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Friday, November 13, 2015

Enjoy listening to vinyl? So does Tom Cruise.

By Jason Knott

It kind of cool to know that what you do affects even big celebrities. That’s the case for integrator Scott Walker Audio in Los Angeles, who claims both Tom Cruise and Jimmy Fallon as clients.

This is a three-month-old clip of the famous duo discussing on The Tonight Show in “audiophile geek speak” about building 2-channel vinyl listening rooms in their homes. Cruise clearly knows what he is talking about as he created an equipment list for Fallon. The clip is on the Walker’s website. (Sorry, but you might have to sit through an ad on the front of the video.)

Specifically, Cruise mentions McIntosh components, Synergistic Research cables and Magico speakers.

Congratulations Scott.

Posted by Jason Knott on 11/13 at 09:14 AM
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Thursday, November 12, 2015

One of these things doesn’t belong: Home Automation Hub works with Lutron Clear Connect, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, Nest Weave, Thread?

By Julie Jacobson

Oh goodie, look for another home-automation certification logo on IoT devices, coming soon from the Thread Group.

Thread, a Nest-driven network protocol for home automation applications, has launched a product certification program with UL as its testing partner. The group says 30 products have been submitted for testing so far.

In a statement, Thread explains:

Thread products will be tested to validate device behavior for commissioning, networking functionality, security and operation in Thread’s network, and may bear the “BUILT ON THREAD” or “THREAD CERTIFIED COMPONENT” logo to help consumers and product developers identify them on the market.

I can see how product developers benefit from the logo marks—they want to know which products might potentially work together in a smart-home ecosystem – but why on earth would consumers care?

The Thread logo on a package will do nothing but muddy an already muddled marketplace.

Thread is a network-layer specification. It defines such things as security, power optimization, range, IP routing and the like. For consumers, it says nothing about device control and interoperability.

You might have a Thread logo on a thermostat that employs Nest’s Weave home automation protocol, and then a Thread logo on a door lock that utilizes ZigBee. For all practical purposes the two devices have nothing in common. They can’t communicate with each other. They can’t even be bridged by a “Thread hub.” They’d have to be bridged by a Weave/ZigBee hub. In that case, Thread wouldn’t matter to the consumer.



Thursday, November 05, 2015

Customers can stock up on your products this holiday season.

By Chuck Schneider

I started getting emails before Columbus Day this year, the earliest ever. I’m over six weeks away from doing anything that resembles Christmas shopping but I opened them anyway.

I suspect hundreds of thousands of folks far more serious about shopping than I have opened the emails as well. If you believe TLC’s cable TV special, “Extreme Couponing: Black Friday Blitz,” there are shoppers out there planning military-style retail assaults as you’re reading this.

Honestly… do any of you old school retailers who have turned totally custom miss that over-the-counter action even a teensy-weensy bit? And for those who have never operated a retail environment, have you ever wondered what it actually feels like to ask “Cash or credit card?” to another human (no one uses checks anymore) while you put a product in a bag and watch the customer leave your premises with it?

While I was researching the inductees for the 2015 class of CE Pro Masters, I was inspired by one integrator who still owns a retail shop that is open to the great unwashed public six days a week and has an online shopping cart for individual purchases that may or may not result in custom work. I looked at a many others randomly from coast-to-coast and regrettably very few are doing the same.

Let me be real clear: I think you’re leaving money on the table—maybe no more than the equivalent of a few Sonos hook-ups and flat screen hangs—but real money nonetheless.

Those of you in the Northeast, remember last winter? How many billable man hours did you lose because of the horrible weather?…

Posted by Chuck Schneider on 11/05 at 01:06 PM
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Friday, October 30, 2015

Labor expenses can pile up quickly.

By Jason Knott

“The old days of making profit solely on equipment are over. You have to make money on labor, but unfortunately, labor is where most integrators lose the most money!” emphatically stated Leslie Shiner of The Shiner Group during her CEDIA Expo 2015 session entitled “Understanding Labor Cost, Productivity and Efficiency.”

To prove her point, she used an eye-opening example of the real costs for a full-time employee: A technician earning $25 per hour (in the state of California) has a tax and benefits burden that calculates out to $50.61 per hour to break even. What?

Here’s how we get there: That includes:

  • A vehicle (adds between $3 and $5 per hour for the employee)
  • Health insurance (adds $2.50 per hour)
  • Vacation (adds $3.13 per hour … even unpaid vacation adds costs because you are still paying for insurance during the employee’s vacation)
  • Liability insurance (adds $1.75 per hour)
  • FICA (Social Security and Medicare adds $1.90 per hour)
  • Worker’s compensation insurance (adds another $0.87 cents per hour)
  • State Unemployment Tax adds $0.37 cents to $1.55 per hour
  • Employment Training Tax = $0.25 cents/hour
  • State Disability Insurance is another $0.22 cents per hour
  • Lost tools (yes, lost tools, will cost about $0.50 cents per hour during the year, etc.)

When all those benefits and tax liabilities and other costs are added up, it adds up to $50.61 per hour as the true cost for a $25/hour employee … that is more than double!

SEE RELATED: CE Pro Whitepaper: Are My Prices Right? 2015 Labor Rates Study

But guess what? It gets worse.

Remember that most employees’ time is not fully billed, but they…

Posted by Jason Knott on 10/30 at 05:00 AM
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Thursday, October 29, 2015

CE Pro Random Fact: Sometimes Julie Jacobson will randomly belt out Scandal’s “Goodbye to You” or “The Warrior” after she posts a story on CE

By Robert Archer

The 1980s may be long gone, but that doesn’t mean the decade’s impact has faded away. Just recently the Internet was buzzing from all of the “Back to the Future Day” talk on Oct. 21, 2015, and cultural influences from that time, including music, clothing and language that have had a lasting effect on society.

With that in mind it’s not surprising that CE Pro’s staff was caught up 1980s pop culture, and now we can take a look back on how Jason Knott, Julie Jacobson, Arlen Schweiger, Jessica Camerato, Ray Lyons and myself survived the era that brought the world Valley Girls, hair bands, the “Stay Puff Marshmallow Man,” Pac Man and Camaro IROC-Zs.

Here is a look back at some of the staff members best costumes from past Halloweens:

Posted by Robert Archer on 10/29 at 05:02 AM
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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Who will SnapAV acquire next? Someone in the security or motorized window covering business?

By Julie Jacobson

Are you surprised that SnapAV acquired outdoor-TV maker SunBriteTV? I am. It seems an odd acquisition for a manufacturer and distributor of peripherals such networking gear, loudspeakers, mounts, multiroom A/V, video screens, power protection and the like.

SunBriteTV makes … TVs. Why would SnapAV want to mess with displays?

It is true, as SnapAV CEO John Heyman tells CE Pro, that SunBriteTV complements SnapAV’s line of Episode outdoor speakers, and that the outdoor-entertainment category is big and growing.

But still … it’s a display! Yucky.

The first comment posted this morning on Jason Knott’s story about the acquisition was this from Don Bendell:

Personally, I’m not sure this was the best use of their money.  I really thought building enclosures like Apollos would have been a better path.

Being in the video industry is a “craps roll”

Building enclosures are a lifetime investment allowing a variety of TV’s to be swapped out as technology changes year to year.

In the past, SnapAV has added name-brand products like URC, Labor Saving Devices, SureCall and Atlona to its portfolio – through distribution partnerships, not acquisitions.

SnapAV is an extremely powerful force in the home technology channel, with thousands of loyal dealers who enjoy good products, strong margins, the industry’s best e-commerce portal and some of the best customer service in the business … not to mention protected lines that are not sold direct to consumer.

Now that we know SnapAV is willing to expand its traditional arsenal of goods through acquisitions, who do you think it would – or should – acquire next?

Here are some of my…

Monday, October 19, 2015

RoseWater Residential Energy Storage Hub

By Wayne Ortner

Editor’s Note: Last week CE Pro contributor Wayne Ortner wrote the article, “RoseWater Energy: Biggest, Baddest, Cleanest, Greenest $60K Power Supply Ever” from CEDIA Expo 2015. The story prompted a comment from a CE Pro member named Dirk, who posed the question:

“Didn’t the Tesla Powerwall already make this obsolete? I believe the Powerwall has a capacity of 10 kWh of output per unit that runs $7,000. Three of the Powerwall units would have a similar capacity and take up much less space. I am missing something here?”

CE Pro’s first article about Tesla’s home batteries and low-voltage power in general drew a whopping 43 comments.

Since others in addition Dirk may be wondering the same thing, Ortner provided his reply here.

My article pointed out a number of things the RoseWater Hub incorporated that the Tesla and others simply do not do. To reiterate, here are some important points:

RoseWater’s AC-to-DC-to-AC conversion to produce a pure 60Hz sine wave, the zero transfer time and the programmability are just a few. It’s also not entirely accurate that the Tesla device is a 10kWh unit. That is it’s storage capacity, but it is limited to a 2kW continuous draw. That just won’t run very much in your house. 

In addition, the price you quoted is for Tesla’s batteries only, so a system would need to built around it. Currently, there is no inverter for their system as it is a 400v system (while all the others on the market are 48v systems).…

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

By Jason Knott

Back in 2011, CE Pro reported how a new consumer survey conducted on behalf of the Electronic Security Association (ESA) revealed custom electronics integrators were the No. 3 choice of contractors to install smart home equipment. 

Well, a new survey is out and the news is a bit worse. When asked to name where they would trust to buy (not necessarily install) smart home products, integrators are No. 6. According to data from Parks Associates, among U.S. broadband households “Service Contractors” (which is the only category that remotely equates to a custom electronics professional) are the sixth most trusted type of contractor that consumers want to buy smart home products from, with only about half of consumers saying the “trust” or “highly trust” integrators asa buying source. 

Leading the pack are national and local retailers with a nearly 70 percent total trust factor. They are followed by security dealers, broadband service providers, online-only retailers and electricity providers.  The only type of contractor less trusted is an HVAC contractor.

The good news is that if you happen to have a retail storefront, your trust level skyrockets to first place.  I can understand that. Consumers see brick-and-mortar retail as a signal of stability. They feel comfortable buying products in a retail environment.


Way back in 2006, I opined that the custom installation industry was “invisible.” I guess this survey debunks that theory. We are visible now, but still have a ways to go.

It would be interesting to see how the…

Posted by Jason Knott on 10/14 at 01:45 PM
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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The deadline for the 2015 CE Pro Masters is Oct. 30, 2015.

By Chuck Schneider

Even though a good part of what our industry is all about goes by the tag “home theater,” we probably have more of a relationship with television than we do the silver screen. That occurred to me as I was watching last month’s broadcast of the Emmy Awards.

To bolster my contention, I offer up the “Technology and Engineering” Emmys, which have been a part of the group since 1948. You likely don’t recall many of these. Ironically they aren’t even televised. These awards are given out in a separate ceremony before the glitzy statues in the prime time telecast. They are usually relegated to a brief mention at the main event by some declining TV star while you take a bathroom break.

Many of the Technology Emmys have been won by companies we deal with on a regular basis. Going back to just the start of this century, Sony leads the pack of consumer companies with a half dozen statues. Panasonic, Apple and Microsoft are multiple award winners with old school firms like Dolby, Philips and Sharp racking up a couple each. Second wave tech companies like Netflix and GoPro also have Emmys in their corporate lobby showcases.

These are the “unsung heroes” of the television industry. That’s the same idea behind the CE Pro Masters, now in its third year. We are looking for career CE folks, pretty much right around 50 years old or so, who quietly moved up the ladder of success over the past three or four decades and made an honest living and made it well. Some of these people have intentionally stayed out of the spotlight while others have concentrated on…

Posted by Chuck Schneider on 10/13 at 08:03 AM
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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What do you have in common with a hotel concierge? A lot.

By Joseph Kolchinsky

I recently stepped into one of the highest-end luxury hotels in Boston to reconnect with a long-time client.

The concierge was completely on his game when I walked through the door, displaying every inch of the kind of stellar, almost clairvoyant service we all expect from such a high-caliber hotel. He knew every guest by name, had treats prepared for their dogs, and jumped up to take care of a housekeeper coming in with an armful of bags. He was gracious and efficient in making me feel comfortable, handing me a bottle of water I hadn’t even requested while I waited for the client.

And then something happened: I overheard him take a call from another resident who was upset their smoke detector was low on batteries and producing an annoying beep. His response started out perfectly: “Yes, I understand that must be very frustrating,” he said to them. But then it quickly went downhill.

“Our maintenance person isn’t around right now,” he said. “But you can submit a ticket online and he might get to it today. It’s been a busy morning and we don’t have our full staff today.”

Then, hearing the resident was even more unhappy because they’d just changed the batteries in another detector only a few weeks ago, he offered some admonishing advice: “It’s better if you change them all at once, so you don’t have to keep doing it at different times.”

After a few more words it was clear the resident was looking for someone to just come up and help with the batteries, but all the concierge could offer was for the resident to “submit a ticket online.” …

Posted by Joseph Kolchinsky on 09/29 at 07:29 AM
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