Home Theater Gear Pages

Startup Alert – Custom Installation Industry Insiders Start New Company

Audio Video Startup Alert -

What’s one thing small business owners have a problem with, no matter their industry? Ask around, and you’ll discover it is marketing themselves and their businesses. Why? You’d think that marketing would be second nature for entrepreneurs. While it may be for some, the fact is that most are better at doing the jobs they started their company to do, than landing a steady stream of profitable, new work.

The majority of custom integrators are certainly in that camp. Most owners or partners have little experience marketing, coming to the business from an installation, programming, or design, background. It’s not only that they have little experience marketing, with the time demands their businesses place on them, they have precious few extra hours to learn.

The Business Owner’s Problem

That’s not to say they can’t drum up new business. On the contrary; their very existence speaks to the fact that they can indeed score new jobs on a regular basis. The problem lies in one simple fact. Most work far too hard landing these new gigs. Then, when they do get a new job, on many occasions it’s not nearly as profitable as they’d like.

Then there’s time. There are only so many hours in a day, and most custom integrators get dragged away from their families for evening and weekend meetings. Then, there are those jobs that they could finish today, if only they stayed just a little bit late.

Their time is at a premium, handling all the other things that see to pop up each day in the course of running their businesses. Unless they have a full blown marketing staff, many marketing tasks just get elbowed aside.

Who?

A team of long-time industry veterans knew there had to be a better way to help integrators get more of the choice projects they’re missing, while giving them back some of their valuable time. As one founder put it, “We saw an un-served need in the installation community and wanted to help. This industry’s been great to us all these years, and we just want to give back by helping make integrators stronger. We’re certainly not getting rich off this thing.”

The group,  includes CEDIA founder, manufacturer, long-time educator, ex-AMX VP of sales, and all around industry good guy Frank White, plus stereo sales guy from waaayyy back and manufacturer’s rep turned major distributor Barry Scovel, and an as-yet-unnamed co-conspirator (the stig), who, rumor has it, counts more than 20 years in the industry (and that’s the young one) combined with a decade of online marketing experience among his(?) calling cards.

What’s It Gonna Do?

Together they founded WELD2. The team decided on the moniker because their goal is to weld customers to integrators for life. Their tagline and mission statement “Creating Profitable Relationships….. for Life” sums it up nicely.

They combine their 97 years of consumer electronics marketing experience with modern technology to create an integrated system of specially engineered digital communications and special,. insider management information, plus a few more secret ingredients they’re not quite ready to let out of the bag just yet..

The combination takes advantage of the fact that most companies have significant business locked up in their contact lists that they’re not taking advantage of. More importantly, many studies have shown that it is many times less expensive marketing to existing customers than acquiring new ones. That’s where the WELD2 team says most integrators are completely missing the boat.

In fact, their Stig explained “You ask almost any custom integrator and they’ll tell you they have great intentions about consistently marketing to their existing customer base. The fact is though, that by the time they get hit with the 57 new phone calls they get every day, and deal with the fall out and follow up from them, most of us just don’t have the time. We found that doing ti right does take time, and even if they know what to do, that’s time most guys get stuck doing something else.”

He added “ Our value proposition is so good it’s silly. Being from that community, we know what most integrators want. Our backgrounds give us the edge here, because it’s such a rare talent and experience combination, all together on the same leadership team.”

Can they pull it off?

Time will tell. It sounds like they certainly have the pedigree for it. The majority of the installation community seems to agree there is a need for some solution to this problem. Whether this vehicle crosses the finish line, we will see.

They are online at:

http://www.weld2.com/

Redbox Instant Service to Start By Christmas 2012

Redbox Instant, the much hyped Netflix competitor anticipated by millions of folks tired of running to the kiosk at their local mini-mart will finally arrive at a computer or mobile screen near you. Redbox,  owned by Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and Coinstar (NASDAQ: CSTR), promises a higher quality streaming selection than Netflix, freeing consumers form the constraints of Netflix’s somewhat limited streaming catalog.

Netflix has been criticized by some for having too many low quality films and a dearth of newer, first run movies. They do however, have a plethora of TV shows available, something which Redbox Instant  says they will not, at least for now.

Verizon VP Eric Bruno explained that Redbox will focus on new releases to start, gaining a beachead on a territory where Netflix has had trouble recently. He also indicated the company is looking seriously at Amazon as a prime competitor, yet stopped short of disclosing any pricing information.

TiVO Too?

Expect Redbox Instant to appear on the normal streaming alternatives: Blu-Ray players, enabled TV sets, set top boxes, mobile devices, PCs, and game consoles. TiVO has also indicated they may be open to the service as well, after settling a $250 million DVR technology lawsuit with Verizon, resulting in the telcom giant giving TiVO a $100 million up front payment as part of the settlement.

Testing 1, 2, 3

Currently Redbox is testing the service in 500 Verizon employee’s homes, to work out the kinks before the service goes live in about 2 months.

Are you eagerly awaiting the new Redbox Instant Service, or is it just another “So What?”

New Seura Storm Outdoor Waterproof HDTV

The new Seura Stom outoor, waterproof TV answers the prayers of many an outdoor TV viewer who grew weary battling constant reflectivity problems. Just introduced at the 2012 CEDIA Expo, the new Seura, with it’s dual layer anti-reflective screen, effectively eliminates concerns caused by high ambient light environments.  The TV is also suitable for just about any outdoor or marine installation.

You want to watch the Ohio State – Michigan out on the deck, while grilling up some burgers and knocking back a cold one? No problem, even on a sunny day, you’ll see every play, as Seura has incorporated an anti-reflective coating on the front of the sreen to refract sunlight as it passes through the glass. This complements another such coating on the screen side, allowing vivid images, even in direct sunlight. A 700 nit LCD panel brightness rating  ensures that there’s enough brightness to go around, even in the aforementioned high ambient light environments.

Not wanting consumers to suffer through uttering the phrase “dual layer anti-reflective screen”, the company coined the cool marketing phrase Luminoptix.

Although compleytely sealed against moisture and troublesome insects using a special o-ring system, the set will still stay cool. The TV uses an innovative, dual flow ventilation system that routes air ovwer both the front and rear of the set, keeping things cool and enhacing longevity.

For those pining away for a high performance, outdoor TV, Seura has done it’s best to deliver what you’ve been after.

Seura's new 300LS Audio soundbar for the Storm outdoor TV.

Not content to offer only enhanced video performance however, Seura also showed off a new sound bar for the Storm TV. Featuring two dual 4″ woofer / 1″ dome tweeter driver arrays, the 300LS Audio™ is guaranteed to not only make the Storm sound grreat, but fight the weather with equal aplomb.

The 300LS uses Extira and Starboard, two products designed for outdoor aplications, coupled with aluminum drivers, to battle the elements.

Suera also showed a new, high brightness 19″ LCD mirror TV. The set is apporximately twice the brightness of the company’s other 19″ mirror TV. It can be had for a $700 upcharge from the $7,000 pricetag on the standard brightness, Seura Premier mirror TV.

See the Seura Storm on the company’s website here.

NAD T-757 Receiver HDMI Update

While praised for the excellent audio quality, many enthusiasts sometimes with for more up to date features with AND. Okay! They've heard your cries.... zip it.

NAD just announced that they would be making a running change to the HDMI on their T-757 surround receiver. Soon they will all ship with audio return channel (ARC).

That will make it easier when using smart TVs with Internet programming, as the sound can now be fed from the TV to receiver over the HDMI, elminating the need to run an a digital audio cable between the TV and the receiver, in addition to the HDMI cable. The audio back to the receiver now rides on the same HDMI cable carrying the video to the TV when viewing other sources.

Also, the T-757 will now support Consumer Electronics Control (CEC), that sometimes maddening feature that changes TV inputs and powers devices on and off seemingly at a whim. Maybe there are times that you don’t want the receiver to change inputs when you switch the Blu Ray player on, such as when removing a disk to send back t Netflix. In any case, NAD is now jumping into 2012 with both feet.

The Most Exciting From CEDIA Expo 2012 – Crestron Core 3 UI GUI and Crestron Studio – Home Designer™ Programming Suite

Okay, so maybe this is only exciting if you make Crestron control and media distribution systems do tricks for a living. If you do, or pay people that do, and have to justify programming labor estimates  to your clients, you’ll love this. Crestron finally takes a step into the 21st century with their latest touch panel GUI, the Core 3, and design/programing software, Crestron Studio – Home Designer™.

Crestron, paragon of integration technology, just arriving into the 21st century? While the company is a control and signals distribution technology leader, most who’ve actually used the software required to make everything work can attest it’s not always the most intuitive cow in the barn.

Hard core developers with backgrounds in other software fields sometimes have even more problems, because the Crestron’s SIMPL Windows programing environment has none of the features they’re used to. In many ways, it’s quite the opposite.

Integrated Programming

That is about to come to a screeching halt, as Crestron’s latest programing environment includes tw key features that  Crestron programmer have been pining for over the years, object-oriented programing, and an integrated control processor / touch panel GUI programming environment.

The GUI now includes many of the things that make clients reach for their checkbooks, and even more exciting….. never mind, few things are more exciting than that. In any case, the kind of GUI that consumers expect after a decade of using iOS products is finally here for Crestron clients, and from the looks of things, noting will ever be the same.

Resizeable video windows, dynamic sliders, and complete interactivity are now not only easy to achieve from the programmer’s (wait for a full report on just how easy after some actual hands-on time with this stuff) perspective, but it delivers what consumers expect in a day and age when content and control is available everywhere they turn.

True Re-useable Programming Objects….at Last?

All but the most masochistic programmers will love how they can now have a an object library chock full of re-useable objects at their beck and call. Not only are they re-useable in a project, but from one project to the next. In a knock-me-over-with-a-feather move, Crestron has not only provided true programming object library capability, but made graphical elements re-size and re-position automatically for each different GUI size.

For those who’ve ever sat patiently by (or not) as their budget went up in smoke as they uploaded first one touch panel, then the next, you can rejoice (Picture a 20 or 30 panel project to get the full impact of this). Those days are over, as you can now hit them all at once.

Business owners who’ve grown tired of sweating that call from their programmer explaining that  they’ll be yet one more day, can get some relief if this new Crestron software is half of what it looks like. Programers who dread incurring the wrath of their boss as they make the aforementioned call can now end the day with a cool glass of clear water, rather than a double scotch on the rocks; no calls necessary.

Check out the new CORE 3 UI  action in this video from Crestron’s CEDIA booth:

Another cool development was these new, slim touch screens:

If you earn your living in the trenches hammering out SIMPL Windows programs and VT-PRO-E designs, how do you feel about this new programming suite? What about if you’re paying their salaries? Let me know…

Sony 4k LCD TV XBR-84X900 Retail Price Set at $24,999

Sony’s new 4K LCD TV, the XBR-84X900, boasting 4 times the pixel count of a 1080p set, is ready for pre-order today, Sony says. Scraping

Sony's new 4k LCD TV XBR-84X900 Retail Price Has Now Been Set at $24,999. Start saving your pennies, folks!

together the cash to make it the center piece for your home theater or media room may be tough, unless you just got a nice executive bonus or cashed out your option package, though. Sony announced they have set the retail price at $24,999.

Although the set has 4K resolution, you’ll not yet find any source material to match, although many of the latest home theater receivers and scalers do scale 1080p video up to 4K (3,840 x 2,160). It is a plethora of pixels though, rendering it virtually impossible to discern individual dots at any distance farther than a gnat’s whisker, even with the set’s monstrous footprint.

The dearth of 4K source material notwithstanding, the added pixels will make for a sharper 3D image, something the new set is ready and able to accommodate, thanks to Sony’s first passive 3D implementation. Of course 3D, 4K, and 84 isn;t the only thing that make this set worth lusting over. There is the now de rigeur smart TV functionality, supported by Ethernet and built-in WiFi.

What keeps the lights on behind the scenes? An array of LCDs around the edge, making for one of the thinnest large format displays on the market.

One common consumer complaint of the ultra thin LCD TVs has been lackluster audio quality. Understandable, given the lack of speaker placement options on something so svelte. The new Sony should eliminate the complaints, by including a 10 driver audio system, guaranteed t make it one of the nicest sounding flat panels on the market.

That naturally begs the question “Will anyone investing 25 large on a TV use the built-in speaker system?” Probably not, I’ll wager, but like your 202mph ZL1 Corvette, it’s nice to know the capability is there if you ever need it.

This is the second 84in, 4K TV to hit the market. The quick witted will likely pick up on the fact that both are the same size, and wonder if they also share the panel. Sony’s mum on the issue, but given the cost of an large scale LCD fab plant (in the billions), that seems likely.

Get your order for the XBR 84X900 in now; football season’s just starting, ya know.

Tannoy To Introduce New PRECISION Speaker Line at CEDIA Expo 2012

annoy's new Precision speaker line includes the 6.2 and 6.4 shown here, in addition to the 6C center chanel and 6.1 bookshelf units.

British speaker manufacturer Tannoy announced they would be introducing a brand new speaker line at this week’s CEDIA Expo in Indy. Dubbed the PRECISION, the company slotted the new speakers above their Revolution and below the Definition speaker lines.

Dual Concentric

While the speakers may be all new, the Precision moniker isn’t new to the brand. They are resurrecting a name they have used before. Tannoy claims the new speakers combine “audiophile detail and delicacy with remarkable musical dynamics”, courtesy of stouly rienforced cabinets and a new 6″ version of their Dual Concentric™ driver with WideBand™ tweeter.

That technology has been a Tannoy hallmark for decades, and the latest implementation incorporates double magnet technology on both the LF side of the Dual Concentric™ driver and the woofer, for better articulation and more dynamics. Tannoy uses a special mounting system they call Differential Materials Technology (DMT) to securely mount each driver, while reducing cabinet resonance.

Finished?

If you love your speakers in polished black lacquer, you’re in luck. The center channel Precision 6c is only available in that finish, while the remainder of the line (the Precision 6.1, Precision 6.2, Precision 6.4)can be had in high gloss dark walnut as well. The larger speakers add an additional finish choice too, satin dark walnut. The company is justifiably proud of the new speakers’ finish, as they appear to  be quite well done.

Precision Line Suspects

The largest in the line Precision 6.4 is a svelte 41″ tall tower, packing a  Dual Concentric™ driver with WideBand™ tweeter at the to of an array which also includes a single 6″ treated pulp cone, rubber surround woofer and a pair of passive radiators, all on the front baffle.

It’s smaller sibling, the  Precision 6.2, deletes the passive radiator pair. This, combined with a slight reduction in cabinet size (down from 41″ tall to 39″) slightly lowers the efficiency from 90db 1w/1m to 89, and raises the -6db point from a very respectable 29Hz on the 6.4, to a still excellent 35Hz on the 6.2. Remember, most applications will back these speakers up with a subwoofer, so plumbing the depths really isn’t needed anyway.

The company also includes a bookshelf version too (they’re British, remember?) packing a single, Dual Concentric™ driver with WideBand™ tweeter in it’s much smaller cabinet. Since the driver configuration is coaxial, the speakers can be oriented either on their side or upright with no change in sonic quality. Don’t push it up against the back of the cabinet though, because it and the 6.2 are rear ported designs.

List prices for these new speakers are as follows:

Precision 6.1 …… $1,196/pair

Precision 6.2 …… $2,396/pair

Precision 6.1 …… $3,196/pair

Precision 6c ……. $    998/ea

Look for them on dealer’s shelves and custom installers’ proposals after this week’s CEDIA Expo.

Beats Audio to Build Mobile Phones, Tablets, and LCD TV

Beats AUdio has partnered with HTC on smart phones, but that could be just the begining. Imagine the phone with no HTC logo, and a custom Android based Beats Audio GUI. That wouldbe just the start of a broad product and service strategy from Beats.

Beats Audio, the company that helped put real headphones back into the “Cool” category again, is about to work backwards, and build mobile phones, tablets, and even a treat for the eyes, LCD TVs. Beats, founded by rapper-turned-entrepreneur Dr. Dre, and music exec turned American Idol personality Jimmy Iovine, has offered audio conscious consumers an alternative to the ubiquitous ear bud headphones for years.

They’ve since made the jump to computer speakers and OEM car audio for Chrysler. They’ve even lent their technology and their name to HTC to improve the audio experience, and help HTC sell more handsets, one would guess. Most assuredly they receive a nice fee for their name and technology through these arrangements.

Last year, Beats sold 50.1% of the company to HTC. Recently however, HTC seems to be waffling on that, and backsliding on the deal’s terms. This article on CNET reveals that HTC may be having problems. Will that affect things going forward for Beats. It appears not yet, although that could chnge at any time.

Not content to sit on their laurels however, Beats is now venturing into other CE categories; and going beyond hving their technology in others’ products. They’re starting with cellphones. BGR’s Jonathan S. Geller reports the phone, manufactured by HTC, will be completely private labeled by Beats.

New relationship and social media marketing driven cellphone start up Solavei is also using HTC handsets. Unlike Solavei however, Beats will not allude to the HTC brand anywhere on the product or packaging. In fact, sources say that Beats is even using a customized, Android based OS for their new baby.

As with their smart phone, they will outsource their LCD TV, this time to another market leader, Samsung. No word yet on what features will differentiate it from Samsung branded sets.

Will Beats make a large screen LCD, perfect for your next home theater, or will it be strictly in the smaller sizes, like you’d fit in your dorm room, bedroom or office? Again, nothing available on screen size or features as of this writing.

What’s Beats Up to, Anyway?

It appears Beats is trying ot create a unified, cross-platform user experience, leading up to……. their own music and media service, of course. They recently acquired the online music subscription service MOG. It looks like they will use this as a starting point for the Beats service.

Beats Hardware – Taking Aim at Apple?

If they can really deliver some innovative hardware, they may make a run at Apple in the hardware space too. Apple has many things going for it that will make it tough for Beats to not only gain a solid foothold in the marketplace, but deliver an actual challenge to Apple’s dominance.

1) Beats is cool, but Apple is cool too, and has an army of loyal followers. At least some of those would have to be swayed before Beats could be a true challenger.

2) Solid, innovative hardware. Apple has a well deserved rep for delivering uber-trendsetting, well designed hardware. Can Beats compete on that front? HTC and Samsung are surely excellent companies, and have sown they too can design and deliver a plethora of great stuff, but so far, none of it has the cachet that the folks in Cupertino seem to turn out with amazing regularity.

3) Apple’s Resources. This one is going to be hard to top. Apple is the world’s most valuable  company, with a market cap approaching three quarters of a trillion dollars. They also have valuable manufacturing and vendor relationships in place that ensure they can reliably deliver what their product innovation teams hath wrought.

Beats can leverage it’s HTC and Samsung relationships and their own design acumen, marketing savvy, and brand equity. That’s surely nothing to sneeze at, and will probably result in products people flock to. Whether they can really make Apple quake in their boots is another question altogether.

Perhaps a more important question is: “Do they have to?”

After all, they could carve out a nice bit of market share for themselves, leaning heavily on the younger demographic they’ve relied on to get them where they are now. They already dominate the high end headphone market, owning 54% of the market for $100+ hadphones. They can continue to expand their core niche, while growing in other areas.

Those folks will grow, and take their Beats brand preference with them. If Beats can hold out that long, and slowly gain market share in their chosen categories, that strategy may one day have them near the top of the heap. Even if Beats uses their music industry relationships to develop a hot new music service, that could be a huge business for them, and one which eventually drawfs their headphone line.

What do you think? If you’re an Apple loyalist now, would you Beat a different drum? Leave a comment and let me know.

New Revel Architectural Speakers Launched

Got some Revel's up front for your LCRs and want to do the same for the sides and rears, without compromising preformance or space in your theater? Now's your chance.

Revel, known for their excellent sounding, if somewhat whacky looking loudspeakers, is ready for a new foray into the world of architectural loudspeakers with their appropriately monikered, Architectural Series of in-wall and in-ceiling loudspeakers. If you’re looking to fill in your surround channels  with something as inconspicuous as your Revel LCRs are not, they’ve now got a speaker you can really sink your teeth into.

Revel, part of Harman’s high performance group, and with good reason, has introduced these speakers to be an acoustic match for their free-standing Ultima2, Performa and Concerta models. There are 10 in-ceiling and 11 in-wall models in the new series, with woofers from 6-1/2 to 9 inches.

Tired of standing on the top of a 12 foot ladder balancing your Makita in one hand holding and the speaker in the other as you try to get everything cinched down? Well, you’ll love these new speakers. Your worries are over on that score. They use Revel’s RollerLock mounting mechanism that enables tool-less clamping to the sheet-rock.

To ensure a sleek appearance and easy installation, they also incorporate the company’s magnetic adhesion, bezel-less grill system. Designers will love the fact that the speakers come with either round or square grills to minimize the speaker’s aesthetic impact.

The driver compliment includes Micro Ceramic Composite (MCC) cone woofers and aluminum dome tweeters, mounted in a special waveguide that helps deliver a seamless transition between the drivers. The waveguide, coupled with the unique driver construction allow the speakers to show off the fine details in any soundtrack musical recording, while also rocking the room with thunderous dynamics and all the while maintaining tremendous accuracy.

Why is a rigid, yet highly damped speaker cone material such as MCC important? Well, if the speaker cone flexes, or breaks up, it introduces phase and frequency response anomalies that detract from the sound. In multi-element loudspeaker designs, speaker designers try to minimize woofer flexing because of the distortion it introduces.

The challenge comes when trying to increase strength without also increasing weight. All manner of different construction materials and techniques have been used to achieve this goal, with some being more effective than others. Modern materials science and computer modeling techniques have allowed loudspeaker designers to achieve performance targets heretofore unattainable.

Computer modeling lets different cone constructions be built in the computer, rather than being physically built. That means dozens or even hundreds of different cone designs can be examined for the best possible characteristics, rather than the 4, 5, or 6 that were possible before the advent of such technologies.

Home Theater Remote Control – What’s That in the Palm of Your Hand?

This Crestron TPMC-8X is the "Mack Daddy" of remote controls. It will do everything, including let you see live video feeds right on the remote, and browse the Internet for the latest scores, schedules, and highlights. Obviously, you'll have to trade in the Corolla to afford it.

Your remote control is the one piece of equipment that can really make or break your home theater system. It’s no good to have the latest and greatest gear and world’s biggest DVD collection if you can’t figure out how to use anything. True home theater nirvana is a fantastic performing system anyone can use with a single button press. Hell, your kids will probably figure out how to use it before anyone else.

AV Equipment Manufacturer’s Smart Remotes

Many of today’s home theater receivers and surround processors come with a “smart” remote control. Some of these are actually pretty good too. B&K, Marantz, Onkyo, and Denon come to mind. If you know what you are doing, you can get one of these babies programmed to orchestrate your entire system pretty well. If you haven’t the time or inclination for such a project yourself, hire a professional installer to bring everything together for you. A great place to start is CEDIA (Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association). They have member firms in every state, and many foreign countries, that are experts in making complex home theaters very easy to use.

Remote controls come in several flavors. The one most people are familiar with comes with almost any electronic component you buy these days. For the most part it does a pretty good job at making the particular component do what you want. Some of these even let you control other components, especially if they are from the same manufacturer. This way, for example, you can use your TV remote to also control your VCR or DVD player.

The Aftermarket “Smart Remote”

The next rung up the remote control ladder is the so called “smart remote”. This type of remote is able to control multiple pieces of equipment from different manufacturers. Some can control up to 8 or 10 different components. They are usually set to control each piece of equipment by entering a 3 or 4 digit code.

Some of these units will learn control functions from other remote controls. This is helpful if the unit you need to control is not in your remote control’s internal database. You usually accomplish the learning by entering a “learn” mode on the smart remote, pointing the “teaching” remote at the smart remote and pressing the desired button. Viola! Your smart remote has learned the command from the original remote control.

If you want things even easier than using just one remote to control everything, you need a remote that does macros. These are command sequences initiated by pressing one button. For example, you want to watch a DVD. Typically you would have to turn on your TV, Blu-Ray player, and surround receiver. Then, you would have to switch your TV to the appropriate HDMI input and your receiver to the DVD input. Talk about a cluster!

With a macro capable remote, this sequence is programmed into the remote. The remote then plays back all the commands in the appropriate order so you don’t have to. You can even have delays programmed into the sequence to account for how the equipment operates.

Touchscreen Remotes – If You Can Spare a Dime

If you want a remote that controls everything, you need a remote with a lot of different buttons. This can make the remote a little intimidating. Sure it can do almost anything but make toast, but where to start? If you have the budget, now is the time to get a touch screen remote.

With a touch screen, you typically have only a few actual buttons, the rest of the “buttons” are icons on the screen. The actual buttons are typically for the most used functions such as volume up / down, channel up / down, mute and possibly cursor functions, where it is important to have some tactile sensation for the best user experience. There are also some 100% touch screen remotes, but many people find these more difficult to use. More on this in a second.

The beauty of this “hybrid remote” approach is that you only need to have just a few icons on the screen at any one time. This really cuts down on button clutter and confusion often experienced with the 100% touch screen controllers. The icons can be graphical representations of the command, which makes everything very intuitive. For example, you can have an “NBC” logo you touch to go to the local NBC station.

Touchscreen remotes come in some basic variations. First, there is the choice  communication with the remote. It can be one way or two way. Two way communication allows status to be updated on the remote itself. For example you can display album and artist information from a music server or satellite radio, check the status of your security system or look at the info from your thermostats. Two way communication has been provided via either a two way radio link, similar to a digital spread spectrum telephone, or over a wireless network.

Many two way remote controls from companies such as RTI, Universal, AMX, and Crestron use WiFi or some variation of wireless mesh network. This allows a whole host of other possibilities. The range is spectacular for one thing. You can roam around your entire home (with enough WAPs or extenders). On some units you can browse the internet too. Imagine, you are watching a game but you want updates from around the league. Just go to ESPN.com on your remote and take a look.

There are remotes that use a combination of a traditional RF link for control functionality, and WiFi for grabbing metadata from media servers or computers on your network. That’s a nice combination, because it ensures more reliable control functions that are free from network issues.

Display Remotes – Not Really a Touchscreen

Many remotes have the touchscreen look, but the display is not actually touch sensitive, it merely changes to conform

Sure, it may look like a touch screen remote, but it's not. It won't lighten your wallet like one, either, but it will control the hell out of your home theater or TV room.

to what you’re controlling. This re-labels the buttons along the sides of the display. You get much of the look, simplicity and flexibility of a real touch screen at a fraction of the cost.

How You Program Your Remote Can Make All the Difference

This statement actually has 2 meanings. First is the actual programming that goes into the remote. Obviously, what you program your remote to do, and how you program it to react can make the difference between a seamless user experience and a frustrating day explaining to your wife why you spent so much money on the damn thing.

The other side of the coin is the physical act of programming. This is split into two camps: the use a computer to program it camp, and the program it with keystrokes on the remote itself using it’s internal database. While you can do a pretty bang up job without a PC, using a computer to program it gives you 2 big advantages.

The first is power. You can simply do more and make it easier to use using the remote company’s software and a computer to make the remote do your bidding. The second is the fact that you’ll have all your work saved in the event of a catastrophe, or the desire to make a few changes. Having to recreate all your macros from scratch is no picnic. It’s much nicer to simply redo a few things in the computer program.

The Logitech Harmony series actually lets the end user program the remote through a web interface. Many end users find this intuitive and easy to set up. Some even love it. Many custom installers whom I’ve spoken to however, find the Harmony difficult to program, because they can’t set up the kind of macros that really make the system foolproof. Installers don’t want the remote asking the user if everything’s working fine, they simply want it to do what it’s supposed to, every time.

What Does Your Remote Talk To?

There is another difference between remote controls that has a huge impact on their power to do what you want, and that is what they talk to. Your remote will either control the equipment directly, or through a control processor. A remote that sends button presses to a control processor, which then decides what to do, is many times more powerful than a remote that simply sends commands to your equipment.

The thing is, you may not really need that kind of power. Sure, it is intoxicating at times, to be able to see if your kids turned off their bedroom lights while you’re sitting in your media room, open your gate, and to be able to see if the lake is a pleasant temperature for a late night swim. Intoxicating, yes, but also very expensive. If you just want to make sure that your media room comes on when you want, you can change sources with a single button press, and control everything with ease, than your well programmed stand alone remote will probably do you just fine.

iPAD remote control? This is Crestron's version, but Lord knows that they're coming out of the woodwork, with seemingly every control system and audio manufacturer offering an iPAD app to let you do just about anything in your media room

iPAD, Anyone??

Of course there’s the 6oz elephant in the room, and that’s the iPAD/app combination that threatens to overwhelm the remote control industry…..or does it? Yes, the iPAD is one fantastic piece of hardware, and the lust for it is extremely well deserved, but will it displace the “smart remote” entirely?

There are great arguments on both sides.

The three against the iPAD are that you have to wait for it to connect and download the manifest file so it can actually be a remote when you first enter the app. Of course, if you never exit the app, that argument goes away. The other argument is that you have to slide the slider to open the interface, then wait for it to connect when it times out. That’s a valid point.

The other problem with the iPAD as a dedicated theater remote is that it has no hard buttons for commonly used features, and many people just don’t like that. The other problem some folks have is that it’s just too big. They want a remote they can comfortably hold and operate with one hand.

My thoughts on the iPAD are that it makes a great whole house remote control, but I’d rather have a dedicate, “real”  remote control for my media areas. What do you think?

The remote can really make or break your system. You can have an unusable system with 7 different remotes or a slick system that even visitors can use with no instruction. It’s all up to you, your budget and your programmer.

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