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AV Remote Controllers

What is a good one-room remote controller?

If you want a “TV remote control” you can buy one off Amazon or your electronics store priced anywhere from $10-$350.00. For $10 you will be able to turn on the TV, change channels and turn the volume up and down, no guarantees that even your cable will work with this, so we recommend you stay away from the $10 remotes. Now the $350.00 range remote lets you program buttons that can do specific functions with your TV & components.

I’m now going to talk about two remotes; one which is sold directly to consumers and one which is only sold through trained dealers, such as us.

Logitech remote controls are considered “consumer remote controls” because you can program them yourself. The less components you have, the easier it is to program and you can go to their website, download the software & follow the instructions to program your remote. However, the more buttons you want on your remote, the more difficult & time consuming the programming will become. The purpose behind these remotes is to allow you to touch one button to watch TV, one button to play a DVD, one button to play a game station, and on & on. So, the more buttons you want to program, the more complex the programming. Here’s an example; you want to program a button to play a DVD. To do so, you need to configure the TV, the DVD player, your receiver and speakers. That will be 4 configurations for that one button. Even to just program the TV button, you will need the TV, your cable and again, if you have any kind of speaker system, i.e. sound bar or receiver/speakers, they will need to be programmed for watching TV. While manufacturers may feel that a consumer can easily do this, in many cases it is just too complex because of all the configurations and an AV integrator is called upon to perform the programming. Take a look at their download page…just the fact that they have so many places to go for help is a clue that this is not going to be easy. However, it is a consumer available product, so you should know about it.

Universal remote control (URC) sells everything from a basic “Audio/Video controller” to full control systems. We are only going to talk about the basic URC controllers. The only device that can be purchased directly by a consumer is the URC SR3 which can only control the TV, a DVD player & cable. Some of their other remotes may be found on Amazon, but must be configured by a certified dealer trained in that line of remotes (In fact, these are no longer called remotes by URC, but Control Systems). URC trained programmers start from a blank slate, so that each button is customized when setting up your controller to give you a custom designed device. The reason behind this requirement is that URC wants the consumer to have a pleasant experience with their controller and having an AV trained dealer do this will ensure that it is programmed correctly and the dealer can service the controller. The number of controllers and control systems by URC is more than I could discuss in an article and prices range from $200 into the thousands. But, just to give you an idea of cost for a single audio/video controller with programming by a licensed URC professional, you are looking at $700-$1000. Again, just like what I said about the Logitech, the time to program the remote is based on the # of buttons you need programmed as each button involves multiple components, so pricing varies based on how much you need programmed into the controller. The best thing about getting a URC controller is that the software is saved by the AV dealer, so when you want to add a button or need servicing, they don’t have to start from the beginning. You can even upgrade to a nicer URC controller & transfer the data to it, rather than starting from scratch.

While $1000 sounds like a huge amount of money for an audio/video remote, comparing it to Control 4 or Crestron control systems makes it seem quite reasonable, as those run in the $3000-$10,000 range. These are very good systems and definitely have their place in residential homes, but they are full control systems and overkill for what many consumers want when they merely want a single controller for a TV & its connected components.

When do you start looking at remotes/control systems? When you are using more than 3 control devices to operate your equipment, it is time to consider a single universal controller.

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TV shopping list

We are NOT a retailer. We are an AV Electronics Integrator, fancy name for a Home Technology contractor. That said, we sell TVs and other electronics as a means to an end. We design a system based on what you want and then identify the components that would fit those needs. If you want to stream movies off your computer, we are going to discuss a TV that allows you to do so. If you want a TV for the guest room and only want to connect it to your cable, then we aren’t going to recommend a TV that has extra internal functions that you would pay hundreds of dollars more for.

We know the prices of TVs on Amazon, Best Buy, HH Gregg, etc., so when we quote TVs and other store/internet electronics, we quote a price that is competitive to them. Is it the same? No. There is a chance our TV may cost a little more. We include a small mark up to cover our costs to order, receive (which can even mean driving to the distributor in Maryland for larger TVs), and bring the TV to you on installation day. If you ask us why our TV is $100 more than the one on Amazon, we will not lie. We will tell you it is a convenience cost. This is no different than if you bought milk at a 7-11 vs. a warehouse club store.

If you want to buy your own TV, by all means, buy it. I repeat, we are NOT a retailer, you will not hurt our feelings. We want to be the company you use to install the TV and perhaps other electronics that go with it to create your custom entertainment system. If you don’t need the convenience of us getting your TV, then you may not need to buy electronics from us either. But please, keep in mind that we do get good pricing too, so don’t automatically think we can’t price as well a big box or warehouse store.

So, now that we’ve told you our deep, dark secret about how we price TVs, we want to give you a cheat sheet to take with you when you go TV shopping to ensure you are getting the “right” TV. Print and clip the next section of this newsletter & take it with you when you go shopping or have it ready for your Internet purchases.

LED vs. LCD vs. Plasma – From a display panel perspective, LCD & LED are the same. The difference is what provides the lighting behind the panel. Standard LCDs use a compact fluorescent light (CFL) which is either on or off. TVs with LEDs for the backlighting have the ability to dim the LEDs to create darker scenes (i.e. you get dark black with an LED vs. a lighter black, almost grey on an LCD). Plasma TVs are a tried & true technology that uses a different panel construction that allows for a wider range of color creation and truer creation of black. Plasma displays use glass on the front of the panel so glare can be a problem depending on where you are putting it.

720, 1080, 4096 – These numbers all have to do with image quality. Think of them like you would a camera. Camera #s are based on pixel count which is how many tiny blocks of color/image are used to capture an image. Obviously a 5 megapixel camera takes a better picture than an old 1 megapixel camera. In choosing which TV to get, consider the size of the TV. There is no reason not to choose a 720 model on a smaller TV because of its size. However, when you are looking at a larger TV, i.e. 50″ plus, there is a noticeable difference in the picture between a 720 and 1080 TV. By the way, the 4096 is the new 4K TV. Be sure to take a look at one at retailers that are selling them. They are at the introductory stage of technology and the pricing reflects that, but the image is unbelievable. Think of a 2 mega pixel camera image (1080) vs. an 8 mega pixel camera image (4K).

i vs p – This is how the image is painted on the screen, p is what almost all HD Flat Panel TVs use today. The technical description is too complex to briefly explain. If you come across a “deal” on a TV that is 1080i, then stay away from it.

Refresh rate – given in Hz. The higher the number the better the quality, but be aware that most manufacturers have created their own marketing name for the refresh rate, i.e. Samsung uses something called “Clear Motion rate” which is their own proprietary calculation for the clarity of the image that is often confused with the refresh rate Hz definition. Refresh rates affect how movement is seen because it is how quickly the image can change. If you like sports, action movies, then you should look for a larger Hz rate. Want something to watch the news, TV and old movies, save the money the go with the lower Hz.

Size – does matter. Don’t go huge just because you can afford it and it fits on the wall. Choosing a TV size should be based on viewing distance from the TV. Unless you want to feel like you are sitting in the front row of a movie theater (and some people like that), then maybe go for the 55″ instead of the 70″ TV. Toshiba provides a webpage to assist you in selecting a TV size. Keep in mind, they are a manufacturer and could be biased towards the the purchase of larger TVs. Personally, we agree with their minimum size, but have some reservations about the maximum viewing distances. 10.5′ for a 65″ TV is too close by our standards, but again…preferences to distance are a personal choice. When shopping, stand where you would sit when looking at sizes. Also, keep in mind aesthetics. While a 70″ TV looks tiny at a warehouse store, it will be huge on your family room wall if you have standard ceiling heights and the room isn’t large.

Bells & Whistles – You may have heard the term Smart TV, Intelligent TV or something similar. These TVs are built with inputs and outputs that allow you to hook them up to components for streaming video and other purposes, i.e. gaming. Know what you want your TV to do. Again, if this is going in the guest room, bathroom, kitchen, or even the bedroom, you may not want a “Smart” TV (which will cost more). If you are shopping for your family or recreation room TV, you will most likely want those features. However, go back to last month’s article on compatibility issues. You may buy a TV that has the capability to do one thing, but your older DVD player or even your speakers may not work with it, so now you need more electronics.

We could go on and on but that’s about it for this article. Here are a few closing thoughts. If you are going to stand your TV up on an entertainment system or other piece of furniture, keep in mind stability, especially if you have small children. If you are considering mounting it and want to hide the wires in the walls, depending on the size of the TV, type of mount, and where your components are located…the TV could be the least expensive piece of your entertainment system. If you plan to mount it yourself, don’t go cheap on the mount. It is holding up a very expensive piece of electronics that you hope will be with you for years to come.

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Compatability Issues

We are always happy to work with your existing components, but many times we find that the experience you want can’t be created with your existing components. For example, TVs that were built even just 5 years ago may not have an HDMI (high definition) input. So, if you want to add components via an HDMI connector, it can’t be done with the existing TV. Sometimes, there are work arounds, but generally these do not produce the same quality and we try to stay clear of them.


Compatibility issues

Major issues involve receivers that don’t have the right input or output connections or enough of them to allow you to add input components such as Apple TV or output components like speakers. Most older equipment has fallen victim to what is referred to as the Analog Sunset. In 2010, Hollywood started embedding something called AACS in its Blu-ray disks. AACS is a new set of copy protection rules within HD movies and playback equipment. In a nutshell, no HD quality content will be allowed to pass through the analog connection of a device in a High Definition format. This means that for that Blu-ray of Thor to play, the devices must be connected by a digital connection, i.e. HDMI. HDMI interfaces carry the AACS copy protection schema via HDCP (High bandwidth Digital Copy Protection), so now we are right back to the first topic, compatibility.


Design Issues

What we hate to see the most is when potential clients buy components from the Internet or a Big Box retailer & they won’t work with what the person has at home. You can even buy the wrong mount for an existing TV if you don’t ask or provide the right information to a knowledgeable salesperson. These are assumptions made all the time, resulting in compatibility issues.


You can avoid buying the wrong things by having a site survey done before you purchase products. Let us tell you what your existing products are capable of doing. Then, if you choose to buy from someone other than us, by all means do so. Our pricing on electronics is competitive as we know the pricing of our competitors. But if you want to get a brand that we don’t sell, you are more than welcome to do so. You just want to be sure you are getting the right components to do what you want it to do. You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole and that is exactly what happens when you don’t mix and match your components correctly.


What to Do with the Old Stuff

Please, please, please do not just throw your old electronics in the trash. E-recycling locations are increasing all the time. A lot of Big Box retail stores will take your old items. A little further down in this newsletter is a company that we have worked with that does E-waste recycling. Recycling anywhere is better than the regular trash.


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Fall Checklist

It is that time of year again to go through your pre-holiday season electronics checklist.

As we get closer to holiday season, (what we consider Thanksgiving through Super Bowl Sunday), it is time to check your electronics to avoid last minute scheduling conflicts.

1. TVs: Do they all work? Check picture quality, sound, remote control usage, connections to components, i.e. blu-ray/DVD, game stations.

2. Audio: Check sound quality of each and every speaker. You need to literally put your ear to the speaker to ensure sound is coming out. Keep in mind, you will not get sound from rear speakers of a surround sound system if you are not playing a surround sound source, like the news or older TV shows and movies. Check for quality, i.e. fuzzy, static sound. Don’t confuse the sound of the operation of the speaker with it being flawed. If you are very close to a speaker, you may actually hear a slight hiss. That is ok. You won’t hear that as you move away. But, unusual sounds could mean either a problem with the speaker or a calibration issue with your receiver.

3. Quantity/Quality of Electronics: Do you have what you want? Is your TV the size you want for your extended family to watch the Thanksgiving football game. Don’t wait until the week before to go out and buy the 65″ TV to be mounted the week of Thanksgiving. You may need a new mounting bracket and of course, an installation crew. If you get a good deal on a TV and buy it, just set it on a stand until it can be wall mounted later if that is what you want. However, be sure it will fit the area as once you buy and use the TV it is not returnable without a restocking fee.

4. Renovations: Many people start renovations now to prepare for the holidays, i.e. redo their kitchen, family room, etc. If you are starting renovations, don’t forget about your wiring. While general contractors will put in low voltage wiring, it is not their specialty and we have seen many instances of it done wrong or with poor quality cable. You may want to have us quote you on doing the wiring, as we won’t just wire it, but design the wiring around your current and future needs and wants. If you’ve already started renovating, wiring needs to be put in right after electrical, so call right away to see if we can help.

5. Plan for future purchases. If you know you are going to get electronics either during Black Friday or during the holiday, and you are going to want those electronics installed, you can still get your home pre-wired now. We can route the cable & have the wire in place, so as soon as you get it, all we have to do is come back, cut the drywall where we left the cable, pull it through, install the mount & attach the components. That way, you aren’t waiting weeks from the time you get the TV, speakers, etc. to the time you get to actually enjoy it.

If you have any questions regarding electronic changes for the holidays, email us and we will reply. Keep in mind that we can’t really tell you what make or model to buy, as that is a personal choice based on many factors. However, for TVs we recommend Samsung for LED, LCD and Panasonic for Plasma, as a general guideline. Our October newsletter will feature an article on “How to Select a TV” so be sure to check it out.


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