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Outdoor AV Week: The Greater Outdoors

Great Choice Audio Video uses the latest technology and increased client demand to bring its backyard installations to new heights.

Great Choice Outdoor AV - TV
Outdoor TVs have become very popular on patios and other sitting areas outside the home. Photo courtesy of Great Choice Audio Video.

Great Choice Audio Video, serving the Oklahoma City area, has been in business for 12 years, and in its early days, an outdoor AV installation would involve a few rock speakers and that was it. But as the technology advanced, owner David Truitt saw a big opportunity, and now it is a major part of his business — especially as more and more people look to enhance their yards with pools and other forms of entertainment.

“Our first job happened to be a very large one involving 20 speakers, three subs, and 120 lighting fixtures,” says Truitt. “From there we were hooked, and we knew we had to get better.”

The same could be said about the gear he was installing in the often-harsh Oklahoma outdoors. “We started critiquing ourselves based on the quality of the product and how long it could last, because we were going back to those same clients one or two years down the road,” he says. “Some of the plastic speakers that we were selling were looking terrible. People are going to spend the money to do a nice system that you want to last for years and years, so we decided to only sell higher-quality gear.

Great Choice Outdoor AV – Night Pool
Lighting can have a dramatic effect on pools. Photo courtesy of Great Choice Audio Video.

“We partnered with James Loudspeaker a few years ago and we have not turned back. We tell our clients that they may spend a little more up front, but because these are aluminum-grade, powder-coated speakers, they’ll last forever — and they’ll sound great. Plus, even the stakes are Marine-grade aluminum!”

Related: Case Study – Outdoor Rooftop Theater

Same Issues, Different Trades

Like home interiors, where there are architects, builders, and designers to deal with, so, too, the exterior has its own trades — namely landscape designers and pool professionals. And, like their inside counterparts, they need to be convinced to let AV get in on the ground floor.

“We try to partner with some of the pool guys,” says Truitt. “Not all of them want to partner with us, but we try to get them to understand how we can help make their product even better. I let them know that we’re there to help them, and we are not there to take over anything as far as the design.

“I’m explaining to them that they are creating these seating areas — a beach front area, a firepit area, or a covered area like a pergola — and they should incorporate music in those spaces and not have all the speakers look ugly. We try to work with them at the beginning so that we’re able to run wires and conduit like we should, where everything is discreet. We have a good plan from the beginning, which makes things look a lot better at the end.”

Outdoor lighting is a key area for Great Choice, and one that landscapers and pool pros often ignore. “It amazes me how many landscapers and pool guys miss the boat on lighting,” says Truitt. “It’s fun seeing the before and after and all that lighting can do to a space at night. We recently sold LED lighting strips on stairs because the client did not have any lights around the pool whatsoever besides the ones the pool guy placed inside the pool. So you have these really beautiful, cool steps coming down the pathway from the patio to the pool, and there’s no light besides what’s on the patio. I said to the client, ‘Don’t you think that as a safety concern — and just for looks — you want to see the steps?’”

Great Choice Outdoor AV – Pool Day
This client has two James Loudspeaker tower speakers on either side of his pool. The lower area beneath the pool will eventually be a putting green. See the video below for more details. Photo courtesy of Great Choice Audio Video.

Best Practices

Though he doesn’t have any examples of outdoor AV in his showroom, Truitt has plenty of satisfied clients who allow him show what he has done to potential clients. He also has an up-to-date YouTube page that shows off many of his installations — both in-progress and with drone flyovers when finished.

He has a few recommendations for those interested in beefing up their outdoor AV services, such as to begin promoting the possibilities to clients in January or February (if outdoor AV is seasonal in your area as it is in his) so they can plan and budget properly. He also recommends extending your higher-quality gear priorities beyond the speakers and TVs.

“Proper planning and use of conduits and connectors are important,” he says, “because there is no comparison between the T connectors you would get at a Home Depot versus the more expensive gel caps that we use to tie in and wrap. It is worth taking the extra time and the extra money for the better pieces.

“On a fairly large backyard, I’ll only do 14 gauge wire — even if we’re doing 70-volt. Also, make sure you’re running plenty of wire. For years we were only running one 4-conductor wire for future outdoor audio, and that’s a huge mistake because, depending on how long the runs are and how many subwoofers you have, you don’t want to tie yourself to only doing 70-volt. We’re finding ourselves running at least two 4-conductor wires, if not more, for future outdoor audio — especially If we know they’re going to put in a pool.”

Strong cabling also comes into play on the video side. “We always run plenty of Cat6 to the outdoor TVs because most aren’t smart TVs,” he says. “Both the Seura and Sunbrite TVs now make a waterproof compartment that is big enough to hold an Apple TV or a Roku. The only thing about the Rokus is that they’re very temperamental with heat, so if it’s getting lots of sunlight on the back of the TV, even if it’s in a case, it sometimes doesn’t work.”

Great Choice Outdoor AV – Patio
These outdoor speakers nicely match the décor of the home. Photo courtesy of Great Choice Audio Video.

Of course, Wi-Fi connectivity is a must everywhere in the home, and if you are creating places to spend time outside, then connectivity is a must there, too. “We will use a nice outdoor Ubiquiti or Access Network access point that is onmidirectional, and we’ll try to put it somewhere that’s hidden or as far as we can reach from the house so it’ll broadcast to all the seating areas,” says Truitt.

Key Communication

Ultimately, getting proper communication from the other trades will be a key component in getting the job done to its full potential. Of course, that is easier said than done. “It’s all about the timing,” says Truitt. “Whether we are laying out the steps of a pool or doing custom speakers inside the masonry that they’re building in the firepit areas, we’re constantly asking, ‘When are you doing this? When are you doing that?’ so we can be on the schedule. Typically we stay ahead several weeks out, because we don’t want to miss the opportunity where they go, ‘Hey, we are ready for you guys,’ and we can’t get out there for two weeks.

“That would be the hardest part — scheduling with them. They are used to working on their own, and the AV guys are thought of as an ‘extra,’ and so we have to stay constantly communicating with them.”

The State of Outdoor AV

We asked several CI distributors what the current trends and bestsellers are in the outdoor AV category.

John Dunne, North America Managing Director, Exertis

“Outdoor living has been a growing trend for many years in those parts of the country where the climate supports it. Now Covid has added a whole new impetus for the category’s growth as more and more Americans have embraced mobile living as a lifestyle.  RV sales have been booming, and with that boom has come increased demand for all of the products and technologies that empower traveling Americans to stay connected with the world while on the road. Custom-fitted RV displays, sound systems, cameras, and security products are red hot at the moment. So, too, are drones because many nomadic travelers are using them for recreational videography. For more stationary Americans, weather resistant displays, speakers, lighting, and security system sales have been very strong and are likely to remain so.

Dennis Holzer, Executive Director, PowerHouse Alliance 

“I expect the outdoor category to spike in Q2 and Q3 of 2021. Homeowners are looking for new ways to entertain at home and, as the nice weather approaches, they will start to think about making upgrades to their backyards and patios. Consumers are looking to duplicate their kitchen and family room in the backyard. Outdoor networking products and displays will be key players in the outdoor AV market. As consumers look to upgrade their outdoor entertainment area with upgraded outdoor displays, they will rely on networking equipment to support the new devices being added to the outdoor entertainment area.”

Wally Whinna, Senior Vice President of Local, SnapAV

Consumers are continuing to increase the amount of time they spend outdoors, and they are bringing their entertainment with them. The demand for better sounding outdoor solutions increases every year. You need a broad selection of solutions to satisfy the needs of anyone from the novice to the expert. Multi-speaker garden systems with outdoor subwoofers, as well as the wireless solutions from Sonos, are very popular. Additionally, sales of TVs built specifically for outdoor applications are also increasing as more dealers understand what these purpose-built TVs offer in reliability, longevity, features, and profit.

Bob Appleby, Vice President & General Manager, ADI North America

Whether it’s a backyard, patio, or courtyard area, these spaces have long been used for entertaining family and guests. In recent years, the demand for creating a living room experience outdoors has been on the rise. We have seen a significant increase in bringing audio to the pool, lounging areas, and around firepits. Outdoor subwoofer/satellite speaker systems have proven to provide a better and more comfortable listening experience. The low impedance solutions are ideal for smaller areas, while high impedance systems can easily scale to cover the largest of outdoor leisure and entertainment areas.

While outdoor audio has been a strong category for many years, outdoor video was mostly reserved for milder climates and larger budgets. Outdoor-rated TV performance has improved dramatically, and the increased demand has made this category become more affordable.