Consumer AV for Commercial Projects? The Debate Rages On

Integrators lament use of residential-grade displays and controls outside the home, but now failure to meet clients’ demands could mean losing the job.

We’re not sure exactly when it started and who did it first, but there’s no doubt more and more integrators these days are ignoring conventional wisdom and the threat or shortened product warranties to save a few bucks for themselves and clients with consumer products in commercial settings.

Typically, the problem rears its head when clients ask why an integrator can’t use the same flat panel or control system, for example, that the company installed in the CEO’s home also in his company’s boardroom. And, while the option is there for the integrator to say no to this request, it’s a delicate balance because it could mean losing the job to someone who will do it.

“The strategy [of not using consumer products in commercial installs] will end up costing us money,” says John Godbout, CEO and founder of CI 2013 Integrator of the Year CCS Presentation Systems. He blames “unscrupulous integrators” who are “forcing me to counter.”

Godbout has noticed the use of consumer products in more commercial installations in the past year or so, saying bid reviews noted the company was losing work because of their refusal to use displays and other products intended for the home in other settings. While many commercial displays can run around the clock with no issues, he says many consumer-grade displays are taxed by more than six to eight hours a day.

“Heat is the enemy of displays,” says Godbout, noting most consumer displays use vents rather than fans, an issue that could severely shorten the lifespan when it’s installed in an around-the-clock application such as digital signage. There’s also a more rigid frame on commercial displays than on their residential counterparts, says Godbout, that’s there to protect the display in more trying conditions than typically found in a living room or man cave.

Jak Daragjati, owner of JD Systems, says he sees consumer-grade displays and audio systems in bars, restaurants and other commercial jobs “all the time” and thinks “it’s obnoxious.”

“It’s always an ohmage issue,” he says. “The end user can’t understand why it doesn’t sound right. There’s a roll in the screen or a buzz in the system and the integrator didn’t explain that might happen. Initially, people try to save money but the reason why professional installers get paid what they do is they know what they’re doing. Doing it yourself or having a friend do it for you will save you money but you’ll end up having problems every time.”

Mark Madison, executive VP of systems integration at CompView, has noticed more consumer products in commercial settings in the past five to eight years, but doesn’t necessarily see a link between that timeline and the move of more residential integrators into the commercial space when the housing market crashed.

“Several years ago, the price difference [between consumer and commercial products] wasn’t as great,” says Madison. “The gap has widened, so it’s very tempting for clients to look at those consumer products and use them in their boardrooms or other places where they don’t really belong. It’s very hard to convince a customer it’s worth it to spend that extra money.

“We try to explain the situation to these clients, but our argument isn’t always worth the price difference to them. We always try to stop it, but we’re not always successful and we’re not always willing to walk away from a client over it,” he says.

The Problem Is Spreading

Godbout says he’s found more consumer displays creeping into AV installations on college campuses, where school officials often buy their own equipment and bring in an integrator to install it for them.

“You can buy these displays for $500 at Costco, so hopefully these integrators are telling [college clients] what can happen if they don’t use the right equipment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not,” says Godbout, who notes CCS has let clients and prospects know why their bids are sometimes higher than the competition.

Godbout says he’s talked to some of CCS’s vendor partners, including NEC, Panasonic and Samsung, about the proliferation of consumer-grade products in commercial settings and “they’re all concerned about it.”

So why is nothing changing?

“At some level, as it goes up the chain, they don’t care about it,” says Godbout. “It still generates revenue for them.”

Keith Yanke, senior director of product marketing for NEC Display, says the company considers all of its products as commercial-grade but knows many end users and integrators will lean toward the one with the lowest cost. In NEC’s case, that’s the E-series, which costs about 20 percent less than NEC’s midlevel V-series line. The V-series is about 20 percent less than the high-end P-series line, says Yanke. All three series are warranteed for 24/7 use. “We wanted it to be a little more robust,” says Yanke.

Keep reading to learn what you can do.