Buying Security Cameras on the Internet: Any Savings?

We all enjoy getting a deal on the Internet.  What about buying home technology?  Can you get a good deal?  Maybe.  But is it smart?  Maybe not.  Here’s a recent email exchange with a client for whom we’re installing cameras in his 17,000 square foot home.

Client:  Pat, is your supplier high on the camera price?  Here’s what I found on the Internet.  (Link to site.)

Pat:  I will check it out with the rep. They are selling well below my wholesale.

Pat to our distributor:  Please see what this seller is doing—what’s up? They’re selling BELOW wholesale. They say they’re an authorized seller. Any thoughts? Or is this not legit?

Our distributor:  This is not an authorized reseller. We run into these guys a lot.

Zero warranty, and no factory support. That’s not competing. Just predatory.  If purchased from them, it voids all warranty. They do not purchase from the manufacturer.  They do a bait-and-switch. 

Pat to client:  I’ve had calls and emails with our distributor.  It’s what I thought.  This seller you found on the Internet takes your money, then declares that the items are backordered when you wonder why they haven’t been delivered.  Then they try to get you into a different brand to appease you.  I have seen several sites like this on the AV side of the business.  Some even call me to try to side-sell them high-end equipment.

Client:  I don't understand how Amazon can sell this stuff under your cost.  Help me feel I'm not being overcharged other than I'm taking a chance on overnight delivery.  How do these people obtain this equipment and not be distributors?  I have bought electronic devices before on Amazon and filled the warranty paperwork out (I never have had the need for warranty work though) and I never heard back from the manufacturer that I would not be covered.  It doesn't make sense they would ignore their warranty on a new product. I'm just trying to figure out how this all works.   

Pat:  Frustrating, definitely—and especially so for the manufacturers. Amazon is only as reliable as the company backing the sale, since Amazon is just a middle-man.  I’ve use Amazon, and have never had trouble, but I always do business with only major-name stores and I confirm that they are not on a list like this one, where the manufacturer is actively pursuing legal action.  I buy cameras from the factory-authorized distributor in Carrollton, TX.  They are probably charging me 5-10% markup for handling since I’m not factory direct.

After reading the information on the link about unauthorized resellers, and you feel comfortable making an online purchase, it will be a way to save money. Perhaps you could try buying a single item first (from someone not on ‘the list’) and see how it goes.  If it works, great!  Then order the rest.  Remember the warranties, if needed, would have to flow through the place you purchase them from since the manufacturer tracks serial numbers.

Hope this helps.  It's why UltraMedia and other service/labor-based companies are getting high on labor.  The margins are almost gone on the items we sell. Keep the questions coming!

Client:  Great job doing the research on this.  It’s not worth the risk, and you guys have never let me down.  Please order the cameras and recorders.  Thanks for your time and patience answering my questions.

Weeks later: the cameras and recorder were installed on the job site.  The clients have still not moved in yet.  There have been 4 attempted break-ins.  Between the alarm system, and the recorded images, nothing has been stolen from the home, and the police have excellent images from which to work.

Surge Protection

Last year, Brett Shipp with WFAA (Dallas) wrote a story about an unfortunate woman who lost every home appliance, thanks to her local electric company (I’ll be kind and not name names).  They were repairing a transformer near her home, when a surge resulting from their effort created an in-home fireworks display that fried over $10,000 worth of her home electronics.  (Hers was not the only home affected.)  Apparently neither the electric company, nor the insurance company, helped her with her claim.  So, she had to replace appliances that included home entertainment electronics and flat-screen TVs.

The damage may not have been as extensive if she had installed whole-home surge protection.  Be mindful: there is a difference between surge suppression and surge protection.  Surge protection is the mac daddy.  But both have their places.

Surge suppression is less expensive—not as robust.  It’s most commonly used to protect individual devices or small systems, like a home entertainment system.  Suppression limits a surge—knocks it down—but doesn’t stop it.

Surge protection is more expensive, and stops just about everything but a direct hit; i.e.: a lightening bolt to your roof.  We have a SurgeX surge protection panel installed at our electrical panel to protect our whole-home entertainment system.

Since the largest surges come from outside your home, it makes sense to install either surge suppression or surge protection at your high-voltage electricity panel.  (You get the biggest bang for your buck when you install protection at your panel.  No pun intended.)  SurgeX and Torus are the top-of-class manufacturers of surge protection and suppression.  Other great products come from Furman, APC, Panamax, and Ditek.

Pricing starts at $30 with Panamax, and reaches $9,000 from Torus.  Your cost will be determined by the level and type of protection you need.  Please visit these sites for technology specifics: ,,,,, and

DIY: Paint Metal Speaker Grills

For years, DIYers and contractors have sought our opinion about the best way to paint metal speaker grills used on in-wall speakers.

Faux-finished walls have been popular for so many years, and it was easy to replicate the mottled finish of the wall on speaker grills.  Our process: thin the paint 4:1 paint and water.  Brush onto the speaker grill, and using canned air, force air through the grill holes to clear them of paint. 

Recently, we were challenged to find a new way to apply paint to grills that would result in a smooth finish.  We found one at Sherwin-Williams.  It’s called PreVal Spray Gun.

The unit is no bigger than a can of canned air, with a 16 oz. glass paint reservoir attached to the bottom.  It has a thinning guide, and can be sued with auto paint, lacquers, acrylics, primers, and varnishes.

It delivers a very light paint mist to the speaker grill.  It may take several thin coats, depending on the original color of the speaker grill, and the paint color being applied.  Our applications filled only a handful of the holes in the grills, and we easily removed the paint with a sewing needle.

Connectivity in the Home: Wired, Powerline, and Wireless

Connectivity in the home is growing.  And if you’re not connected, your home may not be technologically up to date.  Devices that have typically functioned independently are now being made with added benefits that can appreciated only when connected to other technology in your home using a broadband connection.  Our clients are networking the electronics in their home and offices, sharing information among their products, increasing the products offerings and functionality.

Games, movies, music, and photos can be stored on a PC anywhere in your home, and can be accessed by any number of other devices (on the other side of the house), as long as the infrastructure, or wiring backbone is in place.  Our clients can control their home theater, security, and lighting from a smart phone or iPad.  They can even adjust their home thermostat from their office, so that the temperature is comfortable when they arrive home.

Direct-connected or hard-wired networks offer the greatest reliability and speed.  Running data along a wire (as opposed to wirelessly) will ensure the fastest speeds, with the least amount of interference.  Installation runs more than a wireless system, because more labor is required for a wired network system.  But the end product is very secure.

Powerline control (PLC) is another form of wired connectivity that uses existing electrical runs to communicate broadband.  While it runs more slowly that Ethernet, powerline control is still much faster than using a wireless system.  The devices that are used on either end of the powerline control system (plugs and switches) are the most expensive part of installation, but do save time and labor costs.  This alternative is very convenient and is secure.

A wireless network is the most convenient way to get connected.  Much of the equipment manufactured now comes with access points that make the units ready for Wi-Fi.  What you lose with a wireless system are speed, capacity, and security.  But, it makes each device, like a smart phone or iPad, very mobile in the home.

We’ll be happy to talk about which option would work best for you.

Why Bargain TVs Aren’t a Good Investment

High-quality TVs are typically good investments in technology, and you can count on getting many good years out of them.  But more recently, the market has been flooded with “bargain TVs,” and these need to be carefully considered before you buy on price alone.

  • Durability – Good displays have about a 4% or lower failure rate.  Bargain brands have failure rates as high as 20%.
  • Integration – Good brands offer lots of inputs and control options like VGA and RS-232.  “Deals” offer far fewer of these options.  And these options are key in allowing you to get the most for your money.
  • Viewing – Better brands use better (more expensive) video processors, high-contrast glass, and other quality components that provide the best picture.  Bargain brands typically utilize the cheapest components possible.
  • Reliability – High-quality TVs can be repaired by just about any qualified service outlet.  Bargain displays usually have no service centers.  So, many are “disposable,” and must be trashed when they break.
  • Technology – Higher quality = more R&D.  Lower-end brands may be a year or more behind the technology curve.

Why Use Top-Quality (and more expensive) Cables and Connectors?

Cables don’t garner the same respect that other products like flat-panel TVs and awesome-sounding speakers get.  To many clients, cables are no more important than staples and wire ties.   However!  That couldn’t be further from the truth!  Read on!

  1. Cable basics:  The reason UltraMedia uses better cables is because high-quality cables permit less noise and distortion to enter the system.  That’s why a system with better cables performs better, hands down.
  2. All cables in the system are important, just like all tires on the car are important.  Further, that means interconnects as well as in-wall video and speaker cables must be of the highest quality, to ensure that all of the information passes through the media system unhindered.
  3. All of UltraMedia’s systems are built on a strong foundation of high-quality cables. Just as you’d never build a great home on a cinder block foundation, it would be unreasonable to think we can build a great home theater or AV distribution system on cheap cables.
  4. Short cables are like dating. If you change your mind and want to upgrade from an inferior cable to a high-quality one, it’s easy to make a change. Long cables in the wall are more like marriage—changes are difficult, painful and expensive. You want to get the wiring done right the first time!
  5. We are often asked, “What is the secret to better performance in the AV industry?”  Our answer:  “In photography, it’s lenses. In cars, it’s tires.  In the AV world you get the greatest performance bang for your buck with better cables!”  

The fact that we insist on using only the best in wiring infrastructure differentiates UltraMedia from our competition.  Our clients win with better, more reliable cables and better performance. We reduce labor expenses when we install cables that are more reliable and easier to pull and terminate.

To learn more, visit Audioquest.

Vienna Acoustics

From anywhere in the building!

I decided a long time ago that there is another, unexpected litmus test for a speaker: how it sounds when you’re not in the sweet spot.  How does it sound three feet away from the sweet spot?  Two rooms away?  In the bathroom?  It doesn’t matter where I am, the sound these Musics create is impeccable.  I don’t know how they do it, but where cheap speakers make sounds unrecognizable and unbearable from the next room (or behind a closed door), these Vienna Acoustics manage to deliver not only reference-quality sound in the sweet spot, but incredibly clean and full sound no matter where in the building I travel.  I really, really like that—and recommend a listen!

Vienna Acoustics

Budgeting for Home Technology

We have the absolute delight of working for clients who have typically had much freedom in their home-building/renovating budgets.  Of course, there will always be those who are unaffected by the peaks and valleys of the economy, but we’re seeing budgets viewed and reviewed more carefully these days.

As always, we respect our clients’ limits.  Last year we developed a budget review process that works undeniably well.  Not only does it show our clients just about every type of home technology we provide, it offers a way to systematically arrive at how much a client wants to invest in each.

For instance, under the “custom lighting control” category, there are three price ranges: single room from $500 - $3500; 2,000 – 6,000 square foot home from $5,000 - $20,000; and 6,000+ square foot home from $15,000 - $300,000.  These are only ranges and starting points—a place for a conversation to begin about the special technology needs and desires of the homeowners.

Please call us if you’d like to run through a budget review in person!  We’ll be glad to help you get an idea of what your technology upgrade/update ideas might cost.

SonicPrints by Auralex

We're wrapping up a job in Frisco—for the size of the lot, it’s a modest home at about 6,000 square feet.  A beautiful Texas contemporary, it houses a wonderful theater.  This theater was our largest Auralex job yet.  (It also sports a Wolf Projector.)

Auralex manufactures and installs acoustical panels: sound treatments.  I must say that we thoroughly enjoyed working with the folks at Auralex.  They flew a manager and two installers in for the week-long installation.  They were at the same time professional, but very relaxed and easy to work with.  It was clear they love their work as much as we love ours.

In addition to traditional custom-designed acoustic panels, they offer a line called SonicPrint.  A SonicPrint looks like art on a canvas, but has the added benefit of sound control.  Just like their custom counterparts, they help control excessive reverberation and echo that are caused by hard surfaces like drywall, concrete or wood.  Strategically placing SonicPrint panels in any room in the house will absorb unwanted sound energy so you can hear your music and movies as they were intended to be heard.

Auralex offers SonicPrints with licensed art, or you may upload your own personal images.  See more at

Home Theater Décor at its Best: Theo Kalomirakis

TK Theaters may save you a lot of time—and money!  Not too long ago we worked on a project involving a Theo Kalomirakis theater.  Theo sells no components--when he sells a theater, he sells the décor—the theme, or the “feel.”  And this décor is over-the-top amazing.  We handle the technology, and Theo handles the look.  His work can begin with an outer lobby, and move to the theater itself.  He offers pre-designed themed theaters, or will create a custom design.  Just like us, Theo does not require a certain-size installation.  Just like us, what matters most is the experience.  Please visit his website at  If you decide that you are interested in one of his signature theaters, please let us know.  We would be happy to team with him to provide a total home entertainment experience for you.

Seura Television Mirrors (great for bathrooms)

Yesterday we had the pleasure of a visit from the Seura (see-ra) rep.  Seura manufactures television mirrors, and water-proof mirrors for bath and kitchen.  They offer five product lines.

The Enhanced Series offers vanishing technology (high definition LCD vanishes when powered off), and the mirror is optimized for accurate reflection.  It closely mimics a traditional mirror.  The Enhanced Series is best used in bathrooms over tubs, and as vanity mirrors.

The Premier Series also offers the vanishing television technology.  In this series, the mirror is optimized for a vivid television picture, with a designer tint and soft reflection.  This series is often used in great rooms, bedrooms, and dry areas of kitchens.  In this series, the mirror is a decorative piece in the room when the television is not in use.  Seura offers over 60 frame options for this series, from contemporary to traditional, along with several beveling options.

The Deco series is a non-vanishing television, meaning that the LCD is visible when off.  This is a traditional silvered mirror.  Again, it comes with 60 frame options.

The Lumination collection offers both lighted and television mirrors.  Lighting can be fluorescent, white LED, or color changing.  There are twelve designer patterns, and several designs available with televisions.  These are preferred in bathrooms, bedrooms, and dressing rooms.

The Hydra line is a waterproof HD television.  Seura offers two standard colors, but the bezel can be customized to any Pantone color!  (3,000?)  The completely waterproof seal is excellent for television in bathrooms, showers, and kitchens. 

Depending on the series of television mirror chosen, sizes range from 10” (the Discreet Display) to a 65” LCD.  Profiles range from 1” to 4”.  Most of their television mirrors come with waterproof remotes.

According to design requirements, television mirrors can be surface mounted or recessed.  In recessed applications, Seura will provide preparation specifications for the builder or remodeler.

In certain rooms, clients want not only the television mirror, but other mirrors to match.  Seura will make mirrors to match the television mirror, according to the designer’s specifications.

An Anamorphic Lens Installation

Thought it might be fun to run through a project.  This particular challenge involved a family of avid movie watchers who had been using a JVC Model 21U projector, and a Screen Research 16x9 motorized screen for a few years.  Having recently purchased a Blu-ray player, they wanted a solution to the black-bar problem they now had.  (Blu-ray players display in the original theatrical version, which means they’re in a wide screen format—typically a 2.40:1 as opposed to a 1.78:1 ratio.)

In order to eliminate the black bars above and below the picture (when showing the 2.40 on a 1.78 screen), we decided to use an anamorphic lens and video processor, much like the theaters do with film.  This meant it was a great time to upgrade to the JVC RS-2 as well.

A second reason we encouraged this change: if you’re showing the black bars, you’re giving away the performance capabilities of the projector.  That is because the black bars are unused pixels on the video chip set of a modern digital projector.  When you go to the trouble to eliminate the unused pixels, the picture is larger, brighter, and full resolution when viewing the wide-screen formats.

We chose the Panamorph lens.  First, we measured price against performance, and Panamorph won over Schneider.   And, Panamorph offered a kit that matched our client’s new projector model. 

We replaced the 16:9 motorized screen with a combination 1.78 / 2.40 motorized screen with masking.

We added a Lumagen Luminance Radiance XD external video processor, and automated the control with an Elan touchscreen.  Bye-bye to multiple remotes. The client was juggling five to just watch TV, and this upgrade would add four more.  The client asked for a single touchscreen with full control—to set each source to any format at any time—while keeping it simple to use.   We used macros for each input; for instance, the screen defaults to 1.78 when selecting satellite TV, with overrides to 2.40.  And the reverse with the Blu-ray player: it’s set to 2.40 with the ability to switch to 1.78.  All other sources default to the most recent choice, but the touchscreen provides icons to select either format as desired.

Our client is happy.  Can’t hurt that they also added Vienna Acoustics Musics (and monoblocks) with a Poetry center channel, and two REL B-1s.

UltraMedia Attended CEDIA EXPO 2010

CEDIA EXPO is the audio/video industry’s annual technology exposition.  This year, EXPO highlighted technological advances in TVs, Apple products, home health care, and old-fashioned turntables!

Many manufacturers demonstrated further evolution of the television.   TVs are getting thinner and thinner--one was so thin it folded!  Speakers are following suit—thinner, to match the TVs with which they will be paired.  Both TVs and speakers can be flush-mounted.  Televisions are becoming more multifunctional; mirrored, and available in every color imaginable. 

Several manufacturers sported technologies using the popular Apple interfaces.  Use your iPhone and iPad to control of nearly every home system: televisions, house music, broadcast photos, lighting, and energy management.

Featured in the spotlighted Technology Pavilion was home health care, which will become more and more important as baby boomers age.  Manufacturers of this technology asked us why interior designers aren’t jumping onto the “aging” bandwagon.  Monthly, there are new milestones in making getting older easier.  For instance, relatives can monitor an aged loved one’s vital statistics, movement from room to room, and whether medications are taken on time. 

Surprisingly, there has been a resurgence in the interest of vinyl records!  Audiophiles are deciding that nothing sounds better than old-fashioned LPs.  Interior designers should be prepared to design around the wide array of new turntable systems that are gaining popularity.

While there was not a revolutionary technology revealed, CEDIA exhibitors showed their commitment to fulfilling the ever-growing demands of the clients the AV industry serves.           

Building Quiet Environments

UltraMedia , Inc. will present a class called Building Quiet Environments at METROCON10 on August 12 and 13, 2010.  Attending this hour-long class will earn attendees (which will consist of interior designers, builders, and architects) one Continuing Education Unit (CEU).

In today’s hectic and fast-paced world, homeowners need and want a space that is peaceful and tranquil—a quiet environment where they can relax and enjoy their home without noisy interruptions.  Our course, Building Quiet Environments outlines the fundamentals of sound control and gives examples of noise pollution affecting today’s society.  Participants will discuss key principles related to sound isolation and the “why, what, and how” of components associated with controlling sound.  Construction materials, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing considerations will also be discussed, while the participant is guided through the step-by-step process of building a media room.  Attendees will learn how to locate an Electronics Systems Contractor (ESC) (which is what we are) and what questions to ask when partnering with an ESC.

Course presenter (our employee), Brent Thomas, said, “I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned about managing sound in homes.  Each home presents a unique set of challenges with regard to sound.  But when designers, architects, and builders are aware of these challenges going into a project, they’ll find a variety of ways to manage it at each step along the building or remodeling process.”

Brent should present a great class.  He’s a semi-retired stand-up comic, and is bound to put his shine on the course material.  We’ll have about 90 attendees.  I’ve contacted our sound-control vendors, and have a wonderful array of examples—everything from ceiling suspension brackets to floor de-couplers, to sound dampening wall treatments. 

Please see for more information.

Green? Calibration!

There are many reasons to calibrate your video displays.  We have a whole array of good reasons cited on our own page, “Video Calibration.”  But I had no idea that calibrating LCD and plasma TVs improves energy efficiency up to 50 percent!  Again, the “dynamic” or “vivid,” from-factory mode is intended to get your attention in a brightly lit retail environment.  However, it’s not appropriate for a home environment, and apparently gobbles up your energy, unnecessarily.  (And gobbles up the life of your TV!)

Also, 2010 has already ushered in some new Energy Star standards.  You can see these when you visit

Even still, the calibration process is said to offer even bigger energy savings.  It’s best to calibrate a video display once it reaches its final destination—your home.  That way, all of the influencing factors like ambient light and even room décor can be taken into consideration when optimizing the video display.  Please call us for a calibration quote!