Monday, March 21, 2011

Spec It First

A Job Specification Document Can Help You Avoid Headaches
I find that, more often than not, the best way to avoid project problems is by spending time up front creating a job specification document. This should be a multi-page paper that describes what the client is going to get, what the performance specifications are, who is responsible for what portions of the work, who will sign off on proper delivery of each portion, what each portion is going to cost, and what the deliverable deadlines are going to be.

Keeping You Out of Trouble
The mere process of having to take a time out to sit down and reflect on the all these issues will help you clarify the planning in your own mind. Once the document is written, it will help your staff in comprehending the intent of the work. It will help your client, the builder, the architect, and the interior designer, understand the degree of detail that goes into doing a properly integrated theater, whole-house audio/video/lighting system, etc. The process of memorializing the key point of a project will act as an anchor for the work, and will serve to untangle misunderstandings when they happen.

Preparing Your ‘Sheet Music’
Here are some ideas for what a spec document for a high-class home cinema should contain.
  • Room uses: Is this a dedicated room, or is a multi-purpose space? Is the room to be used for live performances, karaoke, gaming, etc?
  • Seating standards: How many seats, what type of seating, and seat dimensions?
  • Room dimensions: A textual as well as graphical representation of the room boundaries. Include the latest architectural plans and shop drawings from the builder. Clarify whether the dimensions are per plan, or as built, and whether they are rough, or finished dimensions?
  • Architectural specifications. What does the room look like, what are the color schemes, what is the overall style or theme, what are the finishes, and who is responsible for the design work?
  • Sound isolation requirements: Described in both plain language terms, and in STC values.
  • Background noise levels: Described in both plain language terms, and in NC (or RC) values.
  • Ventilation system: How is the heating and cooling handled? How is fresh air supplied into he system? How noisy is the system. How many people will it handle?
  • Acoustical treatments: What is the target reflection decay time, are the treatments visible, or concealed behind the decorative fabric dress of the room, how thick are the treatments, if visible what color and texture are they?
  • Sound system performance: How many channels, how loud the system plays, how smooth is the response, what’s the intelligibility, what is the directivity, what is the audience coverage consistency, how loud is the bass, and a whole host of more esoteric objective measures of performance.
  • Sound system placement: Are all the speakers concealed behind a decorative fabric dress, are they flush mounted, who supplies the mounting hardware?
  • Picture system performance: Resolution, screen illumination levels, screen dispersion widths, target visible contrast ratios, and a whole host of more esoteric objective measures of performance. What is the screen aspect ratio, and does it include masking for the various film formats?
  • Picture system location: Where is the projector, how is it hidden, how is it ventilated, where is the screen, and how is it concealed?
  • Lighting systems: Describe the ambient lights, the task lights, and the seating lights, the security lights, and how they are controlled.
  • Miscellaneous features: Describe whatever doesn’t fit into one of the above categories…!
  • Budgets: Total room cost, equipment costs, installation costs, construction costs, finish material costs, automation programming, commissioning and calibration, etc.
  • Labor responsibilities: Who is handling what portions of the work? Some of it is the building contractor, some of it the electrical contractor, the ventilation contractor, the lighting contractor, the architect, the interior designer, outside consultants, some of it is yours, and several other trades involved.
  • Deadlines: List out the scheduled times for he various phases of the construction, and for when each party needs to be in and out of the work site.
To download a copy of the questionnaire that we use to start a project, click here

And feel free to call us at PMI Engineering to ask questions about your specific project - we would be happy to help guide you through any challenges you may be having.

This article was originally published by Residential Systems, August 5, 2010.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Calibration the Right Way

Having designed over 400 pro, commercial, and residential projects, and tuned over 300 systems, we have a certain way of doing things that we consider "the right way." You'll hear us talk about the right way a lot because we just don't believe any client is going to get the best possible result from cutting corners. So here's a little primer from PMI.

Calibration is the last step in the design/build phase of a project. Once all of the gear is in place, the panels positioned, the decor defined, then it's time to calibrate. We believe the job of a calibrator is to check and validate that everything was built and installed properly before beginning to tune the room.

   Step 1:  Check that every piece of gear is installed and connected correctly
   Step 2:  Verify that every piece of gear is actually working
   Step 3:  Set up configurations and verify proper operation
   Step 4:  Tune the speaker system to the room

We find that in steps 1-3 there is almost always one piece (if not more) that is not connected, not installed properly, or just not working. We were recently called by a homeowner to check their new home cinema system which had already been tuned by a professional. The homeowner could tell something was still not right so they called us in. When we discovered the tweeter in the center speaker was not connected, we then checked the entire system's connections and configurations. We found countless other bugs, and painstakingly corrected each one before going through the tuning process.

Doing it the right way, you'll have a project to be proud of, and the client will be more likely call you again when they have another project in mind or want to refer you to their friends and colleagues.

For more information on this and other topics, please visit our website where you'll find a range of published articles and informative links.