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Publicly discuss strategies, opportunities and best practices using the Lobby Suite with other professionals in this ever growing industry.
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jpimentel
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Let's get started!

Postby jpimentel » Sun Apr 04, 2004 4:21 pm

I couldn't resist being the first one to post in this forum. Not sure how to share ideas here without giving away all my trade secrets, but I'll give it a whirl. :wink:

So how about that CAV6.6 plugin. A boon to house audio guys!!
Regards,

John

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Postby htfanintn » Sun Apr 04, 2004 5:01 pm

That was fast John! I asked Mario if he would think about creating this area just last night, and bam! - here it is!

I agree that it is a little scary to share our business ideas and secrets for fear of other local competitors finding out - but I'm willing to give it a shot.

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Postby K-Wood » Sun Apr 04, 2004 5:46 pm

I'm curious as to what your target market is. I've been approached by several acquitances to "set something up like what you've done" and I've wondered how feasible it would be to start a business doing just that. My initial impression of the market is that there is a large underserved group of people who would be interested in a touchscreen controlled media server setup, perhaps with whole-house audio, but who aren't in the same league as the Crestron/AMX/Phast boys. They're definitely above the Best Buy crowd (and wouldn't hesitate to drop $$ on a Viking range), but simply don't have the time or the knowledge to do the installation, programming, and configuration necessary for a complete DIY approach.

I can imagine that offering a turn-key music server system, fully installed and configured, with available ongoing support, could become a lucrative local business - at a price point below the Crestron level. There would also be a potential for repeat business to add whole-house features, home automation, etc.

I also imagine it being primarly a local business, as the real $$ is in the custom configuration and installation, not resale of hardware or software.

Am I way off-base? Does such a market exist?

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Postby Guest » Sun Apr 04, 2004 7:26 pm

I can't speak for anyone else, but my market is pretty close to what you are describing. Although I sell Internationally (Music Mountain is on 3 continents now) 90% of my business is with local custom A/V Installer types. If you are thinking of starting this type of business, be warned you should not quit your day job because the pickins are slim at first. It seems that having a system based on a PC platform takes away credibility points right away and most serious large scale custom installers won't touch your product with a 10" pole. Even though my product fully loaded at $5k destroys the competition by an order of magnitude in price and performance not to mention flexibility.

That said, for me it is a labor of love and I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. With the DVD Server functionality becoming more and more tightly integrated, it is too much for even the niegh sayers to resist so I do see my business picking up. Of course using Mario's horribly sexy graphics for the C/S front end doesn't hurt either.

You are also correct in saying that the current level of tweaking required to get a user friendly system in place is beyond what most wannabe DIY A/V guys can handle. So, a commodity product it is not, and you will never see it in Best Buy, at least not in it's current form. I am doing what I can to change that of course, but certain manufacturers must make some changes for it all to come together. A big help will be when HDMI is commonplace and available in the PC market place.

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Postby K-Wood » Sun Apr 04, 2004 7:57 pm

That's great to hear, John, and I'm glad to see someone making a serious run at it.

I have family friends as guests this week, with an 8 and 10 year old, and the MainLobby-based touchscreen system has held up to them, functioning nearly flawlessly! From the kitchen, they like to pick out songs and play them through the whole-house system; in the theater, they pick out movies or crank up the TiVo - all through the touchscreen. Once people see this thing in action, they want one.

The hard part may be convincing someone to pay $5k to 10k for an install, b/c they would have no idea that an equivalent Crestron or AMX system would start at 20k. Definitely a process of education.

The good news is that Cinemar's software has now progressed to the point where professional installation is a very viable. Even more so when two-way functionality becomes possible.

I think I may give it try. But I won't be quitting my day job any time soon! This will just be an extension of my hobby, at least until it proves itself as an income generator.

- Ken

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Postby Scott Miller » Mon Apr 05, 2004 9:00 am

Hello Friends,

Since I came upon the Main Lobby Suite, I've been intrigued about its commercial viability. I have an IT background and in dealing with clients, have come to value stability and reliability over new feature additions. It has always been a conflict for me since I personally like to have the latest and greatest, but have found that immature software can be more trouble than what it's worth. Multiple trips to customer sites can quickly eat all profit out of a job, even a 10K job. Has anyone had the entire Main Lobby suite working 24/7 for 3 months in a row with 100% uptime? How about 6 months?

My target is 1 failure a year for a customer. How many times have you had to reboot and startup your locked or frozen Tivo last year? I haven't had to once. I think the same reliability should be part of any Main Lobby system as well. The expectation for systems like this is they will run without a hitch. From reading these boards, I'm not sure ML suite is there yet. What you get from spending the $20K for Creston/AMX is proven reliability and a large support system. (Note: I do not install Creston/AMX systems due to the high dealer requirements.)

On the positive side, selling software and services to customers can certainly be lucrative. maintenance contracts for both support and software upgrades are very viable in a ML setup. Independent of contracts, upgrades to the software, can be resold along with installation services. (A dealer program would be nice.) The lower cost of entry for clients is certainly a plus. (Though I'd be lying if I said I wasn't also evaluating the free xlobby software.) The UI is great and the client/server model has potential to be very robust.

As I've mentioned in other posts, I do think that if Cinemar is serious about supporting professional installers, they must develop a recommended and supported hardware and configuration document. I don't care if it's branded by Cinemar or not, but having an LCD OEM partner is also important for in-wall and portable screens.

I hope to be an active member in this forum and will share any insights I have. I too was initially guarded about what I would post on the web, but have found that by talking about my "trade secrets" with others, I have refined them and discovered even better practices for my company. And in the event a local competitor joins this board, perhaps this board can help foster a working partnership between our companies.

-Scott
Last edited by Scott Miller on Mon Apr 05, 2004 10:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Scott Miller » Mon Apr 05, 2004 9:22 am

jpimentel,

I've been trying to digest the possibilities of the CAV6.6 plug-in. While the obvious benefits are there for displaying information on the UNO keypads, I think we're just scratching the surface of integration possibilities. While the UNO keypads are nice, they are the evolution of speaker controls. They could come out with a line of LCD panels, like Xantech, but they would probably require using a Russound SDK for them.

Alternatively, you could use a standard LCD panel, wall mounted or wireless and use the ML Suite software and the Russound plug-in for control of the CAV's 6,12, or 18 zones. In a setup like this, you wouldn't need the UNO's at all. Russound does sell the CAV6.6 by itself for about $900 cheaper (dealer pricing) without the keypads.

I would also like to see the CAV plug-in or a separate one support the Russound ST2 dual AM/FM/XM Sat. tuner. Since there isn't any PC software for the tuner itself, the plug-in would have to be two-way so ML could receive the station (AM/FM/XM) and song/artist info (for XM Sat. and some FM) and then display it on a ML screen. Again, it would be ideal to display this on a LCD rather than the UNO keypad (which have this functionality already).

-Scott

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Postby K-Wood » Mon Apr 05, 2004 10:25 am

Scott:
Is the Russound ST2 tuner with the XM radio option available yet? Just curious.

Btw, I agree that we need to find a source for hardware, particularly in-wall and countertop touchscreen controllers. Gregoryx is discussing such a possibility in this thread:

http://www.cinemaronlineforums.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1682

Seems like a lot of work to develop a solution, but still potentially more cost-effective than purchasing a unit at retail.

- Ken

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Postby Scott Miller » Mon Apr 05, 2004 10:36 am

K-Wood,

When I talked to my Worthington rep, he expected that they would arrive in April or at the latest May. I noticed that Future Home Systems is selling the ST-2 with XM for $735. http://www.futurehomesystems.com/rucav.shtml I should mentioned that I've never ordered from them before. I would expect Worthington to be cheaper since they are cheaper on the standard ST-2.

-Scott

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Postby DavidL » Mon Apr 05, 2004 1:35 pm

Scott,
As far as reliability, I would not use the forum as any measure on whether the ML software is reliable for a production (customer) environment. The great majority (99%) of commentary here is newbies getting to the point that they are "developers" for their own installations. MainLobby suite, because it is highly configurable runs into this challenge. It is not testament on it's native reliability.

I "develop" on my desktop, I implement on my "production" server. The production server is Raid 1 for redundancy and Homeseer, MainLobby and MediaCenter, Slinke run very nicely there. The system reboots itself every week at 4 am while drives reimage themselves and just to keep XPPro happy. Other than my "dinking", it has never failed.

If you as an integrator you built an Out of the Box solution for your customers, I believe a PC "normal" homeowner could keep it running reliably (apply antivirus and patches and know how to reboot if it was needed.

One of the big challenges for an integrator is when things get out of sequence - ie: someone hits a button on the IR controlled Tivo and MainLobby / Homeseer didn't know it is not in a given mode. This significantly increases the development time needed for workarounds for these unknowns. And, increases the possibility that the customer will get upset that "it isn't working". It also increases the time for each command to be executed to account for unknown states.

The addition to 2 way sensing by MainLobby should make an easier to implement and field supportable product.

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Postby Scott Miller » Mon Apr 05, 2004 3:12 pm

Smoothtlk,

I'm glad to hear your production server runs without a hitch. My personal feeling is that your step of rebooting the machine once a week should be unnecessary. The largest network I supported had over 10,000+ users and we had internal MS boxes that didn't need rebooting in a years time. Granted external boxes had to be rebooted after certain security updates.

I know you make a lot more posts than I do and therefore have a better feel for the state of things, but I do feel that issues like high CPU usage and having to reboot over time are not just newbie problems. And issues with Music Lobby and large collections could be a real headache to train and support.

I would also say that typical production class software goes through large beta tests, feedback and documentation processes. To be honest, I've always felt Cinemar released beta-class software. Their releases seem to be builds that work internally, then they update them based on user feedback after the release. Please understand I'm not trying to be critical in a negative way, I know the fiscal and practical limitations of being a 2-man operation. I do think that the reason people buy the software is the awesome benefits it promises and the relatively cheap price.

I've got to leave, but I'll try to add some more thoughts later.

-Scott
Last edited by Scott Miller on Mon Apr 05, 2004 10:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby gregoryx » Mon Apr 05, 2004 5:44 pm

I tend to agree that the whole ML suite is not ready for a reliable never-stop, never-reboot end user environment.

Between server issues created by clients not working correctly all the time - mostly when clients connect / disconnect - and the clients having an apparent memory leak which has been blamed on the Flash underlyings, this is indeed beta-class at this point.

I agree with smoothtlk: the only way to keep reliable right now is with regular reboots or at least shut-down of the ML apps. I do MLS and ML shutdowns but do not reboot my machines and all stays quite reliable.

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Postby DavidL » Mon Apr 05, 2004 6:08 pm

Heck,
Mr. Gates keeps us rebooting whenever he provides a patch /update. That's probably often enough!
I think it's more a reality that a HS / Media Server will be rebooted at a minimum of a weekly basis. Because this is automated, who cares?
Most every ecommerce or corporate website is down for maintenance on a regular basis - why would folks demand of your house any different?

The reboot takes me offline about 3 minutes per week. No prob....

The high CPU usage is almost always due to a setup issue - especially with MusicLobby. Mine barely hits the radar (somewhere between 0 and 4% of CPU) when idling.

I definately agree on the beta thoughts though. Only so much two folks can do...

The support for MusicLobby when setup properly is the same support that MediaCenter (production software) has. Burn and add the mp3 and search for the coverart. That is all that needs to be done. Now, if the user cannot do that, then they need to pay someone to manage their collection. But that is what I implied when saying "normal PC skilled household". Whatever "normal" is...

I do believe there is a need for even webbased integration support for the group of enthusiasts that are time boxed to get past the newbie stage with this software.

Ok, my rates are $5 / fix. Any takers?
Just kidding....:)

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programmed reboots

Postby collegeboyslive » Mon May 03, 2004 9:00 pm

simply prorgam a small reboot program and have it execute at say 5 am in the morning. keeps the touchpads nice and fresh and happy and rebooting the server once a week wokrs as well. if youhave set it up correctly no one will even know the system did a reboot


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