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Friday, April 11, 2014

By Jason Knott

Set aside any ideas about commenting about my movie-watching tastes for a moment and just take my advice: Don’t use the 2013 movie “White House Down” for your demo material with clients.

Sure, it’s got lots of explosions thrilling chase scenes that will certainly excite the senses of prospective customers in a home theater demo. But it’s not the film’s audio or video quality that makes it a bad demo.

In the flick, a group of domestic terrorists infiltrate the White House’s custom installation company… a fictitious firm named Sonic DC. The Sonic DC men drive right through the White House gates in their van (filled with lots of guns and ammo). The side of the van proudly announces the company’s expertise in “Commercial A/V.”

The bad guys are all wearing gray jumpsuits with name tags. (They look better than the Circuit City firedog team did!) They are there under the guise of putting in a new sound system in the White House home theater.

Interestingly, the villains are showing “Lawrence of Arabia” on the White House home theater when all hell breaks loose, so at least the terrorists know good demo material when they see it. 

Of course, the plot is terrible, along with the acting by stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx. But the mere idea that the A/V company for the President is filled with bad guys probably won’t go over well with prospective clients.

I still remember the blow-back from the 1982 Kurt Russell/Ray Liotta movie “Unlawful Entry” in which Liotta plays the devious policeman who helps getting an alarm system installed…

Posted by Jason Knott on 04/11 at 07:17 AM
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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The International Security Conference (ISC) West 2014 was dominated by ... security!

By Julie Jacobson

The International Security Conference (ISC) West 2014 just wrapped up with a record number of … security companies.

I’ve been going to these shows for 24 years and they always have a variety of exhibitors who live outside the immediate realm of security but see value in this ripe market of low-voltage installers.

This year, very few non-security companies had booths at the show.

Lutron was there for the third year with lighting controls and some motorized shades. CentraLite exhibited for the first time with its lighting controls and ZigBee peripherals. Leviton had Z-Wave devices but the highlight was its security offering formerly known as HAI.

Other than that, it was tough to find home-control products such as energy management and motorized shades. There wasn’t a remote-control exhibitor in the house, although that category and some of the others were ably represented by distributors such as ADI, Tri-Ed and the PowerHouse Alliance.

True, Xantech had a small presence in the Core Brands booth, but the focus in that sizable space was Proficient Audio and its entry-level spin-off brand Emphasys.

As far as I could tell, no other consumer loudspeaker brands were highlighted at ISC, although Channel Vision showed some audio betwixt its CCTV lineup.

The electronic door lock manufacturers were represented but that’s still security, and most of the residential offerings were sidebars to their big commercial access control booths.

Except for the pure-play security manufacturers who have added automation to their repertoires – Linear/2Gig, Interlogix, DSC, Honeywell, Napco – I didn’t see much else in the way of home control from traditional players or startups.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 04/09 at 09:15 AM
News, Blogs, Home Automation and Control, Security, (3) Comments, Permalink

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The typical builder earned $37,255 in profit from a $399,532 new home built in 2013.

By Jason Knott

The average builder earned just over $37,000 in profit for every home he built in 2013, or about 9.3 percent of the total sales price. Exactly 4 percent of a typical home’s total sales price was spent on electrical, another 4 percent was spent on HVAC and 1.2 percent was spent on lighting.

Those are just some of the results from a new study from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) that opens up the proverbial kimono of the average homebuilder.

The new “Cost of Constructing a Home” study offers itemized details on how much money it really costs a homebuilder to construct a new home. Unfortunately, the cost of automation, audio, security or other electronic amenities is either buried in the general “electrical” or “lighting” categories and not broken out.

The survey has a base home of 2,607 square feet on a 14,359-square-foot lot that sells for $399,532. In all, 62 percent of the sales price in 2013 went to constructing the home itself. That is actually up from 59 percent back in 2011. The cost to acquire the lot itself in 2013 was 19 percent of the sales price (down from 22 percent in 2011). 

Among the eight major subcategories for construction costs are:

  • Site Work (permits, water/sewer, architecture/engineering, etc.): 6.8%
  • Foundation (excavation, concrete, retaining walls, backfill): 9.5%
  • Framing (trusses, sheathing, steel, roof):19.1%
  • Exterior Finishes (windows, doors, garage door, siding, etc.): 14.4%
  • Major Systems Rough-ins (plumbing, electical, HVAC:13.4%
  • Interior Finishes (insulation, drywall, trim, painting, lighting, cabinets, appliances, flooring, fireplace, etc.): 29.3%
  • Final Steps (landscaping, driveway, cleanup, deck): 6.6%
  • Other: 0.9%
  • Total Construction Costs: 61.6% of sales price

Among non-construction…

Posted by Jason Knott on 04/08 at 08:51 AM
Blogs, Research, Builders, (2) Comments, Permalink

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Sharing your first-hand experience can go a long way with your customers.

By Julie Jacobson

Leon Shaw of Audio Advice in Charlotte, N.C., is a classic geek, adopting technology early, using his home as a lab and (thankfully) sharing his findings with folks like us — the ones who don’t actually get their hands dirty, at least not on their own time.

I recently shared with CE pros one of Leon’s blogs about ditching the remote in favor of an allapp entertainment experience (go here to read more).

That article generated more traffic than usual on I wonder why — could it be that dealers are living vicariously through their hands-on cohorts?

Leon told me the experiment was inspired by countless customers who believed apps could save the world. Or at least could save them the cost of what they deemed as a superfluous remote control.

“What spurred me to do this is we are having a lot of customers push back on a remote for their theater,” he says. “They tell us every component has an app, I like apps, I think I’ll just use apps.”

In his head, Leon knew this premise to be wrong, but how could he prove it to consumers? By telling them to “just trust me”?

Related: Dealer Sees for Himself: Can You Eliminate Remotes and Use all Apps?

Leon decided to look at the issue from the eyes of a typical customer, ditching the remotes in his home theater and using individual apps for his surround- sound processor, Blu-ray player, DirecTV, Vudu and lighting controls. About one real-world example, he writes:…

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 04/03 at 05:50 AM
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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Here’s the first look at the user interface of St. Hubbins and Tufnel’s upcoming subwoofer, which they claim provides features the market has never seen before.

By Robert Archer

As the economy slowly grows stronger business opportunities within the custom installation market are beginning to heat up.

Crossing the pond to enter the U.S. electronics industry, a pair of former British entertainment professionals is set to launch a custom installation company and a line of supporting electronics.

David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel acknowledge the economy may never approach its previous levels of 2006 and 2007, but the duo say they are prepared to meet the challenge today’s business climate presents.

“It’s a fine line between stupid and clever,” admits St. Hubbins.

As part of their custom installation business plan, Hubbins and Tufnel also plan to introduce a complete line of electronics to complement the services they will offer. The pair says in their grand scheme they will have products that cover everything from home control and lighting to home theater, security and home networking. Their initial products will be a powered subwoofer, code named “Big Bottom,” and a projector they say is engineered to deliver performance no one has ever seen before.

“It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black,” boasts Tufnel on the capabilities of the still-unnamed company’s upcoming projector’s black levels.

Describing their “Big Bottom” subwoofer, Tufnel says it will bring features and deliver the high volume levels the public expects from a subwoofer.

“The numbers all go to 11. Look, right across the board, 11, 11, 11 and …  it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not 10. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at 10. You’re on 10 here, all the way up, all the way…

Posted by Robert Archer on 04/01 at 07:18 AM
Blogs, Audio, Video, Home Automation and Control, Installation, (2) Comments, Permalink

Friday, March 28, 2014

Ian Shepherd has been promoting his grassroots Dynamic Range Day for several years and now the initiative is starting to take root in the pro music industry.

By Robert Archer

Over the past decade a growing number of music industry professionals, as well as audiophiles and even mainstream consumers have increasingly complained about the deteriorating sound quality of new music releases.

Ask anyone from the recording industry and they will tell you the industry’s “loudness wars” that conceptually make recordings “louder” by reducing their dynamic range are why these recordings sound poor when compared to recordings from yesteryear. Taking the blame to the next level, mastering engineers have been unfairly blamed in some cases, but most realize that these professionals are simply following the instructions of those paying for their services. 

The real culprits responsible for modern recordings sounding so bad have been the record labels and their attempts to pander to mobile/earbud users, and in a minority of cases, the artists themselves (see Metallica and The Red Hot Chili Peppers).

Recently the professional audio community has stated the days of crushed, dynamically void recordings are waning. Through the efforts of individuals such as the British mastering engineer Ian Shepherd and his Dynamic Range Day movement, as well as bold statements from high-profile mastering engineers such as Bob Katz, the recording industry claims it is moving to put the “loudness wars” in the rearview mirror.

Maybe there is some truth to this claim. With new resources and the guidance of the newly passed Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act the music industry will take a new approach to music production.


Posted by Robert Archer on 03/28 at 09:16 AM
Blogs, Audio, (1) Comments, Permalink

Thursday, March 27, 2014

This home style, named Bodega, from Tumbleweed Tiny Homes comes in two sizes: a 261-square-foot studio or a 356-square-foot one-bedroom… neither with an entertainment system.

By Chuck Schneider

Can you design a whole house control system for a home only scantly larger than a maximum security prison cell? Can you plan a smart home so miniscule it makes a double-wide mobile home feel like San Simeon?

A domicile where a 27-inch LCD dominates a room could be coming to your world sooner than you think. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg may have lost his battle to ban the Big Gulp, but just prior to leaving office late last year he took the wraps off what he considers one of his greatest achievements—a building in Midtown that will contain over 50 apartments ranging in size from 250 to 370 square feet each. Rents are expected to start at just over $900 per month.

New York, despite having legal residences of at least 400 square feet for decades, is not the birthplace of this phenomenon that nationwide city planners and developers insist is not a fad, but rather a rapidly accelerating trend. Tokyo, Osaka and many European cities have also had these “micro-lofts” for some time as well. In the United States, Seattle leads the way with San Francisco, Austin, Denver and Chicago not far behind.

I know what you’re thinking and you’re right…you could have guessed which cities are leading the way on this trend. It certainly seems to be a blue state phenomenon with a pinch of green consciousness tossed in for good measure. And yes, in large part it’s being led by Zip-Car Millennials who are likely to still be single, have as yet no real roots, and…

Posted by Chuck Schneider on 03/27 at 08:53 AM
Blogs, Slideshow, Builders, (3) Comments, Permalink

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How will you sell HDMI 2.0?

By Robert Archer

In case you missed it, last fall the HDMI group announced its latest specification: 2.0. A few months later at CES Silicon Image introduced a new dual-mode chipset that features HDMI 2.0/MHL 3.0 and HDCP 2.2 to support the latest version of HDMI. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, Pioneer announced its 2014 A/V receivers that include the new HDMI 2.0 specification.

Keeping pace with all of this news is CEDIA.

Recently the trade group conducted an HDMI 2.0 Webinar that covered everything from the technical highlights of the platform, to how it will impact custom installers. During this 60-minute webinar, CEDIA’s expert panel of Steve Venuti, president of HDMI Licensing LLC; Jeff Park, technical specifications manager for HDMI; and Michael Heiss, technology chair of CEDIA, outlined the increased bandwidth of the format, as well as other new features it offers such as its 4K video at 50/60Hz support and its support of 32 channels of audio at 1536kHz.

One of the most interesting components of the HDMI 2.0 platform is its dual-viewing option that allows for simultaneous delivery of dual video streams that share the same screen. The experts also pointed out the specification’s BT.2020 color space provision, which provides for a much wider color gamut than the HD spec’s Rec 709 specification.

Related: A Closer Look at HDMI Input Sensitivity and Jitter: Part 2

Other points of interest…

Posted by Robert Archer on 03/26 at 08:31 AM
Blogs, (4) Comments, Permalink


Tiling a floor looks so easy.

By Julie Jacobson

It seemed like such a simple thing … tiling in an 70-square-foot bathroom. So why was this guy charging me $350 for the job?

Living through the installation, I totally get it.

First, he had to scrape the floors completely flat (blister city). Then he had to measure, cut and lay the backer board. Then he had to futz around with the tiles, doing a dry run of about 30 square feet to ensure even lines and optimal cuts. Then he had to cut and re-cut all the tiles for real, mix the adhesive, apply the adhesive, lay each tile, level each tile, mix the grout, apply the grout, sponge and clean …

Best $350 I’ll ever spend.

I said the same thing about the $500 I spent on a professional to install my Ikea wardrobes. Having installed hundreds of these things in the past, George Rios had all the tools and didn’t need to waste time deciphering the instructions and omitting that one tiny piece that would force anyone else to dismantle and start over.

I advised dealers back then to let customers watch your installs to learn just how hard you’re working and the skillsets you bring to the table.

RELATED: CE Voyeurism: Let Your Clients Watch You Work

I tried to install a new Yale electronic lock myself at our new (old) condo and it took two hours. The hole for the former deadbolt was too small, so I had to painstakingly expand it with the limited tools I had. Then I had to actually put the new pieces…

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 03/26 at 08:24 AM
News, Blogs, Business Resources, (4) Comments, Permalink

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

CE Pro senior editor Bob Archer recently discovered for himself that terminating networking cables isn’t as easy as it may appear.

By Robert Archer

Even though Mother Nature may not realize winter is technically over in the greater Boston area, there are a flurry of springtime activities going on at my house that include the integration of electronics.

The focal point of these activities is the removal of an old multiroom audio system and the upcoming retrofit of my home for an Autonomic system (for review) that includes iOS-based control capabilities and full streaming audio.

Lacking the skills to pull the speaker and Cat-6 cables myself, I hired my neighbor Aaron Lancaster, an electrician and owner of AJ Electric in Massachusetts, to pull the cables for me. Before finishing the job Lancaster innocently asked if I would like to try terminating some Cat-6 cables. Being curious and ultimately foolish, I responded by saying, “Sure, I’d love to. I’ve never done it before.”

Leaving a pair of crimpers and the instructions on how untwist the twisted pairs, run the individual cables in the correct order for insertion into the RJ45 connector, and properly crimp the RJ45 connectors, he said it will take time to learn but I should be able to do it. Guess what … he was wrong. I screwed it up, and worst of all I had invested probably close to 30 minutes into a cable that didn’t work. All I could think following this experience was, “How do installers in the field do this in a timely manner?”

Ensuring my humiliation was complete, my wife asked if she could try. I said sure and after I explained how to do it (while pointing out where I believed I failed) she within a…

Posted by Robert Archer on 03/25 at 08:59 AM
Blogs, Audio, Video, Digital Media, Wire and Cable, HDMI, Networking, (14) Comments, Permalink

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