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Tools of the Trade

We may be unable to launch a massive public relations campaign to raise the world’s or even the industry’s perception of our specialty, but we can walk the walk if we have the right tools of the trade.

What You Need to ‘Carry’ If You Want to be a Professional

Sam Cavitt ([email protected]) is president of Paradise Theater in Kihei, Hawaii, and Carlsbad, California.

We may be unable to launch a massive public relations campaign to raise the world’s or even the industry’s perception of our specialty, but we can walk the walk if we have the right tools of the trade.

One attribute that generally identifies true professionals is their tools. In fact, if you visit the offices of other design professionals, the tools of their trade are clearly visible and almost taken for granted. Not so in the area of home theater design.

We have had the opportunity to poll medium to large groups of electronics systems professionals and regularly ask specific questions. “Do you identify yourself as a home theater designer?” Almost all do. The next question is more illuminating: “Do you utilize any type of computer-assisted drawing program?” (Notice we did not specifically say CAD). Less than 50 percent of those who identify themselves as home theater designers can say yes to that question. These are basic capabilities that require some essential tools of the design trade.

Many electronic systems professionals and even home theater specialists prefer not to provide room design services and many collaborate with professionals that do. However, in the interest of raising the bar and empowering more of our peers to walk the walk, I will describe some of the design tools and how companies can integrate them into their businesses. This is not intended to be a complete list of all the available tools but certainly will provide home theater designers a place to get started.

The range of solutions for this area is large; so is the range of cost and learning curves. Thus, it is important to identify what a company wants and needs to deliver before choosing the right set of tools.


For 2D drafting and design, there are some inexpensive and relatively simple choices. AutoCAD LT by AutoDesk offers 2D CAD and the native ability to exchange drawings with architects, designers, and engineers in the native file format. AutoCAD LT does represent a learning curve, although, CAD classes are accessible online as well as at many public and private institutions.

Visio provides a 2D design and engineering environment that delivers very nice graphical presentation and enjoys a number of industry specific applications. Developers such as D-Tools have created integrated design, sales, and management solutions, and a suite of design and engineering stencils (representative equipment shapes). Visio enables a budding home theater designer to provide good-looking 2D scale drawings relatively quickly. There is a bit of a learning curve however for importing and exporting to CAD, and the integrated solutions require planning and implementation for best results.


Three-D design and drafting tools offer more functionality but at steeper cost and learning curve. AutoCAD’s full version includes all the capability of the LT version, as well as 3D design and also integration with other applications (such as D-Tools).

VectorWorks is a 3D design software that is very well appointed with features for the price. The application has several suites depending on what features a designer will require. Like all full-featured applications, there is a learning curve, but the application is relatively easy to understand and offers a very strong set of tools for the cost. One disadvantage, as a smaller software company in an AutoCAD-dominated industry, is that it requires import and export of the AutoCAD files. This functionality works well, but it requires either up-to-date software or having the files sent in CAD file interchange format (dxf).

Home theater designers can walk the walk with the right tools of the trade.

Sketchup Pro is a newer product on the marketplace, and while it is gaining ground, I have not yet tested it. My company is investigating the application as a quick study tool.


Advanced 3D design tools provide exciting visualization and more but significant cost, learning curve, and implementation. For instance, 3D Studio is a photorealistic 3D modeling application that enables 3D CAD files to generate highly realistic renderings. Obviously for those that create high-level interiors and want to show clientele precisely what it will look like, this is a valuable tool.

VectorWorks also has a number of 3D rendering applications at various price points, depending on the level of photorealism required.

Revit is a very powerful but expensive and challenging application. In time, many design professionals will utilize a tool like Revit, so keep your eyes open for developments in parametric design tools across the design industry.

When offering home theater design services, be sure to clearly define what that means to your clientele. If it means discovering what a client’s system needs are and accurately specifying and installing electronics to fulfill that requirement, make sure the scope of work for your services is clear. If it means creating a space that will support that equipment, optimize the acoustical and visual performance, is aesthetically and ergonomically appropriate, environmentally comfortable, structurally sound, and is supported by documentation good enough to be successfully built, then either make sure you possess and can use the required tools, or engage a specialist and collaborate. Either way, the bar will be raised in our industry, and the client will be well served.