It’s Stereo by Default

June 18th, 2018

The audio/video industry has generated a catalog of cryptic acronyms. DTS is an example. Formerly known as Digital Theater Systems, DTS presently stands for ‘Dedicated To Sound’. You may recall the DTS logo at the lead-in to a movie as its accompanying sound track swooped thru the theater and ended with a concussive low frequency blast.

DTS audio formats are comparable to the Dolby Digital surround sound formats. Both offer many versions that encircle the viewer/listener with slews of speakers. Curiously a new DTS format Virtual:X does not. Virtual:X proposes to create an immersive audio experience via a two speaker stereo step-up instead of a surrounding arrangement of five, six, seven, or more speakers.

“Say what – only two speakers?” ‘More-speakers, more-fun’ has been the hallmark of the surround sound formats for decades. So I have to ask; “Why?”

(What is stereo? – Are you sure? Select this Link)

DTS discovered fewer than 30% of DTS-X/Dolby Atmos home theater receivers sold have height speakers connected. Oddly, fewer than 48% have connected rear speakers. This is the data that led DTS Virtual:X to default to stereo. Which leads to this question, “How did this happen”?

(Note: Select Link supporting 30% – 48% statement.)

Many consumers were simply overwhelmed by the dizzying maze of choices in a surround sound receiver’s on-screen menu and its headache inducing rear panel zoo of input/output jacks; so, they just ‘threw in the towel’. Some ‘moth-balled’ dealing with the multi-speaker wiring. Others would not allocate space or cash for rear speakers, above speakers, or a sub-woofer. Many honestly do not understand the concept of stereo let alone surround sound. Which leads to this question; “How did they end up with that bloody surround sound receiver in the first place?”

Lacking competent qualification, many just bought a box someone persuaded them to buy. They – many unknowingly – abandoned the potential ‘goose-bump-producing’ sound they had handsomely paid for.

But Virtual:X doesn’t fundamentally solve the problem. It’s only available via that multi-channel receiver or a low fidelity soundbar. Which begs this question. “Should customers settle for a low-fidelity soundbar or should they still pay for the additional amplified channels of a home theater receiver they won’t use?”

My answer is neither. Instead, they should consider an option that avoids the surround sound receiver, the low-fidelity soundbar, or worse – the TV speaker. That option is a stereo home theater system.

Stereo Home Theater
Consider two stereo options. The first is a modest ‘low cost’ stereo home theater system. The second reallocates a presumably higher surround sound budget for the purchase of a yet higher performance stereo high fidelity home theater system. The ensuing text explains.

The Low Cost Option
This option employs a new ‘low-cost’ stereo AV receiver or an old vintage stereo receiver partnered with a TV and a pair of speakers; this assumes the television is a High Definition or Ultra-HD TV.

The vintage path ‘beats the bushes’ seeking a classic stereo receiver or integrated amplifier. A Craig-type list website is good place to search. If you’re younger than “the classics”, check out your Dad’s or Grandfather’s garage. The fidelity of many classics continues to surprise folks.

Yikes! – another acronym is about to appear – HDMI. The ‘High Definition Multimedia Interface’ is required for most current consumer video sources. It includes a plug, jack, and interconnecting audio/video cable.

However, “the classics” lack HDMI digital video switching. Therefore use your TV as the HDMI switcher. Connect HDMI video sources to the television. Add a ‘cheap’ less than $40 digital to analog converter to the television’s digital audio output. Connect the converter’s analog output to an input of the stereo receiver or integrated amp. Connect analog audio only sources directly to the receiver/integrated amp. If you use a digital only audio source; employ an additional digital to analog converter.

On the other hand, if you want to avoid the used re-purposed route, purchase the new Onkyo TX-8270 @ $429 or the Pioneer Elite SX-S30 @ $449 stereo receiver. Both include HDMI switching, digital and analog audio inputs, plus a phono input.

The Onkyo also offers a second zone preamp output which MAY cleverly and smoothly serve as a pre-out for a more powerful stereo power amplifier. Although I have not confirmed the ‘cleverly and smoothly’ element – this could allow the Onkyo to double as a very low cost stereo AV preamp.

Complete the new or re-purposed choice with a pair of bookshelf or floor standing speakers. This system will blow away the soundbars; for more ‘punch’ add a powered sub-woofer.

The Budget Reallocation Option
This choice reallocates a more affluent surround sound budget into a stereo audio/video system that includes a more robust stereo integrated amplifier with two dynamic floor standing speakers or a pair of bookshelf speakers paired with a rattle-your-DNA powered sub-woofer.

Initiate the reallocation into a higher fidelity stereo integrated amplifier such as the NAD C368 or C388 plus a NAD MDC HDMI switching module. The MDC module is a key detail. It provides the HDMI switching lacking in almost all stereo components.

The C368 @ $700 employs class D amplification; the MDC module adds $300 to the price. The C388 @ $1600 offers class AB amplification; again add the module. Both include analog and digital audio inputs, plus a phono input.

Class AB generally yields a smoother high fidelity result. Class D amplification can be a bit ‘brittle’ at the edges. But this Class D amplifier is still a better sonic option than the new stereo receivers mentioned above.

Complete the system with an appropriate goose-bump-generating floor standing or bookshelf speaker system and at least a 10 inch powered sub-woofer.

A Consideration
If you are an audiophile who transcends these sonic levels of performance; consider these options for non-audiophile friends. But proceed with caution. Your audio enthusiasm may lead to their first step into the HiFi abyss. If you’re an AV professional in the streets, attics, and crawl spaces of custom audio and video installations; consider these recommendations for clients. Implementing the stereo option can reinforce your reputation as their AV hero.

Default to Stereo
A default to stereo minimizes the catalog of acronyms, confusing digital formats, dizzying menus, cluttered back panels, yards of cabling, and a plethora of holes in your ceilings and walls.  More significantly stereo can deliver an easy to operate dynamic high fidelity music and home theater experience.

Location, location, location

October 11th, 2017

This blog was lifted from my website Ed’s AV  It addresses the challenging subject of how to choose a retail location.  This is a 9 step process that defines trade area boundaries, locates its trading areas, describes its demographics, and selects a brick-n-mortar home.  But before we proceed let’s confirm three definitions for clarity.

1. Trade Area – the total geographical area in which your customers reside.
2. Trading Areas – locations within a trade area where the action of trading takes place.
3. Location – the address you select to trade in a trading area.

Step 1 Trade area map
Print a map of your prospective trade area with streets, major geographical features, and census tracts.  Select this link to U.S. Census.

Step 2 Trade area barriers
A barrier placed between a customer and a retail location impedes their travel. People are inclined to avoid barriers. They tend to drive to a location on their side of a barrier, even if a convenient bridge or underpass is present. Highlight natural or man made barriers within the trade area that impede travel to trading areas; this includes rivers, freeways, rail-road tracks, airports, mountains/hills, etc.

Step 3 Local routes
Seek and highlight popular local routes within the trade area to churches, schools, local government, post office, grocery stores, competitors, malls, commuter highways, hospitals, ball parks, and other key destinations.

Step 4 Center focus
Select a feasible prospective location situated on a local route between your customer prospects and the competition.

Step 5 Circular mapping
Return to your trade area map. Draw a series of circles (feasible location at the center) with radii of 1 mile, 2 miles, 5 miles, 10 miles, 15 miles, 20 miles, and more if desired.

Step 6 Data spreadsheet
Return to the U.S. Census at
Search for — and create a spreadsheet list of — the trade area census tract data within the circled area as follows:
a. List trade area census tract numbers in the first column.
b. Add the following demographic headings:
– population
– # of households,
– your targeted income groups
– your targeted age groups
– if relevant – your targeted gender
c. Insert the census tract data for each demographic.

Step 7  The guesstimate
Add this column heading “%” to the spreadsheet.  Inspect the census tracts within each region created and bounded by the ‘circles’.  Given the trade area barriers, your local route knowledge, and distance from the proposed location – guesstimate the % of households that will choose to travel from each census tract toward the proposed location versus competitors in the opposite direction.  Insert your guesstimate into its ‘%’ spreadsheet column.

Step 8  The factored summation
Return to the spreadsheet. Add an extra column next to each demographic.  Multiply each census tract demographic by the results of step 7.  Enter each result into its extra data column.
– (population) x (Step 7 results)
– (# households) x (Step 7 results)
– (income group) x (Step 7 results)
– (age group) x (Step 7 results)
– (gender) x (Step 7 results)
Sum each ‘extra’ demographic column.  The totals of each ‘extra’ column are your exclusive trade area demographics.

We’re almost home
The boundaries of your trade area are drawn.  Its trading areas and local routes have been identified. You have a clear demographic sketch of your customers. Now choose a home location.

Step 9 Head them off at the pass
Next to committing money to the business, choosing a retail location may be your most taxing business decision.  In addition to its indoor practical functions, a retail location via its store front can also become your most productive promotional tool.

The best locations are positioned between customers and significant competitors.  In effect, their store front signage ‘heads them off at the pass’.  This better location will cost more than alternatives.  But it will deliver a competitive edge that alternatives can only offset with increased promotional expenditures; a cost typically much higher than the difference between a lower cost location and a better location.

Now, create an annual profit & loss forecast.  Its operating expenses will include your budget for rent/mortgage.  But be prepared to entertain the idea of reallocating budgeted promotional funds to your rent or mortgage.

Enlist the guidance of a seasoned local Realtor who knows the local travel paths of the trade area.  As a rule, they are the gray haired agents at a rear desk in a real estate office.  Present the agent with a list of your qualifying needs and wants.  Include your budget for rent or purchase.

A good real estate agent is a sufficient.  But also speak to other retailers in the trade area.  Take drives from different points within the trade area to the proposed location.   If your inquiries confirm your trade area data, and the location is within budget, secure the location with a lease or a purchase.


Fidelity without truth?

April 17th, 2017

Samsung has released a new TV.  It could be a very good TV.  But this blog is not about the TV. This is about its misleading manufacturer.  And others like them.  It’s about right vs wrong.

Let’s begin with a historical perspective.  In the fall of 2007 or there about, Samsung introduced an LED television. At the time I was perplexed.  I didn’t think real LED TV technology was ready for mass production.  After an unexpected frustrating search, I confirmed that it wasn’t.

To my ultimate surprise that search was impeded by Samsung.  Although the term LED was ever present in their advertising copy; the term LCD had been completely omitted.  Any website association between the terms LCD and LED was buried in a hard to find Samsung spec page. As is now commonly understood; that page revealed that their use of LEDs referred only to LCD TV back lighting.

Samsung’s campaign of misinformation was further advanced by the ‘big-box’.  The ‘box’ promoted the LED theme that minimized the term LCD.  They also parroted half-truths that slandered competing TV’s such as plasma.  Half truths such as the LED TV offered longer life than plasma TV; The LED TV was more energy efficient than plasma; The LED TV offered 120Hz processing; plasma did not.

In truth an LCD or plasma panel has a half-brightness life expectancy of 15 years or more. Their power supplies are more likely to die long before the panels.  LED/LCD is more energy efficient than plasma; but only by an insignificant margin.  Plasma did not offer 120Hz processing; well, plasma didn’t need it.  120Hz processing is an exclusive band-aid for slow LCD pixel response and continuous ‘on’ LCD back-lighting.

In retrospect, I suspect the naive ill-informed ‘big boxers’ were also mislead by Samsung. Therefore I am cutting them some slack.  Although they have done little since to back off the LED only theme.

In any case Samsung’s campaign was successful.  Their promotional slight of hand had differentiated their TV on crowded retail floors.  In my view their campaign was a prominent factor in vaulting Samsung sales beyond the bigger players of the time – Sony, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Pioneer.  In fairness the new TV did offer two popular features; it was brighter plus thinner than plasma and previous LCD TVs.  Thin and bright still sells a lot of TVs.

CES January 2017 – Samsung has introduced their new quantum dot QLED TV.  Wait, I didn’t think quantum dot TV technology was ready for mass production.  I’m perplexed.  After another impeded search I have confirmed that real Q-Dot pixel TVs are not ready for mass production. I found the truth at websites such as,,, and others.  I did not find it via Samsung.

Samsung’s QLED TV isn’t new technology.  The QLED moniker is primarily a re-branding of their SUHD models.  It’s the third-improved-generation of their SUHD TVs that place a quantum dot film in front of LED back-lighting. The film corrects the blue leaning color of the LED.  That is; the film provides a brighter more accurate white back light.  Sony Triluminos LCD TVs have used this quantum dot film technique for many years.

The new Samsung’s, as the Sony’s, appear to very good UltraHD HDR LCD TVs with an impressive palate of color; However they do not yet support all UltraHD HDR content formats. This is an issue for consumers who want high end video performance.  Sony supports Dolby Vision but lacks support for the HGL or Phillips/Technicolor HDR formats. Samsung currently does not support any of these significant formats.  And as with the Q-dot and LED truth, the HDR facts are not easily accessible.

Keep in mind – the primary theme of this blog is not about the TV.  It’s about the omission of essential facts by the manufacturer.  I’m tired of being mislead. I do not like folks who attempt to deceive me.  This blog is about right vs wrong. It’s wrong to lie.

Samsung is not alone.  In addition to misleading TV facts, many manufacturers of AV receivers are currently misleading customers about their power ratings – they’re lying.  Some manufacturers refer to their 3 inch speaker as a ‘woofer’ – What?  Some are touting blue-tooth speakers as a high fidelity product. I’m sure they’re OK – as a decent boom-box was in the 1980’s; but HiFi – no way.  I can offer more examples; but, I think you get the point.

Look – I expect to be lied to by sleazy laywers and politicians, but I draw the line at my high fidelity audio/video world.  Fidelity should apply to how we behave – not just the picture and sound. Without truth how can there be fidelity? Help me save the world from poor fidelity.

HDR Ultra-HDTV Part 7

April 2nd, 2017

Ed’s AV Handbook
Saving the world from poor fidelity

Part 7  System compatibility.
Ultra-HDTV home theater system compatibility is critical.     All components and interconnecting cables must be capable of passing a 18Gbps Ultra-HD video signal. This includes the source component,  AV receiver, AV preamp, plus the TV or Projector.

However the ISF’s Joel Silver has discovered that many     AV receivers and switchers lack 18Gbps bandwidth. Many squeeze a 13.5Gbps UHD Blu-ray down to a 9Gbps standard dynamic range image.  In some cases screens ‘blank out’ except for the text message “Incompatible Signal”.

TV setup is another issue.  The ‘Deep Color’ setting in the TV’s menu must be enabled for the playback of Ultra-HD HDR Blu-ray discs. This may also require a reboot of the TV.

Then beware of TVs advertised as “HDR enabled” or “HDR compatible”.  They may recognize HDR content. And they will produce an image.  But they do not process HDR content.  “HDR enabled TVs”  “de-tune” HDR content to standard dynamic range performance.  This process is referred to as “Color Mapping” or “Tone Mapping”.

Therefore I offer this recommendation.  Set up all UltraHD systems at your shop to confirm performance.  Even if the product spec sheets state all is good.  This simple rule will avoid an embarrassing situation.

Hurry up and get to the chorus
Customers do not pay for lectures.  They just want to have fun.  Indeed, you must meet, greet, and qualify customers. But keep buzzwords to a minimum.  Assess their wants and make your recommendations. Then, as they say in the music world, “hurry up and get to the chorus”. Let an HDR Ultra-HD home theater demonstration sing for itself.

That concludes this 7 part blog.

HDR Ultra-HDTV Part 6

March 26th, 2017

Ed’s AV Handbook
Saving the world from poor fidelity
HDR Ultra-HDTV — Part 6 Ultra-HD sources

Ultra-HD sources currently include Ethernet rental/purchase services, Ethernet real-time streaming, and the Blu-ray disc.

Streaming services have a bandwidth issue. 25Mbps seems to be the download speed ‘sweet spot’ for Ultra-HD streaming. Yet the average consumer connection is only 15 Mbps.  Unlike streaming, download only services avoid the issue by storing the data to a media server device (hard drive with user interface) for later playback.  Blu-ray discs also avoid the issue.  Just buy or rent a disc.  Load disc in player.  Press play and view.

The initial Ultra-HD Blu-ray players and most TVs are limited to the HDR10 format. Many will soon offer Dolby Vision upgrades. They jury is still out on other formats.  Finally Ultra-HD broadcast is currently limited to DirectTV and Dishnet via a limited selection of channels.  Off-air terrestrial broadcasts do not yet exist.

Ethernet real time streaming and download purchase/rental services include:
– Netflix
Streaming Ultra-HD HDR10 & Dolby Vision service.
– Amazon Instant Video
Streaming UHD HDR10 & Dolby Vision Instant Video service.
– Vudu (Walmart)
Ultra-HD HDR10 and Dolby Vision download purchase or rental only service.
Currently limited to certain LG and Vizio 4K UHD TVs
– YouTube UHD
Streaming only service.
Uses Google VP9 compression (Not HEVC) .
– Fandango Now
Streaming or download purchase/rental via Samsung & LG TVs, Roku, or Vidity storage devices.
– Google Play
UHD HDR download purchase only service.
– Sony’s Ultra 4K Movies
Ultra-HD HDR download purchase only service.
– Vidity Ultra-HD
Ultra-HD HDR for download purchase only service.
– UltraFlix
UlraHD download rental only service.

That concludes Part 6.   Next Part 7 System Compatibility.

HDR Ultra-HDTV Part 5

March 19th, 2017

Ed’s AV Handbook
Saving the world from poor fidelity

Part 5  More HDMI Tips
HDMI uses 19 pins to move audio and video from point A to B.  The pins offer other functions such as the audio return channel (ARC), an Ethernet path, and ‘remote’ control functions.  But that bloody ARC feature can drive many AV receivers crazy.
Tip – Go to the TV setup menu and turn ARC off unless you intend to use it.

A single 19 pin interconnecting AV cable is convenient.  But the primary purpose of HDMI’s 19 pins is to prevent unauthorized copying.  It does this via Transition-Minimized Differential Signaling.  TMDS interleaves video, audio, and data via three time controlled digital packets.  How this actually works is beyond my pay grade. However AV Pros should be particularly aware of Pin #19. It includes the 5 volt Hot Plug Detect function.  This pin carries 5 volts from the source component to the next components’ HDMI sink chip.  This is a critical.  If the voltage is corrupted the HDMI world stops – no picture, no sound.
Tip – DPL Labs’ Jeff Boccaccio’s rule #1. “Don’t mess with the 5 volts”.

HDMI has problems with cable lengths over 30 feet.  The problem can be solved with ‘active’ amplified cables.  However some manufacturers rely on Pin #19’s 5 volts to power their cable.  That breaks Boccaccio’s rule #1 “Don’t mess with the 5 volts”.
Tip – Install active cables with dedicated power supplies.

HDR bandwidth puts even more stress on Pin #19’s limited voltage.  The use of fiber optic cabling can avoid the issue.  Reasonable pricing plus easier to use terminating tools have made fiber a feasible choice.
Tip – Research the use of fiber optic cable for long cable run installations.

That concludes part 5. Next Part 6 Ultra-HDTV sources.

HDR Ultra-HDTV Part 4

March 13th, 2017

Ed’s AV Handbook
Saving the world from poor fidelity

Part 4  The High Definition Multimedia Interface
HDMI can be the bane of an AV professional’s daily work.  Blank screens, intermittent video, and noisy images caused by inconsistent manufacturing, changing specs, and long cable lengths are all too common.  This blog won’t change that.  But it may add some insight that leads to possible solutions.

The ‘High Definition Multimedia Interface’ is a system (19 conductor interconnecting cable, dedicated termination, and microprocessing IC’s with software) that primarily prevents unauthorized copying.  The HDMI IC’s are installed in the source component, the display, and in any component in the system path (receiver/preamp/switcher).

The source HDMI IC pings the next HDMI IC.  That chip simultaneously responds with a return ‘handshake message’ AND pings the next chip (if any).  Each chip waits for the ‘handshake’ response.  Any incorrect responses results in a blank screen, intermittent picture, or noisy picture.  Solutions can include;
– Unplug and reinsert cable.
– Replace the cable. But not necessarily a more expensive cable – just another cable.
– Experiment by replacing electronic components.  Even if the component works in another          system.  Some combinations simply don’t like each other.
– Set up all system components in-house to confirm performance before driving to an                    installation.

HDMI has evolved thru many versions.  Each is backward compatible which permits the previous evolution of video and audio to pass.

HDMI 1.4 & 1.4a (4,096 x 2,160 @ up to 24fps)
Version 1.4 supports HDTV plus the audio return and Ethernet channels.
Version 1.4a supports 3D.
– Recommend ‘High Speed’ (high bandwidth) cable.

HDMI 2.0 (3840 x 2160p @ 60fps)
Version 2.0 supports Ultra High Definition 18Gbps bandwidth @ 60fps.
It also provides for dual screen video streams. (sort of picture in picture)
– Recommend ‘Premium High Speed’ cable.

HDMI 2.0a
Version 2.0a supports High Dynmaic Range formats.
– Recommend ‘Premium High Speed’ cable.

HDMI 2.0b
Version 2.0b supports EOTF Dynamic HDR formats.
2.0b also provides up to 32 channels of multi-dimensional digital audio.
– Recommend ‘Premium High Speed cable.

HDMI 2.1 supports 48Gbps bandwidth, 8K video resolution @ 60Hz or UltraHD @ 120Hz.
Support for 120 frames per second enables Virtual and Augmented Reality.  2.1 also supports Hi-Resolution audio, object based surround sound, and E-ARC (audio return channel).
– Install 48Gbps bandwidth cable.

The first HDMI 2.1 product won’t be released until 2018.  Although 2.1 supports 48Gbps bandwidth, Internet providers are still trying to deal with 25Gbps.  So, don’t reach for your wallet yet.  But do prep your installations for cable replacement.  Their is is lot to be confirmed.


That concludes part 4.  Next part 5  More HDMI Tips.

HDR Ultra-HDTV Part 3

March 8th, 2017

Ed’s AV Handbook
Saving the world from poor fidelity

Part 3  HDR Format War?
An HDR UltraHDTV must support the source HDR format.  If not, the image may be downgraded to standard dynamic range at less than Ultra-HD resolution or worse — a blank screen.  The issue is a standard format does not yet exist.

Several current TV’s support more than one HDR format.    To date HDR10 and Dolby Vision are the most prominent.  However a Technicolor/Philips joint venture is becoming an alternative; As is the BBC/NHK Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) format.  The following is a list of the competing formats being considered.

HDR10 (10 bit color) is a combination of the SMPTE HDR standard and Consumer Technology Association HDMI 2.0a spec.  It is currently the baseline format.   An enhanced HDR12 is also in the works that supports Dynamic HDR as the Dolby Vision and HGL formats.

Warning: Beware of Entry level Ultra-HDTVs advertised as “HDR enabled or compatible’.  They may recognize HDR10 content and produce a picture.   But they DO NOT provide HDR performance.

12 Bit Dolby Vision
Dolby is a 12bit color format.  In comparison to 10bit formats — the 2 extra bits increases the color palate from one billion to four billion colors.  Dolby is also a dynamic format that continuously optimizes night and daylight images on a ‘dynamic’ frame-by-frame basis.

In addition Dolby Vision is compatible with the HDMI 2.0 and 2.0a standards (HDR10 requires 2.0a).  Dolby is also backwards compatible with HDR10 sets.  In my mind ‘backwards to HDR10 ‘ says it all.

Phillips Technicolor Format
Phillips/Technicolor is a Dynamic HDR format that requires the HDMI 2.0a standard.   It has been reported that it may be more compatible with the library of standard-dynaminc-range HDTV video broadcast and Ethernet streaming. (I’m not sure what that will actually mean on the TV screen.)  The jury is out.

Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG)
HLG is being promoted by the BBC & NHK as a broadcast standard that employs a Dynamic frame-by-frame EOTF process based on the display’s actual peak luma value.   HLG requires HDMI 2.0b.  This format may be the long shot winner in this possible war.

Is it a war?
The lack of a standard may produce a format war.  But don’t Panic – yet.   There are still other issues to be concerned about such as every AV pro’s favorite subject – HDMI.

That’s Next in part 4.

HDR Ultra-HDTV Part 2

February 28th, 2017

Ed’s AV Handbook
Saving the world from poor fidelity

Part 2 Buzzword Noise Reduction
This is an outline of the technologies that support the stunning images on HDR Ultra-HDTV screens. The objective is to clarify their definition and reduce the ‘buzzword-noise’ that obscures their significance and misleads many to pitch an HDR Ultra-HDTV as simply a brighter TV.

High Dynamic Range
High Dynamic Range is primarily about an expanded range of luminance – the difference between black and the brightest white light – that allows for a simultaneous display of bright highlights and dark shadow detail. But this breakthrough that “changes the nature of television as we know it” is achieved via three additional inter-weaved video elements: color space, gray-scale, and color gamut.

The Illuminating Details
The following sheds more light on the ‘inter-weaved’ elements. It also introduces many of their
underlying building blocks and video allies.  This includes Color Volume, Color Depth, Bit Depth, Deep Color, DCI P3, the Nit, Gamma, EOTF, frame rate, HEVC, and the CIE Color Chart.

The CIE Color Chart is the official chart of visible color. It is defined by the red, green, blue X, Y color mix points and their Z gray scale amplitude (brightness) points.  D65 specifies the brightest Z point goal.  Envision the illustration as a three-dimensional cone. The CIE is an international organization.

Color Space is simply the total referenced space within the Color Chart cone.

Color Gamut is the color space allocated to a video technology.  For example; the larger triangle defines REC 2020 Ultra-HDTV color gamut.  The smaller triangle defines REC709  HDTV color gamut.

Color Volume measures color gamut as a percentage of the total color space.  For example; Ultra-HDTV covers 75.8% of the total color space. HDTV covers 35.9% of the color space

Color Depth or Bit Depth is the number of computer bits allocated to create a video color sub-pixel.  The number of bits determines the possible range of color shades.  For example; 8 bit color provides up to 255 shades per red-green-blue sub-pixel for a total of 16.78 million colors.  10-bit color provides up to 1024 shades for a total of 1.07 billion colors.  12- bit as employed by Dolby Vision provides even more shades.

Deep Color describes 10 bit or more color depth. For example 10 bit HDR10 and 12 bit Dolby Vision offer Deep Color potential.   Many new TVs can be enabled to reproduce Deep Color.

DCI P3 – The Digital Cinema Initiative P3 spec defines the color gamut of commercial digital cinema that covers 53.6% of the CIE Color Chart.

Note: Current TVs are limited to the DCI P3 specification.   Although we may look forward to the full CIE 2020 color space spec; the current library of movies is limited to DCI P3.  The good news is DCI P3 is a significant improvement over HDTV.

NIT – The NIT is a unit of TV screen brightness.  This is different from the ANSI lumen that measures the reflected screen brightness produced by a video projector. As a reference; the ISF’s Silver and Paullin stated; “Our old TV content was created thinking in terms of brightness at 100 Nits; this is what NTSC CRT reference monitors were capable of.  HDR monitors will be capable of 4,000 to 10,000 Nits.”

Different standards!

HDR LCD TVs and HDR OLED TVs are defined by different brightness standards. An HDR LCD TV must be capable of over 1,000 Nits peak brightness and less than 0.05 Nits black level. An HDR OLED TV must be capable of 540 Nits brightness and less than 0.0005 Nits black level.
The LCD brightness spec is nearly twice the OLED spec. This will lead many to claim LCD is better than OLED. However HDR OLED black level is 100 times lower. If you want the TV with the largest dynamic range – the difference between peak brightness and black level; then HDR OLED crushes HDR LCD.

Note: The NIT is to light as the decibel is to sound pressure level.
Similar to hearing, human vision is not evenly sensitive to the entire bandwidth of light.
The eye is most sensitive to green light, less to red, and even less to blue.  This subjective visual response is defined as luminance.  The subjective response to sound is called loudness.

Gamma is a fixed gray-scale luminance correction to accommodate human perception.  If your an old audio pro – gamma is similar to Fletcher/Munson loudness correction.

EOTF or Electro-Optical Transfer Function is a dynamic (not fixed as gamma) frame by frame luminance adjustment.  The Hybrid Log Gamma and Phillips/Technicolor HDR formats use this technology. (More on this later)

Frame Rates [frames per second] – The REC 2020 HDR UltraHD specification provides for 120fps or 60fps. The 120fps option is significant because it exceeds the frame rate requirement for Virtual Reality and Augment Reality.

HEVC – Ultra-HDTV broadcast and Blu-ray discs require High Efficiency Video Coding compression. HEVC ‘squeezes’ video data within their limited bandwidth. Unaltered, Ultra-HD cannot fit within Blu-ray disc space or via future off-air broadcast bandwidth.  This is not a consumer issue. Content and hardware providers products will comply.

In a HDR nutshell
HDR luminance sets the table for an extended gray-scale that creates a broader space of color.  The expansive gray-scale/color-space lays the foundation for a wider color gamut Ultra-HDTV specification.

The HDR breakthrough is derived from the combination of concurrent dark/bright light plus the expanded shades of color.   This is not about  more pixels or a brighter screen.  This is about better pixels.

That concludes Part 2.    Coming Soon Part 3 – The possible format war.

Ultra-HD HDR Primer Part 1

February 23rd, 2017

Ed’s AV Handbook
Saving the world from poor fidelity
Ultra-HDTV HDR Primer
Many home theater enthusiasts will soon bathe in the ‘crazy good’ images of a new era of television.  Sadly, others will miss the picture as they drown in a deluge of misleading on-line and retail ignorance.  This seven part blog aims to avoid the latter.  Part 1 sets the table. Succeeding parts 2 thru 7 will translate buzzwords, report on a possible format war, inspect the HDMI interconnect, offer HDMI tips, lists available sources, and identify compatibility issues.

Part 1  Set the table
A Tangential Relevant Observation
It was once common for a manufacturer to engage independent retailers to roll out new technology.  Independents were typically more prepared to evaluate, demonstrate, and install new product.  In exchange they were rewarded with a profitable window of exclusive distribution.  The arrangement was sustained until a market beach-head was secured.  Distribution was then expanded through larger retailers.

That’s how many manufacturers tested market waters.  Those days have long passed.  They now seek cheaper faster launches.  Proficient retailers have been swapped for lower wage ‘big box’ staffs crammed with carefully scripted instant product knowledge to introduce their wares.  This is the backdrop for the inaugural screening of High Dynamic Range Ultra-HDTV.

Honest Breakthrough
Every once in a few decades an authentic breakthrough arrives on our screen.  The roll out of High Dynamic Range Ultra-HDTV is one those events.  Tom Burns at TVTechnology commented;  “……. While most people expected (UltraHDTV’s) resolution … 4,096 pixels/line x 2,160 lines … to have the biggest impact, it’s high dynamic range (HDR), higher frame rate, and wide color gamut (WCG) that come along with (HDR Ultra-HDTV) that are the technological and creative differences that the consumer can immediately see and gives consumers the visual proof they need to rush out and buy a new TV.”

This is what Joel Silver & Terry Paullin of the Imaging Science Foundation had to say;  “Implemented properly, HDR holds the potential to be the most meaningful improvement to our collective enjoyment of images on screen from disc, broadcast and even commercial theater since color TV was introduced in 1956.”

Again, Tom Burns regarding HDR;  “…… It’s like the Trojan horse that slips into our living room and completely changes the nature of television as we know it.”

There’s a fly in my HDR soup
The ‘big box’ is Ultra-HDTV’s most significant marketing conduit.   Their flawed demonstrations unwittingly sabotage HDR.  It is a condition that ‘dumbs down’ the value of HDR to the level of the disappearing curved screen and 3DTV.   It is a state of mind that misleads too many at the ‘big box’ to pitch HDR as simply a brighter TV.

If that ‘brighter’ TV is sold; incompetent installations unintentionally vandalize “the collective enjoyment of the images”.   Misinformed customers discover that their Internet provider cannot support Ultra-HD HDR streaming.  They may also discover that the HDMI jack of their home theater receiver is incompatible with the new Ultra-HD HDR standards.  Then their friends observe this predicament and decide to shy away from Ultra-HD altogether.

In additon, do you remember Beta vs VHS,  or SACD vs DVD Audio,  or HD-DVD vs Blu-ray?   Similarly Ultra-HD is dealing with competing HDR formats.  Although manufacturers may support one or more; the losing formats could possibly leave us with an obsolete hunk of metal and plastic.  Be wary of this pesky fly.  It could evolve into an ‘elephant in the room’.

Grab the rebound
It’s a dark day when someone who coveted a high performance video experience exits a ‘big box’ dismayed and empty handed.  On the bright side manufacturers big promotional spending is drawing customers from their homes to the streets.   And that creates an opportunity for AV professionals to take a ‘free ride’ on their big spending and grab unfulfilled customers on the rebound.

It’s not easy.  It requires a disciplined innovative promotional strategy.  But when you do — be prepared to greet customers with a clear understanding of the relevant technologies, the installation requirements, and compatibility issues.  Then set a stage to demonstrate your expertise.  Part 2 ‘Buzzword Noise Reduction’ will lead the way.

Next / Part 2 

Cloak The Tech

March 7th, 2016

I have been immersed in a new project and as a result absent from this page for sometime.  Yet this site continues to draw visitors. In addition, website stats reveal that acoustics is a popular subject on this site. This is encouraging. A grasp of subjects such as acoustics separates the AV Pro from the wannabe.

Gaining an understanding of AV technologies can also become an obstacle. Consider an
AV rookie who is too anxious to share new found discoveries. Intoxicated by new insights, their sales presentations can descend into buzzword laden monologues that compel customers to walk away. If this continues this novice soon fades into the sales salvage yard of the clueless.

Don’t be that guy. Circumvent this sad scenario by cloaking technological knowledge within targeted qualifying questions. Kick-start a sales presentation with a simple question such as; Can you please describe the layout of your room?

The answer provides a wealth of information: room dimensions, entrances, windows, attic above, crawl space below, hardwood/tile flooring, electronics head-end, etc. The answer also opens the window to further inquiry about a customer’s favorite music or movies, the size of music or film library, spousal objections, and more.

Enlist this cache of information to display your expertise in a relevant but covert-like manner. For example: Analyze and expose potential distorting mid bass problems with a floor plan sketch, a quick calculation of the primary room modes, and a translation of what this means. (Link to calculation @ Ed’s AV Handbook). If the room features hardwood flooring and large glass windows; point out the high probability of a harsh mid range sound due to acoustical first reflections.

Shift your expert display from analyzing to recommending solutions. Create a pair of sketches that illustrate how to minimize compromising distorting issues and still deliver an exciting home theater and/or stereo musical experience.

The first sketch: Describe the PERFECT surround sound or stereo layout with speaker and listening positions that avoid room mode peaks and nulls. (Link to layout at Ed’s AV Handbook). Clearly state that this is a perfect situation; We don’t live in a perfect world. The sketch is a guide.

The second: Sketch practical layout options. Recommend a corresponding speaker system for each layout. Provide a ‘ball park’ price for each option that includes the speaker system, anticipated electronics, cabling, and installation.

Finally, ask your customer which option works best for them. If you work in a retail environment; setup and demonstrate the system. Then simply ask if they are ready for on-site visit to confirm the installation details. If yes, this sale is primed to close.  This scenario will separate you from the wannabe.

Ultra-HD Risky Crossroad

July 15th, 2015

The transition from HDTV to Ultra-HD TV is at a risky unsettled crossroad. Should your customers cross now or later?  And when they act; Which direction should they take?  The answer is fraught with evolving specifications that could jeopardize their expectations and investment.  Yet the answer can also lead to an awe-inspiring home theater experience well beyond HDTV.  Before we address the question, let’s take an inventory of the unsettling evolving issues.

An element of the anxiety originates in the terms that have been used to describe video resolution beyond HDTV. This includes Ultra-HD, Super Hi-Vision, 4K, and 8K. For a time, the term Ultra-HD encompassed 4K, 8K, and twice HD resolution.  This issue has been resolved by the Consumer Electronic Association.

The CEA has officially defined Ultra-HD as video with a resolution of 3840 pixels per line x 2160 lines with a 16:9 aspect ratio.  In addition, an Ultra-HD television must have a least one digital input capable of managing 3840 x 2160 pixels.  This also involves a new HDMI specification.  More on that later.

The CEA seemingly resolved the confusion regarding resolution.  Yet some still refer to  Ultra-HD as 4K because 3840 pixels is almost 4000 pixels.  But Ultra-HD is not 4K.   4K is the Digital Cinema Initiative specification for digital movie theater cinema. The DCI defines 4K as:
– A picture with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio or Scope presentation with 4096×1716 pixels.
– A picture with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio presentation with 3996×2160 pixels.
The DCI standards are only relevant to our Ultra-HD TV conversation in regards to color.  More on that later.

Note: Do not confront customers with the misuse of the terms Ultra-HD and 4K. AV Pros should simply continue to correctly refer to TVs with 3840 x 2160 resolution as Ultra-HD or UHD. Customers will eventually catch on.

Three Conditions
The CEA definition is a welcomed clarification. But fulfilling the ultimate promise of Ultra-HD TV is dependent on three conditions.
1. Support for the essentials: HDMI 2.0a, HDCP 2.2, HEVC
2. An upgrade path: HDR, the C.I.E. REC 2020 Spec
3. Prep for Virtual Reality.

The Essentials
HDMI 2.0a
It is generally known among AV Pros that HDMI 2.0 is required to pass an Ultra-HD source at 60 frames per second to the TV screen.  HDMI 1.4 will not ‘make the cut’.  This includes video switching via an AV receiver or AV preamp/processor.  However a new version, HDMI 2.0a, is on the scene.      The ‘a’ in 2.0a designates support for HDR formats. (HDR will be discussed later.)  The essential point: Although HDMI 2.0 meets the minimum essential requirement; HDMI 2.0a will be the prerequisite for maximizing performance in the near HDR future.

HDCP 2.2
The next essential is HDCP 2.2 (high-bandwidth digital content protection).  This is an issue for early Ultra-HD adopters.  Many initial Ultra-HD TVs did not include support for HDCP 2.2.  This holds true for AV receivers.  HDCP 2.2 encrypted Ultra-HD video will not pass to the TV screen without HDCP 2.2.

The final essential is HEVC (high efficiency video coding).  As HDTV’s MPEG4, HEVC squeezes Ultra-HD video within the limited bandwidth of our video media.  It’s a decode prerequisite for source components such as the Ultra-HD Blu-ray player, media servers, streaming boxes, plus broadcast off-air, satellite, and cable TV.

Compression Notes:
1. HEVC has potential competitors: Google’s VP9, Mozilla/XiPh Daala, and Cisco’s Thor.  However it appears they may be limited, if used, to Internet streaming and personal computers.
2. HEVC has also proposed to replace the current MPEG4 audio partners of ACC and Dolby AC3 with MPEG-H and Dolby AC4.  The decoding will take place in the AV receiver, AV pre/pro, or source component.

Upgrade Path
Customers are justifiably concerned about product obsolescence.  Postpone their appointment with the recycle bin with a TV that supports High-dynamic-range (HDR) formats, and the C.I.E. REC 2020 specification.  This duo will dodge the bin while delivering more visible improvement than the increased resolution from HDTV to Ultra-HD TV.

HDR Formats
HDR (High Dynamic Range) is a moniker for several encode/decode digital formats that expand the range of luminance (the brightest light to the darkest black) well beyond HDTV or an Ultra-HD TV without HDR support. This isn’t about increasing the number of pixels.  HDR makes every pixel better via a broader palate of color, more shadow detail, and stunning contrast.  It produces a more life-like picture.

An HDR enabled TV is needed to reproduce a decoded HDR formatted video source.  The actual decoding takes place in the source component (Blu-Ray player, media server, cable box).  An HDR enabled TV is simply a TV capable of reproducing the dynamic range of the decoded HDR source.

There are several competing HDR formats: Dolby Vision, BBC, Philips, Technicolor, and VIDITY formerly called the Secure Content Storage Association.  The Blu-ray Disc Association has already announced support for Dolby Vision and the Philips formats. No format has yet been adopted for broadcast. Dolby has acknowledged that live broadcasting in Dolby Vision is currently not possible, though the company is working on it.  But Technicolor has successfully completed a HDR broadcast test.  Keep tuned for more news.

C.I.E. REC 2020 Specification
In 1931 the C.I.E. (an international commission on illumination) quantified a standard for the color range of human vision.  It is referred to as the C.I.E. ‘color space’.  As a reference; The HDTV C.I.E. REC 709 spec can reproduce 35.9% of the color space.  The DCI (digital cinema initiative) P3 reference covers 53.6%.  The new C.I.E. REC 2020 specification, (a pillar of HDR formats), increases color space coverage to 75.8%.

In addition to expanded color space, REC 2020 adds the frame rate option of 120 frames per second. To date (Oct 2015), we are still waiting for Ultra-HD TVs with HDMI 2.0a support that can handle up to 60fps let alone 120fps.  Vizio announced a TV that will offer HDMI 2.0a and it ‘may’ support 120 fps; it might even arrive on the sales floor by the end of 2015.

The fundamental upgrade point: HDR formats provide for the implementation of the C.I.E. REC 2020 Specification.  And the C.I.E.120 fps option opens a gate to the ultimate UltraHD future of Virtual Reality.

Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality (VR) is the portal to the AV frontier. Consumer head-set prototypes are currently focused on the high-end gamer. But the technology has the potential to expand into the arena of large screen TVs.   In there lies an upgrade path to an ultimate Ultra-HD TV home theater experience.

Virtual Reality is more than pixel counts, color space, and frames rates. VR developers have engaged an understanding of how our brain works.  They are employing a slice of science that sort of hacks the human brain. Consider this Virtual Reality scene.  You’re standing at the edge of a VR cliff. You attempt a virtual jump.  But you can’t.  You can’t because VR has targeted and stimulated your brain with specific flashed patterns of light that initiate your involuntary response to survive.  You can’t step forward even though you know it’s not real.  It’s simply amazing.

To date, the best of Virtual Reality uses an AM-OLED 90 fps display headset feed by a fast powerful computer.  So, how does a headset based product apply to a large screen TV?  Well, the headset doesn’t. But an off-shoot of VR technology does.  It’s called Augmented Reality.

Augmented Reality (AR) is a limited field of view version of VR aimed at gamers and commercial applications.  Some prototypes have moved this version of VR from the headset to the small video screen of a smart phone or tablet.  Although it is not as encompassing as VR, AR still creates an immersive experience. If Augmented Reality is successful; it is then reasonable to predict a future where AR exploits a 100 inch UltraHD REC 2020 full color space 120fps OLED TV. And that my friend puts the ultimate Ultra in Ultra-HD TV.

Ed, will you please answer the question?
OK …the risky evolving Ultra-HD issues have been identified.  Let’s address the question. Should your customers cross now or later?  When they do, which direction should they take?  The answer rests in the three conditions.  Each supports a different path of risk and performance.  Select a path that aligns best with your customer’s product-cycle-lifestyle: ‘early adopter’, ‘patient enthusiast’, or ‘family budget AV buff’.

If your customer is an early adopter; select a TV that supports HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2, and the D.C.I. P3 color space specification.  That’s as good as it gets so far. Early adopters understand (at least they should) that their TV is headed for an early appointment with the recycle bin.  That’s OK.  By definition early adopters are eager to move on and buy the next better product.

If your customer is the patient enthusiast, ‘pull the trigger’ when support for HDR and the C.I.E. REC 2020 color spec arrives.  Confirm the essential of HDMI 2.0a.  If they can wait for a TV that supports 120 fps; then the door to Augmented Reality is open.  All of this should become available in 2016.

If your customer is the value oriented on a family budget AV buff; do not let them buy an Ultra-HD TV.  Save money, install a HDTV.  If they have a plasma TV, tell them to keep it.

AV Note: Home theater projectors are poised to benefit the most from Ultra-HD, HDR, and C.I.E. REC 2020.  Consider almost invisible pixels on a 100 inch or more all encompassing wide screen with the expanded color and stunning contrast.  Wow….!   Use the ‘three conditions’ and your customer’s ‘product-cycle-lifestyle’ to choose that projector.

The chicken & the egg
I have avoided the Ultra-HD elephant in the room –- the availability of Ultra-HD sources.  What can you watch?  Well not much Ultra-HD, yet.  Before we address the options, let’s add perspective to this Ultra-pachyderm.

Someone has to be the first to ‘crack the egg’ or ‘fry the chicken’.   I can clearly recall setting up the first 50 inch Pioneer rear projection 3-gun CRT HDTV.  What did we watch?  We gawked at a 15 minute HD program loop sourced from an exclusive Ku band (small dish) satellite broadcast.  We also added a set-top-box-line-doubler-scaler (@1/3 of the TV’s price) to produce an acceptable DVD picture.  NTSC to HD processing in the early generation HD sets was awful.  But compare that situation to 6000 very expensive black & white TVs in U.S. homes in 1946 with almost nothing to watch.  Or color TV programming in 1965 that was limited to prime time evening broadcasts; the only source of video.

UltraHD TV is in a much better state.  Over-the-air broadcast do not exist yet.  But pay per view Ultra-HD is available via DirectTV’s Genie.  The Genie uses a proprietary wireless ‘connection’ with a limited number of TV models from Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba.  A just announced DirectTV Genie Mini will work with any UltraHD TV that supports HDMI 2.0 @ 60fps and HDCP 2.2.   Comcast has launched an UltraHD app for Samsung TVs that offers NBC and the USA Network.  Comcast will soon offer a set top box that will be compatible with more brands of TVs.  Streaming via Netfilix and Amazon is available if your Internet connection can support it.  Sony and others offer media servers (hard drives with operating software) supported by Internet download services.  UltraHD Blu-ray should be on retail shelves in 2016.  And there is a huge library of 4K and 8K movies being prepped for all of the above.  Plus, don’t discount an improved High Definition picture on an Ultra-HD TV with expanded color space and good video scaling and processing.

The Quest
The objective is to improve the home theater experience.  Even if your customer does not buy an Ultra-HD TV; use their Ultra-HD interest as an opportunity to assess their room lighting, acoustics, video sources, and audio system.  Appropriate lighting will produce a better picture on any TV.  Better video sources (lower noise) will enhance the picture further. Assess the interconnects.  The HD cable box may still be using the composite video path. (This still exist.) Bigger better speakers, a more powerful amplifier, plus an address of acoustical problems will complement their enhanced video with an injection of sonic induced goose-bumps.

Minimize risk and maximize performance as you lead your customer across the risky crossroad of Ultra-HD TV.  Join my quest to ‘save the world from poor fidelity’.

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$20 AV Pro Hero

June 22nd, 2015

It’s now clear.  The previously reported best case scenario of 2.5 to 3% economic growth for 2015 is fading as a classic cowboy western movie sunset.  First half 2015 numbers are not good.  I’ll skip the sorry data.  The result is customers still have less to spend on wants.  Yet, they still want better audio and video.  It’s time to saddle up, put on your white cowboy hero hat, seek solutions they can still afford, and save the world from poor fidelity.

For example; Consider this $20 band-aid alternative to the ‘big-box’ sound bar.  Decent sounding ‘bars’ approach $1000.  Lower priced models sound horrible.  However, if a classic analog audio system is sitting next to your customer’s HDTV; install this crazy-cheap $8.60 digital-to-analog converter into the TV’s digital output.  Then hook it up to the analog input of the old stereo or home theater receiver.  Put a $20 price tag on the device. The result is an experience that is more fun than a sound bar or typical theater-in-a-box.  Simply select this link to purchase the Portta PETDTAP Digital Coax and Optical Toslink to Analog Audio Converter  (Note: Buy 2 to back up a possible DOA incident)

Now, while you’re still standing in your customer’s home, pick up their remotes.  Confirm all is working.  Check the cabling.  Consider the number of HD cable boxes you have found connected via the composite video path.  They’re still out there.  Check the menu settings of each component.  If it’s a surround sound system, pull out your SPL meter and set the speaker levels.  And above all, initiate a conversation about potential future upgrades.  You are now their AV Pro Hero for $20 and a house call.  They may even hand you a decent bottle of wine.

I can already hear the dissenting groans; “Yeah Ed, but how do make money on a $20 sale?”.  The answer is; You don’t.  Book the visit as a promotional expense.  You make money on the sales that follow.  This is how an AV Pro beats the ‘big-box’ and on-line types.  All you need to add is your very own white cowboy hat.

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Ed’s Class D Economic Forecast

January 6th, 2015

The Great Recession’ (generated by the 2007/2008 financial collapse) officially ended in the summer of 2009. That was good. Since then, ‘the media’ has continued to report that ‘The Recovery’ (from the collapse) is also materializing. That’s good too. So why are you still holding on for your business life? You are because ‘The Recovery’ never did arrive. A better yet still optimistic reading is the economy has not gotten any worse.

I define our recovery as a return to our sales levels prior to October 2005. That was the month the Good Guys closed 71 stores. In addition, July of 2005 was the peak of home sales in the United States. Family home sales were a primary source of our audio and video sales.

Here are the facts. Third quarter 2014 GDP was up 5%. Second quarter GDP was adjusted to +3.9%. That sounds great. But much of the improvement came from Federal spending and rising health care expenditures (Obama Care). Overall, 2014 GDP will end up at about +2.0% to +2.5%. 2015 GDP predictions, per the Wall Street Journal, are between +2.5% and +3%. That’s OK. But this trend will not approach my definition of a real recovery any time soon.

In addition, 2014 existing home sales fell 11.54% nationally. Home prices did rise 4.6%. And that’s good for those who sold them. But with a stagnant wage growth of 2.1%, who will buy them from this point forward. Median income is below 1995 levels. Labor participation is at a 36 year low. U-6 unemployment (includes those who are ‘marginally attached’ to the labor force, plus part timers who seek full-employment) is at 11.4%.

Then there’s this. Commodity prices (oil, coal, iron, steel, copper, food stuffs) are declining. Initially that sounds great as you fill your gas tank. But falling world wide commodity prices are typically associated with slowing economic growth. Can you say recession? That is why the predicted 2015 GDP of +2.5% to +3% must been seen as a best case scenario.

Based on the facts, middle class families will not buy homes in a number that will lead to our recovery. They simply don’t have the funds. If families can’t buy homes they won’t fill them with appliances, furniture, and other goods that include our audio and video systems. We can safely conclude that our economic recovery will be postponed yet again in 2015. Frankly it may get worse before it gets better.

Much as a typical Class D amplifier, the economy will continue to deliver a hard harsh result. As the weather, you cannot control or hide from it. You can only prepare for it. So grab your economic umbrella. And plan for a ‘Class D’ economy in 2015.

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Adventures in AV-land Part 2: Wipe out the noise

July 8th, 2014

My previous blog navigated an old car audio experience into illustrating why car audio is not car stereo as it ultimately morphed into another Ed’s AV Handbook ‘Saving the world from poor fidelity’ sermon. It concluded with a request. I asked AV professionals to expand their understanding of the word aesthetic to include sound.

Too many AV professionals incorrectly assume that customers will cede audio performance to visual aesthetics. That is; they presume that customers do not want see speakers on their floor. Although this can be true, many of those customers do want what speakers can offer; A high fidelity stereophonic (or surround sound) toe-tapping wow-inducing goose-bump life-enhancing journey in their home.

However, our industry is plagued by four conditions that prevent this outcome. First, most customers are unaware of what stereo (or surround sound) is. I do not have statistical proof. But I do have four decades of experience giving stereo demonstrations; Most simply don’t know.

Second, too many in our AV businesses do not actually know either. It’s true. Take a quick survey of folks who should know. Ask them to describe how they would explain stereo audio to a customer. I have. The misuse and misunderstanding of the word by folks in our business has driven me crazy for decades. How can you sell what you don’t know? OK, politicians and bureaucrats get away with it. But I want you to be better.

Third, too many have abandoned the artistic inspirational power of an audio system. In that regard I have enlisted the words of Peter Gabriel to express the genesis of what too many have simply forgotten. In his song ‘Signal-to-noise’, Mr G. sings ….
“…. send out the signals deep and loud….
….. (and) while the world is turning to noise. … turn up the signal ….
…. (and) wipe out the noise….”
That is our job. Our calling is to assist Mr. G and other artist to ‘wipe out the noise’.

Fourth and last: We are leaving our competitive edge on the warehouse floor. Our industry no longer demonstrates what we offer. Big boxes don’t. Obviously on-line retailers can’t. Most custom AV installers can’t either. The only AV folks left are the brick-and-mortars that have managed to keep their doors open. But too many are exhausted from treading water in the reported economic “recovery” (< a political misnomer) and fading from the AV scene.

If we are to survive as we “Save the world from poor fidelity” in exchange for a few dollars; We must change course and reboot our passion for audio and video. We must revive our professional quest for AV knowledge. We must demonstrate that we can assist in the crusade to “wipe out the noise”. If we do, customers will make room for speakers. That concludes this week’s AV sermon.

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Adventures in AV-land Part 1

June 13th, 2014

In an early adventure as a sales rep in the eighth decade of the last century, I carried a briefcase of product lines that included car audio. It was customary to refer to ‘car audio’ as ‘car stereo’. I resisted that convention. I still do. Legitimate stereophonic audio is an unobtainable goal in a car. This viewpoint (more accurately audible-point) launched several summery warm but civil debates with the car stereo experts.

Stereophonic audio creates an illusion of musicians precisely placed on a stage in an enveloping acoustical environment. Car audio cannot achieve this outcome. For the sake of peace and closing a sale, I did eventually concede to the notion of a faux stereo-like objective for car audio. With varying degrees of limited success, many did deliver on this stereo-like car audio experience.

My most memorable car stereo-like experience of that period was delivered by a dealer in Fresno California. Although time has erased his name; my memory of his car audio system is still quite clear. His system included customary in-the-door left/right speakers with a very cool sub-woofer system in the rear. He also installed a plethora of hidden 2 inch speakers throughout the front of the vehicle. Each was cleverly concealed in the headliner, in and along the top of the dashboard, and in the door columns. In addition, each speaker was paired with a dedicated potentiometer. This allowed our California 12-volt audio dreamer to painstakingly ‘tweak’ the volume level of each speaker.

Tweaking in the world of audio refers to a symbolic screwdriver in the hands of a constantly experimenting audio enthusiast. In this particular case each screwdriver ‘tweak’ of a potentiometer affected the previously adjusted speaker. This process therefore required the ‘re-tweaking’ of each speaker again and again. This continued until our dealer was satisfied with the result. His ‘tweaking’ in and of itself had devoured two weeks of work that sometimes extended late into the night. He told me he would never attempt it again.

His installation alone was worthy of praise. But then I sat in the driver’s seat as he unveiled a surprising demonstration that received my standing ovation. He played several musical selections and concluded with the recording of a waterfall. The fidelity of the sound was impressive: deep tight bass, clean not harsh vocals. A stereo-like front acoustical stage with each selection was clearly achieved. Remarkably and unexpectedly the image of the waterfall extended from the ceiling to the floor. The effect was amazing. He had created a more than plausible stereo-like experience.

His demonstration was stereo-like. But I could not call it stereophonic. Its stereo imaging still could not challenge a classic mid-fi home stereo system of the day: a properly placed listener and pair of EPI bookshelf speakers, Thorens turntable, Grado cartridge, any Sheffield LP, and a Kenwood receiver.

This is not a ‘knock’ on the Fresno dealer. A better outcome was simply prevented by the unwavering physics of speaker and listener placement. He agreed. That is why we referred to what we offered as ‘car audio’ not ‘car stereo’.

Car audio cannot accurately create high fidelity stereophonic or surround sound audio. Desktop computer speakers can’t either. Home theaters in a box can’t. Dr. Dreadfuls can’t. Even if you include a sound bar; LCD TV’s of any size or resolution can’t. But an AV professional can in almost any home.

Here’s the good news. Most living rooms can accommodate good speaker and listener placement that can faithfully recreate the high fidelity stereophonic illusion. Many can even conform to a multi-channel audio blueprint. Although there are customers who may not want to see a speaker in their room, they do want what those speakers can provide: a musical toe-tapping breathtaking ‘wow’ life enhancing experience.

Here’s the bad news. Too many AV ‘experts’ acquiesce to the presumption of “no ugly speakers here” before they even begin to qualify their customers. This lackadaisical approach omits floor standing and stand mounted bookshelf speakers. They are not even considered. They default to an installation of ‘custom’ in-wall 6½ inch coax speakers mounted in sheet-rock. In-wall speakers may have a legitimate place in AV.  But they are essentially car audio for the home.  Why would anyone choose to work with this type of AV ‘expert’?

I close with the following statement. Aesthetics is more than visual perception. AV professionals must expand or confirm their understanding of the word aesthetic to include sound. I will amplify this thought in my next blog: Adventures in AV-land Part 2.

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A Message for Glendon

April 8th, 2014

Change can lead to opportunity. Change can be scary. Folks come, folks go. Yes indeed, and another AV company has left the scene. This company’s history dates back to 1980. The company was Novidor & Firestone. Many had the good fortune to do business with Novidor & Firestone. Many of us had the better fortune to have know them; in particular Glendon O’Brien.

I will miss Novidor & Firestone and their Electronic Stockroom. Luckily we won’t have to miss Glen. Glen has started a new company with his partner John Bolin. Their new company is Media Delivery Strategies. And I know they will deliver.

That’s how this world works. We survive the rough patches, only to find a new path. The good news: We can still count on Glen’s professionalism, honesty, good humor, and his better karma.

Glendon, I will see you on the AV trail.
Your friend, Ed Avalos
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A New and Improved Plan

January 7th, 2014

2013 was a good year for my website and blog.  Visits to Ed’s AV Handbook  increased 93% increase.  This success was due to your clicks and referrals. Your clicks on my advertiser’s messages paid for the site.  Your referrals built an audience for Ed’s AV Handbook.  That’s how this works.  Thank you.

2014 will offer new opportunity.   But it will still include a stagnant economy with new impeding taxes, fees, and regulations.  Opportunity lays in the shadows and cracks of what’s left.  This will force more of us to become even more creative.  But opportunity still exists.

What’s left may change strategic thinking.  Tactically you can still sell to less and less folks. You just have to sell them more or higher margin stuff while lowering your cost.  But this has a strategic limit.  At some point it takes more than a new game plan to survive.  It takes a new game.  You may be experiencing the same thought pattern.

In my case, I have joined a friend in a new venture. We aim to carve out a new niche in an old market.  This project still involves electronics and our sales skills.  But it avoids our long association with audio and video.

Our prototype has received a great response.  Prospects want to buy it at our proposed price.  A head count of potential customers has convinced us that this opportunity is a ‘no brain-er’.  We may even need help to cover the market.

What does this new project mean for Ed’s AV Handbook?  I have invested four decades into the audio and video world.  It’s just too much fun to walk away from.  Therefore my website will continue.   However, I may seek others to contribute their views to the blog or add new content to the website.  Please contact me if you’re interested in ‘Saving the World from Poor Fidelity”.  Sink or swim, that’s my game plan for 2014.

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I Am A Salesman

November 21st, 2013

I am a salesman. I am not a sales associate. I am not an agent, broker, consultant, product ambassador, customer advocate or any other possible pseudonym, alias, stage name, handle, or nom de plume that a human resource department can create. I might accept the term peddler.  It projects an old world image that can induce a bit of humility which may keep my hat size in line. I will also accept salesperson if you suffer from gender-neutral-title-phobia.

As a salesman, I am offended by those who have stained the reputation of good salesmen and saleswomen. I am speaking of the fraudulent deceiving looting pirates that prowl our landscape. They suffer from a lazy mind. They swindle, hustle, and steal to avoid the work of professional preparation and performance. They create confusion and chaos to obscure their ignorance and/or devious intentions. They lie and cheat to win.

Professional sales folks offer an honest hand shake. Much as a ‘shrink’ or old world journalist, they ask and probe with targeted relevant questions. They sincerely listen and observe non-verbal responses. Then they delve into their reservoir of qualified knowledge to forge a solution for their customer. Unlike a lying politician; if a real salesperson says, “If you like your ( …fill in the blank… ) you can keep it, PERIOD. Then you can. This is a profound distinction.  Good salespeople can be trusted.

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Not Invented There

September 25th, 2013

The phrase “not invented here” was recently invoked by a friend.  He used the expression to criticize the reluctance of many Americans to accept a Western European solution to an American problem.  In this case he cited health care.  Is this reluctance rational?  Yes it is.

I embrace this reluctance.  It’s a grip on the strain of American DNA that distrusts authority.  Yet this wariness alone does not to justify an aversion to European fixes.  But a mountain of historical evidence does.  And it is not limited to Western Europe.

Since the first camp fire mankind has dealt with cruel or benevolent dictators.  Citizens under this rule bow to a power elite.  If viewed from a rear perspective, their reality becomes more clear.  Their access to food, clothing, shelter, energy, health care, is kept under the allocating dictates of the elite.  They are faced with the following option, bow or die.  That was the prevailing plight of mankind until our Founding Fathers refused to bend over.

Our Founder’s Declaration of Independence, and their sequel the Constitution, flipped eons of history on its head.  They declared that Americans do not bow to government.  The government is expected to bow and owe its allegiance to each citizen.  This is an American invention that has delivered more light in a dark world than Edison.  It created a home for free people to flourish.  It is an exception to a history of bowing.  It is American Exceptionalism.

In a recent New Times editorial, Vladimir Putin wrote, “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”  Dangerous to who?  Well for one, a KGB thug as Putin should shiver in the winds of American Exceptionalism.

Putin words were a response to our President’s (Obama) speech on the current horrors in Syria.  Sadly, even our President got it wrong.  He said, “……when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, …… I believe we should act.  That’s what makes America different.  That’s what makes us exceptional.”  He didn’t act.  But more to the point, that is not what makes America an exception. The British, French, Australians, Canadians, and free people everywhere have acted to save lives around the globe.

Does our President misunderstand American Exceptionalism?  Did he simply misspeak?  Or does he agree with Putin?  I’m not quite sure.  But many benevolent well intentioned educated American men and women from sea to shinning sea have misunderstood.  Some even agree with Putin, and discourage Americans from viewing the United States of America as exceptional.  That is why we should fear ‘old world’ solutions to our problems.  If adopted many of these same folks, benevolent or not, will become the allocators of whatever resource is put under their rule.  This, unwittingly or not, reopens our doors to the ‘old world’ of bowing.

American Exceptionalism does not grant immunity from big problems.  We have imperfections.  But why would any American be willing to cede their freedom to the whims of government bureaucrats to remove them.  We should always ask, “Is there any other possible solution?”  Walk into any American town.  Our people will offer many good feasible alternatives to any ‘old world’ solution.

American Exceptionalism is the alternative to ‘old world’ indentured servitude, serfdom, and slavery. All of which were invented there.  American Exceptionalism was invented here.  It was not invented there.  That is why Americans should always be reluctant to accept solutions from the ‘old world’.

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