September 2009

Light and Magic in the Lowcountry: Take a Tour and Learn From the Masters

Author: Paul deVere

You just can’t decide. Watch that pay-per-view off your satellite, tune in to cable for a rerun of Monk, pop The Soloist in your DVD player, or maybe the kids want to watch Hannah Montana: The Movie, on your new Blu-ray player. Surround sound receiver all set up? Whatever. Anything will look grand with your LCD video projector hidden in the ceiling just above you. Now, lower your hidden screen and just dim the lights slightly…

Sheridan Park, in Bluffton, might be considered the Silicon Valley of the home entertainment business. Or is it the audio-video business? Or home electronics? A/V? For the two companies in Sheridan Park, Custom Audio Video and Audio Visions, it’s all of the above. Though slightly different in approach, the companies specialize in entertainment systems for home and office, whether it’s simply a surround sound system or a room where the homeowner wants to recreate a theater-like experience.

“We are a service company. We take disparate things [audio systems, video systems, etc.], put them together, and make them work well together,” said Jason Clarke of Custom Audio Video.

“Many people are intimidated by new technology. They don’t want to walk into a store like this,” Audio Visions’ Jeff Sims said. “We hold people’s hands from beginning to end.”

“The two areas most people ask us about are convenience and quality. In terms of quality, they are looking for something higher than they previously had. VCR tapes became DVDs. DVDs are now becoming Blu-ray. The pursuit of quality has been huge over the last few years” Clarke said.

On the convenience side is the remote—one remote must control every piece of equipment. “Every system we do has a universal remote. You want your DVD? Press a button. About 95 percent of our customers have Direct TV. We network everything together in that one remote. It even controls lights,” explained Sims.

Over the past two years, the home electronics industry has exploded. Flat screen Plasma and LCD televisions are now exceptionally affordable. Even the higher end video projection systems, though still a bit pricey, are within reach. And, at the same time, the quality has grown exponentially. Demonstrating a new $4,000 projection system, Sims said, “You couldn’t get this quality of picture with a $20,000 projector a couple years ago.” The room no longer has to be darkened and the screen can be seen clearly from different positions in the room, not just dead center.

While improving quality is very important to people, Clarke points to the convenience factor that Custom Audio Video often addresses. “The control processor, a very specialized computer, allows you to do a lot of things. You can access your lights; you can adjust your HAVC system anywhere in the world through the Internet or your iPhone. Interest is peaking more now than ever before,” he said.

“I find that home automation technology that’s centered around remote usage is best for people who spend a lot of time away from home or have multiple homes. Clients who are up north and coming down here in two days can go online and lower the temperature zones down to how they want it to be when they get here,” Clarke explained.

One of the latest developments in the flat screen arena is the “LED” HDTV, a hybrid that combines LCD and LED technologies. While the price is double that of a high-end HD LCD, the new flat screen is 10 times brighter with 10 times the contrast of a traditional LCD HD television. “It’s also greener,” said Sims. “It’s 40 percent more efficient than an LCD.”

Another piece of “new tech” is something called a “sound bar,” which emulates the experience of surround sound using just one speaker. While it is no substitute for the real thing—5.1 channels of audio that HDTV and DVD offer and the accompanying hardware—depending on a room’s configuration, it is a truly remarkable piece of equipment.

What’s in the future for the ever-changing landscape of the audio visual world? Jason Clarke took a stab at an answer. “The big earth shaker the last few years was flat panels in general. But I think the ‘Big Thing’ coming has less to do with the TV itself and more to do with the content that’s on it. It’s really about getting content from alternative sources. The Internet is growing into its own source for video content. YouTube. Netflix is about to come online. There are Web sites out there now, like hulu, that are completely devoted to just playing back TV [www.hulu.com].

“I don’t know the statistics, but from what I understand, kids today, 15 to 20- somethings, watch less TV. They spend more time on the computer. They’re still watching a screen; they’re getting entertainment; they’re just doing it in a different way. So the thing that I see, that phenomena, combined with the fact that eventually these kids are going to get tired of looking at a little screen and want to watch a big TV, those two technologies are going to come together. That’s the ‘Big Thing.’ Whoever can overcome the limited delivery [of Internet content] we have here, will be a very wealthy person,” said Clarke.

While the AV world available in the Lowcountry may not be right out of The Jetsons, we seem to be pretty darn close. Okay. Who’s got the remote?

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