HomeToys Interview – All-in-One Home Theater

Mike Pyle of SE2 Labs

“Dealers need help,” says Pyle. “They need high-end systems built from the ground up for them that they can just sell—without the need for programmers, for system builders, for people soldering things to be on their staffs. That’s what SE2 Labs was established to provide with our unprecedented ITC One, an integrated, turnkey, ultra-high-end home entertainment system tailor-made for the CEDIA channel.”

For dealers and consumers, SE2’s mission is simplicity. “I enjoy coming up with solutions that simplify things,” says Pyle. “In my experience in the home A/V space, I always see so many people frustrated, people saying, ‘I’ve got a home theater that doesn’t work.’ My passion is solving those problems. I’m always trying to get into the customer’s head, see what they really want, and design a good experience that’s as easy and fun to use as it is to install. I think we’ve achieved this with the ITC One.”
Stewart Filmscreen at ISE 2008

1. What skills did you learn as an installer that helped you as a manufacturer?

As an installer I learned about the endless number of minor details that can cause major delays and headaches during an A/V installation. From power and placement issues to overheating and non-compatible components, there is just so much that can go wrong on an install. After years of integrating complex systems together piece by piece and experiencing the same repetitive problems I knew there needed to be an easier and quicker way for customers to get the home theater experience.

As a former installer, I know it’s difficult to change your install model but a product that is easier to install and operate yet delivers the performance of a more complicated and expensive A/V rack, could solve a lot of problems for a lot of A/V specialists.

2. What are the most common problem’s A/V installers face?
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One major problem many installers deal with is letting the customer talk them into something that hasn’t been proven to work just for the sake of customization. I believe it is the installers job be frank and let them know why something is done a certain way and how customizing certain aspects will actually detract from the user experience. In the end, the installer will be blamed if something doesn’t work well so it’s worthwhile to be vocal in the beginning.

Even if they don’t know it at first, all customers want simplicity more than a “customized” experience. Many times a customer will think they are helping by offering their recommendations and opinions. When this happens, many installers have a problem telling the customer they are wrong. In my experience, the end user always respects you more if you stand up for your expertise because they eventually realize you are doing it for their benefit.

From a performance standpoint, the most common issues I faced during and after installations dealt with systems that were not configured or plugged in properly. There are so many details to cover that inevitably something gets forgotten and it shows up in the performance. AC power problems, vibration/stability and overheating components are other common performance related issues.

3. What was the hardest part about making the transition from installer to manufacturer?

One of the biggest challenges has been getting A/V installers to change their mindset and consider a different installation model. The economic downturn has obviously made everyone a little tighter with their money so getting people to invest in new product can be burdensome. Fear of the unknown tends to make them overly cautious, when in reality they are being presented with the perfect opportunity to differentiate themselves. End users generally appreciate the common sense/best solution approach while many dealers have been doing it the hard way for so long that even when a compelling solution is put in front of them, they still want to stick to their old ways.

Also, because what I am saying seems too good to be true, many installers have trouble believing an installation can be handled so quickly and efficiently. Past experiences have made them believe an installation can never truly be plug-and-play. The fact is every install DOES NOT need to reinvent the wheel so the easier a system is to install and use, the better off everyone is.

4. What challenges and benefits did working with so many partners provide?

Because the ITC One integrates different components from different manufacturers, the process of auditioning various components to see which would match well from a performance perspective was a huge challenge. In fact, the “Labs” in SE2 Labs came about because I wanted the company name to reflect the time-consuming but worthwhile process of testing so many different components.
Fortunately, because most of the companies I worked with knew of my integration expertise, it made the process of getting the gear to test a little easier. Looking forward, we will always be evaluating our options in search of a more perfectly matched system.
In order to create a complete speaker and display package to accompany the ITC One, we partnered with some of the best high-end brands in the A/V industry. Vidikron has a reputation for designing the most crystal clear and future-proofed HD displays so we thought our brand would mesh well.

We also partnered with Snell Acoustics to bring premium loudspeaker technology to the ITC One. Snell Acoustics adds elegance and beauty along with raw performance and value with their handcrafted speakers. The partnership with both companies allows us to offer a complete, turn-key home theater experience at a great value.

5. Can you tell us a bit about what the ITC One and how it is unique in the Home Theater category?

The ITC One is essentially an entire rack’s worth of top-of-the-line A/V components integrated into a customizable, hand-built console. It is completely unique in the CE channel because of the unique feature set and proprietary solutions it offers to everyday installation issues.

The standalone cost of each individual component added up would easily top $40,000 and take weeks to install. Conversely, the ITC One starts at $25K and takes a matter minutes to install. It literally takes more time to carry it into the house and remove it from the box than it does to get it running.

Installation of the ITC One is an easily repeatable process without the complexities, inefficiencies, tribulations and confusing connectivity issues that sometimes plague a pieced together home theater system. Because each ITC One is built to order, customers first design their own personalized ITC One system on the SE2 Labs website. Once an order is placed, each console is created to spec and completely calibrated for optimum performance before it even gets shipped. This makes the installation process truly plug and play and eliminates time-consuming “tweaks” an installer generally has to make.

6. Is the ITC One a product that could be installed by a DIY consumer or does it need a professional installation?

Although the ITC One does take much of the challenge out of a home theater installation, it is still required to have it installed by a professional. Because it is a luxury product, I think it’s important for customers to have someone available with experience installing the product in case there are any questions. Getting the video display and speakers properly set-up is another part of the process which a professional should really help out with.

Part of SE2 Labs’ goal is also to establish relationships between our installers and customers in case service is ever needed and to create a potential repeat customer. Once installed, the ITC One requires only one remote and has an extremely intuitive interface which basically eliminates the need for user training.

7. Do you foresee a positive outlook for “pre-assembled” installs that require very little labor yet yield high margins?

Absolutely! It’s obvious that a lot of home theater installers are not experiencing their most profitable days. Blame Best Buy, blame a bad economy, blame the president, blame whatever, the point is that many businesses have taken a hit recently. Savvy retailers understand that a slow economy means cutting overhead while taking steps to differentiate yourself. Pre-assembled systems eliminate the complicated process of connecting a mishmash of various components while providing less opportunities for “over-customization” which has been the bane of many an install.

Pre-assembled home theaters remove many of the risk factors involved with an installation since everything is already pre-wired and integrated together to work under ideal conditions. This means an installer spends less time in the customer’s home while delivering a high-performance A/V performance that is easier to use.

Because the integrated components within the ITC One are operating under ideal conditions, there is also less risk of a malfunction. The vertical board alignment means that if one component in the ITC One fails, an installer can swap out that board with a replacement while all of the other solutions in the console remain operational.

8. Along those lines, what advantages do “all-in-one” home theater products offer over a pieced together system of various components?

One analogy I like to use likens the process of installing a home theater to that of putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You start off with a seemingly unlimited number of choices for what can go where and you slowly start to piece it together HOPING they will match well and you will ultimately finish the project in a reasonable amount of time.

From a customers’ perspective, a pre-assembled all-in-one system takes the guesswork out of choosing the components for their home theater. Every partner technology that was chosen for integration into the ITC One comes from a respected industry brand so there will never be a concern about performance. All-in-one systems can use up ½ the amount of rack space and cost as much as $10,000 less than a competitive A/V system. Beyond that, with a single remote they’re generally easy enough for grandma to operate after only a few minutes of playing around.

Because we pre-configure and calibrate the ITC One before shipping, we can also ensure the system works with laboratory precision as soon as it is plugged in.

9. Is it easy to upgrade or add components to the system?

Upgrades and maintenance are very easy, since every part of the ITC One is modular and the vertical board alignment allows for easy swapping. All parts can be repaired or replaced in the field with little effort and SE2 Labs provides a full five-year warranty on each system.

SE2 also has remote access to every unit to diagnose potential problems remotely and to provide software upgrades when available so the unit will never need to be returned for maintenance reasons.

10. What do you think will be the next “big thing” in Home Theater and how will you evolve your product line to incorporate it?

It’s easy to predict a bigger TV with more pixels or a higher fidelity speaker but I truly feel The Next Big Thing will be a more positive home theater experience for the end user. The industry really hasn’t created an install model that benefits the customer. If you think about a car’s dashboard, everything is laid out ergonomically to make operating the vehicle and using it’s features as efficient and intuitive as possible so you can concentrate on driving.

If you look at a home theater install however, the process is rarely the same and the end user experience can be extremely frustrating. Multiple remotes, a bulky A/V rack, and synching issues between components are just some of the detractors than can rob a user of their enjoyment. The fact is, even if they won’t admit it, everyone craves simplicity so taking the complexity and “over-customization” out of installing and using electronics could become the next best thing.
Obviously digital access to music and movies is already big business. It seems inevitable that all content will eventually be available for download so providing an access point for purchasing new media will be of great value.

Aside from that, I see a major convergence between gaming and High-end A/V with higher-end products aimed at an increasingly diverse gaming population. Finally, home automation systems are coming down in price and are much more stable than ever before. Consumers will expect new appliances and other electronics they purchase to integrate with a home network. The ITC One has all these capabilities so it will just be a matter of continually upgrading to stay on the cutting edge.