Bodge it and scarper?

This month our correspondent voices his dismay at some AV companies for botched installations, bad system design and poor standards of control system design. You are encouraged to disagree.

It’s an all too familiar tale. ‘The control system is broken,’ says the voice on the other end of the telephone. ‘It’s not working and things don’t appear on the screen’ continues the complainant. If I had a Pound for every time I’ve heard that or a similar complaint from an end user, then I’d be a very rich man indeed.

So, I dutifully go to site and having seen the problem first hand, normally ask for the site documentation so that I can start the fault finding process by looking at the schematic diagrams and O&M manual. ‘We don’t have any’ is all too often the reply, or the site documentation comprises a scant sheet of brief instruction on how to get Satellite TV on the plasma screen. No O&M manual, no as-built schematic diagrams, no help sheets, pretty much no anything. Sometimes, not even contact details for the company that did the installation and holds the warranty or maintenance contract. As for a copy of the control system programme – forget it!

‘Can you fix it?’ asks the end user. Well, we need to find out what’s wrong with it first. A long discussion usually follows and my analysis of the problems normally falls into 1 of 3 categories:

1. The system doesn’t do what the user wants it to do.

2. The system is unreliable, doesn’t work as the client wants it to and is difficult to use.

3. The control system doesn’t function as it should, or could.

Problems that fall into category 1 often result from the AV company failing to take the correct brief or explore other options with their client. If the salesperson doesn’t know how to question and translate client desires into a hard system functionality then the AV contractor will never deliver what the customer wants.

Category 2 and 3 problems are normally engineering based. But all these are problems that can so easily be avoided if the AV company actually examined what it was doing, designed systems in a coherent fashion and programmed the control unit to work correctly.

Time and again I visit sites and see racks with unlabelled cables, wires going everywhere, poorly made off connectors (often without SRB’s), multiple daisy-chained 4 way mains blocks cable tied to the rack strip rather than a proper MDU to provide 230v power.

Then we get to the AV equipment in the rooms. Plasma screens are not level, cables are not concealed within the vertical pole of ceiling mounts, projectors are not set correctly or aligned with the screen, switchers that don’t switch properly under touch panel control, badly designed systems that don’t allow any flexibility in use or configuration. The list goes on and on and on!

Why are there such poor standards of installation and engineering shown by some of the AV dealers? You spend €6,000 on supplying the latest and greatest plasma screen, attach it to the wall with an impressive, aesthetically pleasing brushed chrome mount, then use a €8 cable from a catalogue to connect it to the client’s top specification PC!

Then we have the problems with audio systems. One solution does not fit all requirements and audio is the least understood part of the audiovisual system. Often, integrators have re-used a previous solution on future projects without determining its fitness for purpose on that project. The end result? – poor quality audio, reduced system effectiveness and lower return on investment for the end user.

As an industry, we need to smarten up our act. For too long we have tried to get away with using the cheapest products, produce botched installations in the shortest period of time possible, in order to try and maximise the profits. We should be striving for technical excellence, using quality products with high levels of reliability and performance, backed by top quality installation practices, which will deliver systems that the users want to use and enhance the standing of the audio visual industry.

Whilst there are plenty of dealers and integrators who do follow that ethos, and I applaud them, many do not and are only too happy to bodge it and scarper with the client’s money. This leaves a bad taste in that client’s mouth not only of themselves, but the industry as a whole.

If you do it right, you only do it once. Something many AV companies should remember.

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