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A considered approach to acoustic design

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It’s important not to rush in, writes Anthony Grimani. If you do, before you know it you’ll be in over your head.

I was talking to an integrator recently who had gotten himself into a mess with a client. He had done some work for this client in the past and actually built quite a good relationship in the process. But things went off track when the client asked him to upgrade his media room.

This room was a custom integrator’s version of Mission: Impossible. It was brightly lit, barely off-white, and littered with double windows.

The rest of the room was covered with sports memorabilia, so altering the aesthetics was absolutely prohibited. The client loves sports and wanted to have several programs on the flat screen TVs and the projector at the same time. However, his main issue was that picture on his projection screen didn’t look anything like the LCD TVs flanking it and he found this terribly irritating.

Unfortunately, my integrator jumped into the project a little too eagerly. He ended up installing a lot of equipment that the client claimed was no better than what he had before.

That got me thinking: What can integrators do to keep projects like this on track? After all, work is hard to come by, so you don’t want to make a habit of turning it down.

I think the first thing is communication. Explain to the client that expectations of performance must be tempered in that kind of environment.

Not every car is a Ferrari, and not every media room rivals Hollywood screening rooms for sound and picture quality. Don’t be afraid to say this just because you think it somehow makes you look inferior to your competition.

Second, outline some specific aspects of performance that can be improved, rather than issuing a blanket “I’ll fix it” statement. For example, this integrator could have suggested that the client install blinders to keep the recessed ceiling can lights from shining directly on the screen. That improvement is easy to verify.

Third, take stock of the room and realise that special engineering may be needed in these challenging situations. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that standard installation techniques will always be enough to make a client happy; they won’t. The screen and projector in this project needed to be one of those dark matrix types with specular reflective coating. Instead it was a white retro-reflective type that beamed the projector light away from the seating area. Analysis of the screen’s reflective properties and the projector’s location would have indentified this issue prior to installation. In today’s world, there are very few problems that can’t be engineered around. The education courses from organisations like CEDIA are a great place for integrators to learn how to overcome them. At the very least they can learn enough to know when a problem is over their heads and requires an outside consultant or engineer.

Fourth, don’t use the same standard, go-to hardware regardless of the circumstances. This particular project had the unique challenge of trying to balance a 305cm projection screen to multiple bright LCD TVs. The projected image was never going to be as bright or have as much contrast as those TVs – even if all of them were (or could be) carefully calibrated. With a screen that large, you could spec in a 4K projector and a video mixing system so that all the programs would be displayed on the projection screen and the TVs would go away. Every game would look exactly alike, and the video mixer could be programmed to arrange and size the games any way the client wanted. Once again, CEDIA expos are a great place to learn about such products. Next time you’re there set aside some time to expand your horizons.

Don’t just visit vendors you already know.

In the final analysis, I think the biggest mistake a custom integrator can make is to assume he or she can treat every project alike and get just enough improvement to make the client happy. After all, how astute are clients, really? Well in some cases, they are. This kind of client requires special education on the front end, concrete performance goals, and customized engineering and products to meet those goals. If you recognise this, you’ll never have the opportunity to wonder if you should have turned down a difficult job. And that’s what I told this integrator.

Anthony Grimani is president of PMI, Ltd – a leading home cinema design consulting firm. Visit www.pmiltd.com or email info@pmiltd.com. Chase Walton contributed to this column.

About Anthony Grimani

Anthony Grimani

Anthony Grimani is president of PMI, Ltd., a home cinema engineering firm, and MSR Acoustics, a manufacturer of fine acoustical tuning systems. MSR is represented in Australia by Wavetrain (www.wavetrain.com.au).

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