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Last But Not Least

A Review of the Overlooked Products of 2007

While spring cleaning is a tradition for some, in my office it is a year-end event. In the lull that comes in November and December with no major trade shows or conferences, its time to clean out all the press releases and product brochures that have piled up. While sorting through this stack, it is inevitable that we come across a bit of news that was set aside during the year for any number of reasons. December is a good time to highlight ideas that could make your work more productive, is a neat gadget, or just plain fun.

Can You Call Me Now?
In your role as electronic concierge to your customers, Advanced Wireless Solutions LLC. offers a relatively inexpensive product called backup pal that connects to most popular brands of cell phones to quickly and easily back up the phones contents, enabling easy transfer to a new or replacement phone. Think of all of the information that you and your clients have stored on your phones. Wouldnt it be nice to have a way to store all of those contacts when the inevitable happens?

No PC or software is required, and once provided, it can be easily used by the most technophobic client. Build a charging bar for your clients to park their phones in one place so that all the chargers and sync cables are lined up, while the integrated backup pal on the bar serves as a reminder to occasionally take a minute or two to do the backup. Just plug it into the phone, press a button, and the data is saved. This is an outside-of-the-box idea that acknowledges the clients electronic existence.

Can You Hear Me Now?
Backing up all the cell phones in the house is nice, but what happens when reception becomes spotty? If the residence is located far away from a cell tower, there is little you can do. However, if the homeowners find themselves walking up to windows or outside to make a call, there is a solution.

Compatible with all U.S. wireless carriers except Nextel, zBoost from Atlanta-based Wi-Ex, makes it possible to not only install a higher gain antenna to capture weak signals from the nearest cell tower, its cell phone signal booster captures and amplifies the signal to create a local cell zone of up to 10,000 square feet. Again, there is no guarantee that this will work every time, but for those massive ex-urban mansions, it might solve cell phone problems when the house is on the wrong side of a hill where you have access to the peak via an antenna and RG-6 run, or where the size and construction of the house leave handsets unable to access a signal. Of course, the zBoost system supports multiple simultaneous users, and exclusive technology helps the system maintain the carrier networks integrity. Again, CI pros do more than home theaters, and a product like this helps drive that point home.

Sucking Up
Many installers have added central vacuum systems to their repertoirea logical extension of our craft to all things centralized, integrated, distributed, and controlled. On that score, MD Manufacturing has created a program that communicates with a homes central control system when the vacuums bag is full and needs to be emptied/replaced. Using UPB (Universal Powerline Bus) technology, the messaging service not only comes from the central motor/tank unit, but from all the inlets in the home to monitor system performance and send an alert when there is a clog or system performance issue.

More generically, Iowa-based Wincor Inc., has a central vac product that presents an opportunity to add another level of service whenever you visit a home where a central vac is installed. Its Tornado Power Central Vacuum Maintenance Cloths are a simple concept: after emptying the canister or changing the bag, connect a hose, and once the system is on, hold the cloth over the hose inlet and let the system pull it through. Doing this at each outlet will, in effect, clean the insides of the pipes, bringing accumulated dust and any debris stuck in a U-bend down into the canister.

Its a simple maintenance task that helps the system perform properly, while the small amount of time it takes your team to do this on every visit shows your attention to a customers system and sets you apart from the competition.

Air Management
Active Thermal Management now offers a way to keep incoming air clean and dust free for applications such as projectors mounted in a hush box or otherwise concealed in a soffit or ceiling cove where forced-air ventilation is necessary and dust is an enemy. Using High Air Flow (HAF) filters from 3M, an electrostatic charge traps dust and small particles. The filters continue to pass 90 percent of the incoming air even when covered, and they may be easily vacuumed once to clean the filter and restore the charge, after which they need to be replaced.

Get in the Game
Using the new advanced video game consoles as a means to create a unique value-added proposition by totally integrating them into the theater system, has been encouraged throughout our industry. With the physical activity-based Wii from Nintendo, this is clearly part of the process, making it possible to use scene lighting and stage monitors to let the players do their thing with their own screens while the audience watches on the main screen. As we move closer to the introduction of the Balance Board for Wii, this will become more important.

The latest way to make a game more than controller manipulation is the release of Eye of Judgment for Sonys PS3, bundled along with the special PlayStation Eye camera. A unique card-based game, EOJ is the one weve been waiting for as it requires the play surface, a mat, to be laid out, while the PS Eye camera has to be pointed at the game to read the codes on the card. In turn, they then appear onscreen as animated characters. Its really quite amazing.

Again, in theory, there is nothing here the client cant do themselves, but isnt proper integration of components such as these what they pay you for? As an example, the EOJ game comes with the camera and a plastic stand that is meant for temporary use and is put away when the game isnt being played. This is something you can replicate in better materials by creating a game table in the theater for EOJ and similar games that will follow.

The PlayStation Eye can also be used for video chat, something that is possible with most standard USB cameras and Xbox 360. However, when the camera is used in a large-scale theater or other heavily designed room, you may want to purchase an additional camera so that there is one for EOJ and one for chat. A USB switch may be needed to select the active camera, depending on the activity in use.

When installing a system with the Eye, dont forget to also download the free EyeCreate software from the PlayStation store to enable a variety of still, audio, and motion video capture and editing functions. As of this writing, the PS3 software has graduated to version 2.0. Checking your clients game systems for these frequent downloads is something that should be part of any regular maintenance visit. Even if they download the software themselves, some of the customizable video settings for DVD playback and display configuration are things where your expertise is key.

Speaking of PS3, the latest third-party DVD remote for PS3 comes from Messiah Entertainment. Called Darklite, it is powered by an ion-lithium battery and features bright backlit buttons for visibility in the dark. The ultra-thin remote opens and closes much like a sliding cell phone and includes a charging station. Top-level controls include a control ring and center button on the top of the remote to select primary playback functions and menu options, while secondary controls are hidden behind a slide-open panel that looks like many high-end cell phones. The $29.95 Darklite has the same gloss black appearance and chrome trim as the PS3 and is well worth the cost as a remote for DVD or Blu-ray playback from a PS3, or as a means to program IR codes into a remote you provide.

It is Under the Bed
Many of the most unique integrations of audio and video come in bedroom suites. Weve all seen numerous ways to mount flat-panel displays in bedrooms, ranging from frames that cover the panel with art when not in use, to lifts in a foot-board cabinet, to those amazing lifts that tilt out of the ceiling in one form or another.

Add to these methods the Underbed Lift from K2 Mounts, which hides completely out of view under the bed, but when activated by a remote or control system, raises a 40- to 50-inch plasma or LCD screen up from under the bed to eye level. Options allow rotation, for off-angle viewing from a dressing table or when using exercise equipment that might be in the room, and only eight inches of clearance under a queen or king sized bed is required.

The Great Outdoors
Outdoor video displays are becoming an increasingly popular option, as more manufacturers deliver sets capable of withstanding the rigors climatic extremes. Youll need to do a bit of homework to make certain that the IR sensors work in the harshness of direct sunlight as well as over longer distances. That is exactly what the DIR line of sensors from Knoll Systems does, claiming a range of 120 feet or more indoors and up to30 feet outdoors, or in direct sunlight or under fluorescent lighting indoors.

As environmental concerns lead to an increase in the use of compact fluorescent lighting, you should pay attention to the performance of any component that uses IR controlsomething you may not be able to test for until the job is almost completed. Keep products such as Knolls or other similar high-performance IR repeater/extenders in mind for such an occasion.

Sounding the Alarm
While you are on that “almost completed” job, or one earlier along the construction or installation stage, when you have valuable gear on site before the alarm system is up and running, consider LaserShield as an option. When the master unit is placed in the corner of a room, infrared beams fan out to protect an area up to 1,100 square feet, and you may add up to 12 additional wireless motion detectors to expand the system and cover up an additional 14,400-square-feet. In a typical installation the system is plugged into standard AC power and a phone line for connection to a central monitoring station that can notify you, the homeowner, private patrols, or the police for the desired response to any security breach or violation of the room space. Should the AC power go out, an on-board battery powers the main system unit for up to 12 hours.

A built-in 100-plus dB siren sounds when the system is breached, but other options are available for system notification beyond a standard phone connection. LaserShield’s “The Sparrow” provides VoIP or direct Internet connection for communication with the central station monitoring. When landline phone service is not yet available at the job site, their “The Cyclone” cellular adaptor is also available to send signals to the monitoring station, or to act as a back-up in case an intruder cuts the landline connection.

This is a solution that you can also offer to your clients for portable protection when they travel, or to protect their storage facilities, a child’s dorm room, or another situation where a standard, installed alarm system is not possible or completed. Of course, as with all alarm systems, check that your firm and the central station are properly licensed by local authorities.

The Best Calibration
DisplayMate has long been a favorite for generating test patterns that may be used to evaluate or calibrate almost any type of display. DisplayMate founder Dr. Ray Soneira has made it even easier to use by offering the program on a USB Thumb Drive so that it no longer needs to be permanently installed on any given computer. Connect the laptop or PC to a display, plug the drive into your laptop, and it opens in seconds without installation. Use any of the test patterns, make your evaluations or setting changes, pull out the drive and you’re done. As with the versions of DisplayMate distributed on CD or permanent installation, these are not stored images, but actual test patterns generated in real-time from scale-free mathematical equations so that they work in any resolution up to 4,096 x 4,096, or aspect ratio you might find yourself dealing with.

With February 17, 2009, fast approaching and with it, the end of the decade-long digital television transition, the year ahead is shaping up to be interesting. If converter boxes and vouchers won’t be enough to keep us all occupied, there will be the continuing battle of the blue-laser formats and a parallel “battle of the consoles” between Wii, Xbox 306, and PlayStation. Connection options will multiply and become more complex, as may be the headaches they will cause and the opportunities they will provide. There will be new networked services and networking options, and new audio codecs and technologies to deal with. Happy New Year.

Michael Heiss (capnvide[email protected]) is an industry consultant in Los Angeles, California.