Virtual reality is coming to an (unfinished) home theater near you, allowing customers to visualize the experience before they buy.
There is no question that integrators who “wow” clients during a sales presentation have a much higher success rate closing the deal than others. That’s why demos are so important, but sometimes customers have a difficult time picturing a CE pro’s home theater showroom in their own home. The demo room may not be the same dimensions as their planned space at home, the showroom décor may not be to their taste, the demo-room screen size won’t fit their room at home, etc.
But now there’s a way to eliminate those concerns.
At CEDIA 2016, Jonathan Law of REAL Audio Video, an integration company based in Linden, Utah, demonstrated his Virtual Reality Home Cinema system that lets customers “see” their home theater before construction even begins. All I can say is that “wow” is the operative word related to the system.
Not only did it “wow” me and other attendees, but it will amaze your clients.
How It Works
After REAL Audio Video engages with a client and all the selections are made for their home theater — carpet colors, acoustical treatments, speakers, screen size, seating, etc. — the CAD drawings are converted into a VR-friendly format, including both visual and auditory.
Using that file, the company then sets up a temporary area to conduct a VR demo using two IR emitters on tripods placed in two opposing corners of the room.
At CEDIA, it was simply a 15×15-foot draped off area in a conference room at the Omni Hotel. The VR demo area can be the actual homeowners’ space for which the theater is planned, or in a showroom. It doesn’t matter. The client wears a Vive VR headset that includes goggles and headphones. The integrator wears a second set in order to guide the client through the system design.
Once in the VR demo, the client sees his theater room. It is very cool. You can physically move within the demo area and you can virtually move using one of two handheld wands to teleport across the room, similar to the experience used in gaming. If the client physically walks too close to a real wall in the demo area, the system alerts him or her by changing the VR view to a grid pattern so you can't bump your head. The second wand emits a light that allows you to expose layers of the room. For example, you can shine it on the walls to expose the in-wall speaker positions, see the speakers behind the screen, open up the wall to see the projector, etc.
If the carpet color doesn’t match with seats, now it can be changed. If the screen looks too big, you can shrink it, if you don’t like the architectural trim, switch it. All of this is done before construction starts, saving lots of time, aggravation, money and change order hassles.
All along during the demo you are being guided by a staff person from REAL Audio Video, who can also show the science behind the system. REAL Audio Video team member Ken Brubeck conducted my demo. The VR system has the ability to project how the sound waves are flowing and reflecting off various surfaces in the room. It also shows how the system targets the “sweet spot” primary viewing/listening area.
REAL Audio Video already uses this system internally with its own customers, often using designs from CEDIA chairman Dennis Erskine of The Erskine Group. Erskine was so enamored of the system that he announced he is moving his design firm operations from Portland, Ore., and Atlanta to join REAL Audio Video in Utah as part of the company. He also encouraged Law to bring the VR system to CEDIA 2016 for others to see and get feedback on the viability of it being offered commercially to other integrators. That was only back in June, so Law and his team had to hustle just to pull something together for the show.
At CEDIA, the feedback from the system was overwhelming. During my brief time in the demo area, I heard several integrators who, upon completing the demo, said, “Who can I write a check to right now for this?”
Here’s the bad news: Law says it will likely be about one year before the system is ready for other CE pros to use. The business model is still being worked on, but Law believes it will be an equipment buy-in plus a recurring monthly fee for integrators. After dealers send REAL the CAD file and it is sent back, technologists will use a tool called a variabilizer that will allow them to adjust a client's room size, screen size, chair and carpet preference, room trim colors, etc. The idea is for dealers to charge their clients for these design services, while at the same time showing them how much on the cutting edge you are. Cost for the program is to be determined.