By Benjamin Curto ~ June 30th, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized.
Every wonder what they’re all called, which one you should use, or if it really matters? Well it’s simple with a few pictures! Let’s begin:
Every wonder what they’re all called, which one you should use, or if it really matters? Well it’s simple with a few pictures! Let’s begin:
Trying to figure out what to buy or what you have and you just keep getting more confused? It’s reasonably easy to do considering most everyone who could help you probably has an angle of selling you something!
Let’s start with the basics, pixels. Televisions are a lot like mosaics where lots of small dots make a picture when you step back from it. Each tile (or dot) in a television is called a pixel, and those numbers people throw around are actually the number of pixels. The more of them there are, the better a picture will look, just like a mosaic!
Standard television is typically 480i (480 horizontal lines… we’ll deal with the ‘i’ later), anything (read it) ANYTHING above this can be classified as high definition! This means not all high definition is the same, there are many different levels including: 720i, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. The number always tells you how many horizontal lines the screen has, more is better. That was simple! There is more if you’re interested though…. For example are you curious how many vertical lines there are?
That’s more of a format question… the old style ‘square’ screens are a 4:3 ration, meaning it has 4 vertical lines for every 3 horiztonal lines where as newer screens are almost all ‘widescreen’ which is synonymous with a ratio of 16:9 meaning it has 16 vertical lines for every 9 horizontal lines. In today’s market you can ignore the screen format for the most part as virtually all LCD, plasma, and projectors on the market use a 16:9 widescreen format.
Let’s go back to that ‘i’ (and that ‘p’), it stands for ‘interlaced’ (and ‘progressive’ respectively). Interlaced menas it draws every other line on on it’s first pass (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, …etc) then every other line on it’s second pass (2, 4, 6, 8, 10…etc). Progressive means it draws every line on every pass. How much better is progressive? Make a picture book with 100 post it notes of a ballerina dancing…. then remove every other page and flip through it! Most people prefer 720p over 1080i, even though there are less lines/dots the picture is move vibrant because it’s drawn every pass.
What else contributes to the quality of the screen/picture? Well the technology used is a large factor (LCD, DLP, Plasma, CRT…etc), the brightness and contrast ration, and for some technologies the refresh rate. Those will all be discussed in future entries though!
I need 1080p now! Of course everyone does! Be careful though, remember what your screen can diplay is limited by what is plugged into it. A VCR that plays a 480i picture will still just be a 480i picture nomatter what screen it’s on. Likewise standard cable/satelite programming won’t improve much with an HD screen unless you upgrade to HD programming. Once you have an HD video source to plug into your television you need to make sure you have the right cable between the two otherwise it’s all a waste!
Ever wonder what really happens when your security system alarm goes off? A lot of this depends on your system and what kind of ‘language’ it speaks. The ‘languages’ really aren’t connected to what type of system you have as much as how old it is. Here’s a quick rundown:
Ademco 4/2 – Older and much slower… but one of the few to work with IP phone lines
Contact ID – Most prevalent, it sends all pertinent information
SIA FSK – Still analog but much faster than Contact ID
TCP/IP – Fastest and most current
There are lots of minute differences between the communications formats but for the non-professional they really don’t matter all that much… they all allow your alarm panel to call into a central station. Now that the boring part is over (excited?) let’s see what happens next!
First the central station ‘receiver’ will answer the phone call from your alarm system, followed by nasty fax noises while they exchange pleasentries. Old friends and all.
Second an available (**more on this later**) operator’s computer screen will pop up with all of your information (remember that form you filled out?) like your address, directions to get there, your zones, passcodes, duress codes…. etc. and of course the current message from your alarm system whether it’s an alarm or a trouble.
For trouble conditions alarm centers will either fax, email, or call your installer or yourself to notify you then exit your account and wait for another signal.
For alarms they will always call the phone line of the alarm location(residence or business) first, then the first contact on the list. If neither phone is answered of if the person who answers isn’t on the list/doesn’t have the correct cancellation code they will then dispatch the appropriate agency (ie fire, police, or medical). They will then continue down the remainder of the list and start over a second time until they are able to reach someone who is authorized (ie is on the contact list and has thier password) then exit your account and wait for another signal. All of this is more or less mandated by law so there isn’t much of a difference in how various monitoring stations work.
So why is there such a difference in prices? Well obviously markup plays a part but most of the difference is staffing in two key areas:
Understaffed/oversold. This is very common in the larger national alarm companies everyone recognizes and knows. I’m not privvy to the exact numbers but say a normal central station has 1 operater for every 1,000 accounts these companies may have 1 operator for every 5,000 accounts. The numbers still fall within the legal range allowed… however it’s the difference between your alarm information sitting in queue waiting for an available operator for 5-20 seconds or sometimes up to 30 minutes!
Undertraining/underskilled. This is not as common but you’d be surprised. Your entire system can be comprised by the nice person from the central station that gives your burlar a hint to help them remember ‘thier’ (your) password. Even if they don’t completely compromise your security they may ‘help out’ for 15 minutes while your home is emptied. Professional operators are trained to be quick and efficient knowing that a false alarm dispatch is infinitely better than no dispatch.
Monitoring stations however never contract directly with alarm owners, it’s more efficient for them to market and deal directly with dealers only. This allows them to have a single contact for hundreds or even thousands of accounts and lowers their overhead. How much the alarm installer marks up this service and what they provide in return varies widely. Typically central stations may charge from $7 to $20 per month depending on the type of account and alarm dealer, dealers then typically turn around and charge $10 to $50 per month (again depending on the type of account).
How do you choose a good monitoring station? A lot of times you can’t…. do some research on the internet, stay away from national dealers who oversell accounts, and never sign a contract locking you into that dealer or central station. Here’s the beauty though: virtually all alarm systems and all central stations can speak all of the languages! This means if you’re unhappy with your central station or alarm installer you should be able to find another central station or alarm installer to replace them WITHOUT having to replace your system! Never be satisfied with bad service.
Picking up where we left off….
Service Calls. So you’ve got a problem and have to call your installation company to come fix it, what can you expect? Well with a wireless system troubleshooting trouble and fault issues can be a wild goose chase that doesn’t have an answer… although trying to find a short in a wire that goes through walls and attic spaces isn’t fast or easy either. Ultimately labor costs will depend more on your installers original quality of work and the skill of the technician performing the labor than the type of system. However, if anything needs to be replaced the cost is certain to be higher with wireless system as each individual component costs more (for instance a replacement hardwired motion may only cost $25 while a wireless motion may be $125).
Convenience/Maintenance. This is the primary difference between the two outside of possibly cost. The lifespan of replaceable detectors (mainly smoke and CO2 detectors) is identical, so is the cleaning cycle (ideally 6 months, 12 month as a minimum); the lifespan of other detectors is also identicle (motions, heats, door/window contacts…. etc). However, the batteries on a wireless system can be a pain to deal with! If you only have a few wireless sensors you can just replace them once every 1-2 years and not worry about it. If you have a wireless system with 15-64 wireless zones though…. it can be a hassle having to deal with replacing the batteries because after the first year or two you’ll see them start to fail 1-2 a month for the next 3 years. While not cost efficient you can just replace all of them when the first one needs to replaced but as previously mentioned some sensors take proprietary batteries that can cost $9-14 apiece!
Winner: Hardwired. This isn’t even close… nobody wants to deal with the cost or the pain of replacing batteries.
Futureproof: This is perhaps a facet of expansion but I felt it deserved it’s own section. Wireless systems are always 100% proprietary. This means that a DSC wireles receiver will only work with a DSC control panel, and only with DSC wireless sensors/detectors. The same is true of Ademco, GE, HAI, and Napco (ADT and Brinks don’t manufacture equipment, they just silkscreen their name ontop of DSC, Ademco, and other manufacturers… so yes, the same is true of their systems). If that company changes RF frequencies or model numbers you may not be able to get parts for your system anymore.
Hardwired systems are futureproof in that they rely on a wire to carry electrical signals that simply say ‘open’ or ‘closed’.This means a DSC motion detecor works flawlessly with an Ademco control panel (or an Admeco door contact with a GE control panel… etc). If your system only supports up to 8 zones and you want to add 4 more, all you have to do is replace the main panel and keypads (your motions, doors, smokes, CO2… etc should all be compatible with the new system).
Winner: Hardwired by a longshot!
So lets recap:
Service Calls: Hardwired
If you have the option there is no doubt that you should use a hardwired system over a wireless system. So why are wireless systems so prevalent? Two reasons:
1) Sometimes hardwired isn’t possible. Examples would be apartments where any wall drilling is forbidden, homes with no attics/crawlspaces, log construction, multiple story dwellings…etc. If wireless is the only option than there isn’t any reason to compare. Wireless products work every bit as good as hardwired for security your property and your life.
2) Profitability of the installation company. It’s simple math really, if the two systems are comparable in cost and overhead yet one of them (wireless) requires perhaps 25-50% less labor then they can install 2-4 times the amount of systems! I don’t think I’d go as far as to say it’s a dishonest practice but it’s certainly a disservice to the customer.
Bottom Line: If you have an option choose hardwired. If wireless is your only option you can rest assured your system is still equally capable of protecting both your assets and yourself!
If you’re looking at getting a security system in a new home or business then this question is sure to be broached. If you’re building is pre-existing then there’s a chance wireless is your only option, but don’t rule out hardwired or hybrid just yet!
As with all technology debates (think LCD vs Plasma, Blu Ray vs HD DVD….) even though this question has been asked for years, the answer changes as advancements are made. At one point in time wireless technology was unreliable, expensive, and unsightly, none of that is true anymore!
Hardwire systems are certainly not a thing of the past by any means though! Let’s take a quick look:
Price: We’ll start here because this is a limiting factor and THE deciding factor for many people. Price is typically dollar to dollar even. This is because a hardwired motion requires wire and cabling labor along with installation labor, whereas it’s expensive wireless counterpart requires ~5 minutes to install. This is true of all components, so a hardwired system has more invested in it’s infrastructure and less tied up in it’s detectors and parts whereas a wireless system is virtually no labor/infrastructure and all equipment cost.
Winner: Hardwired. If any device goes bad the equipment replacement cost is much lower… not a huge issues but the only deciding factor here. Oh and the battery cost is negligent… until that 2nd to 4th year when you have to replace 45 batteries some of them costing $9-14 apiece.
Reliability: Wireless security systems can be jammed (although most systems have preventative technoloy) , each sensore requires a battery which (if not maintained) can go dead, and even when supervised by the controller you can have fault issues in large homes or due to metal stud/material between the wireless recevier and sensors. Hardwired systems have none of these issues! Oh, but wiring can corrode, be chewn through by small rodents, be cut through during remodel or even initial construction, be sheared by wood construction shifting (especially in log homes) or even snap after prolonged winter/summer stress on the copper. Ultimately the likelyhood of issues with either technology is low if initially installed and programmed professionally.
Winner: Tie. (Hardwired) Hardwired wins only in the commercial segment. Commercially wireless system have to deal with much more abuse, large buildings, more metal/RF disturbance and other issues that just aren’t typically present in residential installations. Wireless is far from ‘unreliable’ but it will exhibity more pesky faults and incur more service calls than a typical hardwired system in the commercial environment.
Aesthetics: There are virtually no differences in aesthetics at this point. There are no visible differences in motion detectors, smoke detectors, CO2 detectors, water sensors, door contacts, Temperuature sensors…. etc. While some companies still use the large white boxes for doors and windows nearly all alarm vendors offer a recessed contact that can be installed in the door frame just like a wired contact. Depending on the location (concrete walls, log homes, crawlspace, attic space, entry location…. etc) some wireless systems can be installed without any exposed wiring at all, however a vast majority of wireless installation will require some exposed wires (keypads, sirens, power, and phone lines are traditionally stilll hardwired even on ‘wireless’ systems**)
Winner: Tie. Sure I could say that because some wireless installations require exposed wires then hardwired wins… but ultimately that all depends on the professional quality of the installer.
Expansion/Upgrading. This is trickier to judge due to the number of different models out there. There are almost no either/or models on the market though, virtually all of them support some hardwired and wireless functions depending upon which modues conenct to them. Virtually all hardwired systems can be expanded to include wireless components, whereas not all wireless systems can support hardwired components. If future expansion (either more zones/devices, or more locations such as a guest house) is important to you then just relay this to your installation company up front and they can be sure to use equipment that will meet your existing and future needs.
Winner: Tie. (some wireless systems don’t’ support hardwired zones…. but if you specify you want that capability up front then your installer can ensure to use a system that does)
We’ll continue this in tomorrow’s post!
**DSC’s (www.dsc.com) new Alexor system is one of the first to support 2-way wireless keypads/sirens and an IP cellular communication. This means the ONLY wire required is a power outlet! Amazing, but also pushed back twice and still not quite released as of this post.
There are many ways to mount your screen to the wall once you’ve found the appropriate location, these can range from simple and cost effective to elegant and expensive.
Cheap.While I’m not sure I recommend the cheapest mount possible is two sections of uni-strut where one bolts into the wall the other side bolts to the back of the screen and they sit on top of each other. If you use the top two (of four) holes in the back of the screen you’ll naturally get a 5-8º downward tilt (typically desirable).
Flat. These are fairly typical, they have a plate that bolts to the wall that has a small lip protruding ~1/2”. Two arms bolt to the back of the screen that set down onto that lip and that’s it! These are simple but efficient and safe if you can hit at least (2) 2×4 studs (for screens over 50” I recommend bolting into at least three).
Tilting. Same as above except the arms include a tilting mechanism typically allowing 5-15º of tile up/down.
Articulating. These mounts have a two-piece arm that allows it to pull out from the wall, they typically have attach to a plate on the wall that is bolted in and a second plate at the end of the arms that the screen hangs on. Larger models for screens 42” and up should have two sets of arms to accommodate the weight. These can be pricey but don’t scrimp…. A cheaper unit won’t tighten down on the ‘joint’s leaving you with a screen that is always unlevel to one side or the other (depending on which way it’s turned on its own weight).
Flush. With proper planning you can mount your screen flush with the face of the wall. This is typically done only in 2×6 depth walls where the backside is a solid sheet of ¾” plywood and the depth of the wall is framed in as a box. The box should be large enough to hold the screen with at least 3” of space all around (to fit the screen onto the mount, for wire paths, and heat dissipation). The mount itself is just a cheap/flat/tilting one that is bolted into the plywood in multiple locations (read: dozens) to accommodate for the lack of depth. The power and source wires are usually brought up from below instead of behind.
Drop Down and Pop-Up. These are usually just a tilting mount that is pre-attached to a motorized metal bracket that is designed to (wait for it….) drop down or pop-up! The drop down models are more pricey at around $800-2,500, they’re also a lot trickier to install because they require a compatible ceiling joist configuration with enough height to hold the screen above the ceiling or a custom soffit the height of the screen. The pop-up models are more common as they can easily be incorporated into hope chests, crawlspaces, dressers, or entertainment stands. Both of these mounts require 120v service for the mount motor in addition to the screen
With all of these options you’ll need to have a licensed electrician run the power for you to behind the screen, levition makes a fantastic recessed box that makes it easy to hide all of your power and video wiring. The video wiring will need to run back to whatever you’d like to watch on the screen… If the distance is less than 9’ you can just run the patch cables through the wall down to the equipment, any longer than that it’s better to use baluns back to the equipment (another blog post).
Both speaker and flatscreens can be tricky to locate, you always have to weigh the ideal placement for audio/video quality against the aesthetics of the room. Depending upon your personal preference one or the other may take priority… although usually it’s not too hard to find a compromise somewhere in the middle.
The simple rule is that the center of the screen should be in line to the viewer’s eyes from the viewing position. This rule gives you an upward angle from your eyesight line to the top of the screen, at most you would never want this angle to exceed 30º. You NEVER want the center of the screen to be placed below your eyes sightline; this is uncomfortable and awkward for most people.
There is a small trick though… did you notice I specifically did not use the word ‘level’? That’s because if you’re viewing location reclines your head at all then you need to take that into consideration. For a typical couch or chair this doesn’t matter, however if you plan on viewing the television from a recliner or bed position where your head will be partially reclined then the screen will need to be mounted higher to accommodate this. In some situations a compromise between a level couch seating and a recliner seating may need to be used so that the screen is at a comfortable height for both viewing angles.
This depends partially on your type of screen and the amount of light in the room. Most current LCD screens will boast a viewing angle of 140º which leaves only a tiny 20º on each side with poor vision. However older DLP, LCD, and rear projection screen had viewing angles closer to 90º leaving a large gap on each side. While the screen may not go black on you these days if you’re seated 25º to the side… you certainly won’t have a great picture nor will the sound be tuned for your location.
The easiest rule is to simply try to place all of your seating within a 90º horizontal angle from the center of the screen. Any seat that falls within that range and is within the recommended distance for that size screen will have an acceptable image
Now that you know where you SHOULD place your screen for optimal use here’s some other information to take into account:
- Speaker placement. If you’re going to have a left/right center you need to make sure you place the center directly above/below the screen and keep your left/right speakers equal distance on each side from the screen.
- Mounting. You’ll either need the space to put your screen on a stand to raise it to the correct height, or you’ll need to use a flat/articulating wall mount (articulating means it has a swing arm and can pan/tilt). If you’re using a mount you need to hit at least (2) 2×4 studs (check mount instructions to verify proper installation), which may or may not mean your screen has to shift either direction to do this.
- Wiring. All screens to a video source, you’ll need to make accommodations for these connections. This is fairly easy for a tabletop stand but if you’re going the wall mount method you’ll need raceway or tools to fish wires up the wall if you want them hidden.
- Power. That pesky power cord needs to plug in to something! Make sure you use a licensed electrician to add an outlet for you. I also highly recommend using a surge unit specifically designed to fit behind flatscreen if you’re wall mounting.
It takes time to find a suitable location for your screen but in the end doing the research work up front will give you a final product you can relax to for many years!
Do you let price determine your screen size? Don’t make the mistake of spending money on a screen you won’t be happy with, whether you purchase a flatscreen that’s too large or too small for a space the result is the same: you won’t feel relaxed watching it.
Even if you’re off by a few inches and you try to lie to yourself, you just can’t trick your own brain. If the screen is too small you’ll find that you keep leaning forward instead of relaxing and if the screen is too large you’ll keep slouching down and leaning your neck back to eek back just 1 more inch!
So how do you decide? It’s easy really, just measure the distance from the front of the screen to where your head will be and divide it by 2 to find the largest screen size, or divide it by 3 to find the smallest screen size. By doing both you’ll give yourself a range that will work. So…
If the distance from your living room wall to middle of your couch is 10’, that’s 120”:
LARGEST SIZE FORMULA: 120”/2=60” (viewing distance / 2 = largest screen size)
SMALLEST SIZE FORMULA: 120”/3=40” (viewing distance / 3 = smallest screen size)
In this case a 42” or 58” would work while a 46” or 50” would be ideal. A 37” or 65” would be a poor choice. For those unfamiliar with screen measurements they are always taken corner to corner (diagonally), this is true of the square ‘standard’ (4:3) screens and the rectangular ‘widescreen’ (16:9) screens.
If the screen is going to be used as a computer monitor, for browsing the internet, or for presentation displays of any sort then I recommend using one of the screens towards the larger end of the scale. All of those uses have text that isn’t formatted for television and may be difficult to read if you try to go smaller.
Here at Connect Technologies, Inc technology isn’t just our business, it’s our passion. We would be doing this stuff even if we weren’t getting paid for it. It just makes life a little easier to not have to figure out another way to pay the mortgage.
If you are interested in anything A/V or security related, we can make it happen. From basic home theaters and security, to the most elaborate (and awesome) integrated home technology, Connect Technologies Inc in Sandpoint is your best option.
It may take a bit before I’m able to get to regular posting but once that happens this will be your best bet for current and informative news in all things technology!