Navigating InfoComm for the Tech and Learning Needed for Light Commercial Projects


By Lindsey M. Adler June 5,2014


The month of June provides that bridge between spring and summer when the physical environment around us goes from changing to changed in the blink of an eye. June also happens to be the month many of us in the AV industry look to make the annual pilgrimage to the InfoComm show, one of the largest displays of high tech audio and video equipment in the world.

 
The first point to understand about InfoComm if you’ve never been is that it is a pretty giant show in terms of square footage–more than 500,000 net square feet of show floor exhibits and special events space where over 950 companies show of their latest wares.
Most residential integrators get their AV tradeshow fix in the fall at CEDIA; however, as more and more consumer AV dealers look to make a jump into more light commercial jobs, InfoComm (June 18-20, Las Vegas) offers many compelling means to expand that knowledge base into the pro arena on projects like restaurants, bars, nightclubs, hotels, small offices, and corporate boardrooms.

“InfoComm is the perfect opportunity to explore available resources, from a variety of display products–particularly large screen monitors–to security products, and all the interfaces necessary to create a solution for commercial applications,” said John Havens, national marketing manager at JVC Professional Products.

“As a resi dealer, if you do want to get your feet wet [in commercial], you have to do more than just go to a couple of vendor shows. You won’t truly understand what is required,” said Matt D. Scott, president Omega Audio Video and a regular at both CEDIA and InfoComm shows. “On one hand it is a simple jump, but on the other, if you’ve never touched pro, you won’t know what you’re doing.”

When at InfoComm, it’s important to prepare yourself with specific strategies for tackling all there is to see and do, take a closer look at some of the important technology differences there are from the residential space, and delve into the plethora of world-class training courses.

Where to Start and What’s the Big Difference?

The first point to understand about InfoComm if you’ve never been is that it is a pretty giant show in terms of square footage–more than 500,000 net square feet of show floor exhibits and special events space where over 950 companies show off their latest wares. It’s pretty easy to get lost or stuck in a giant booth with some glamorous equipment that you probably won’t be selling.

“Have an objective before you get to the show; then prioritize what it is you want to go see,” advised Robert Grubb, North American Manager for Bose Professional Systems Division. “And try to stick to a schedule–that’s the hardest part–because you can get down a lot of wormholes, and then the next thing you know, it’s two days later, and you still haven’t got out of the A Hall.”

Be sure to make use of the tools the association provides for attendees, including the mobile app and other resources on the show’s website, www.infocommshow.org.

Aside from preparing how to tackle the show floor, it’s important to consider what some of the specific technology differences are between your average home install and a commercial project.

“In regards to product lines, it’s all about the environment. The basic feature sets of both commercial and residential product lines are generally very similar, but the difference lies in the finer details,” said Shannon Townley, president, SurgeX. “For instance, from a feature set, most UPSs are very similar…they provide a short amount of battery backup when street power is lost. However, there are smaller technical differences between a line interactive UPS and an online double conversion UPS.”

There are many subtle nuances in audio equipment to look for. Understanding 70V speaker systems for distributed audio was one of the top tips several manufacturers recommended. Software applications that can help layout and plan distributed speaker systems are tools to be familiar with, according to Abbey Masciarotte, regional marketing manager in North America for TC Group, which encompasses Tannoy and Lab. gruppen, among various other audio brands.

“Many resi products are not up to the task of continuous usage, higher output levels, and the demands of paging systems,” Masciarotte noted. “Commercial product lines are typically designed for these applications and will provide not only better performance, but also greater reliability.”

Craig Lambrecht, business segment manager of the amplifier business unit at Harman’s Crown Audio International, said, “There is a much greater need in this market to develop a comfort level with both wired and wireless microphone technologies.” He added that another point he thinks is important is on the expected volume and sound quality, which are expected to be greater in commercial installs.

There are more general differences Lambrecht advised to be aware of with audio, including the potential for 24/7 usage in most cases. “It is also exposed to more extreme environments and handling compared to a resi install,” he said. “For both these reasons, it is critical to place commercial gear in many of these environments to avoid return maintenance and reduce customer issues, which in turn means more profit and higher customer satisfaction.”

Other differences to keep in mind when looking at audio equipment for commercial projects include amplifiers with more channels and those specific to duplicating voice or broad sound, which are all tips from Dave Silberstein, Crestron’s director of commercial marketing. Installing live microphones and avoiding feedback from speaker locations, as well as acoustic echo cancellation, sound absorption and reflection in videoconferencing applications are other potential pitfalls to avoid.

Speakers happen to be a great entry point on commercial installs, according to Curt Hayes, president and CFO of AV distributor Capitol. “Look for products that meet the plenum code for drop-tile ceilings and the amps that run them,” he advised. “Also, products that help create ‘smart’ training and meeting rooms will position the integrator as the expert, no matter where the bulk of his experience is based.”

Technological differentiations in the two markets include methods of control, Hayes said, “from IR input selection to manual knob adjustments or sophisticated control systems.”

Adding to the control system variations discussion, Joe Lautner, director of control at CORE Brands, stressed the importance of understanding the application for commercial projects. “The use cases for controlling AV for sports bars, multimedia and environmental controls for a board room, a monitoring and energy control solution for a convenience store, or a music system for a dentist’s office–the use cases are different, the technologies are similar, so understanding what the goals are for the end-user, the variety of end-users, [and the] goal of the business for their customers is key; then work with the vendors to help you design the solution,” he said.

For most commercial projects, simplicity, reliability, and ease-of-use are the critical issues because there are often many users, according to Orrin Charm, product manager at Gefen, noting how individual user training is not often an option. The GefenPRO line is one example of a commercial product line with more advanced features and better support. Some of these features include dual, redundant power supplies, around-the-clock customer support, and bigger matrix sizes.

“Commercial products often meet more rigorous performance and safety specifications that may be required in commercial environments,” Charm said.

The integration of telepresence systems into corporate networks is an important consideration on corporate projects, as mentioned by Michael Fencil, commercial sales director for Leon Speakers. The network is not something the integrator can expect to build on their own; they will be pre-existing and coordinating with IT staff is a well-documented challenge in the commercial AV world.

There’s less weight given to surround sound in a corporate application, Fencil noted, as often a center channel might not be necessary. In this scenario, often left right speaker arrangements or just a center channel fit the bill.

Project Management Variations

Setting aside technological differences, the project management of commercial installations is one of the most significant variances from residential. More stringent contracting and engineering licensing requirements, common use of consultants in the sales cycle, and divergence from the design/ build model of contracting are some examples, Fencil provided.

There’s a tiered process to be aware of in a structured construction relationship, as described by Steve Olszewski, VP of Stealth Acoustics. You might be working for a general contractor and not with the owner at all, or even below that, working under the electrical contractor. “You have to know your place in the tier and not jump the boundaries,” he cautioned. “A residential installer may be used to going right to the owner to solve an issue. In tiered construction, this could get you kicked off the job. It’s highly structured.”

In reference to this tiered structure, there’s also the IT manager, CTO, and CEO to possibly contend with, according to SurgeX’s Townley. Understanding the landscape of all these decision makers is imperative he said. “Each person is going to have a different want/need for their specific department as well as have vastly different levels of technical ability,” Townley said. “The trick is to understand the pain points of each and relate it back to the system design you are pitching.” Being comfortable engaging in technical dialogue is one side, “but at the same time, you also need to be comfortable talking about the bottom line with the operational departments.”

Back to School

The training and education available at the InfoComm show is reason enough alone to attend the show. In the quest to crossover into the commercial market, taking advantage of these opportunities at InfoComm is a no-brainer.

Just like at CEDIA EXPO, it’s easy to get lost in Crestron’s InfoComm booth, so navigate over to the classroom solutions area to find some of the collaborative technology available for education and corporate verticals, both of which are good starting projects for residential integrators.
Attending the trainings should be your first step toward commercial projects in the eyes of Cynthia Menna, director of commercial sales for AVAD. “InfoComm is a tremendous show and is second to none with the assortment of courses,” she said. “Consider both solutions and applications. In other words, engage in a variety of courses–audio, video, unified communications–and think about the markets that would be best to approach first.”

Stealth’s Olszewski encouraged participation in training sessions with deeper integration subjects that are not typically held at CEDIA. To understand the distinct differences in commercial, institutional, and corporate markets, “requires a deeper understanding of everything from sales approaches to technical understanding, project implementation, and service,” he said. “Commercial projects are also more competitive, so business classes to understand how to draw out every bit of profit are important.”

Often the early-morning classes at InfoComm are some of the best ones, according to Crestron’s Silberstein, so don’t shy away from those. There is also a lot of training before the show opens that is really good. Third-party organizations like SynAudCon offer top-notch training that attendees rave about. Crestron is offering DigitalMedia Certified Engineer (DMC-E-4K) 4K training classes, a three-day program prior to the show. The class is probably 98 percent industry technology, Silberstien said, with the remainder specific to Crestron products.

InfoComm’s CTS (Certified Technology Specialist) program comes highly recommended from Bose’s Grubb. These courses are grouped into the three levels of CTS, the general, installation, and design tracks.

InfoComm’s CTS (Certified Technology Specialist) program comes highly recommended from Bose’s Grubb. These courses are grouped into the three levels of CTS, the general, installation, and design tracks.

While you may have spent some time recently enjoying the bounty of spring, working in the yard or garden, reflecting on the changing time of year, you can easily extend that same mentality to your business life. There’s no time like the present to transition into more commercial jobs.

Lindsey Adler is associate editor of Residential Systems and Systems Contractor News.

Booth Checklist

Here’s a rundown of what some manufacturers you might see at CEDIA will have at InfoComm to peak your interest on those light commercial projects.

Harman (Crown, JBL, AKG, BSS Audio, dbx, Martin, Soundcraft/ Studer)
The CSMA line of JBL commercial mixer-amplifiers and amplifier only CSAZ line.

CORE Brands
Products from all the brands in the group, including control, power/energy management, and connectivity.

Bose
The business music series and the PowerMatch amplifiers now featuring Dante networked audio.

AVAD
The InfoComm booth will be arranged into vertical markets to show the various applications, from medical to corporate, including Lutron shades, Samsung’s MagicInfo solutions for digital signage, and the InFocus Mondopad.

Capitol Sales
Displays, speakers, switchers, and other products that speak to both commercial and residential. The biggest benefit is the staff, according to Curt Hayes, president of Capitol.

Gefen
Key solutions sets of 4K UHD infrastructure, AV over IP connectivity, and wireless signal management. New wireless solutions will be unveiled. Also Gefen’s unified softare suite simplifies configuration and management of complex products and projects.

JVC
The 84-inch 4K monitor will be on display at AVAD’s booth and with RGB Spectrum.

Leon Speakers
The Horizon Interactive videoconferencing speaker, as well as the powered OTO soundbar, and the Multipoint Touchscreen package.

Stealth Acoustics StingRay outdoor speakers and also Stealth invisible speakers.

SurgeX
The MultiPak, which was designed to integrate with multi-panel digital signage arrays, so it has more amp rating than the residential version and can sit behind six panels.

Tannoy
Tannoy ceiling and surface-mount speaker systems, as well as Lab.gruppen amplifiers.

Crestron
The dedicated area showing all-in-one classroom solutions will be of particular interest to residential dealers, including the DMPS100 presentation system control and switching solutions for the collaborative classroom.

Middle Atlantic Products
Middle Atlantic is introducing the FlexView Series, a collection of display stands and carts ideal for corporate, hospitality and education environments. The FlexView models feature a slim profile, contemporary design aesthetic, and safety certification.

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