Guy Singleton, owner of UK custom install company, Imagine This, has kept himself very busy these last few years – and not just with a steady stream of salubrious install projects. Speaking exclusively to CE Pro's sister publication, CE Pro Europe, Singleton reveals what he has been fitting in around his day job: the creation of The Cinema Designer (TCD) software, which promises to change home theater design as we know it.
Despite not officially launching until ISE 2017 where it will go live worldwide on February 8, TCD has already been hailed as “a stroke of genius” by Trinnov Audio, a “game-changer” by both Bowers & Wilkins and Datasat, and “a total no-brainer” by Classé.
TCD is an online design tool that allows users to create technically impeccable home theater designs, support documents and aesthetic renders within minutes. CE Pro Europe recently saw this first hand: in less than five minutes, TCD completed a full 9.1.4 Dolby Atmos custom cinema design, complete with downloadable support documents including 3D CAD placement drawings, cinema specification data, a bill of materials, topped off by 1920 x 1080 photo quality renders.
Imagine the implications this has for quickly providing clients with a vision for their future home theater.
Singleton says TCD does in minutes what would typically take a cinema designer around three weeks to create, producing nine drawings comprised of four isometrics, a top plan, four elevations, and a PDF file – amounting to around 25 pages to produce to the client. The software can also create a 3D CAD drawing for any room that can be used anywhere in the world.
Conception: The Cinema Designer Software
“I built it for me really,” says Singleton. “I built it because I knew it could help installers design jobs quickly. Imagine spending a lot of time designing cinemas, which is hours of tendering and producing documentation. For the installer to not win that project at the end, well, it’s a lot of work. I showed it to a few people and they said ‘It’s too good to keep this to yourself,this could benefit the whole market.'
“So I started to think, maybe this will be something the industry will need. I carried on working on it, and I remember one Sunday morning I had a bit of a Doc Brown in Back to the Future moment when it worked perfectly – from there I didn’t look back. I’ve been honing it since.”
TCD allows the installer to design what would usually take three or four weeks, in three of four minutes. With those kinds of results, Singleton is quietly optimistic about the take-up of the software, as it allows even the smallest of install companies to compete with the largest, confident that the results will be tailor-made for any theater install.
That includes commercial theaters – TCD is not just for home theater applications.
“I have designed a larger room with over 100 seats, so principally it’s the same,” says Singleton. “A few bits just need to be tweaked for commercial application, but essentially, it could do it.”
Home cinema 3D render designed using TCD software:
TCD also provides all relevant documentation for theater design, allowing any company to enter awards programs like CEDIA's.
“Whether it’s a one-man band or a team of 100 people, it makes no difference,” Singleton adds. “It saves all of your past projects so you can access them at any time. You could do three different designs for one cinema with different budgets and let the client chose.”
“I’m fairly okay at cinema design,” he says, modest as ever. “And this would take me weeks and weeks to do – this is not a two-minute job. If you asked a CAD guy to sit down and CAD you up four elevations, a top plan and four isometrics, it would be days and days of work for someone who’s very experienced. This document does all of the heavy lifting; it does all of the math for you.”
Installers and CAD designers don't need to panic. TCD is not designed to replace them – they are still very much at the heart of the process. TCD is intended as an addition to a cinema designer’s toolkit and, when you get down to it, profit margin, helping save time and money. It isn't a gimmick or an app, it's designed to output something valuable.
“The room design is only the start,” says Singleton. “CAD guys will still need to layer lighting, power and other features. What it does is takes away the fundamental room set up. In short, it will speed up and simplify their workflow whilst designing rooms to a set standard. The average person can’t just design cinemas with this; this is going to require you having some experience and an understanding of how to make some sense of the numbers.”
How TCD Works
Once the user has entered a few basic details (such as room dimensions and screen size), the software calculates the arithmetical design data and generates design documents. With respected brands such as Bowers & Wilkins, Barco and Screen Research represented in the product database, the tool accurately specifies equipment based on the correct design principles and performance data.
Other key features include an interactive seating configuration design tool and a Sabine equation and RT60 calculation tool. Users can then specify amplification and required SPL.
“What we’re looking for with an RT60 value is about a .32 to .39, so if we were to find a room that would be around .35, that would be fine,” says Singleton.
Singleton says TDC isn't subjective; it isn't his personal opinion on theater design. The software follows rules governed by mathematics. The designs are based on CEA/CEDIA CEB-22 and CEB-23 home theater standards for design, as well as several ITU documents on audio and video criteria.
“Why do you use Excel?” ask Singleton, rhetorically. “Why not longhand, or use multiplication? You do it because you have found a better way. Basically, it’s all of the things that unite to produce a predictable outcome. You type in project name, put in the dimensions [which are available in inches and mm], then type in the size of the room. Instantly I can tell you the volume of the room and what kind of subs I’m going to need.”
Watch a tutorial:
Users select aspect ratios for the screen. “If I took you to the movies and said ‘where do you like sitting?’ you might say ‘I sit absolutely in the middle,’ or ‘I sit two thirds of the way back.’ Some people might want to sit right at the back, or the front, and that’s quite a personal thing,” says Singleton.
Using TCD, this choice of seat preference guides the user as to which screen would be the best fit. From here, the installer can chose from a range of screen manufacturers that are available from a dropdown list, with more being added to the database every month.
TCD cares (as much as software can) about the gain, color and the off-axis viewing when it comes to screens – the manufacturer doesn’t factor into this decision. TCD takes into account if a screen is acoustically transparent or not, which then affects loudspeaker placements, factors in if there is ambient light in the room that can’t be controlled, and creates a list of suitable projectors that can excel in that specific environment based on lumen factor.
“One of the most difficult things is: which lens do I specify when I buy a projector?” says Singleton. “Because they come with various different lenses.”
TCD's drop down menu allows the user to click on a lens, which will then prompt the software to highlight where that particular projector should be located within the room. Then it inspects the lens, then guides the user step by step through the seating plan. It takes into account sightlines, allowing the user to reduce the distance, change the arm width, seat depth, riser height and reduce the gap between the seats, until the installer is happy.
Naturally, the software takes codecs into account, allowing the installer to specify Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio configurations (although Auro-3D currently works at a beta level and is coming to TCD very soon).
“It works slightly differently as it’s a channel-based system, not an object-based system, so there are some different parameters with Auro-3D,” Singleton notes.
Next, suitable loudspeaker brands can be selected. Despite not launching yet, TCD already includes Artcoustic, Crestron, JBL, Meridian Audio, Procella, Sonance, Triad, Wisdom, with more being added all the time. It used to be that Singleton approached the manufacturers asking them to join TCD, but as the word has started to spread, now they are approaching him directly.
The software knows what the sensitivity of each speaker is, the relationship between the sensitivity of the loudspeaker, the seating distance and the required amplification needed in order to hit the required SPL. If the user’s preferred loudspeakers aren’t yet in the database, they have the option of manually adding in loudspeaker sensitivity figures, or lumens for a particular projector.
Next, it’s onto sub placement and bass management. TCD has four preferred sub placements – the same that appear in CEB-22. Essentially, the user can select a button that shows them the models available that will get the job done; it won’t let the installer select an eight-channel model if they need 16.
TCD takes into account the carpets, chairs, plasterboard, or if there’s fiberglass present, altering the reverb time whilst telling the installer exactly how much M2 of plasterboard to order. Then the user can experiment with different renders by choosing different ceilings, décor, carpets and panels – ready to present all documentation to the client.
“When you hand this to the client, you’re not saying: ‘I’m trying to give you bigger loudspeakers because I want to make more money,'” says Singleton. “TCD proves that it’s the only way to hit the numbers. You can sell better by having a mathematical equation that backs up what you’re saying. You can show them all of the room design: a top plan, view from the back of the room, a side elevation and an isometric view.”
How Installers Can Get It, and What It Costs
Home theater designers can register to set up a TCD account here.
TCD is priced at £150 GBP (or about $187) for a single use of the tool, while a subscription provides 30 uses each month for £60 GBP (about $75) per month. Those that prefer to pay everything up front can purchase 365 uses over one year for a one-off payment of £710 GBP (about $822). There is no trial version.
“If I made it [a low cost program] in the app store, you’d have every electrical contractor or aerial guy getting it,” says Singleton. “I didn’t want to devalue it to the point that an installer is not needed. I don’t want people to think ‘I can do this myself,' I wanted to make the barrier enough so that it’s for professionals to use. I want people to be able to sell their own designs.
“Plus, if you give something away, it’s worthless. This isn’t worthless; it’s something that is actually really valuable. I could have sold thousands of these by making it cheaper, but I would be happier if 100 people used it rather than 1,000 if they were the right professionals.
The price of one single use might seem high, Singleton reasons, but you couldn't hire a CAD guy for the same amount. If you take the cost of a single use and add it to your design, it's part of your bill of materials.
The reason it is capped to 30 uses a month is to stop inevitable password sharing, says Singleton. “It will almost police itself. You might say, ‘I don’t do 30 home theaters a month.' Well I don’t even do 30 theaters a month! But what I might do is four or five incarnations of the same cinema.”
As TCD is a web-based design tool, all of the updates are part of the subscription process; there will be no 'new versions.'
“This is all web-based, it’s all live,” says Singleton. “The minute I make a change, everybody gets it. It’s not about selling people version one or version two and up-selling; the minute you are on board, you have access to it. You can tell when it was last updated; you may wake up one day and have a whole new set of features.”
The Big Reveal: ISE 2017
“I don’t think there’s anything like it anywhere – certainly nothing that I have seen,” Singleton says. “You can use Google SketchUp to sketch a room, but is there anything that creates a CAD drawing in 30 seconds? No. And that’s the bit that we patented, the inventive step, the fact that we brought everything together: the regulations, the standards, right the way through to the colors of the seat.
“This isn’t D-Tools, this wasn’t meant to specify a product and give a price on materials. This is about designing things mathematically that are technically correct. If you want to export this into D-Tools and crunch some numbers, that’s fine, but this is about designing cinemas properly. I think it will change the industry – I hope it does.”
With its big reveal set for ISE 2017, Singleton does feel some trepidation as – in his own words – “I’m sticking my neck on the block. With things like this, the more you put yourself out there, you probably expect some criticism. But it makes me feel fairly happy and proud; my hope is that it will help people.
“I would say that the potential for installers to use TCD is fantastic. If I’m designing cinemas properly and so are they, ultimately it will be the client that gets a better deal. My hope is that one day people will look back and people will say, 'Remember when we used to goof around with that for three weeks by hand? Now it takes three minutes,'” he grins.
In regards to training, Singleton anticipates that some installers may require training in order to finesse their use of TCD. He plans to host a series of webinars in future. “Some people will understand certain aspects more than others. If you are THX, HAA, ISF or CEDIA certified, it’s definitely going to help.”
Guy will be at ISE 2017 in the CEDIA training area for the duration of the four-day exhibition, should any installers interested in TCD have any questions. Learn more here.
“Guy has put an incredible amount of thought into developing The Cinema Designer and the end result is nothing short of inspiring. We know that for home technology professionals, time is one of their most valuable resources so any tool that can help them deliver exceptional experiences to their clients while saving time is a complete win.” —Vincent Bruno, CEO, CEDIA
“The CEDIA and CTA Home Theater Standards documents, CEB22/CEB23 are simply applied physics for designing high performance audio and video home systems. We see the Cinema Designer as a user friendly tool for obtaining system compliance with these Standards. For 2016 and beyond submission for CEDIA Awards requires following and documenting Standards compliance. We applaud the launch of this tool to help integrators ensure high performance for their clients.” — Joel Silver, Imaging Science Foundation (ISF)
“We have followed the progression and development of this software from a very early stage. At an early stage it was possible to see that this instrument would become a game changer. Having a tool with the ability to create cinema designs to industry standards, to the latest formats and have technically accurate drawings that can be dropped into CAD is something incredibly useful. Add to that a sales tool in the form of 3D renders and a kit list, wow. Oh and by the way, it does it all in around 30 seconds. I’m still in front of the client and their design, to correct standards, is complete. Something we will be recommending to all our dealers. Not as clumsy or as random as a person. An essential elegant tool for a more civilized age.” — Ben Davidson, custom installation manager, Bowers & Wilkins
“It’s been a really long time since I’ve been blown away by any form of software or hardware. But I must say that I was blown away once I saw the software at work. The potential is huge and for me I think Singleton's software is a game changer on a global level. Well done!” — Randhir Verma, VP of commercial and consumer sales EMEA, Datasat
“Guy Singleton’s stroke of genius! This product is not only very promising, it is incredibly smart and useful. We strongly recommend and look forward to using it.” — Arnaud Destinay, international sales manager, high-end audio, Trinnov
“Wow, what a great development tool. It helps elevate the professionalism of immersive theater designs while slashing development time. Best of all, clients will be reassured by the clear, objective consequences of choosing different design goals and associated equipment. It’s a total no-brainer.” — Dave Nauber, president, Classé
“This design tool is incredibly powerful and simple to use. I believe it will certainly make everyone’s lives easier and promote high standards within the industry.” — Phil Lord, cinema sales manager, UK & Nordics, Christie
“We work really hard to ensure that our cinema designs are built to the CEDIA CEA guidelines and appreciate how time consuming this process is. The guidelines are in place for a very good reason; to ensure repeatable results. This is absolutely critical and the design tool gives you exactly that: years of study, practical experience and knowledge in a simple to use yet incredibly powerful program.” — Barry Sheldrick, director of sales, Meridian Audio
“This design tool will save many custom installers and their technical departments hours of detailed work. In the hands of experienced and knowledgeable designers; after the correct information has been established, I’m convinced the tool will be an invaluable resource.” — Mike Beatty, managing director, Pulse Cinemas
This article originally appeared on CE Pro Europe.