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Friday, August 22, 2014

By Julie Jacobson


This image was posted on Reddit, with a nice little dialog to go with it. Before you check out the original caption, write one of your own and post it in the Comments section below!

Thanks for the tip,

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 08/22 at 05:17 AM
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Thursday, August 07, 2014

AMX’s Jeff Kindig (Oh yes I did)

By Julie Jacobson

The beauty of doing what I do is that I can write and publish whatever I want. We tend not to post every single story about industry do-gooders. There are just so many of them.

But occasionally I have a personal connection to a cause and, well, this is one of those cases.

Commercial- and home-automation company AMX recently built a playhouse for the annual Parade of Playhouses in Dallas (running through through Aug. 17) to benefit CASA, an organization for Court Appointed Special Advocates – the volunteers who help abused and neglected children find safe, permanent homes.

As it happens, I know the former executive director of CASA, Beverly Levy, who just retired after 20 years. So I smiled pretty big when the AMX CASA press release landed on my desktop … because I also know Jeff Kindig, the cool-in-a-nerdy-kinda-way VP of marketing for AMX.

So I emailed Beverly about this connection and she replied:

“What a small world, Julie. The director of CASA’s Community Relations is a woman named Lynn Brooks, and her husband, Jeff, works for AMX. … Do you know Jeff?”

Yes, yes I do. For about 15 years or so.

And this from Jeff: WOW! Freaky small world. That was my wife’s boss!! My wife is the marketing director for CASA!

Beverly tells me Lynn is “way overqualified to work for CASA, but she came to CASA because she believes in what we do to help abused children.”

In any case, the sailboat-themed playhouse AMX built, “Seas the Day” is pretty darn cool. It has a sail, flip-down catamaran/hammock, U.S. flag to hoist when passengers are aboard,…

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 08/07 at 03:30 PM
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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

By Julie Jacobson

Smart bulbs have always seemed like a dumb idea to me: Pay $60 to $100 for a screw-in LED and then control it with your phone. That’s a lot of money for a single light vs. a switch that can control a whole bank of bulbs. And then there’s the issue of having to keep the switch on at all times, not to mention the hassle of digging out a smart device to brighten the room.

I was having this very conversation at the recent Parks Associates Connections conference, and someone asked: Is the concept really that stupid or is it just the price? If the price were $10 or $15 per bulb, then would it become interesting? That shut us up because, indeed, if the price carried just a small premium over a standard LED, then it starts to make sense. And you can imagine that the light-switch issue will resolve itself eventually.

CentraLite, for example, recently introduced a ZigBee switch that sits on top of a standard toggle, locking it into the “on” position. The device, then, could be used to control the load “directly” from a location where users expect to flip a switch. Certainly we can expect more such fixes in the future. And that big obstacle — the high price of a smart bulb — also will resolve itself.

Indeed, we’re seeing some aggressive activity on that front. GE plans to smash the price barrier with a $15 ZigBee bulb that will integrate out of the box with the new Read entry

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 08/06 at 08:52 AM
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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

No, it’s not REALLY the Crestron Pyng logo!

By Julie Jacobson

Congrats to Crestron for becoming a finalist in CEDIA’s Manufacturers’ Excellence Awards with the forthcoming Pyng product.

Now, if only we knew what it was in advance of CEDIA Expo 2014.

Crestron is being uncharacteristically coy about the new software, and the only hint we can find about Pyng comes from this trademark application filed on July 23, 2014:

Computer software, namely, software framework for integrating management and control of audio, video, environmental, data, and security devices; software application for mobile devices, namely, a software framework for integrating management and control of audio, video, environmental, data, and security devices.

Doesn’t sound like anything too novel, but it must be a pretty big deal.

Any guesses as to what it is? At the very least, what do you hope it is?

Place your bets in the comments section below. And, hey, want to guess at the Pyng logo? Shoot me an image (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) and I’ll post it. Let’s see who comes the closest.

A patent application filed by Crestron (Fred Bargetzi, et al) in October 2013 and published April 17, 2014, refers to a system that responds to RF beacons “to determine a location of a user.” That information is then communicated to a server, which opens an application in response.

There’s a lot of pinging - er, pynging - in that scenario.

The particular application is for conference-room scheduling, but there are certainly parallels to location-based services within the home. As one dealer suggests in an email to me:

I think this new Crestron thing is a location aware…

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 08/05 at 10:58 AM
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Thursday, July 31, 2014

MikroElektronika shows how to build a voice-controlled light switch. You don’t need no stinkin’ smart bulb.

By Julie Jacobson

Got a kid gearing up for the science fair? Here’s a great project for building a voice-controllable light bulb.

It comes from MikroElectronika, a microprocessor company that offers the SpeakUp spech engine.

Not only does Mikro provide a time-lapsed video of the project (below), but it provides detailed instructions on how to build the project, as well as a $54 deal on all the pieces needed.

As a bonus, you get some wit with the project:

Used as a light switch, the SpeakUp eliminates real pain points - toes stubbed into coffee tables while searching for switches in dark rooms for example. Or the above-described grocery bag conundrum. Not to mention the dexterity needed to hit a light switch with a slipper from across the room where your bed is. ...

Configuring the SpeakUp takes about a minute (just use the free software tool). You should consider recording multiple commands like “lights on,” “turn on the lights,” “lights please,” “ouch, my toe!” and assigning them to the same IO pin, to cover a variety of usage scenarios.

Find the details here.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 07/31 at 09:22 AM
News, Blogs, Home Automation and Control, Lighting, (2) Comments, Permalink

Thursday, July 24, 2014

By CE Pro Editors

Whether you’re a large 20-person organization with a retail showroom, or a smaller outfit working out of a home office, every company strives for the same thing: increased profitability.

There are many levers you can pull to get there: sell more profitable stuff, find new customers, raise prices, trim operation expenses, and so on. While cutting expenses isn’t sexy or easy, it will increase profits, regardless of your ability to grow top-line revenue.

SnapAV deals with thousands of custom integration companies on a regular basis. Craig Craze, CEO of SnapAV, offers a half-dozen solid operational tips the company has gleaned from years of discussions with its dealer base and personal experience from its old days as integrators that might help any business become leaner.

1. Understand your true cost of labor: For project-based work, it’s all about accurate estimations. Do the job faster? More money in your pocket. Do the job slower, well … You can only improve what you measure, so consider having techs fill out detailed time sheets — using categorized codes to show what they spent time doing (travel, prewire, cutout, etc.). It can be a pain, and is definitely time-consuming, but ultimately it allows you to better estimate jobs in the future, making each install — and the company as a whole — more profitable.

2. Wash, rinse, repeat: Once you understand the cost of labor, you’ll know where to make improvements. Here’s where process is king. Any time you can standardize it adds efficiency, saving time/money and increasing your bottom line. Back in the day when we had our custom A/V business, we did time and motion studies…

Posted by CE Pro Editors on 07/24 at 08:00 AM
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Thursday, July 17, 2014

RIP Home Director.

By Julie Jacobson

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a hoarder. Maybe a sentimentalist.

Whatever the label, I’ve amassed hundreds of T-shirts touting such iconic brands as Home Director and LifeWare. Some companies gracing my T-Shirts ... I’ve never even heard of.

Now settled in California and nearly 50 years old, it’s time to grow up, weed through the Tees and part with many of them.

Before doing so, I’ve committed them to the digital archives.

My criteria for keeping the shirts? They must be:
1. Flattering (of course)
2. Appropriate in public (“Nice Rack!” didn’t make it)
3. Relatively unsoiled
4. Kinda cool or wildly nostalgic

With apologies to those whose brands I’ve besmirched, here are some of the CE tees that didn’t make the cut.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 07/17 at 08:50 AM
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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Taking a few moments eating burgers and hot dogs allows integrators to take stock on their businesses at the midway point of 2014. (From left) Stephen Tucker of Tucker & Tucker in Scarborough, Maine;  Mike Bonetti owner of Home Theater & Beyond in Merrimack, N.H.; and Paul Johnson, proprietor of Custom Installation Services in South Dennis, Mass.

By Chuck Schneider

For the bevy of integrators gathered under the dining tents at distributor Professional Audio Associates (PAA) June open house, eating delicious burgers was like a truth serum. They openly shared with me some of the positive and negative of their custom installation businesses at the halfway point of 2014.

I landed at the food area as soon as it opened and stayed there until the caterers were ready to drive away. I was curious as to the mindset of this year’s PAA customer, so I went from table to table with two simple questions:

In the past year, what has been your most pleasant business surprise?

Over the next year, what do you think will be your greatest challenge?

Their answers span the gamut, but several dealers declared with allegiance and surprise with the continuing growth in popularity of the Sonos wireless multiroom audio system, the decline in remote controls and the ever-changing landscape on flat panel TVs.

Jerry Boyson, owner of Lake Winnipesaukee Home Theater in Meredith, N.H., didn’t hesitate a moment with his first answer.

“Sonos. I never thought I’d ever sell as much Sonos as I’m selling.”

Across the table, PK from Sounds Good in Waltham, Mass. was nodding his head in agreement. “Sonos is a phenomenon. What they lack in margin they make up in volume.”

PK’s associates from Sounds Good agreed stating that add-ons and accessories were easy with Sonos which helped boost the margin.

John Hickey from John’s TV in Taunton, Mass., mentioned LG as his happiest surprise. “I was a Panasonic dealer 35 years, direct and through a…

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Stereo Exchange president David Wasserman (shown above) is hosting a unique showroom event that’s a real work of art.

By Jason Knott

How can an integrator liven up a high-res audio listening event at his showroom? Well, nude women might do the trick.

New York City integrator David Wasserman of Stereo Exchange is hosting, in conjunction with Autonomic, an “Audio in the Nude” event. The invitation invites customers to enjoy “a very special evening of music, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres” on June 24 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

The promo for the event says it will feature “iconic album art painted on stunning models. We will tantalize your senses and demonstrate the Mirage whole-house music systems.”

I wonder if The Beatles “White Album” is on the body paint list?

Posted by Jason Knott on 06/19 at 08:17 AM
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Thursday, June 05, 2014

By Julie Jacobson

“We’re terrible at customer service, especially considering the money they [customers] spend,” says David Daniels, principal of the Aspen, Colo.-based integration firm Xssentials. “I can buy something at Amazon and get three follow-up emails, and we forget to thank our customers?”

Daniels spoke at a recent conference of the Azione buying group (yeah, he said dealers “suck” at customer service), and he got a lot of sheepish looks — the kinds that say, “Guilty.”

Daniels gives the example of his BMW dealer, who calls when it’s time for service, sets a date, calls in a reminder, has a sign waiting for “Mr. Daniels” at the shop, takes a ping from the car as it’s pulling up and has a cup of coffee with one sugar waiting, plus a loaner car all warmed up and ready to go.

“And that’s for a $55,000 car,” Daniels sells. “We sell $500,000 jobs and we forget to say thank you.” 

The BMW example may be a little extreme but it does beg the question: Can we mechanize customer service?

Considering we’re in the automation business, it seems like we should be doing a better job of it.

Since my husband and I recently moved, we’ve been buying stuff, receiving deliveries and watching while pros do things like assemble Ikea furniture. In every instance, the provider called the night before to give a two-hour delivery window. On the work day, the driver called 30 minutes and 10 minutes prior to arrival.

Usually, two or three follow-up events occurred. A supervisor or automated attendant from the store called and asked about the experience.…

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 06/05 at 07:18 AM
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