Best Practices: How One Integrator Drives Customer Loyalty with Service

15 Nov

Home theaters are practically a must have in every new home that is built. They were once seen as luxuries, but now if you don’t have one your home is almost seen as somehow incomplete. You can spend any amount of money you want on a serious home theater installation says Scott A. of Innovative Sight & Sound of Tampa.

They range in price from DIY type systems costing $500 to upwards of $1,000,000. Obviously there are some serious performance differences when it comes to this type of price disparity. But just because you went the budget route, doesn’t mean you wont’ be able to enjoy your system.

lighting control interface

Graphics by GUIFx

In fact independent of the money they spent, most homeowners rate their enjoyment based upon how easy the system is to use. Companies that ensure their clients are capable of quickly turning on and off their system record the highest levels of client satisfaction. This may sound pretty basic. However, basic control is anything but basic.

Designing an Interface

Plenty of home theater contractors spend countless hours trying to come up with a decent GUI (graphical user interface) for their clients remote controls. But coming up with a design that is intuitive and efficient is hard work. On top of that it needs to aesthetically pleasing to the eye. And while it can be challenging and fun to design these sorts of graphics and interfaces yourself, you’re time and money is much better spent on using graphics that were created professionally. Many of the all-in-one remotes on the market come with their own sets of graphics. They range from pretty to completely ugly. Often times they are just unusable. This is when it helps to go with a company that has pre-configured sets of graphics for specific remotes. One such company is GuiFx. They have a range of graphics for remotes from AMX, Crestron, RTI, and more. It makes sense to leave the difficult and expensive work of designing these interfaces to the professionals. Otherwise you could end up with a custom interface that costs you a fortune, but is difficult to use and just plain ugly.

Implementing the Control System

Whether you are going with a full blown home automation system or just a basic theater, the method of control used to operate your system is of the utmost importance. Most A/V dealers understand this since if something is difficult to you use, you are likely to get constant service calls from your clients. It behooves you to find a control and an interface design that consistently works. One press operation is key. If a client has to push multiple buttons just to get their system to turn on this is a recipe for complete frustration.

You should NEVER have to leave a set of instructions on how to use a system. When someone picks up a remote there should be a set of choices for what they want to watch. That’s it. When they’re done there should be a ‘System Off’ button that handles the entire shutdown operation.  Good interface design makes this process totally intuitive.

This Policy in Action

Innovative Sight & Sound is a home theater installation and technology integrator in the Tampa, FL area. They are the perfect example of a company that has been through this entire process. They originally attempted to create graphics in-house, but eventually decided it made more sense to outsource this side of their business.

Since then their installations have gone much more smoothly.  The attribute the ease of controlling their systems to their high levels of customer satisfaction. And when you’re installing systems that range upwards of $500k having happy clients is key. Most systems require no more than a basic walk-through with the client to acquaint them with the operation of everything in their home. This is how it should be done.  You can see many of their projects on their website and on the Innovative Sight & Sound Facebook page.

Innovative Sight & Sound
4400 118th Ave N #203
Clearwater, FL 33762
727-539-0000
http://beinnovative.com/tampa/

Control Your Home From Anywhere in the World

24 Jan

ipad interface for Control4

Yes, it’s true. You can control various parts of your home right from you iPad. All you need is the Control4 My Home for iPad app. The best part? The app is completely free! This is yet another reason to get that cool iPad you’ve been dying for. With an iPad, the Control4 My Home app and this article, you are well on your way to controlling your house.

The Basic Setup

The first thing you need to do is find an approved dealer to install the ControlFX system in your home. Once this is done, just load the app onto your iPad and you are ready to begin. The size of the app is a mere 6.9 MB, very little when you consider what it can do. The app itself, in keeping with Apple products, is very user-friendly.

On your startup screen, you’ll see icons for Watch, Listen, Lights, Comfort, Security and More. We’ll start with something simple: Lights. Click on this icon and you will see all areas of the home with a dimmer switch. Just start testing each system.

My personal favorite is the Listen icon. This section ties in with everyone’s favorite app: iTunes. You can create a queue of music to be played from any number of your lists. If you have a home stereo system, you can even select the room in which you want it to be played. Or have a party and play the music in the whole house!

Whole House Audio Video Control

How many televisions do you have in your house? Well, you can control all of them from your iPad. It’s even great for playing jokes! Are you in the kitchen, you’ve called your kids for dinner but they can’t seem to unglue themselves from the television? It’s as easy as 1-2-3! From the palm of your hand, you can just turn off the television in the living room from the kitchen. You’re kids might be upset but at least their dinner won’t get cold!

Climate and Security Control

The temperature icon is best in the winter when it’s just too cold to get out of bed. With just the touch of your hand on the iPad, you can turn on the heating and wait for the house to warm up before you get up. No more running out of bed to turn on the heating and then running back to bed. Once you’ve tried this, you won’t be able to live without it.

The security icon is the one that allows you to control your home security system. There are also plenty of other controls and benefits including, but not limited to, controlling various aspects of the whole house or only part of the house, controls while you’re away (a great security feature) and so many more that I will let you discover yourself. Discovering everything this app can do is half the fun!

So, if you are just looking for an excuse to buy an iPad or you already have an iPad and you want it to perform more tricks, this is the app for you.

Control4’s New Integrated Lighting Control System

30 Dec

control4 lighting keypadsOne of the hallmark’s of any home automation system is automated lighting control.  When Control4 first came to market with all of their products they utilized keypads that could replace light switches as their only method of lighting.  While the system worked remarkably well, it didn’t solve one of the biggest challenges of a lighting system:  getting rid of all the large banks of switches in rooms with a large number of lights.  They have now address that problem with their new product line.

How A Lighting System Works

When you swap out a traditional lighting system with an automated lighting system there is a lot that has to happen.  In a traditional system all the wiring runs from the main breakers to the light switch, and from there to the lights that switch controls.

In an automated system there is an additional step.  From the breakers the wiring runs to a lighting module.  These modules vary based on what types of lighting they control, but they generally can control anywhere from 4 to 8 lighting circuits.  Let’s look at an example.

In a typical living room you might have 5 light switches. One controls the cans, one for the scones, one for an accent light above the fireplace, one for some cove lighting, and one for some lamps.  Each of these switches lives in a bank of switches with which we are all familiar.

With an automated lighting system these five switches disappear, replaced with one low voltage keypad and a lighting module.  The keypad resides on the wall in the place of the switches.  The lighting module lives in a central location close to the breakers, usually in a utility room or closet.

When someone presses a switch on the keypad a signal is relayed to the lighting module telling it which lights to turn on and to what level.  This allows each lighting circuit to be controlled individually.  A typical “ON” button might turn the cans on to 75%, the scones to 65%, and the other lights on to 50%.

Lighting Scenes

These pre-programmed buttons are called scenes.  Each keypad has multiple buttons on it, so you can have multiple scenes per room.  This allows you to have one standard on/off scene plus one for entertaining, night time, or whatever you like.

One of the biggest benefits of a lighting control systems is that you can control all the lights on the system from any keypad.  So if you’re ready to go to bed and want to turn out all of the lights you simply press the “House Off” button on the keypad in your bedroom.

The same would go for turning everything off.  A keypad by the entry door might have a “Home” button on it that allows you to turn on the main rooms of the house.

In terms of convenience it is difficult to beat a lighting system.  But they also have some additional benefits.

Energy Savings

You can further automate these systems to save even more on energy.  Occupancy sensors can be installed in rooms.  These monitor whether or not they are in use and adjust the lighting accordingly.  A lighting system can also monitor the amount of ambient light in a room and lower the lighting to create a consistent amount of light.

The new Control4 lighting allows you to do all of this and more and is a great addition to their line of products.

This video from Control4 gives you an idea of how the system operates.

New Product Spotlight: Control4 T3 Series Touch Panels

22 Mar

control 4 t3 touchscreenWhile the regular upgrade cycle of electronics often occurs with very little in the way of true innovation between one product and the next, the T3 series of touch panels from Control4 offer a big step up from previous generations.  Not only are they elegant in their design, but they offer a significant improvement in performance and functionality as well.

Form and Function

Control4 was one of the first home automation companies to offer a touch screen panel that had a surface entirely made up of glass.  Most products typically have some sort of plastic bezel around the edge of the touch screen surface.  While many models from Crestron and other manufacturers looked good, the stylish design of the T3 screens is definitely a notch above.

On top of the aesthetic improvements there has also been a significant improvement in performance.  Video streaming, page transitions, and feedback have all been enhanced by faster processing that is native to the panel.

John Pickering of Pickering Home Theater & Audio in Orlando has started using these panels in the majority of their installations.  Because they are so sleek and elegant they can literally be put practically anywhere in the house without affecting the look of a room.

One of the most compelling reasons to use a solution like this from Control4 is that it requires very little in the way of customization by dealers to integrate a highly functional and easy to use automation system.

One of the biggest complaints over the years of Crestron dealers is that so much work is required on the programming side of projects to build a system.  Control4 has always been more  of a plug and play solution.  While they don’t offer the level of customization that Crestron does, this often translates to more profitable jobs for dealers, and more robust and reliable systems for homeowners.

Full Features Set

The capabilities of the C4 panels is pretty impressive.  One of the biggest hits amongst consumers is the ability to stream video directly to the panel.  This means that any camera whether it be IP or standard video can be streamed to and viewed from the panel.  This is extremely helpful in larger homes when customers want to be able to view cameras without having to turn on TV’s or other displays.

While the graphics set has not significantly changed in the last few years, the functionality is very efficient.  Most functions are within a couple button presses from the main menu of the panel.  The faster processing built into these panels mean that transitions between pages are seamless.

Data from sources such as music or movies servers is also instantaneous as well.  For those that remember the early days of two way communication devices such as the Fireball from Escient, you will remember that streaming song data used to be laborious and fickle.  Now by the time the page has loaded, the meta data for the media you are browsing has loaded as well.

Die Hard Control4 Fans

C4 has done a phenomenal job supporting their dealer base with high quality products.  Failure rates even on brand new products are remarkably low.  Out of the box functionality allows dealers to get a system up and going quickly.  This helps to ensure a high level of profitability on a wide range of jobs.

This has translated to a very loyal customer base and a fast-growing business.  Home automation wouldn’t be where it is today without such strong innovative practices.

Find more information at

Pickering Home Theater & Audio
2211 Lee Rd
Winter Park, FL 32789
321-430-3225
http://www.pickeringaudio.com

 

Best Practices: House of Worship Automated Controls

09 Feb

church interior

Control systems in a church or other sorts of houses of worship can be a very effective way to help automate arduous and complicated tasks that must be performed every day.  While many in the world of automation and audio tend to stick to residential or light commercial work, there is a very large and lucrative market in performing similar projects for churches and religious organizations.

Finding a Niche

One of the best ways of ensuring the lasting success of your business is to find a particular niche, and then become the best company in the world at servicing that niche.  Twist Technology of Birmingham, Alabama is just that type of company.  While part of their business still caters to the residential market including home theaters, whole house audio, and home automation systems, they have made their name by helping churches conquer difficult lighting, acoustical, and equipment challenges.  As a result church sound system design has turned into their biggest source of revenue.

Their business has grown into a worldwide operation.  They have performed projects all over the world in a wide range of buildings.  No two churches are the same.  Because of their unique architectural designs and features, they are often incredibly difficult to work in from an acoustical standpoint.  But sometimes an even bigger challenge is educating and training the staff on how to work with all of the complicated equipment.  This is an area where home automation controls have been an enormous help.

Selling Automation as Money Saver

One of the most difficult tasks in selling large home automation systems is justifying the cost to the client.  While the technology certainly has a wow factor, for those that aren’t big fans of technology it just looks like a large line item on a budget.  This is most definitely not the case when it comes to houses of worship.

Many of these systems are incredibly complicated.  Turning on multiple components and setting them to the proper inputs takes  a significant amount of training.  Then having to make adjustments to sound boards and lighting based on what is happening onstage also requires a great deal of knowledge.

All of these things can be simplified to a button press with a properly configured automation system.  This works for a wide variety of situations.

  • during sermons
  • during presentations of materials or videos
  • songs or performances on-stage

And it allows the church to save money on a professional engineer and just use someone from the congregation that has an interest in such things.  Of course there are always issues that come up.  But for the most part someone with just a small amount of training should be able to handle all of the day-to-day functions.

Lighting Controls

One of the more important functions that Twist implements on each of their projects is a lighting control system.  These have several benefits both long-term and short-term.  From an aesthetics standpoint a lighting control system can help eliminate massive banks of wall switches that are needed to control so many circuits.  These can all be consolidated into a lighting panel and then controlled from a touch panel or keypad.

They can also benefit over the long run in improved energy efficiency.  While lighting control systems in homes are not always cost effective since it takes 10+ years to realize cost savings, the same isn’t true in a church.  Some of these buildings use massive amounts of power to properly light all their rooms.  Some of these systems can pay themselves off in as little as 5 years.

Bringing It All Together

Providing this complete package is what has helped Twist develop an extremely long resume of loyal and happy customers.  And it’s a great example of what can be accomplished outside of the traditional markets for AV dealers.

Making the Complex Simple, Even for Simpletons

16 Dec

One of the most difficult tasks for those working in the world of technology is to understand that not everyone loves this stuff as much as we do.  Jason, of Audio Video Experts in Los Angeles, wouldn’t think twice of standing in line to be one of the first to put hands on the new iPhone, for many people technology is simply a nuisance.  It is something that they must endure each day to accomplish everything they need to do.

custom home theater control

Understanding these differences in people can literally make or break a company.  Steve Jobs had an intuitive understanding of this concept.  If you can create a device that is so simple to use that it removes all fear from the end user, you will be successful.  But if you can make that device draw those same people in, you will have a wildly successful business. (with people standing in line to buy  your products)

Technology in the Home

While this is obviously important for devices such as an iPhone, it is even more important when it is something that people HAVE to use within their own home.  One of the biggest hurdles any technology company must overcome when selling a high performance home theater or home automation system is a member of the family that is anathema to all things technology.

In many couples this ends up being the wife.  I’m not saying all wives, but in my experience the majority of those that took the most convincing were female.  I’m not going to make any sort of hypothetical statements as to why this is, it just is.  But there is very good logic behind it.

In many cases our TV’s and stereo systems are ridiculously difficult to control.  How many times have you seen a coffee table full of remotes and a printed set of instruction for simply turning on the TV.  There is no good reason things should be this difficult.  And most women, rightly so, cannot see the logic in spending thousands and thousands of dollars on a system from which they will get no enjoyment.

This is why it is hugely important to have an intuitive and easy to use interface for all home automation touch panels and controls.  In terms of importance, it’s right up there with choosing the right hardware.  Most large home automation company’s have a wide variety of graphics available for their panels.  This is a good start, but you need to make sure that the system you program is also logical and makes sense.

One company that has done a wonderful job with this within the audio-video industry is Kaleidescape.  We referenced their products in an earlier article here.  They’re interface sells a product that would otherwise be insanely overpriced.

Selling Technology

In one of the most brilliant selling techniques I’ve seen during a consultation, the owner, Jason, of Audio Video Experts in Los Angeles hands the high end touch panel not to the man in his office that is already sold on the system, but to his wife, who is at best skeptical about the whole thing.  He then asks her to operate the system in his office.

Once she’s comfortable with the controls, all the pressure is gone.  This makes things easier on the husband, wife, and integrator.  And it all comes down to finding an interface that is logical, intuitive, and easy to use.

These sorts of things don’t happen by accident.  It takes testing, trial and error, and retesting to get an interface that will disarm technophobes of their fear.  But if you can overcome this hurdle, it makes the job of selling much easier.

Home Theater Controls

The best place to start is with the controls of the home theater.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the winner of the Best Home Theater Installation like Audio Video Experts in Los Angeles in all the big publications.  If you’re clients cannot use their systems easily and consistently, they will never get full enjoyment from them.

Once you’ve mastered these sorts of controls it is relatively easy to ramp up to more complex controls such as whole house panels that include climate control, audio-video, lighting, and security.  Just be sure to test everything in house before you implement them in a clients home.

When done properly, a solid interface can be as important to your reputation as the customer service you provide.  This is, after all, the face of your business once you leave the job site.