I’m probably going to catch some trouble for this, but I am irritated enough now that I’m going to say something. Over the last 6 months or so I have had occasion to look over sales receipts from box stores that customers have shown us. Specifically when they get a ”great deal” on a new TV. Although the Tv may be bargain priced, I always notice there are inevitably other charges on there that people seem to get hoodwinked into. Things like horrifically overpriced cables, power accessories and extended service plans that end up adding another 30%-40% to the cost of the TV. One company that I won’t name even has the gall to sell customers cabling that isn’t even relevant for todays applications. Please people, it’s not called a “leader” item for nothing. It’s there to lead you in to the store so that you can be “attached” with high margin parts or even switched into a different product all together. Now don’t get me wrong, you do need additional items, but come on a $365 6′ HDMI cable isn’t one of them! Another thing I notice is that all of the cabling is too short to go from a cable box or DVD to the TV. What good is that? Flat screen TV’s are a commodity piece now, and we tell people all the time if they find a legitimate deal we will install it as part of the system we provide, we even pick them up for our customers. It just irks me when I see a $1200 TV with another $600 in accessories that really should be priced for $200. That TV really costs you $1800 when you do the math. Just be careful and call one of us here for advice. It’s free!
We spent 3 days at the latest Consumer Electronics Tradeshow which is the largest show in North America. All of the newest and latest bleeding edge technologies are displayed and you have an opportunity to try many of them. I’ll briefly list what I think are relevant and meaningful advances as opposed to technology that has no real purpose (which if your honest is probably half of it there).
- Streaming content. Simply put all of your TV shows, games, movies in high definition are streamed to your TV directly from a service provider. Because this utilizes your broadband connection via internet it could be any of hundreds of providers, giving you a huge choice. It works now in the US but our draconian laws in Canada seem to choke out the possibility of Canadians having this choice. This is a big technology, eliminating DVD, digital boxes and any physical media. All at the touch of button. For real, honest.
- Lighting controls for your home. Eliminates conventional on/off type switches in favour of programmed dimming. This does several things really well. Running your lights at 90% saves huge amounts of energy without any noticable difference in brightness. Allows you to turn on and off any lights from anywhere in the house (like kids rooms and outdoor lights) and you can create the coolest mood and accent lighting scenes that are just not possible any other way. My guess is these systems along with other energy management options that can be added on will become compulsory in California and spread from there. These systems have been available for some time, it’s just they are now very affordable. In fact not much more that your conventional dimmers and switches. Add in the energy savings, security options and convenience and we have a winner. Ask us for a demo sometime.
- High definition movies and TV. Everything is being tooled up now for high definition in your home. Movies, audio, TV and gaming. Goodby standard definition TV (good riddance) as nothing new for that format.
- One of the coolest things we saw were door locks that were wirelessly internet enabled. Built into your front door lock (you can’t tell) is wireless internet and it allows you to connect with your door (don’t laugh) and lock or unlock or see whose key or code has been used. Looks like a good way to manage service people, contractors, visitors and kids.
- Super thin TV’s. As in 5/8″ thick. They look spectacular, every manufacturer has some and they will be on shelves this April in Canada. The only issue is there are no mounting solutions to wall mount them yet (different mounting format). these TV’s look like art. You will be wanting to think about an audio upgrade though as the sound form these TV’s might actually be worse than your clock radio. I’ve heard better sound from my kids talking toys
- LED TV technology. Using low power consumption LED technology the new LCD TV’s are unbelievably bright, energy efficient and thin. The only issue is they cost considerably more, but that will change soon enough.
- Widgets. Just Google that one. try Yahoo Widgets. It’s in everything….I don’t get it at all.
There were so many things there that just made no sense to me (I must be getting old) that I wonder how these companies make money or even get the capital to even develop some of things we saw. I say it over and over…..but it’s truer now than ever. You get what you pay for (within reason and the law of diminishing returns). I was standing with a group of major manufacturers who were lamenting the fact that they had moved production to reduce costs and price points. The warranty claims were in the stratosphere and they talked about exiting the entry level of the market as in there words “we are making garbage”. Enough said!
I’m writing this to address a recurring problem we have seen all too often in the last couple of months. When we design and install a system we try and leverage the best digital connections for audio and video. This assures you are getting the very best picture and sound, and quite frankly it simplifies operation so it’s easier for you to use. What you may not know is that your service providers (cable and satellite) have an always on connection to your digital box. Even when the power is “off” the unit is merely in standby, so it’s not really off. The reason for this is your provider needs to send the box information on a daily if not hourly basis. The program guides, advertising etc. is pushed to your TV this way. There are also “software updates” not unlike the Windows updates your computer receives being transmitted and received by your box. this is where things can go haywire. If the software update being sent to your box happens to be interupted mid stream or if it glitches in any way, your system may not function, lock up or you will lose functionality until the download can complete. A month ago a certain satellite provider decided they needed to strengthen the “copy protection” on their high definition satellite boxes as the movie companies are exerting huge pressure on providers to make sure there is no way you can copy a movie or TV program to anything but the box. Their solution was to completely cut off the digital connection to the TV via HDMI and forcing the use of the analogue connections (not optimal). This was done by software update and with no warning and essentially “broke” those high definition boxes that were connected digitally. One morning your TV and system worked fine and the next it was broken until the cables were changed over. That’s why it’s always good to have a proffessional to call and sort these things out. It shouldn’t be happening but unfortunately it’s something we have absolutely no control over. All we can do is work around it.
Here in Calgary it’s becoming very common to experience power interuptions, spikes and surges. I can count on one hand the amount of times we had service calls due to these issues in the previous 5 years. I don’t have the answer as to why, but he fact is for the last 6 months we have weekly serivce calls on our installed systems due to power and electrical issues. You see, most consumer electronics (includes you computer routers and internet modems) are dependent on small microprocessor controllers and non volatile memory for operation. Essentially these contain the instructions that the component in question needs to function. Everything from your handheld remote control to the most sophisticated computer relies on these circuits. Manufacturers will tell us that power outages and small spikes should not affect these devices as they are designed to recover and return to normal operating mode when powered back on. well, we know different. Often power irregularities cause these critical components to lock up and freeze, lose their instructions or programming and generally misbehave. How often has your wireless internet settings gone south after a power issue? Digital cable boxes, music systems, clocks, computers are all affected. It can seriously reduce the lifespan and test your patience. Our advice, and I wouldn’t have recommended this even a year ago, is to install proper battery backup, and power conditioning on all of you critical systems. If you are undergoing a new home build or renovation you have an opportunity consolidate all of these systems into one or two areas which makes them easy to protect. The cost of this protection is now very affordable. In the past it exceeded the value of the components connected to it so we rarely recommended using it. Like most electronics the cost has dropped like a rock and it now makes sense to incorporate these devices into your electonics systems. There are many good products on the market, but like anything, not all are created equal. A professional systems designer or installer can recommend and match the proper product to your application. I wouldn’t specify a system these days without it, it’s become that critical.
This won’t be a dissertation on the current economic state of our country, rather a shameless plug as to why you should not put off creating a media or theatre room. Here is our top ten list of why everyone can justify and should have their own high performance home theatre.
1. You no longer need to leave the house to watch movies in a theatre like environment. Invite friends and family over and enjoy the superior picture and sound of the lates release on Blu Ray, HDTV or satellite for that matter. Shaw even has High Definition pay per views.
2. It costs a fraction of the movie theatre even if you amortize the cost of the equipment and movies over a few years. $100 bill for a family of four is not un heard of. It doesn’t take long to justify the purchase price.
3. It’s cold out now and no one I know likes going out in -30 weather for a 90 minute 20 dollar per person movie theatre experience
4. Quality of your professionally installed and calibrated home theatre is far superior to that of any movie theatre in this area. Since movie theatres fired all of the real projectionists it’s completely gone down hill. Most theatres are using over decade old equipment that in most cases has never been updated or properly maintained.
5. New movie releases are closer to the theatre release date than ever before and soon they will be available at the same time
6. Pay per view specials. Nothing beats having 10 of your best friends over to argue about the UFC fight your screening. Everyone kick in 10 bucks and its paid for. No blurry bar screens and over priced drinks.
7. You always know where your kids are. If you have the theatre, the kids are at your house, and that is a good thing. You have a reason for the kids to hang out and it keeps the family together
8. You have never played Wii bowling until you do it on a 100″ screen with surround sound.
9. It’s a great excuse to finish the basement properly and get rid of the old weight set, your college record collection, 20 year old furniture and cement floor.
10. It there when you want it. With PVR technology and Blu Ray you watch what you want whenever you want. Time management experts should pay attention to this one. Besides that I don’t know anyone, ever who gets rid of a theatre for lack of use. That’s something I can’t say about cars, exercise equipment, hot tubs, pool tables and many other things.
Give it some serious consideration, it really is worth it.
It looks like Blu Ray won the day in the high definition DVD format war. I have to say that I think in this instance the superior format didn’t win. I could expound on that, but it’s a moot point in that it’s all over. Maybe we can all get some cheap HD DVD’s as there is a pile of titles out there any way. So what happens from here? If you currently own a Toshiba HD player, don’t fear. It is still one of the best upconverting DVD players I have ever seen and at about $300 more or less it’s still a bargain. No need to feel buyers remorse on that one. Now we can all get on with the business of replacing all of those older standard DVD players out there. We should be seeing a landslide of new Blu Ray offerings from all major manufacturers. Now if you are thinking of waiting until the players prices fall, think of it this way. You could wait six months, but in that time if a family of four goes to the movies twice, that’s going to set you back $100 with a few snacks. Thats almost 25% of the cost of the new player! Get in now and enjoy it, hell I just spent $150 for lift passes for my family on the weekend to go skiing locally. Do that 2.5 times and I have a new player. That’s just a little logic I use on myself when I want new toys. It’s like the Jedi mind trick from Star Wars. Now we can see all the new releases in High Definition I hope. I do have to say I have a bit of an issue paying $25-$40 for a single movie. I don’t care how many disks or extras I get, there’s some mental barrier to me at those price points. Of course I buy some anyway but I don’t brag about it. The magic number is $19.99. If a movie is under $20 and High Def, I’ll buy it. I may not even watch it, or like it, but I’m compelled to buy it at that price point. It must be some disorder I suffer from. I’d like to see some comments on how many others agree or disagree on that movie pricing thing. One things for sure, there is no going backwards in this industry.
Over the last year (and with increasing frequency lately) we have been regularly asked to install audio systems and flat panel TV’s that people have purchased from other retailers. As much as we would like to help, most times we find ourselves unable to accomodate those requests. I thought it might be helpful to explain why it appears we would turn down this potential business. Digital Lifestyles and likely any other reputable CEDIA certified custom electronics integrators (there are some very good ones locally as well) operate as a full service and one stop solution for our customers. In other words we;
Because we fully warranty and guarantee the results of the components we install, I’m sure you can appreciate that we are somewhat selective in terms of the brands we will sell and how they all work together. Introducing random brands and features on equipment can be an experience in frustration. There are many LCD TV sets sold in the market place that are not fully compatible with new PVR systems, high definition DVD players and game systems. They may require extensive work arounds that require additional parts and labour which nobody ends up being happy with. Thats only one of many examples we could illustrate and there are other factors to consider. We are dealing with a very high technology and complicated product that is constantly evolving. Standards change, manufacturers make revisions, software updates and model changes multiple times per year. Our staff has to be fully versed and qualified to design, install and service our systems. Quite frankly, there isn’t enough qualified people in the industry at this point to meet demand. Our first responsibility has to be our customers who have chosen to purchase with us and our installation resources are geared towards that end. Many big box retailers are now attempting to offer installation as we have passed the point where the majority of the population can install themselves. Since more and more homes have some sort of structured media wiring (see FAQ on our site) we see a lot of confusion out there when someone tries to install or attach equipment to the wires. Terminating and identifying rough in cabling requires specialized tools, parts and knowlege. Any qualified installer should be able to identify and properly terminate wiring and cables that have been installed using industry approved methods and best practices. I’m of the mind that if a retailer sells the equipment, they should be able to offer ( at an additional charge) install and service in a competent manner. That doesn’t mean dropping off some boxes, or hanging a TV on a wall with the wires exposed and no where to plug it in. That low cost or “free” installation can can be a frustrating and costly learning experience for a customer. I would encourage everyone to obtain all of the information and decide what level of service you are going to require before you make the purchasing decision. Don’t make the mistake of purchasing first and leaving the installation and intergration details until after. I would encourage everyone contemplating the purchase and integration of home electronics to consult with a qualified company or individual first and foremost. All said and done it will cost less and perform so much better. I hope this offers a better understanding and encourages people to plan more in terms of their electrnics and entertainment integration in their homes. Drop us line or leave your comments if you have any questions.
Thanks for reading
I thought we might kick off 2008 with a few random observations for the upcoming year. We always welcome your comments so feel free to send them on and I’ll publish them for everyone to see (we have to draw the line at R rated!). So off we go…..
Thats all for now, we invite anyone who is interested to comment, or drop us an email if you want to come by and experience for yourself what home electronics can do for you. Your more than welcome to come down and try it out.
Our blog is now LIVE!
With the launch of the new website, we are thrilled to include this simple blog. This will be our way of keeping you in touch with the very latest news in a personal way!
Stay tuned! More to come!