A paper trail never hurt in presenting a case. Now the same applies to residential installations. The latest tools to test audio, video, and voltage all make documentation easier for the installer. The information, documented or not, is useful when somebody knows what to do with it. While the machine cannot replace a trained integrators ears, eyes, and gut feeling, instruments now provide data analysis to complete the data equation by fixing what is not right.
Rather than have separate devices to measure and then make corrections, AudioControl's Iasys HT analyzer is a little more sophisticated.
In the audio world, the custom home theater market has come to realize the value and necessity of making measurements. In years past, integrators have been heard to say that they can do what they need to with their ears. Or worse, there was the mentality that what they were installing was so much better than what the customer had before that it would not be necessary to optimize it.
That mentality is shifting, said Ivie Technologies director of marketing, Bill Raventos. Installers are recognizing they not only need to use measurement devices to make adjustments, but they also need to quantify the results. Its an advantage on both ends.
AudioControl's SA-3052 real-time spectrum analyzer.
The instruments help an integrator create a better sounding system and to do more uniform work from job to job. Quantifiable standards can be set and met. Documenting it from a marketing standpoint is important, because an installer can submit a report to the customer, Raventos said. More importantly, the installer can use the report as a tool to go back a year later and retest the system against the original standard.
The hardware available now features software that better supports the documentation process. A contractor, designer, and installer in this market needs a small portable device they can move around that is easy to transport when theyre on the job, Raventos explained. Typically in the past, the kind of hardware and software that supported later documentation was larger, PC-based. Now there are options available, such as Ivies IE-45, that are portable, easy to move around the listening area, and have all of the features of a PC for documentation purposes.
The Science and Art of Testing Audio
At AudioControl, they see analysis as a combination of science and art. We want the installers to get as much information as possible by giving them the tools to do something with that information, said Chris Kane, national sales manager at AudioControl. We partner with integrators and installers so we provide new products that add value to what they do.
The SP495 Audio Consultant is a handheld audio analyzer for fast and accurate sound reinforcement system designs and installations.
Fifteen or 20 years ago when Kane started at AudioControl, equalization was something the consumer would do. With the test equipment thats available now, its created the whole category of home theater calibration, he said. Dealers offer it now as a service they can charge for. Its a way to differentiate from the retail store. The proactive approach of preventing problems via test equipment means a happier customer who is pleased with his decision of purchasing a home theater and is likely to buy more components and upgrade in the future.
Interpreting the Data
On the audio side, the analysis equipment of years past offered plenty of raw data, but lacked the mechanism to interpret the data. It was hit and miss, Kane recalled. An installer with a golden ear would sit in there and read all the graphs and charts and make some interpretations and try to get it as close as they could.
Rather than have separate devices to measure and then make corrections, AudioControl is the designer and manufacturer of the Iasys HT analyzer that is a little more sophisticated. It not only takes the data, but it presents the data, Kane said. It tells you the distance to each speaker. It tells you how much delay to apply so that compensates for the distance.
AudioControl also manufactures a room correction processor called Diva. The data from Iasys tells you how far away the speakers are and what the frequencies are. It will then tell you how to make the adjustments with Diva.
On the Horizon for Audio
Home theater speaker systems have gone from 5.1 to 7.1, and multiple subwoofers are becoming more common in larger spaces. Keeping all of these speakers in check is a new challenge for companies like AudioControl. This is an area were looking at in terms of offering more control for multiple subwoofers, Kane said. We think thats an area of opportunity.
Looking ahead in the world of audio technology, Ivies Raventos sees more challenges for the integrator. The most impressive change in the last year and moving into the next year is the sophistication of the customer, Raventos said. The customer is expecting more. He is becoming more knowledgeable about what a system ought to sound like. He can hear the difference between mediocre/good and good/excellent.
For Raventos, the extra quality the customer expects cant be delivered unless the integrator has the tools to make the adjustments and quantify it after the fact.
Sencore's OTC1000 optical non-contact color analyzerThe video components that Sencore is testing these days have changed dramatically over the past few years. Sencores testing products have been improved in several ways to address lower black levels and better plasmas, LCDs, projectors, and DLP displays.
Weve developed some sensors and non-contact type products that allow us to measure at extremely low light levels and quickly, said Jeff Murray, Sencores sales and marketing manager. In addition, some manufacturers like Pioneer and Runco have put hooks on their displays that allow us to connect our test equipment onto them.
For 40-50 years, CRT technology was it in the world of video. Then came the LCDs, plasmas, and DLP. Now youre seeing OLED and SED. These all have different footprints of how they make colors and how they make white, Murray said. In order for us to get them optimized and into movie mode, we have to address those different types of footprints that those displays put out.
Sencore has done this with some low-cost color analyzers. Rather than an installer spending $20,000 on a lab-grade instrument that would be able to look at a full spectrum, Sencore addresses the consumer technologies that are out there. Thats how weve been able to keep our costs down and keep our products affordable to the installers, Murray added.
A video testing product from the consumer realm, the Setting Up My HDTV section in the new Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics DVD available on Blu-ray and HD DVD disc includes six essential calibration test patterns designed to improve a high-definition image in less than 25 minutes. Having recently updated the disc, David Goodman, president of The DVD Acquisition And Development Group said, When we first released DVD HD, we knew that there would be an evolution of HD media and improved menu interactivity as well as developments in format adoption.
Voltage Testing Saves Money
Brian Blanchette is the test and measurement expert for IDEAL Industries. He sees the major changes in residential installations over the years as the proliferation microprocessors in everyday appliances like refrigerators and microwaves. Every time you put a microprocessor in a device, it becomes much more sensitive to voltage fluctuations, he said. These voltage fluctuations are categorized as sags, swells, impulses, and harmonic distortions.
In the past, test equipment to measure those parameters had been expensive and required expertise to understand the data, Blanchette said. Today weve developed new instruments at low cost that dont require the removal of cover plates to test the quality of the voltage or the quality of the construction of the branch circuitwhich is equally important.
When faced with the situation of having to tell a client that the wiring in his house cant handle the home theater hed like to install, having the documentation to back it up is essential. The equipment stops the argument, Blanchette said. In older homes youve got older wiring devices. Modern equipment is not going to work very well. IDEALs SureTest is designed to identify these voltage problems before a lot of money is spent on conditioning equipment. Testing saves you money, he said.
IDEAL's SureTestThe SureTest is a device that plugs into an outlet and tells what the voltage drop is and shows what the voltage drops to. Once it is established that the branch circuit is sound, well-constructed and low impedance, then the only variable left is the quality of the voltage thats reaching the device. That can be measured with the Voltage Performance Monitor (VPM), Blanchette explained. The VPM is a power quality monitor but it remains compact and inexpensive.
Residential Systems columnist Anthony Grimani is president of Performance Media Industries, a California-based acoustical engineering firm specializing in home theater design and calibration. After trying many different approaches over the years, he has determined that testing devices that are directly computer-controlled are most effective. All his activities and actions are driven from a keyboard on a computer and he is looking at a computer screen when testing. It allows me better visibility of the data and also storage of the data on the computer so I can manipulate it, recall it, and produce reports, Grimani said. I can easily make charts that either the client or other technicians need to refer to.
For Grimani, thats been the evolution in the field of audio measuring equipment. If you went back 20 years, you had either table top or handheld devices that were self-driven, dedicated devices. He sees that the typical integrator today works with a laptop programming the lights and the control system. Programming of audio/video gear is done by a computer that you plug into a USB port or a serial port to the device and you tell it what to do and you unplug it and you go home, he said.
Based in the state of Washington, AudioControl has been conducting its Train in the Rain for the past nine years. Its our way to offer education to dealers about room acoustics and how to use analysis equipment, Kane said. Besides being a manufacturer, we think our role is to be a specialist in the category that were in and share that knowledge.
Also an educator, Grimani does a lot of lecturing at CEDIA EXPO to teach people how to use testing devices to do calibration. Ive been teaching at CEDIA since the first conference in 1990, he said. It used to be 45 minutes and then go drink a beer. Now its four hours to get through the same lecture. Its a lot more complicated and more sophisticated.
Joy Zaccaria is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, New York.