While most people will probably never notice the better picture, some of your clients will. And even if they don’t notice it right away, you’ll be saving yourself from the down-the-road calls when they do notice the blocking and other digital artifact nasties that they will notice from cable and, of course, immediately blame on "that TV you sold me."


Please click here to continue reading why I'm now a true satellite believer at Residential Systems....

Undiscovered Gems in Kaleidescape's Experience

Posted on March 10, 2014 at 9:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Kaleidescape’s big news this past week was the appointment of Cheena Srinivasan to the role of CEO. I’ve been working with Cheena, one of Kaleidescape’s co-founders, since 2003 when I was one of the first reviewers selected to review the Kaleidescape system. I’ve also spoken and met with him many times since and I’ve no doubt that Cheena is the exact right man for the job.


Over the years I’ve known him, Cheena’s vision and passion for Kaleidescape has never wavered or been anything but (red and blue) laser-focused. In fact, I can clearly recall standing on my front lawn and talking to him back in 2003 when he described his far-reaching vision for Kaleidescape. Even then Cheena told me, “We want to be more than just a media management company. We want to eventually get into content delivery.” (A dream finally realized last year with the opening of the company’s industry leading Download Store.)


According to the press release, Cheena “will focus his efforts on establishing Kaleidescape as the best platform for electronic sell-through by offering the convenience of streaming, the quality of Blu-ray, and a catalog of titles that is second to none.”


You’re probably all familiar with the top-level, executive summary, gee-whiz features that together culminate in the system that is the Kaleidescape experience. Things like the gorgeous cover art interface, the near instantaneous access to movies and skipping over disc menus and FBI warnings and trailers, sorting collections in any manner a user would like, or advanced parental controls and a unique Kid’s Remote that only shows pre-selected movies in a simplified interface.


Recently I’ve had the chance to install a brand new Kaleidescape in a customer’s home as well as help an industry legend - Theo Kalomirakis - to get his new Cinema One system up and running. In doing so, I rediscovered those buried gems of features that Kaleidescape offers which makes the system not only amazingly friendly and feature rich to the end user, but also exceptionally customizable and configurable to the installer.


Here are six features that I’ve grown to love about Kaleidescape that you might not have been aware of.


Scenes, Episodes and Songs

 


Kaleidescape has offered users the ability to create their own favorite scenes for many years, but recently the company’s Movie Guide Team started bookmarking those four or five most iconic moments in films that make the movie what it is. Scenes are not only a great way to quickly enjoy your favorites moments from a film, but they offer a new and unique way to pass an evening demonstrating a system and sharing your collection. I also use the scenes feature almost exclusively for our in-store system demos.



Beyond these scenes, Kaleidescape has also been steadily marking songs in concerts and musicals. This is a great way to jump to your favorite song in a film and to enjoy a concert DVD or Blu-ray much like you would a CD.



It wasn’t until I started re-watching “The Twilight Zone” episodes that I really came to appreciate or even discover the episode tagging feature. Instead of trying to hunt through the stacks of discs that make up the five seasons, I can just scroll through the episode names and find exactly what I’m looking for. Also, when watching a series like “Lost,” it’s great to get to the end of an episode and just press play to immediately start the next. It’s a binge-watchers delight!


Scripts



A script is like the ultimate, hand-selected and choreographed demo. You can craft the perfect demo for action, comedy, drama, or even family videos which you can then repeat at the press of a button. In a showroom, a script can ensure that there is always something exciting and dynamic playing, but will also save you from someone walking in during an especially inappropriate moment. Say, if you were showing Terminator 2 and then an older couple walks in when Sarah Connor is dreaming about her skin melting off in a nuclear blast and the woman is horrified and asks why anyone would want to watch something so awful. Hypothetically, of course. And if you’ve never had a “shower scene” or some lengthy tirade of profanities come on the satellite while you were talking to a couple or a family in your showroom, then let me just assure you that this is a special bit of awkward that you will be glad you missed out on.


Audio/Video Settings



Beyond the typical settings that you’d find in a normal Blu-ray player, Kaleidescape includes several features that are absolutely crucial for a distributed system. For example, on our recent Mega Job we were trying to figure out in programming how to fix the disparity from movie volume and music volume, as switching to music would blast you out of the room. As we were digging into programming, I discovered Kaleidescape offers the ability to reduce music volume to be similar to movie volume. Perfect! You can also select the preferred audio track – like DTS – that will then always automatically play when a movie starts, or force an audio option off to resolve issues such as when distributing a single player around a home to rooms with TVs only and other rooms with TVs and surround receivers.



Further, say you had a hearing impaired customer that preferred subtitles or another that watched a lot of foreign films. Instead of digging through the disc’s menu, Kaleidescape can automatically set things to their preference. Each time. Every time.


Please click here to continue reading more about little known things that makes Kaleidescape so uniquely terrific.

Does the Academy Awards Actually Encourage Piracy?

Posted on March 6, 2014 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

The Simpsons re-ran an earlier episode on piracy the night of the Oscars which perfectly articulated my blog. Enjoy quotes from the episode liberally sprinkled throughout!


Bart: “Homer, you don’t need a theater to watch the movie. You just have to illegally download it.


Homer: “Illegally download it...? Is that legal?


Bart: “Who knows. But it sure is easy. I’ll walk you through…


Homer: “Wow! That was easy! All I had to do was click on…” -- The Simpsons, “Steal This Episode”




If you have a movie-loving bone in your body, then you know that the Academy Awards was broadcast this past Sunday night. Sure, I could take this space to talk about how fun and quirky Jennifer Lawrence is, or how much better Tina Fey would have been than Ellen, or that of the 86 films that have been awarded Best Picture, 62 have also been awarded Best Director (sorry, Gravity...). But instead I want to pose an interesting question… Do the Academy Awards actually encourage movie piracy?


It’s a crazy proposition, I know, but hear me out…


Of the nine films up for best picture this year, only five of them were available for “legal” – buy or rent the disc, buy or rent the download via iTunes, Vudu, etc. – viewing. If you wanted to watch American Hustle, Her, Philomena or The Wolf of Wall Street prior to the Academy Awards, you had to turn to some form of questionably legal on-line Website with even more questionable picture and sound quality.


Homer: “Theaters? Ha! All I need to see this movie is a laptop and a website based in a country that is really just an offshore oil platform!”  -- The Simpsons


Like many people, I subscribe to Netflix (Blu-ray disc program, represent!) and I am more than happy to pay my monthly dues in exchange for watching movies in the best manner possible. I have a terrific home theater, with a 115-inch, 2.35 aspect screen and Panamorph DC-1 lens that looks stunning. And I made that investment because I enjoy movie watching and want it to be in the best quality possible.


The best movies and actors have the ability to connect with and impact us greatly, and when you’ve seen the nominated films, it’s easy to feel a connection with them. I can remember a few years ago literally sitting on the edge of my seat and then jumping up and cheering when Robin Williams won for Best Actor for Good Will Hunting. I loved the film, I loved the writing, and I especially loved Williams’ interpretation of Sean Maguire. But, more and more, the disc release dates are lagging, and when the movie is unavailable legally - and there is so much hype around an event like the Oscars where people want to watch the films before the awards – people are increasingly turning to on-line streaming pirated content.  


Many people who would blanch that the thought of stealing a pack of gum are more than happy to visit sites like Pirate Bay to find virtually any movie they might want. Because if it’s readily available on the Internet and can be yours with just a couple of anonymous clicks, it’s not really stealing to watch it, right? I mean, it’s not like they are the ones that copied the work print or Academy screener…


Marge: “Your country doesn’t think illegally downloading movies is wrong?


Lisa: “The people of Sweden believe all movies should be shared freely.


Marge: “How is that not stealing?


Please continue reading at Residential Systems...

Five Tips to Rack Like a Boss

Posted on February 25, 2014 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Perhaps other than Sports Illustrated or Hooters, no industry is as proud of their racks as ours. (OK, that will be the only rack double-entendre, I promise!) (Also, as a word of caution, “rate my rack” is NOT a site where you go to submit your best A/V rack pics…just sayin’.) The delivery and trimming of the A/V rack often indicates nearing the job’s completion, and a clean, tight rack is a mark of pride for many installers.


Racking in gear is one of our industry’s art forms, and while I’m by no means a maestro, I recently spent two full days trimming out the house rack for my Mega Job (#protip: Bring something to kneel, sit, stand on! I used an old Tempur Pedic pillow and my knees and butt were ever so thankful!) and thought I’d share some of the things that helped us manage a 7-foot tall rack crammed to the hilt with gear.


Think Premade



It used to be that you had to build your rack to order from scratch, and then assemble the behemoth once it arrived in its many boxes and pieces. While this certainly lets you get the “perfect,” bespoke design for your system, it is usually more expensive and time consuming. As an alternative, consider that the major rack manufacturers – Middle Atlantic, OmniMount, Sanus – all offer pre-made racks in various sizes that will save you both time and money. The racks come wonderfully pre-built, include a locking front and rear door, removable side panels, a fan system for ventilation, multiple shelves and blanks and casters.


Behold my rack!


For my large project, I used five of OmniMount’s RE18 (18-rack space) for the bedroom suites and one RE42 (42-rack space, shown above) for the main rack. Because the pre-made racks from all manufacturers use standard spacing, you can still use any of the accessories you would like – custom faceplates, temperature controls, lighting, shelving, etc. – to finish out the rack exactly as you would like. Be advised, however, that the RE42 is one heavy mutha, and took four of us to lug it around.


RackTools



There is a reason why so many custom installers and pro sound guys use Middle Atlantic products. They are not only wonderfully well-made, but the company offers practically any accessory and part you can imagine to made the rack as perfect as possible. Another thing that Middle Atlantic offers that you should be using on every rack job is RackTools. RackTools is a free software tool provided by Middle Atlantic that offers a simple-to-use, drag-and-drop interface for designing and laying out a rack. Simple select a rack, and then drag in equipment and it will lock into place. You can even edit/create your own components if they aren’t already in Middle Atlantics large library. This is great tool for seeing how gear will fit into the rack and how much space you will need. Further, when you finish with the design, you can print a parts list to easily order your design with all the parts you used. Also, I just handed the above CAD layout to my installers and they knew exactly how I wanted the gear to be racked in, saving them additional time on the job trying to figure out how things should go.


Please click here and continue reading at Residential Systems. The very fate of your rack may depend on it!

7 Tips for Managing Mega Jobs

Posted on February 19, 2014 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

If you’ve followed any of my posts on our company’s Mega Job so far, you’ll know that we’re neck deep in the largest project we’ve ever done. (The finish line is actually almost in sight...we delivered all the racks of gear this week!) One of the things that I’ve really learned from our Mega Job is that these large projects are very fluid and amorphous and being successful means staying on top of the schedule and managing time both on and away from the job.


As much as you might want to tunnel-vision focus solely on the big job – and think how nice it would be to sweep the calendar clear of all other work and tell other people, “I’m sorry, but I’m dealing with a project that is just much more important than yours right now, so unless you are looking to spend a hundred grand or more, you’ll need to wait” – you can’t. (Well, I guess you *could* but then you’d probably have nothing left to do after you finished your big job.) The reality is the phone keeps ringing, other jobs will have issues that need addressing, existing clients will demand your attention and you can’t abandon everything else in favor of one project.


Here are seven things that helped me to keep our Mega Job – and every job – on track while balancing everything else.




Communication is Key


On large projects, there are so many different trades in place, and often so many people working each day, that things are constantly changing and happening. During prewire, you might walk out of a room and return a bit later to find that a new wall has been framed up and nailed into place. Where you can (hopefully) count on a builder to (sometimes) keep you informed on changes or when things need to be done on a smaller job, on a massive project the builder will have his plate full with so many other things that the onus of staying on top of things often falls on you. I’ve tried to keep in contact with the builder early and often on this job to make sure that we don’t find ourselves behind the proverbial 8-ball. My business partner and I decided early in the job that one of us would stop by the site once a week just to walk through and see what was happening. This helped us stay on top of things like cut wires, boxes that had been sheetrocked over, moved/added light cans, etc.  If there is something where you are dependent on another trade to accomplish – say core drilling a hole through a massive section of pressure treated concrete or getting conduit to a gate control location – make sure you are on top of this and constantly asking about it or checking up on it.


Build Relationships


In addition to communicating with the builder, we’ve really befriended the electrician – who worked so closely with us on the Lutron HomeWorks system – cabinet installer and the painting crew. These trades are often at the job every day and have another angle on the schedule, and we’ll often reach out to them directly to ask about scheduling. Building this relationship also helped when we needed them to work with us on something, such as additional power locations or our specific cabinet needs. Further with them understanding our side of the project a little better and the big picture of what we were trying to accomplish, it helped them to see how their work meshed with ours.


Do What You Can When You Can


One of the difficulties/challenges with being involved in a big job is there are long periods where nothing is happening interspersed with days/weeks where you need all the manpower you can muster and have more work than you can possibly handle. To help cut down on these frantic periods of so much work you feel like you’re trying to drink from a fire hose, be sure to get done whatever you can, when you can. On lots of jobs it is easy to start compiling lists of small things you’ll get to as some point, but on a big job, there are *tons* of these “small things” and they can add up to days of work. We did as much work offsite at our store as possible to cut down on what had to be done at the job. When you have holes in your schedule, fill them with work on the big job.


Please keep reading the rest of this story at Resi Systems...

Five Ways to Turn Social into $ocial

Posted on February 11, 2014 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (1)

“You can be a millionaire… and never pay taxes! You say, ‘Steve, how can I be a millionaire and never pay taxes?’ First…get a million dollars.” -- Steve Martin


Sometimes when I read about people talking about social media for their business and needing to embrace social media to be successful, it makes me think of that Steve Martin quote. It’s like saying becoming a millionaire is easy…just get a million bucks. Want some more surefire, can’t miss business advice? Be successful and hugely profitable. Land big jobs. Acquire a stable of billionaire clients. There. Easy.


The thing that you don’t often hear about is the all-important how. This would be like someone asking me back when I was a golf pro, “John, how do I shot a lower score?” and me responding with, “It’s simple! Just play better!” Yes, it’s true, but it’s not at all helpful.


Resi blogger, Heather Sidorowicz, touched on this a bit last week with her “Reach Your Demographic with Social Media” post. She offered tips like developing a social personality, posting to your site consistently and talking about completed jobs.


But even so, is that enough to turn your company’s social media platform into a money generating venture? Because ultimately, isn’t that our goal? Are regular posts with beautiful pictures and clever, well-written, personality-packed prose enough to transform your followers into purchasers? For the majority of custom installers, I’m afraid the answer is likely no or possibly maybe. And even that will require a lot of time and effort.



You have to kiss a lot of frogs…


As an example, consider this… I’ve written for Sound & Vision magazine for about 14 years now. At its peak, S&V had a monthly circulation of about 300,000. That meant every month there were potentially 300,000 people reading my column with a byline that mentioned me and my company by name and location. And these were 300,000 consumers that were interested in audio and video, literally paying money to read more about it. It was the most highly targeted “advertising” possible. And the business gleaned from all of those potential eyeballs that I touched for all of these years? I think we’ve landed maybe two or three sales.


I participated in a CEDIA panel a few years ago titled, “Social Networking Forum: How to Leverage Popular Social Media Platforms to Grow Your Business.” The three-hour panel had a lot of tips about using social media and the dangers of abusing it, but I’m afraid it didn’t really offer any concrete examples of the ever important how. While I’m not sure there is a silver-bullet how, here are five things that could work for monetizing and maximizing your company’s social platform.


Leverage bigger accounts


To quote myself from the panel, “The purpose of being [at the CEDIA panel] is a business objective, not to have 1,000 Facebook friends...” Gathering a bunch of followers for the sake of having big numbers is pointless if you can’t actually engage them to do anything. But at the same time, if you don’t have any followers, you might as well be shouting into a black hole (or perhaps tweeting into the wind). One of the most difficult things about being successful on social media is developing an audience of people that actually listens to you. I have over 1,700 Twitter followers, and I’m often lucky to get a single response if I pose a question.


Besides printing your social media info on business cards and websites and invoices and customer correspondence, I don’t really have a great suggestion for you on this one. For most CI companies, developing a following will likely be a slow process. But, one way to quickly and easily reach more people is by leveraging the power of larger accounts. Why not get Control4 (@control4 21,374 Twitter followers, 12,543 Facebook likes), Crestron (@crestronhq 14,403 followers, 8,595 likes), Sonos (@sonos 51,886 followers, 275,177 likes) to help you reach a much larger audience? If you do an install that features a company’s products, tell them about it and they will often pass that along to their (likely) much broader audience. Companies like OmniMount (@omnimount), Stewart (@stewartfilm), Screen Innovations (@siscreens), Middle Atlantic (@middleatlantic), Draper (@draperinc) and Digital Projection (@dprojection) are all active on social networking and are quick to pass along items. It’s certainly possible that one of their followers may live in your area and be interested in having work done.


An offer they can’t refuse


The most “successful” social media campaigns typically offer something... Click here to continue reading this and three more almost surefire tips to succeed at $ocial media!

4K is coming! Does anyone even care?!

Posted on February 4, 2014 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

This year’s International CES could just as easily have been called, “The Great Big Giant 4K TV Show!” because if you ventured anywhere into the central hall, that is practically all you saw or heard about.


(OK, it actually isn’t 4K, as that technically refers to the theatrical format that is 4062x2160 resolution at 17:9 aspect ratio. We all need to start getting into the habit of nipping this 4K thing in the bud, and start calling it back it's new, cooler and hipper name, Ultra HD, which is 3840x2160, or (conveniently) exactly twice the horizontal and vertical pixel count of 1080p. Who’d have thought that after all of these years line-doubling would come back into such fashion?! The more things change, the more they stay the same. Hurray!)


Of course, as anyone that has lived in these United States for any length of time can tell you, bigger is always better. I mean, who wants a 48-ounce Big Gulp, when you can get a 96-ounce cup of sugar-filled Mega Diabetes for just pennies more?! We’ve been taught that “value size” really means, “super-mega-jumbo-size” with enough calories to preserve a family of Eskimos through the long, cold winter. We demand cars that roll on tires big enough to shame the Lunar Rover. When new cell phones come out with even a single extra pixel in their cameras, we all want to run down to the hammer store so we buy a tool worthy of smashing our current phones into silicon powder, just to justify the expense of the upgrade we all know we must have in order to live a fulfilled, satisfied existence.


So, obviously, the four million-ish extra pixels offered by 4K Ultra HD are the only thing that matters. In fact, I fully expect that each one of these extra pixels is likely to individually revolutionize TV and movie watching in a way that will make everything that has come before them seem like some blurry and out-of-focus mockery. I for one am preparing to weep for the lost innocence of my youth. Right after I finish smashing out the last bits of glass on my Pioneer Elite 9G Plasma, punishing it with extreme prejudice for the years of my life that it stole, of course.


Seriously, though, does anyone really care about Ultra HD besides the TV manufacturers that have corporate shareholders lined up waving flaming pitchforks and screaming, “Now where is the money going to come from?! What’s next?! WHAT?!?”


So far, I’ve yet to have a single person walk into my showroom and ask about Ultra HD. I’ve also yet to have a single person ever complain about the picture quality of a 1080p TV. Nope. Never once had anyone say, “Sure it looks good, but I mean, I really feel like the pixel structure of 1080p is holding me back from actually enjoying my system. I mean, no, I can’t actually see the pixels from where I’m sitting, but I know that they’re there. I just feel those tiny squares making up the image and that just ruins my suspension of disbelief and makes it impossible to truly enjoy the fine beard-hair detail on Duck Dynasty.”




Now, I’ll admit that I personally spent several long minutes gazing at the glory which is Ultra HD resolution at CES. And, the images were gorgeous and detailed to be sure, likely fed a stream of barely compressed, native Ultra HD material from a concealed hard drive somewhere. But, after several hot, sweaty, agoraphobia inducing moments standing in the various demonstration prisons masquerading as booths, you start to notice that at all of these demos, people are standing mere feet away from the screens. And no one was just watching the screens. Oh no. They were all standing and scrutinizing the displays like they were all scientists peering at mysteries of the Ebola virus in a million-power microscope. You know, the way you casually watch TV at home.


Please continue reading my 4K UltraH HD rant at Resi Systems here...

Business Lessons Learned From Being a Golf Professional

Posted on January 28, 2014 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)

If you’ve followed my blogs for a while, then you probably know that in my pre-custom install life, I was a golf professional. This meant that I worked at a golf course, managed the golf shop, ran tournaments, gave lessons, etc. This differs from being a professional golfer, which is the people you see playing on TV. (My game was good – my handicap got down to a .5 – but those guys are spectacularly, unbelievably great and TV golf was never in the cards for me.)


I started my golf career at a course in the pinprick-on-the-map-small city of Rutherfordton, North Carolina. There would be many days when less than 10 people would play. (The course was built on an old plantation, and the golf shop was literally inside the old slave’s quarters.) From there I moved to a really busy public course in Berkeley, California where it wasn’t unusual to have over 300 rounds daily and the three phone lines would ring for two hours straight on Saturday mornings. From there I finished at a very private club in Orinda, California where the initiation fee was over 6-figures and had a 10 year waiting list and the number of rounds played was irrelevant compared to providing each member with the best experience.


Throughout my eight years in the golf business, I learned a few things that have helped me to be successful as a custom installer. Here’s 10 of them!


1: The details matter
Whether it is putting pencils on the carts, the way the balls were stacked on the range, all the shirts being folded properly in the shop or hand cleaning member’s and guest’s clubs and putting them away, every little detail added up to the overall experience. Before big events, I would use my best calligraphy stroke to hand write player names on signs for each cart, or draw maps leading to starting holes. People would grab handfuls of our club’s heavily varnished, logo’d tees because they were known to be almost impossible to break. Details absolutely matter in our industry as well. Things like properly finished wall plates, dressed and labeled wiring, thoroughly tested programming… It’s often attention to these small details that makes the best firms stand out in the long run.


2: Everyone is your boss
At the private club, every member was technically my boss. While they couldn’t specifically fire me, they could certainly have me fired. They could also ask me to do something and in most cases I would be expected to do it. As such, everyone needed to be given the same top-level service. Sometimes it can be easy to focus on the big jobs and the clients that are spending the most, and while they certainly deserve extra-special attention, if you think about each and every client as your boss, your level of customer service will likely step up a notch. And in our business, these bosses can literally “fire” us in their ability to never do business with us again and to tell others to stay away as well.


3: Persevere until you finish
Part of becoming a golf professional is passing a playing ability test (PAT) to prove that you have the golfing skills needed to be a pro. The PAT involves playing 36-holes in a day and shooting a target score, usually around 150-155 depending on the course’s rating. The PAT was an equal opportunity challenge; everyone could pass and everyone could fail. All that mattered was each person’s individual score at the end of the 36-holes. I was not a naturally great player and the PAT was tough for me. I missed it by 1 twice, including a 4-foot putt on the 36th hole that burned the right edge of the cup. Missed it by 2 twice. Missed it by 3 several times. I finally passed on my ninth time, shooting a 75 and 73. This taught me that if I really put my mind to it, I could work hard enough to accomplish a goal. On a long project, this perseverance is needed to make sure you follow through.


4: Short and straight beats long and lost
I can’t tell you how many times I’d see an older player step up to the tee and poke out a nice, straight ball about 150-yards down the center of the fairway to be followed by some young, strong player that blasts a ball 300-yards long that hooks or slices out into the woods.

Please keep reading the rest of my lessons learned at Residential Systems!

My Biggest, Bestest, Mostest CES 2014 Takeaways

Posted on January 16, 2014 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (1)

Another CES is in the bag, and after spending a week in the eye of the storm, it is nice to be back home away from the throngs of people and electron bombardment.


After taking a couple of days to let things settle and go over my notes and work through the weird ear-clogging head cold I came back with, here’s a list of the items that most stuck out to my eyes and ears while wandering the near 2-million square feet of Vegas show space...


Best Knob Feel: D'Agostino



If I have one audiophile fetish, it would be knob feel. There is nothing that beats the feel of a well-balanced, smooth turning, perfectly machined volume knob on a piece of high-end gear like a pre-amp. Now, whenever I come across a new piece of gear, I always reach out and take the knob for a spin. This year, I got some good knob from Mark Levinson, Lexicon, McIntosh and others, but the hands-down best knob feel goes to D’Agostino's new integrated amplifier. Imagine a volume knob that was designed as the multi-jeweled centerpiece of a certified Swiss chronometer's movement. The D’Agostino knob turns with the perfect amount of smoothness and resistance, with amazing precision and balance. The volume needle also responds to the knob in perfect sync and with exactly the right amount of raise per rotation. I probably spent a good minute wheeling the knob around in glorious, beautiful circles revelling in the tactile feedback. If you ever get the chance to turn a D’Agostino knob, I highly recommend it.


Most Over the Top: Sennheiser Orpheus



With only 300 pieces ever made back in 1991, the $16,000 Sennheiser Orpheus still stand atop the tower of the world’s most expensive and exclusive headphones. Apparently they are selling for over $30,000 on eBay now. First, they feel like putting opulence onto your ears. The leather is supple and buttery and rich. Imagine wrapping your head in a Rolls Royce Phantom. Second, the tube amp is beautiful and looks like the perfect audiophile accessory to accompany such a masterpiece. As a sidenote, the volume knob was no slouch either. And the sound… Ah, what can one say of perfection? I’d say that it was if a hundred angels were singing into my ears, but I think these phones imaged better and played much lower.


Most Likely to Change the World: 3D Printing



If you’ve never seen a 3D Printer in action, it is literally like watching magic happen before your eyes. Last year at CES there were a few 3D printers, but this year that was a large section in the South Hall filled with different manufacturers showing off their takes on this technology. Some printing in PLA filament derived from corn, others using sugar and others using chocolate. Yes. Chocolate. That you print stuff with. And then eat. We are finally living in a time worthy of Willy Wonka! It probably isn’t too much of a stretch to say that 3D Printing could launch the next industrial revolution, as they speed up production and limit losses from R&D and lead to innovation. And all of it capable of being done on a desktop anywhere. MakerBot talked about a Robohand that one user made, which allows people to print a prosthetic hand for under $5 in parts compared to tens of thousands for a traditional prosthetic. MakerBot also announced its initiative to put a desktop 3D printer in every school in the US, and so far the company’s printers have impacted more than 106,000 students. MakerBot’s president compared it to his childhood and growing up learning BASIC with an Apple II computer in the classroom, and will be empowering the next generation to be smarter.


Best Sound: TAD



Wandering the floors of The Venetian is a guilty pleasure as you indulge in suite after suite of six-figure audio systems. And year after year I seek out Andrew Jones Technical Audio Design (TAD) Reference One loudspeakers. In fact, on my first visit to the TAD suite, Andrew wasn't there and they were demoing a smaller pair of TADs so I returned an hour later for my once-a-year listening sesh. Andrew didn't disappoint, regaling us with awesome stories as he selected wonderful tracks of music to play on his system. These massive, $78,000/pair towers deliver the quintessential audiophile experience in my opinion, with lightning-quick, hyper-detailed sound from the Beryllium drivers, and bass that is huge and deep yet still tight and controlled. These babies are on my “if I win the lottery” must-buy list.  


Best Door Lock: Goji



There was no shortage of smart door locks at CES, but the one that most caught my eye was the Goji. This lock has an industrial design that would make you call it the “Nest of doorlocks.” (Well, it made me call it that.) (Also, I'm sure that Goji would be happen if Google wanted to buy them for $3.2 Billion...) As you walk up to the lock, it will recognize you by name and automatically open. If it is a stranger, the Goji will snap a picture of them and then send it to you so you can see who is there. Also, Goji is looking to integrate with some of our favorite automation systems. Look forward to a review…Also, how can I not love a product that says, "Welcome John!" on its box?!


Most Random Celebrity Sighting: Lisa Loeb



There is no shortage of celebrities hanging around booths at CES. Last year walking out of the DTS booth I stumbled into magician David Blaine. (His business card is a playing card with his details in micro-printed script. Way cool.) This year I walked straight into Lisa Loeb coming off an elevator on the 35th floor at The Venetian. I looked down, saw her name tag, and said, “Holy crap! That’s Lisa Loeb!” and by then she was gone. I chose to “Stay (I Missed You)” and not to chase after her like a creeper, but don’t think I didn’t want to.


Click here to keep reading more of my most favorite things from CES 2014!


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