Simple solutions: Sony makes it easy to offer pre-wired A/V

Simple solutions: Sony makes it easy to offer pre-wired A/V

Rebecca Day

Eager to boost the adoption rate of home theater and multi-room audio in high-end homes, Sony has launched a solutions program for installed electronics that’s designed to simplify the sales and installation of audio/video packages for builders and audio/video contractors. Called New Home Entertainment Solutions, the program’s good-better-best approach is an all-Sony stab at increasing the industry-wide penetration of home theater and distributed audio from their current 10 percent penetration in new single-family homes to a level more on par with structured wiring.

“Five or 10 years ago structured wiring was just an optional upgrade,” says Jeff Goldstein, general manager for consumer services and applications at Sony. “Now it’s appearing in almost 50 percent of new homes. We want homeowners to know that structured wiring is great and you do need it for PC, TV, and telephone throughout the house. But if you want well integrated audio and video, then here’s additional wiring that has to go in the wall beyond the structured wiring package.” It’s a message that both homeowners and builders need to understand, he says. “Dealers and builders need to be able to deliver a cohesive message to homeowners about how to incorporate audio/video integration.” Sony’s three-, five-, or seven-room approach is designed to be simple enough that it can be easily explained by builder and installer sales staff.

Today, at the top end of the custom home market, homeowners are well-served when it comes to distributed audio/video, Goldstein says. “Those are customized systems built specifically for the home, which works well for the [very high end of the] custom home market,” he says.

Sony’s program is aimed at the tier just beneath that segment, including the upper reaches of the production home market, which the company believes isn’t currently being served. “There’s a big opportunity for those people to be enlightened about the benefits of putting the audio/video systems in at the time of construction rather than leaving it to be an afterthought once they’ve moved in,” Goldstein says. “Homeowners aren’t being introduced to the benefits [of home theater and distributed audio] or even offered the option.” Sony’s Home Entertainment Solutions are targeted at homes in the $350,000 to $1 million range. Each of the three packages includes pre-constructed racks, wiring, preprogrammed remotes and wall-mount keypads, along with an A/V receiver, CD and DVD player, VCR, surround-sound speaker system, and TV. TV choices include 32- or 36-inch tube TVs, Grand Wega LCD rear-projection TVs in 42-, 50-, and 60-inch sizes, or 32-or 42-inch plasma TVs.

The three-room solution is a single-zone system with volume control and speakers for two additional rooms. The five-room solution adds a CD changer and a second zone, which allows a dealer to create separate zones for parents and kids. Or, two rooms could listen to the audio from a DVD playing on TV in the two rooms, while the other three rooms listen to a CD or TV program. The seven-room package offers three zones for independent source selection and adds a 400-disc CD changer.

Sony estimates that the three systems in the series will carry installed prices between $10,000 and $25,000. Those projections include speakers not on the Sony product menu. Dealers and homeowners will determine the style and of speakers to match budget and aesthetic requirements.

With New Home Entertainment Solutions, Sony says builders will be in control of the upgrade option. Sony’s current network of authorized custom dealers, numbering roughly 500, will install the electronics. Builders and dealers will work together to create the upgrade packages, work through the marketing messages, establish margins, and brand the home with the Sony “The builder will be 100 percent in the middle of the process,” Goldstein claims.

Sony support includes a 24-hour customers hotline for consumers and a separate one for installers. Installers provide on-site service to homeowners, which includes a one-year hot swap warranty. During that time, if a product is defective or needs servicing, dealers will receive replacement products within 48 hours.

The new program works alongside the Sony Consumer Integrated Systems (CIS) division, which deals with audio/video contractors. The Sony-installing dealer network services both business segments. CIS is more a parts provider, Goldstein says, while New Home Entertainment Solutions is a package, or solutions, provider. “We’re doing the engineering and integration for this program, and the dealer is providing the sales and integration end.”

The systems in the package are standalone Sony components designed specifically to work together. Homeowners’ existing audio/video equipment can’t be integrated into the Sony-supported solution. “If we start to swap out equipment in the rack we can’t guarantee reliability,” Goldstein says. The Sony systems are designed to work together using a single remote control, which is preprogrammmed to allow users to initiate the string of commands required to play, for example, the CD player with one press of a button. The company does leave space in the equipment rack and in remote control programming for me addition of a satellite receiver and/or cable box, which would be provided by the A/V installer.

Of course an audio/video system is a work in progress, a fluid collection of components that are subject to upgrades with the introduction of the next whiz-bang feature. The Solutions systems are upgradeable as the need arises, with those purchase options handled between homeowner and dealer. Sony currently doesn’t offer a satellite radio option for the home, for instance, so a dealer could add another manufacturer’s product to the mix.

Promotional tools for the project include brochures explaining the benefits to builders and home buyers. Materials for each solution and TV option will be available for use in design centers and show homes, and builders and homeowners have access to the company Web site for more information.

Sony estimates that consumers who elect to install one of the packages during new home construction can save 400 percent on labor costs over a retrofit distributed audio/ video system. The company believes the systems approach and cost savings make a compelling argument for home buyers to add the multi-room option. “There’s a need in the marketplace for dealers and builders to be able to deliver a cohesive message to homeowners about how to incorporate A/V integration,” Goldstein says, “and we want to grow the adoption rate of home theater and multi-room audio in the new home market.”–Rebecca Day specializes in writing about home electronics. She can be reached at customhomerd@aol.com.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Hanley-Wood, Inc.

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