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10 Product Features I’d Like to See from AV Manufacturers

In the spirit of helping you to help me to help both of our customers, I’d like to share with you some things I’d love to see you incorporate on your upcoming products. Many of these things wouldn’t add much—if anything!—to the cost of the unit, so I’m hoping we can all work together to move the ball downfield.

Dear AV Equipment Manufacturers,

Hello! I hope this finds you all doing well. As you may know, I work with a lot of your customers on a daily basis, often spending long minutes on the phone with them troubleshooting issues that are either directly or indirectly related to your products. (I’m kinda looking your way, cable set-top box manufacturers), and it seems like I routinely encounter certain things that could be greatly simplified or improved with just a little bit of tweaking on your end.

I’m just wrapping up a product review of a new receiver by Sony—the STR-ZA5000ES if you should care to know—that nails just about everything when it comes to making a component with custom integrator and end-user friendliness in mind. Playing with this receiver made me think, “Hey! Wouldn’t it be just super great if other manufacturers implemented some of these features as well?!?”

So, in the spirit of helping you to help me to help both of our customers, I’d like to share with you some things I’d love to see you incorporate on your upcoming products. Many of these things wouldn’t add much—if anything!—to the cost of the unit, so I’m hoping we can all work together to move the ball downfield.

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1) A Detachable Power Cord
We all hate to think about the time when something might break and need to be removed for service—or say just unplugged from power for a quick microprocessor reboot—but being able to remove the cord from the back of the unit is just oh-so-handy! This is especially helpful if, say, the component has been rack mounted and the power cord is nicely routed and zip-tied in place. Also, while this might be asking too much, it sure would be great if we could all get together and agree on which side of the unit the power connection would be on.

2) IP Controllability
If you are making a product that will have network access, please allow us to control it via IP. This can provide such a richer experience for our customers, is bi-directional, and is so much more reliable than infrared. Then give your API to all the third-party control companies so they can develop a terrific driver for your product. Along with this, if your product supports IP, please give us a really quick and simple way to see its IP address. I know we can dig deep into the setup menus to find it, or open an app like Fing or something to find it, but when trying to help a customer over the phone, this can be akin to asking them to explain the tax code.

3) Remote Support
I know this one is a big ask, but I thought I’d put it out there anyhow… If you could make a way for us to be able to easily log into your system remotely to either check the status, or push an update, or reboot it, that would be really awesome. Sony, for example, supports Ihiji remote monitoring, which is really cool and something you should definitely check out.

4) Rear IR Connection
If you can’t supply IP control and feel that IR is still the best thing for your product, then please at least give us a rear-panel mini-jack connection so we don’t have to stick on a front panel emitter. These are not only another unsightly wire to manage but are also prone to falling off, which then makes it stop working, which then makes for a service call.

5) A Discreet Code Library
To make a device in this 21st century that doesn’t have a discreet on, off, and input select should be a crime. I mean, not a felony, but some kind of shaming misdemeanor where you have to stand before the people and admit what you did. You know, kind of a technology equivalent to Cersei Lannister’s walk of atonement, complete with a bitter old crone ringing a bell and yelling, “SHAME!” every few feet. Even if you don’t want to put a separate on and off button (or direct input access) on the remote, be a pal and give us an easily accessible library of these codes so we can do with them what we will.

6) An Easier to Read Back Panel
I’ll admit it: I’m getting older and my eyes don’t see as well as they used to. I find I have a really hard time focusing on objects when they’re really close to my face, and I need a lot more light to be able to read small print. Even so, anything you could do to make your rear panels easier to read as we are hunched behind a rack in a closet, or leaning over a cabinet and holding a flashlight in our mouth, would be super-duper. I mean, I’m sure that micro-sized grey text on black metal sounded really cool in your product design meeting, but in the field it’s making me think—and sometimes say—bad things about you.

7) Dimmable/Defeatable Front Panel Lights
I know I just complained about needing more light to see, so you’re probably thinking that I’d love a super-bright front panel that looks like Vegas at night, and I certainly appreciate the thought. However you might be surprised to find out that many of your systems are installed “out in the open” in living rooms and the like and that all of those lights are really distracting when trying to watch a movie in a dark room. And while some of you think it’s cool to include super bright LEDs that illuminate like an all-seeing Eye of Sauron, I hate to burst your bubble… It’s most definitely NOT cool.

8) A Video Splash Screen When Off
Would you be surprised to hear that one of our biggest telephone call issues boils down to one of the components just being off? It’s true! And it seems to be a Pavlovian response for people that, after they press the “Watch TV” button on the remote and they don’t immediately see a picture, they run to the phone and call me. My inevitable first question is always, “Did you check to see if the cable box is on?” One thing my DISH Hopper3 does to prevent this is that when it is off is it displays a message on the TV screen that says it is off and to press Select to watch TV. It doesn’t even need to be a fancy message or in HD. Heck, it could be in black-and-white for all I care.

9) Analog Audio Outputs
I know that we’re moving to an all HDMI world, but there are a lot of people that like to use the Zone2 features on their audio systems for listening to music around the house. The trouble is, most receivers don’t incorporate any kind of DAC for outputting digital signals to these analog audio outputs so we have to end up adding some kind of outboard DAC that is just one more connection and a thing to go wrong. It would be great if you could put selectable fixed/variable—or better yet, one of each—analog audio outputs on the back of your gear so we can more easily integrate them with our distributed audio systems.

10) Make it Rack Mountable
Our industry likes big racks and we cannot lie. We also like small racks. Heck, we like racks of all shapes and sizes. What I’m getting at here is that it would be great if you would make your component rack-mount friendly. I’m not saying you have to include rack-ears—but hey, it’s definitely not gonna hurt my feelings if you do!—but just make that as an option. Heck, it can even be an added accessory that you charge me for!

I thank you for taking the time to read this, and I look forward to working with you all in the future.

On behalf of the entire CI world,
John Sciacca