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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Il Sciacca, gli Gran Quotidorre!

Posted on January 26, 2011 at 5:40 PM

I was on a job spec’ing, proposal generating, and system quoting terror today! Bang, bang and ka-bang! Three jobs visited, three proposals generated and – hopefully – three more jobs locked down and queued up.


Job 1: Guy bought a house from the bank in a distressed sale and his message on the answersing machine said he wanted to have his home theater finished. Apparently the builder was building the home for himself and had some asinine wiring ideas that ultimately resulted in the bank taking the house away from him. (Let that be a lesson to you all!) At first I thought the guy was gonna be a blow off. A) He is like 40 minutes away from our store, so that is already in the borderline “Sir, I hope this is going to be a large project” blow off area. And B) when you tell me that you’ve had several other people look at the job that is usually a giant, waving red flag of distress and do not enter-ness. I already KNOW that I am NOT going to be cheaper. I don’t care who you talked to or what they quoted you, in this town, my bid is not going to be the cheaper one. And when you have been talking to multiple people, usually – not always, mind you, but my 14 years have told me that USUALLY – that means you are looking for the cheapest price. And C) he was just completely unable to articulate what it was that he wanted, which, again, is NEVER a good sign. As a rule of thumb, if YOU don't know what you want, I can't help you to get what you want. It's a weird circular logic that is equally frustrating to try and work through...on a job site...with a customer. So I head out there and arrive like astronomic timeclock perfect at 10 AM when I said I’d be there and he opens the door all confused and wearing his robe and says, “Really? This early? We haven’t even eaten breakfast yet.” And then I remind him about our appointment and his wife comes out and says, “Oh! Congratulations about the baby!” Which is nice, but normally people don’t congratulate me for having Lauryn 4-plus years ago. So, clearly these people are not remembering our appointment. But we get down to it and the guy is just TOTALLY hung up on what the builder had planned.


“He’s got wire going here; he’s got wire going there! I mean, it’s crazy! It doesn’t make sense? Why would he do that? Now, let me show you where this wiring goes and what he has behind this wall plate...”


So finally I say, “Sir, let’s move away from whatever HE had planned and focus on what YOU’D like to do. Then we can start addressing your issues and start figuring out what kind of a system you need.”


So the OBVIOUS solution is to put a Blu-ray player right below the TV in the living room, which -- for the record -- has absolutely NOTHING to do with the wiring he has been showing me for the past 10+ minutes on the other side of the house and in his bedroom. And, apparently is the extent of finished out his home theater. Oh, and bonus: he already has the Blu-ray! So, the Blu-ray below the TV is the obvious choice because it is where he A) wants to watch the Blu-ray player and B) there is a shelf sitting right there FOR the Blu-ray player. But he can’t get past the fact that there is wiring in the closet WAY on the other side of his house in BFE in a closet.

“How are we going to get a cable from that closet to this TV?”


“Why do we need to do that?”


“Because that’s where the other wiring is.”


“But we don’t need that other wiring.”


“But that is where the other equipment is.”


“But I don’t need to connect this to the other equipment.”


“But I thought it should go there.”


“But why don’t we just connect it here, directly to this TV where you want to watch it?”

“I think the builder planned on putting it in here and then trying to play it all over the house. That’s ridiculous! Why would anybody want to do that?”

(OK, this is a Choose Your Own Adventure branch in the road. If you think that I decided to go into a lengthy discussion explaining how housewide video distribution works and the benefits of centralized equipment locations and control options for remotely located gear, then stop reading now. You have just jumped headfirst into a lengthy time-bandit quagmire. You’re forced to stay at the old man’s house trying to explain these concepts until you slowly lose your mind, ultimately becoming a wasted, husk of a person forced to sit in a corner muttering to yourself and live in the stench of your own urine. Your adventure is over. If you think I just glossed over this and moved on, then continue reading...)

“Well, we COULD put the player in the closet. And then find a way to get the audio and video signal to your TV, taking a few hours of retrofit and probably a hundred feet or so of Cat5 cable and a few hundred dollars in audio and video baluns and then worry about how we would control the player way back there in the closet. We could do ALL of that. Or, I could install it here, right below the TV in about 5 minutes."

"But if you connect it here, how will I get the signal back to the closet?"

"Why do you need the signal back in the closet?"

"I don't know."

"Then we don't need to. I mean, do you need to hear the audio from your Blu-ray player in your bedroom?"

"No. Why would I want to do that?"

"I don't know." (I decide NOT to go into the fact that you might be watching a movie and have to take a restroom break but want to continue hearing the movie while you're out of the room. Seriously, he doesn't seem to be that hardcore of a movie watcher so I just let it go. I never did mind about the little things...)  "So there's really no point in sending the signal back to the closet."

Turns out that their major gripe is that the sound is awful. And I can immediately see that the sound is awful because they are using a totally nougat Vizio soundbar connected to an equally nougat Vizio LCD. (These are the lightning fast observations you are able to pick-up on after doing this for almost 25% of your life.) I explain that the lack of, err, *quality* in their soundbar is probably why it sounds so bad.


“Oh, yes. We’ve read the online reviews on that. It gets terrible reviews. We’d be happy to get rid of that for something better.”


The main complain is inability to understand dialog and the room is quite acoustically live (ie: echoey) so I’m thinking that surround speakers and a subwoofer are only going to exacerbate the problem and probably aren’t the right solution. After clarifying that they are NOT looking to have surround sound but just to improve their TV and movie watching experience by being able to understand the dialog better, it is clear that they need a new receiver which will use some Audyssey magic-sauce to tame some of the awful sound and clear up the dialog and some wall mounted Definitive Mythos speakers, a smart remote and a Network cable retrofit to his router. (I have never, and I mean NEVER seen a man more opposed to even TRYING WiFi for his Blu-ray player than this guy. He was abso-damn-lutely adamant that we were going to run a Cat5e cable to his router. So, why fight the tide? For about 2 hours of labor and 75 feet of cable I can help the old man to a happier rest of life existence.) Total proposal $2325.


Job 2: Turns out to literally be around the corner, so sweet. This guy has been into our store to hear the Definitive Technology ProCinema800 system. He fell victim, err, was super impressed by my Master and Commander demo (a favorite demo clip, made more impressive by using the Kaleidescape system to scroll through cover arts, select “Favorite Scene” and then *immediately* start it playing), which just goes to show the power of giving a great demonstration. After some A/B-ing he decided (Bwa-ha-ha!) that he needed the better ProMonitor1000 system, to which I heartily agreed. He’s sold on the system, but wants to make sure it will fit into his already wired house. Young guy, seems cool, was expecting me, wiring is totally visible and doable and roughly in the right places. And he keeps telling me about the TV he is going to buy at Best Buy and I finally ask him, “Have you already bought this set?”


“Well, no.”


“If I can match the price, wouldn’t you rather buy it from me? So I can support it and install it and everything?”


“Well sure!”


So I work a $2500 Samsung 55-inch set into the mix. Then he shows me this HDMI cable. Looks like a regular HDMI cable, but apparently it is possessed of the soul of a homicidal serial electronics killer. He says that he has plugged two – not one but TWO – Blu-ray players into that cable and that they have immediately fried. Went black, stopped working and wouldn’t come back on. And had the whole peat bog smell of fried electronicness with none of that lingering scotch warm-and-fuzzy that makes the peat bog smell of fried electronics all worth it in the first place. I have NEVER heard of this phenomena and can’t even understand how it could happen. The cable appears to be plugged into nothing on the other end. And even if there was a nail in the wire or the wire was severed it shouldn’t do this. Even if there was a JFK magic-bullet nail through the wire and that nail was also jammed into a piece of Romex that was also carrying 110, even THEN I don’t know that an HDMI cable would backfeed enough current to kill two Blu-ray players. And yet, I don’t want to risk plugging another component into it. We’re dealing with forces beyond our control here; forces best left alone. Or forces best used against the cable company. My solution: Let’s try plugging it into your cable box and see if it blows that up. (I mean, seriously, does that not sound fun?) But he had shows on his DVR and sadly declined to accept the Sciacca HDMI-DVR challenge.  So, we decided to replace his 8-generations old Denon receiver with a new one that does HDMI switching and next-gen audio decoding, add in a URC radio frequency remote and work up another $5875 proposal.


Job 3: On the marquee billboard outside of our store, we put up “CONTROL YOUR HOUSE WITH AN IPAD” a couple of weeks ago. People *love* their iPads and seem to always be searching for new and exciting ways or excuses to use their iPads. So we bring them in all Venus flytrappy and then show them our Control4 system being controlled by an iPad. It’s quite seductive. So our latest victim potential iPadder came in yesterday and says, “I read your sign. I have an iPad. How can I control my house with it?”

So we get to talking and it turns out it isn’t his house but his business – storage solutions – that he wants to remotely monitor. Ultimately, he’d like to be able to turn lights on and off and talk to people that he sees on his camera system. Control4 has a perfect solution. We can record announcements in the guy’s voice, save them as .WAV files and then allow him to trigger these announcements remotely. You know, something classy like, “I’m gonna git you, sucka!” or, you know, something. So I look at his building and it is totally doable, cake job to install the Control4 brain, a PA amp and some PA speakers. And then a motion detector that will trip lights only after he has closed and then send him an e-mail to let him know the lights have turned on and that it is time to start button pushing out some ass-kickin’ announcements. Total proposal: $1875


By 1PM I was having a celebratory lunch at Chick-Fil-A, the closest thing going to guilt-free fast food. Not bad for a morning’s work. Granted, not giant jobs, but jobs none the less. And, as we like to say, that's more BB’s in the jar. Three more BB’s to be exact.

Categories: January 2011, CTA

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