In the second blog post from our Masked Installer, the Zorro of the CI world reveals the top technologies he couldn’t have done without this year. He also gives us his top rogues of 2007, and there are some rather large names in the casualty list! Oh, and read on to see why you should really run 4 CAT5s to every TV in the house…
It was interesting to read Mark’s take on technologies and the things he couldn’t do without in 2007. Ours here at Masked Towers are maybe a bit more prosaic but here’s our list of the stuff that saves us on a day to day basis plus a look at the top three rogues of 2007.
The Heroes – None of these are in order, consider everything equal first.
Google (free) – how dull is that? But special mention goes to images.google.com which can ALWAYS give you an image to populate your CD / DVD Metadata “cover_art” field when Gracenote / FreeDB et al have come up blank. Really good when teamed with The Gimp to create really neat unique stuff for that cover disc you picked up off the Evening Standard.
MP3Tag (Voluntary Donation) – I promise this isn’t going to be a list of tools Custom Installers use to manage music libraries. The thing is, that’s what Custom Installers have to do a lot of the time. We’ve got really good CD / DVD management facilities but if you have to sort out a legacy library filled with the usual garbage then this is the dream tool. Quick, easy to use, intelligent, cheap. If you use it, give them some money. I think it’s donationware but it’s worth making a contribution.
RTI T2c (~£700) – Very close to being the dream remote control. The T2c is a hybrid touchscreen / hard button remote control. So it’s in the same section of the market as the NevoSL and the Pronto TSU9600. I.e the £700+ super remotes. It manages to differentiate itself from the NevoSL by working properly. It beats the TSU9600 by not requiring WiFi to communicate wirelessly and its crowning glory is that it can be used as a RF remote in a high end AMX powered system. No line of sight required, no IR receivers, no IR distribution hubs just solid performance. The IR learning engine is great and the central processor starts to make it less of a remote and more an entry level control system.
It’s a shame the programming software is a bit clunky but it’s serviceable. We sell 2-3 on most jobs. No margin on them but that’s not a problem, we get no service calls on these rascals and clients love them.
Genelec 6020a (£550/Pair) – Not the best speaker we sell but the most surprisingly good. Genelec make big, thumping awesome active monitor speakers. The big billies are seriously large. We use them in custom cinema installs and they draw praise from even our most jaded and cynical customers. The baby 6020as look like toys in comparison until you fire them up and then they really grab you. All the people who tell us “I can’t really tell the difference and it’ll all be wasted on me” must never have really listened to good sound because it only takes a 5 min demo to get the cheque book out. Genelec 6020a; throw your BOSE iPod dock in the skip.
AMX Netlinx Processors (£Varies) – the NI700/900/2100/3100/4100. This is a bit of a blanket vote for the whole AMX lineup but the processors are where the logic is stored and the instructions are procesed. AMX is not exclusively for the yacht / castle / Learjet crew, though it’s de riguer for them. The Netlinx processors can control IP devices, issue IR commands, control relays, manage digital inputs and outputs and generally manage all aspects of the automated home. They’re not cheap but they can make the difference between a job feeling unfinished and the client loving us. We budget a NI700 into every job over £20k we do even if there are going to be no touchpanels. They control heating, security, lighting, audio/video and they just work. The programming environment isn’t bad either and the great thing is that it doesn’t try to hide all its power behind a load of hand holding wizards. If an AMX system doesn’t work properly it’s almost always because you’ve told it do something wrong, and the answer is usually there in the source code in front of you. When we came into this market we thought we’d never really sell any AMX. I couldn’t get my head round how expensive it all seemed; £3k for a 7″ Touchpanel? Now, it’s a technology we trust and rely on.
Cat5e (~£40/305m) – Even more dull than google but this remains the ultimate Get Out of Jail card. Two weeks ago a Spark on a job of ours kneels on/whacks with a hammer an installed 15m HDMI cable. This is after plastering. Fortunately we’ve run 4 x Cat5e to the back of each TV. 2 cables and a pair of Gefen HDMI converters later we’re sorted again and we’ve still got 2 Cat5e for other stuff if we need it. IR, Component Video, HDMI, Data, Voice, RS232 commands? Sorted. It’s the cable equivalent of Duck Tape. We run 4 to each telly and a couple to each potential touchpanel location (plus some 16/4 cable for low voltage), it costs nowt and it’ll save your bacon just about every time.
Top Rogues of 2007 – Here are my villains of the year
All three share a bizare use of CapiTALisaTioN. Importantly all three undermine the promise of the automated digital home.
Universal Electronics NevoSL (£650) – The NevoSL fails on lots of scores. It’s IR learning engine is not as good as its competitors, its battery life is poor even when the WiFi connectivity is agressively managed. Managing the WiFi is pointless anyway; the WiFi goes missing more often than Stevie Gerrard in a Liverpool / Man U fixture. It’s meant to act as a wireless controller for digital media in the home but it just doesn’t work well enough and it looks slow and clunky next to a Sonos CR100. it’s a shame because it looks great and the programming software is the best in the super remote category. I’ve got 7 for sale (Used but never done much). Enquiries to Mark please.
Netstreams DigiLinX – Promising IP architecture, lovely looking kit, great roadmap, fantastic upcoming NAIM audiophile components. This product should be in the other list. What undermines it for us that as it’s matured it’s got less stable over time as it’s expanded to . If you were putting this stuff in last summer, you were fighting with a version of their Dealer Setup Software that could actually break a working system and introduce inconsistencies that could poison a system over time. Almost the opposite of AMX it tries to hide its complexity behind a graphical front end configuration package. So when it doesn’t work, you really can’t see why. The more recent releases of the dealer setup software have been subject to a more rigorous release procedure and it all seems stable now.
It should sit in the upper-middle end of our product range, offering touchpanel control over audio, video, lighting, heating, intercom, gate control and CCTV (Yes, it does all of that). It should be our home control system for people who can’t run to AMX – Touchscreen control for maybe 25% less than an AMX system. But right now we’d still rather sell AMX because we trust it more.
And finally iTunes (Free). It’s lovely, it really is but it does its best to control your media in a way most people would really rail against if it came from Microsoft. Copy protected music? Check. Store your cover art in a propietary format? Check. Lock your music to particular devices? Check. Thing is it does it all while looking so damn good. And all our clients have got iPods and they don’t care so we end up having to work with it anyway. It’s possible to use iTunes as music management software for most of the systems we sell but it can be hard work.
So that’s it for 2007 I hope. We did our last install work on Friday and I’m hoping we don’t get any calls on Christmas Eve with systems that are playing up. On Christmas day, I’m hoping I’ll get the Genelecs I’ve asked for…but I’ll probably get something “useful” like a strimmer. Have a good Christmas.