About Hiring an Audio/Video Service Provider

These days, one doesn’t have to crave global domination to enjoy a room that can, at the punch of a button, transform itself into a ground control headquarters that rivals any James Bond movie scene. Home theaters, multi-zone entertainment systems, home-automation and lighting controls, online capability—if you can dream it, they can hook it up. Just make sure you ask for the remote, or you may never be able to use what you paid for.

Audio/visual (A/V) home service providers can seamlessly integrate almost anything—media walls, touch screen panels, speakers, structured cabling—into your existing components or into the architectural integrity of any room. If this isn’t possible, they will build new cabinets to accommodate the equipment. Custom installation is the name of the game.

What to Expect from an A/V Specialist

A/V providers can be contracted through general contractors, designers or directly by you. Whomever they bill, communication with the homeowner is essential. When courting your A/V guru, remember that he or she may specialize in a particular area such as audio, video, telephone, Internet, security, lighting or climate control. A service provider who excels in home theater installation may not be as well versed in, or even deal with, security. You should know whether the service provider is a specialist or can perform all the functions of integration. Determine your needs, get references, ask questions. Will the A/V specialist both design and engineer your project, or will he be coordinating with other trades?

Even when working through a designer, a good A/V contractor will want to meet with you one-on-one to assess your needs. Make the time. You don’t want your system to outreach your ability or desire to operate it. Don’t get swept up in your tech-happy A/V provider’s enthusiasm for all the cool things available to you. Stand fast. Are you really looking for a movie palace complete with stadium seating, and does it need to be tied into the landscape lighting and the air conditioner in the kitchen? Remember, the latest may not be the greatest; the newest innovation hasn’t been around long enough to be tested. Some A/V contractors prefer a lag of six months after the introduction of a product so that they can follow its performance before recommending it to their customers. If you’re the first one in on a new gizmo, know that you may be the first one out of luck.

The means of customization and the materials used differ widely from shop to shop. Some contractors only work in certain brands. Others will install anything you want. Request that the bid proposal be itemized and a sketch attached if you want the finished product to perfectly match your dreams.

Who Will Install My New System?

Although you’ll first deal with either a principal or a representative of the A/V firm, traditionally a crew of field-techies will be dispatched to perform the installation and service. Don’t fret: this crew is likely to be as well informed and passionate about its business as any front man or woman, so you should feel you’re in good hands. You should be assigned a contact—typically the rep who signed you up or the foreman of the crew. It’s invaluable to be able to speak to the same person from the beginning to the end of the project.

Miscommunication commonly surrounds the role of the electrician in an A/V installation. Some A/V providers want the electrician to pull the low voltage cable; he’s always on site, already holds a permit, and it eliminates an extra trip and a coordination headache. Many prefer to do it themselves, knowing that some electricians treat delicate cables with the care of baggage handlers at LaGuardia. Just check that someone’s on it before the walls close up. Also know that A/Vs are not going to install or relocate the electrical receptacles that will power up your system.

Pricing and Service Warranties

The cost of your A/V project will be a reflection of the design work involved, the degree of customization, the type and number of devices and pieces of equipment to be installed, the length of cable to be pulled and the anticipated man hours, plus overhead and profit. Many jobs require a deposit of up to 50 percent, with progress payments to be made when materials and equipment arrive on site, and again upon job completion. The warranty guarantees should appear on the bid proposal. A year of free service is standard.

License Considerations

Because this is a new field, there is currently no licensing requirement for A/V services in Manhattan. Fortunately, this also means that no permit is required. Check your municipality, however, because where it’s mandated, these service providers should be licensed and insured. If you’re still confused, the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA at www.cedia.org) is an excellent resource.

The Hottest New Trends

When it comes to home theater, blockbuster breakthroughs include Digital Video Disc (DVD) players which offer much higher sound and visual quality than videos or laser discs. A movie on a DVD comes through at 500 lines of resolution, double the clarity of a 250-line video cassette. DVD players also offer lush Dolby Digital Surround Sound (DDSS). The quality of television output has advanced, too, with the advent of High Definition Television (HDTV) and Plasma TVs (those sleek, thin TVs, only four inches in depth, that can be hung on the wall). Cutting-edge, multi-zone entertainment systems allow you to play CDs jukebox-style or listen to the radio or TV in any room of the house. For example, programming the system to air your favorite classical radio station through the bathroom speakers while you relax in the Jacuzzi is simply a matter of pressing a touch screen.

Some A/V companies also provide a full line of home automation services, including wireless lighting controls that you can run from your phone (to turn the lights on if you’ll be working late) or from a pad clipped onto your car visor. Home automation also applies to climate control, with wireless systems that let you turn on the heat, air conditioning or lawn sprinklers from any room in the house—or virtually anywhere, via telephone. Thanks to the latest user-friendly A/V programming systems, the days of not being able to program your VCR are over.

How to Get the Most Out of Your System

  • Sit down with the installer to discuss your wants and needs in detail.
  • Don’t rush for the newest technology.
  • Only install gear you’ll actually use.
  • Don’t fall asleep during the technician’s instructions on how to program each device.
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