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Controlling Your Life

The truth is that for the last 25 years our industry has been plagued by a common problem. This problem is still one of the most-cited issues with consumer electronics purchasers. The problem, simply defined, is ease of use.

You may have heard of the flashing 12. This is merely an example of manufacturers making the operation of their products incredibly difficult, even when it comes to performing the simplest of tasks such as setting the clock on their VCRs.

When it comes to control, the scenario described above has left an indelible negative imprint on the minds of today’s consumers.

Those of us who have been around the CE industry since its early days have always thought of control in two ways: there was remote control and then there was home automation. The home automation category was to never be touched by an average consumer.

The remote control category usually indicated a handheld device that was universal or could be programmed. Older still, it might have been a type of learning remote. Examples of these types of controls were the PRONTO, Universal, Harmony and many more.

The second category, also known as home automation, was often reserved for the rich and famous. Crestron and AMX used to be the primary players and there wasn’t much else available.

These goliaths of home automation have been the predominant force for many years and, therefore, many people believe these systems to be way out of reach for the average consumer.

The last few years have seen a radical shift within the control category and systems with incredible flexibility and functionality have improved their reliability and user interface. Systems such as Control 4, Niles ICS and Universal Remote Control have released amazing products in the past couple of years. Additionally companies like Savant have introduced new high-end solutions that take on the flexibility of the giants. The result is an increasing number of competitors offering multitudes of lower-cost solutions.

Consumers can now control everything from distributed audio to lighting to HVAC to telephony to home theater and much more. The best part is that it can be done for thousands of dollars instead of hundreds of thousands.

The most difficult lesson to learn is when it comes to implementing some sort of control system, you always want an expert to install and program the system.

The closest analogy that comes to mind in order to illustrate this point sufficiently is that of the computer. Can you imagine offering someone a hard drive, a video card, an audio card, a modem and all the other things that are on the inside of a computer and asking your average to consumers to assemble and use said device? Can you spell disaster?

In much the same way, we have been asking our customers for years to buy a receiver, DVD, TV, etc., and put them all together and make them function as a single system. LOL! No wonder the flashing 12 is still No. 1 complaint from consumers!

As systems become more intricate and more devices are added to these systems, the necessity for a consultant or expert advisor becomes painfully clear.

What is the great news? You can now afford an extremely versatile control system and the expert advice of a high-quality installation company for far less than we used to pay for just the control system only a few short years ago.

The last point to be made here is beware of trunk slammers. Our industry is plagued with people who will give away the gear and the technology merely for an opportunity to make some labor. This is a lose-lose scenario. Consumers are happy to be getting a deal, unaware of the impending disaster. When did people forget that “there is no such thing as a free lunch,” and that “if a deal is too good to be true, it probably is”? In order to compete, you better know what you are up against and have a solid defense tactic prepared.

David Berman, Director of Training and Public Relations, Home Theater Specialists of America