CE Pro’s Original Top 10: Joel Silver, ISF

Eight years ago we published a list of the 10 most influential leaders in the custom installation industry. Today's spotlight: Joel Silver, Imaging Science Foundation (ISF)

Top 10 from 2004: Tom Doherty, Jeremy Burkhardt, Julie Jacobson (CE Pro), Jeff Hoover, George Feldstein, Sam Runco, Doug Fikse, Theo Kalomirakis, Joel Silver, Jay McLellan, Ivan Zuckerman, Jason Knott (CE Pro)
Julie Jacobson · January 18, 2013

In 2004 CE Pro published a list of the top 10 most influential industry leaders from the previous decade, in celebration of the 10-year anniversary of EH Publishing, the parent company of CE Pro, Electronic House and others.

In 2013, we are celebrating the 20-year anniversary of CE Pro, the first issue of which appeared as an insert in a 1993 issue of Electronic House. The following is a tribute we wrote in the October 2004 issue of CE Pro, honoring these contributions of these 10 leaders.

In 2004, our Top 10 of the decade were:
Sam Runco, Runco
Tom Doherty, Doherty Design Group
Jeremy Burkhardt, SpeakerCraft
Joel Silver, Imaging Science Foundation (ISF)
Doug Fikse, OnQ/Legrand
Jay McLellan, Home Automation Inc. (HAI)
Ivan Zuckerman, Niles Audio
Jeff Hoover, Audio Advisors (now Ask the Advisors)
Theo Kalomirakis, TK Theaters
George Feldstein, Crestron

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll resurrect our write-ups on each of these industry leaders.

“Leaving ventures that had become lucrative but were just not fun anymore to join people in ventures who appear to be having a good time.” - Joel Silver on best business decision (pictured in 2001)


Joel Silver, Imaging Science Foundation (ISF)

Calibration Man

We don’t mean to belittle TV manufacturers, but even the best displays can look pretty lousy fresh out of the box. If there’s ever a way custom installers can earn their keep, it’s to take a $10,000 television and make it perform like a $10,000 television.

Thanks to Joel Silver, installers have the tools to do just that.

Silver is the president and founder of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), the company that sets the standards for video quality. Founded in 1994, ISF has created video calibration procedures that improve the performance of commercial and residential video displays. The company’s mix of physical tools, classroom training and consulting is responsible for much of the good video we see in homes today.

But it’s not so much the great things he’s done for video that makes Silver a Top 10 Leader. It’s the opportunity he has created for custom installers to thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

“ISF certification has been a great thing for credibility,” says Mark Ormiston, principal of Definitive Audio, a Seattle-based integrator with roughly 15 certified technicians. “But it goes beyond that. The whole process, the education, gets our technicians to understand video across all brands. It ensures that we give our customers a consistent, high-performing display regardless of which technician installs it.”

More than 3,000 A/V professionals distinguish themselves by their ISF certification. And myriad manufacturers boast ISF logos on components blessed by Silver himself.

Silver never set out to become a video chieftain. With his college degree in philosophy, he figured he would teach. But years of work as a field engineer, a stint in the publishing business, and a disappointing bigscreen TV of his own got him interested in video.

“I bought one of those six-foot curved things, with the big projector sitting in a coffee table,” he recalls. “I bought it for about $1,500 and had to pay it off in installments.”

For all the investment, he says, “The picture was terrible, and I was embarrassed to show my friends. … That’s it, I got into this business because I was embarrassed by my television.”

So Silver took some things he had seen in the commercial video arena, and began to apply them to the home market. Soon afterwards, he started helping dealer friends who wanted better pictures. And ISF was born.

Silver continues to train dealers (and enthusiasts and manufacturers and anyone else seeking video nirvana) on how to achieve stellar pictures from their video projectors.

But he is also focusing nowadays on other video sources, namely PCs and the Internet. With Microsoft, he created the Calibration Wizard that comes with every Media Center Edition computer. The user-friendly wizard takes consumers through a few easy tasks to optimize the TV images generated by the computers video card.

Most recently, Silver set up the Imaging Science Research Labs at Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash. headquarters to develop specifications for ISF-worthy video cards sold with MCE computers.

“We’ve got high-definition capture cards, and killer application for Media Center Edition is HD recording,” Silver says. “Our goal is to create a competitive environment between the best of the PC-based HD images and the best of the TV industry’s HD offerings.”


Why he’s a Top 10 Leader: Joel Silver’s infectious enthusiasm for high-quality video has inspired A/V integrators worldwide to provide a high level of technical service for their customers. His training and other calibration tools have given custom installers a way to distinguish themselves from the box-pushers. Most recently, he has worked with Microsoft to help enhance video quality generated from PC-based devices, paving the way for conscientious A/V dealers to take advantage of new digital technologies.

Bio: Unlike many of the other leaders in the custom installation business, Silver was neither a tinkerer nor a videophile nor a salesperson in a hi-fi store. Before founding Imaging Science Foundation in 1994, he was a businessman who dabbled in the real estate, automotive and medical fields. But a frustrating experience with a then-expensive bigscreen TV more than a decade ago led him on a mission to create a better video experience for consumers. Today, ISF trains and certifies more than 300 dealers a year, consults with manufacturers to improve the audio and video fidelity of their products, and works to elicit ISF-quality A/V experiences from PC-based environments.

Best business decision: Leaving ventures that had become lucrative but were just not fun anymore to join people in ventures who appear to be having a good time.

Worst business decision: Misinterpreting the “fun” in dysfunctional people. I seem to be a sucker for a good sob story, and have made at least five or six errors with people when staffing ventures.

Key opportunities and challenges moving forward:
The essence of everything we do for clients comes down to managing their digital property and delivering quality analog experiences at their choices of time and place. During this primitive era we collect data on multiple hard drives in different rooms, on shelves filled with discs, in different doctors’ offices, on accountants’ PCs, and in wearable and mobile devices. Our future services will be based on one master storage device,  and we will offer network and back up services.

Favorite books: “The March to Folly,” by Barbara Tuchman—and historical account about how our societies seem hard wired to make very poor choices. It is a superb read that reminds us all to have a sense of humor about our failings. For business reading, “Trading Up,” by Michael Silverstein and Neil Fink, suggests that if we understand what we have in common with Victoria’s Secret, vodka, golf clubs and kitchen appliances we will be better able to understand what our clients need.

  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]

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View Julie Jacobson's complete profile.

  Article Topics

News · 20 Years · ISF · Joel Silver · All Topics
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