There are at least a few things that custom installers might really like to pull out of their stockings on December 25. So, for all of you employees, customers, and special friends out there who might be reading this, heres what your custom installer wants for Christmas.
The 5.1 Audio Toolkit. So what if my company produced it? Id use it regardless. Theres simply no other test DVD that contains as many audio test signals. Everything you need is there. Narrowband pink noise for balancing channel levels? You got it. Single sine tone sweeps for finding rattles? Yep. Broadband pink noise for verifying frequency response? Got that, too, along with signals to test timbre matching, imaging, reverb time, sound isolation, polarity, electrical signal level, noise floor, and headroom.
Digital Video Essentials. DVD or D-VHS DVE is to video what the 5.1 Audio Toolkit is to audio. Put together by Mr. Video himself, Joe Kane, DVE provides every test signal a custom installer needs to tweak a video display to his/her hearts content.
Avia DVD. The Avia test DVD is a bit of a combination of the two discs above. It combines audio and video calibration test signals along with some pretty handy tutorial functions. For those who deserve the best there is also the Avia Pro suite of six DVDs and instruction manual; its worth it weight in gold.
Gray-Scale Comparison Monitor. You used to be able to buy actual optical comparators to verify the accuracy of your gray scale settings on monitors. These things arent available anymore, but heres a cool replacement. Sony makes a small professional monochrome nine-inch monitor that is actually set at D65. It is called the PVM96. Feed a gray scale test signal to it and compare it against what you see on the display, and then you will find out if youre going in the right direction with your video calibration.
Etymotic Earphones. Research-grade reference audio transducers from Etymotic always come in handy. Theyre like ear buds, except theyre really, really nice, fancy ear buds. In the field, you can hook them up to a pink noise generator and compare pink noise through them to pink noise played through the sound system. The Etymotics are absolutely accurate, so anything that sounds different in the sound system means something somewhere needs to be fixed. Check out the ER-4 and ER-6.
Etymotic ER-20 Earplugs. Etymotic strikes again with the coolest earplugs ever invented. Earplugs might not be the most likely present, but theyre certainly one of the most thoughtful, and useful. Custom installers spend a lot of time around loud sounds and test signals, so they should be wearing hearing protection. ER-20s reduce the volume, but dont change the frequency response of the incoming sounds.
Laser Level. I feel pretty safe in saying that everyones least favorite part of installation is making things level. Its impossible to imagine all of the possibilities, so just go to the store and enjoy playing with the pretty lights. Just remember not to shine them at anyone.
Cable Tester. Your lead installer probably already has one of these, but if not, get one immediately. In fact, you might not want to wait for Christmas morning. He or she probably needs it this afternoon.
Gold Line TS-3 Rattler. Test gear maven Gold Line couldnt cook up a better stocking-stuffer if they tried. Small, affordable, and infinitely useful, this little gizmo generates a sweep-able sine wave that is perfect for identifying rattles in a home theater or media room.
Jensen Transformers ISO-KIT. The only thing that might possible rival making things level on the I-hate-this-job list is troubleshooting hum and buzz in audio and video systems. Well, that job just got a whole lot easier. The ISO-KIT contains the most common A/V isolators, tester plugs, and a handy manual that contains detailed technical information about grounding and instructions for finding hum loops, buzz, etc.
Walkie-Talkies. Despite Nextels best effort, mobile phones are no substitute for good old-fashioned radios. Big projects require lots of people running all over the place doing lots of things with lots of things.
Anthony Grimani is president of Performance Media Industries in Fairfax, California.