“You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” That famous quote from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky certainly applies to many custom integrators who simply never even bother to ask their clients if they are interested in an outdoor entertainment system.
But you can count Rick Hartley and Jason Hillard of Complete AV in Bedford, N.H., as integrators who definitely ask. Even up in the frozen tundra of New England, the duo has developed a solid outdoor A/V element to their business, doing as many as 20 projects annually ranging from small scale to six figures. Many of those outdoor installations are extensions to interior audio or video systems.
The key, according to Hillard, is simply taking the step of inquiring to clients if they are interested in adding an outdoor zone to their new distributed audio or multiroom video system.
“In the past few years we have seen more clients wanting outdoor video setups with typically it being an extended video zone from an indoor system to outdoors,” says Hillard. “Typically, any installation we do — whether it’s new construction or retrofit — if they are looking at a distributed audio system we ask if they want to extend the audio out to the deck or patio. It is one of our go-to areas that we recommend. About 90 percent of the distributed audio systems that we install have at least one zone of outdoor audio.”
It sounds pretty simple … just asking for the order. Hartley says the company does some Google Adword marketing and Facebook ads touting its outdoor A/V capabilities.
“We also mention our outdoor solutions in all our local business networking groups. Up here in New England we are focused on outdoor projects only four months per year so we will talk to people over the winter at various home shows who are planning spring or summer projects,” comments Hartley.
Complete AV formed about two-and-a-half years ago and the company attributes about 60 percent of its jobs to residential work and the remainder commercial automation. In addition to outdoor entertainment, its specialties include dedicated two-channel audio and lighting and shade control. In addition to Hillard and Hartley, there are two other full-time employees, plus two part timers.
In New England, the winters preclude being able to do outdoor projects year-round. Complete AV’s typical outdoor projects cannot start until April or May.
“About 75 percent of our outdoor projects are usually just distributed audio around a swimming pool … usually two zones with the patio and pool. But we are also seeing some clients want very high-end setups with projectors and surround sound outdoors,” notes Hillard.
Conduit, Moisture Are Biggest Challenges
Since integrators like Hartley and Hillard are technically savvy, it’s not surprising that the biggest headache for outdoor jobs is laying the conduit for the wiring, which often requires trenching underneath existing walkways, patios, etc.
“A lot of what we do is existing homes, and we usually don’t have the luxury of being able to rip up big portions of the yard to run the conduit such as under existing concrete. Also, these systems are only used six to seven months per year so they go dormant for the majority of the year so they have to be totally weatherproof. So for us, a big problem is moisture-related issues. Sometimes, the manufacturers do not recommend that any electronics be left outside all winter, so we regularly recommend to clients that they disconnect and bring speakers and other components inside,” says Hillard.
That’s where product selection comes in. Hillard says he has to explain to clients why it is so important to select equipment that is designed to be placed outside.
“We have to have the conversation quite a bit with clients explaining the benefits of specific equipment that is designed for outdoor use. For example, the difference in cost for a 65-inch SunBriteTV vs. a flat panel that might be installed inside the home can be significant. Customers think since a TV is under a porch roof it is OK, since it is only partially exposed to the elements. I explain that spending an extra $500 or $750 on a TV can be the difference between getting five years of use vs. five minutes. We tell them that we want to guarantee them that the system will still be operational five years from now.”
Inside the $100k Outdoor Installation
SunBriteTV is Complete AV’s go-to brand.
“We have been buying SunBriteTV directly for two years but we have also installed them previously for clients who already had SunBriteTVs,” says Hartley.” SunBriteTV has done the work for us in terms making the brand named recognizable by customers. They are popular among our customers. In this area of the country, most of the new customers we meet that already have some sort of outdoor TV setup usually are using SunBriteTV.”
He adds, “The picture quality is outstanding, especially in its ability to withstand glare. We had a customer recently who unfortunately did not want to get a SunBriteTV so he bought a different brand on his own online. Right away when we installed it I could tell the difference in the picture quality and our ability to control it. Also, you can barely see the image due to glare. Now, I am working with the client to get him to switch.”
How you mount outdoor TVs is also important. Complete AV uses specific mounts from SunBriteTV designed for the outdoors.
“It holds up much better than a typical mount we might use for an indoor TV installation,” says Hartley. “It is important especially up here with all the snow we get, which can sometimes sit on it for four straight months. Also, if the project is near the ocean, the mount will hold up better than other articulating or tilt mounts.”
$100K Project Underway
Complete AV is in the midst of a $100,000 backyard project right now that includes six SunBriteTVs and a monster theater. Two of the 50-inch TVs are mounted on both sides of a tall rock gas fireplace. One side is designed to be viewed while sitting in the hot tub and the other side is visible from the patio. Since the TVs are totally recessed in the stonework of the fireplace, the audio quality is inhibited. So, Complete AV flanked the fireplace with two Madison Fielding planter speakers.
The fireplace direct vents through a central chimney in between the TVs. “We were a little concerned about the potential for heat transfer but the fireplace is very deep, almost 5 feet, so the TVs are far away from the chimney. We used shielded Cat 6 for the wiring and Just Add Power for the video distribution,” says Hillard.
That same project also includes five separate zones of audio around the yard and swimming pool and a two-piece theater. Complete AV is using a high 8500-lumen 1080p Vivitek projector with a long-throw lens to shoot images from a pool house 55 feet away across the pool to a 184-inch Draper screen. The projector is protected from the elements by a motorized window that automatically drops down when the system is activated. The screen sits between two 9-foot tall stone columns over a hot tub spa that is attached to the pool.
For the audio, the company is had Triad Speakers specially design two 5-foot-tall outdoor speakers for inside the columns.
“It took them two months to design them and one month to build them,” says Hillard. “They are basically Gold LCRs on steroids with 12-inch woofers and a high-compression mid-range and tweeter driver. Each speaker has two dedicated 600-watt subwoofer amps and we are driving the mid-range and tweeter with a McIntosh MC452. So it is a two-channel audio setup for theater.”
Complete AV is already 75 hours into the project just for the pre-wire, and the company estimates it will end up being over 350 man hours just for the $100,000 outdoor portion of the job.