Using a home theater integrator might not be your first thought, but if you’re like me, you better understand the value of time as you get older. We cannot put a dollar value on time, and we would be foolish to try. Think about it. No matter how much money you have, there are still only 24 hours available to you in each day. No amount of money can buy more than that. We can spend time, but we cannot buy more time.
What is your time worth? No, don’t think of how much you get paid. What is the value of your time? What is spending time with your spouse, children, family, or friend’s worth to you? What about doing things that you want to do? Things like going on vacation, hobbies, relaxing, playing sports, watching a great movie, or… Fill in the blank. What are those activities worth to you? More importantly, what is the cost of missing out on those things? As time passes, spending time doing what I want becomes more and more precious to me.
As professional integrators, we cannot give you more time. What we can do is let you choose how you spend your time when it comes to setting up your entertainment systems. Below are five reasons why hiring a professional integrator may be far more valuable to you than the dollars you pay.
A long time ago, before becoming an integrator, I had an experience that many of you may relate to. My wife wanted to mount our new flat screen on the wall. No problem, I thought. I’m reasonably handy. I have tools. I can do this! Off to the electronics store I went. Four and a half hours later, I had a wall mount that I was reasonably sure would work with my TV, and longer cables. Getting what I needed took the better part of Saturday. I decided to wait until Sunday for the installation.
It’s a good thing I didn’t have anything else planned for that Sunday. The majority of my day was spent finding tools that had “grown legs” and walked away from my toolbox, installing the mount, putting tools back away (where they belonged this time), and cleaning up the mess I made. Come to think of it, it was a good thing I didn’t have anything else planned for the entire weekend. Nearly all of it was spent on that stupid mount project!
Fast forward to today. A typical wall mount only takes between two and three hours. That includes travel time and clean up. The difference is simple experience. We have mounted dozens of flat screen TV’s on walls. We know how the mounts we sell work, how to assemble them, how to attach a flat screen to the mount and where it should go on the wall. We know which tools we will need and where to find them in the truck. Finally, we have experienced problems and have learned how to avoid them, so nearly all of the installations go smoothly. Which is more valuable to you, paying for two to three hours of an integrator’s time or losing an entire weekend? It sounds like easy math to me.
Another part of this equation is peace of mind. You know that if the integrator has done similar jobs many times over, there are strong odds your job will be done right! Let’s face it, integrators that do shoddy work or have TV’s that fall off the wall won’t stay in business for long. If you are unlucky, you can find them, but pretty much any integrator that has been in business for more than a few years should give you quality work.
2. Product Knowledge
Anyone who has ever worked on a car knows that only certain parts will work with their vehicle. For example, you would never buy a Mercedes alternator to install in a Chevy. The voltage output may be about right, but the electrical and mechanical connections would be completely wrong. Oh, I’m sure you could make it work, eventually. Why would you want to go through that extra work when you could just buy the correct part that fits perfectly in the first place?
I will grant that you can mix and match many of today’s electronics with relative impunity. However, you cannot mix Yamaha MusicCast speakers with Sonos or Denon Heos systems. They just won’t talk to one another. Beyond this obvious example are specification suggestions that professional integrators make that are based on your particular situation.
There are dozens of manufacturers out there that make AV Receivers. Which one is right for you? Why?
For example, we know which AV Receiver has the correct number of inputs and outputs that are needed to connect to other components in your system. We also know which models have the power ratings for your room size and speakers. Finally we know which features of the receiver will give you the most bang for your buck and how to avoid a receiver that is overkill for your situation.
All of the above applies if you are only looking at a single manufacturer. What if you are starting from scratch? There are dozens of manufacturers out there that make AV Receivers. Which one is right for you? Why? A good integrator has experience with different brands and can recommend one that should work well for you and that meets your requirements. I will grant you that integrators have their favorites, but most of the time the favorite brands come about because they work well, play nice with the other electronics in your cabinet and have good value for the money.
Now take the above scenario with an AV Receiver and multiply it by every other piece of equipment in your system. A good integrator can give you a system that will work well, give you features that are beyond your expectations, and still keep it within a reasonable budget.
Finally a good integrator should be able to explain to you why they are recommending the equipment that they are selling to you. More importantly, they should be able to explain to you in terms that you understand. Never let an integrator intimidate you with tech-speak. If they start talking over your head, you should be comfortable enough with them to ask them to stop and explain again – in your native language! If you are not comfortable enough with your integrator to do that, maybe you need to look for a different integrator.
3. Integrators Are Problem Solvers
One of the biggest challenges I face as an integrator is making old electronics work with new additions to the electronics cabinet. One challenge that I face on a fairly regular basis is a customer that wants to continue using their VCR (remember those?) when replacing an AV receiver. New AV receivers are built around HDMI inputs and outputs. They still have analog inputs, but the receiver defaults to using HDMI inputs from all components. Many of you know that a VCR only has analog outputs. Configuring a new receiver to get input from a VCR’s analog connections instead of the HDMI input that it is factory programmed for can be challenging if you haven’t done it before or read the friendly manual.
A recent request we got was to place speakers next to a bed that the customer could use instead of the sound bar mounted under the TV. They wanted this so they would not disturb others in the house when watching TV late at night in that room. The issues were that they also wanted to adjust the volume at the bed-side speakers and they did not have a receiver in the room. We came up with the idea of using quality computer speakers and specifying a TV that had both optical audio and analog audio outs on the back panel. The sound bar was fed by the optical cable and the computer speakers were served by the 3.5MM audio output. The system worked perfectly, and our customer was thrilled!
Sometimes integrators can even solve problems that the customer didn’t even realize they had. I have lost count of the times I have asked why a system was set up the way it was. Only to receive the answer of, “That was the only way we could get it to work,” or “It was good enough, so we didn’t try to fix it.” There are often ways of configuring equipment so that it works better or more efficiently. Unless they have experienced it in the past, most do-it-yourselfers would never consider the possibility of a simple fix that an integrator might suggest every other week. Sometimes it’s as easy as a configuration change. Other times, adding a simple component will make all the difference in the world for the use-ability of a system. This is where integrators really earn their fee!
4. Tools and Spare Parts
In addition to knowing how to install the components, integrators often have special tools that make the job much easier and faster. Have you ever wondered how an integrator can know which one of the cables coming out in the garage panel goes to the upstairs bedroom, on the left side of the hallway? They have special line tracing electronics that tell them, that’s how. How about getting those HDMI cables from the new box on the wall behind the TV mount to the box at the floor? We have flexible rods and ‘tapes’ to fish wires through walls. Do you have a full set of standard and metric Allen wrenches in your tool box? I have sockets that work with my ratchets and stand-alone sets in my truck at all times.
What happens when a DIY is installing something and they drop a tiny little screw that falls down the heater vent? Yep, you guessed it. They have one less screw in their assembly than they should. Integrators usually have a magnetic pick-up tool that can often retrieve the screw. We also have a couple of boxes of spare screws, nuts, and bolts that we keep in our trucks. When that screw, nut, or bolt is missing from the box, goes missing during installation, or was not included in the box, extras are readily at hand.
5. Returns and Warranties
The last area where an integrator earns your money can be well after the job is said and done. What happens if your new sound electronic component stops working? If you bought it and installed it yourself, you get to deal with endless phone trees and warranty departments that want to avoid replacing equipment at any cost. If you hired an integrator to supply and install the sound bar, you only have to make a single phone call to the integrator. The integrator will then take care of the problem for you. It may mean coming out to your home and re-configuring a sound bar for you. It may mean dealing with warranty departments or replacing a defective component with a new one – often out of their own stock. Regardless of what needs to be done, it isn’t you doing it.
I’ll be the first to admit that the phone tree’s and ‘customer Care’ people reading from scripts drive me nuts (Some days it’s a VERY short drive!). That’s why I go out of my way to get back-door phone numbers to manufacturers and develop relationships with manufacturers rep’s so I can handle warranties efficiently. It can be a pain, but it is part of the service that a true professional integrator offers.
Most of us have to work to survive, but all of us have days off. What are those days off worth to you? “Working for the weekend” has become a sad reality of the American worker. We all wish there was more weekend in the two days between work weeks. An integrator can’t give you more weekend, but we can let you enjoy your weekend more. Integrators offer value in ways that are far more valuable than the fees charged. We offer peace of mind and a better way for you to spend your time!