Home Automation Podcast Episode #32: An Industry Q&A With Brent McCall
What's new with HDMI?
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Brent McCall. Recorded live on Wednesday January 31st at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Brent McCall
Brent McCall has been in AV, 12 Volt and custom Installation since 1977. In that time he progressed from a floor salesperson to a custom integrator to (now) HDMI product development and support. His focus for the past 12 years has been HDMI and its ramifications to the custom integration professional. His work includes time in the field with dealer/installers and other hardware manufacturers.
Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Brent:
- Brent’s background in the industry
- Brent’s current role at Metra Home Theater
- What’s new with HDMI
- 4K and 8K UHD
- And more!
Ron: Hello everybody. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged brought to you by One Firefly. That's my day job. It is about 12:36 on what is today? Today's Wednesday, January 31st, last day of the month. It's hard to believe one month of January, one month of 2018 has already blown by. I hope you're having a great day. I know that we're moving pretty fast and furious here at One Firefly and a lot of moving parts.
"Pretty amazing opportunities coming our way. Business is fantastic and I know it is for many of you as well."
Pretty amazing opportunities coming our way. Business is fantastic and I know it is for many of you as well. Let me real quickly here, make sure that we are streaming into the Facebook page. Let me make sure that technology is cooperating and then I'm gonna bring in our guest. Let me just check this out. Yep. There we are already starting to build an audience. Don't forget if you're out there, please like this post. Please share this post if you'd be so kind and don't forget to comment. Tell us you're there. Say hello and if you have any questions for myself or more importantly for our guest writing in a comment's a great way for me to know that you have a question and I'll be sure to read that off to our guest. So without further ado, let me bring in Brent McCall of Metra Home Theater Ggroup. How are you sir?
Brent: I am well, and thank you for having me, Mr. Callis. It is a privilege and a pleasure to be here, sir.
Ron: Awesome. Well I appreciate you carving some time out of your busy schedule and our mutual friend Colleen Sterns over at Marketing Matters helped make this happen and got us connected, so thanks to her as well. So Brent, where are you coming to us from?
Brent: We're in Daytona Beach, really Holly Hill in the center of the beautiful east coast of Florida. Enjoying what is an incredible weather day today.
Ron: I agree. I'm here in South Florida down in Cooper City and it is a blue skies and puffy clouds in the skies and it's quite nice outside. So, of course now all of our friends up north are hating us. And it's your fault you brought up the weather.
Brent: Well, I guess it could be worse. We could be.. No, it's awesome.
Ron: It's pretty awesome. Yeah, I concur. So Brent if you could, I will go into detail, but just real quickly for those in our audience that aren't familiar with Metra Home Theater, what is Metra Home Theater and then from there I to go actually go more into your background, but can you give us a little bit of background first?
Brent: Absolutely. Metra Electronics, my parent company is 70 years old and the vast majority of time has spent being 12 volt up until about 2000 meaning they support it all the car, audio antennas, dash kits, wire harnesses, all the things necessary to put an aftermarket radio in your car. In the two thousands, a lot happened. Car audio guys were getting older and moving into home theater and 9/11. When that happened, Metra looked at how do we keep our car guys as business people with us? How do we move forward? And I was working on the owner's house at the time, fixing a number of issues that other integrators left and got called in to explain a little bit about our industry, what we do, how we do it, and how Metra could help. And that's really how it started. Was this the way to maintain and create the dealers they had going forward into home theater?
Ron: Okay. So how many years? Have you been with Metra for quite awhile?
Brent: I've been with Metra Electronics almost 20 years now.
Ron: 20 years. My goodness. There aren't many people that can say they've been anywhere for 20 years.
Brent: No, it shocks me as well and I'm sure them when they think 20, you're still here?
Ron: 20 years of this guy. So for our audience and for myself, I'd love to hear about your background. How did you land in this industry and you know, feel free to add as much color and stories as you want, but I'd love to hear where you came from.
Brent: I'm an old man, obviously by the hair and the wrinkles. In the 70s when I was in high school, it was still eight tracks. I worked in auto body class in high school and installed my first car studio. Thoroughly enjoyed it, always enjoyed the music, played piano and drums and have always liked HiFi, joined the service and right off post in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was it Dixie Hi-Fi store. I got a part time job selling stereo after hours when I was in the Army and I've stayed with it one way or another ever since. It just a true passion. I love doing this. The music's important. Dealing with both the consumers and the dealers has been an incredible experience. I got out of the army, went to work at a retail store in Atlanta, did both home and car sales. As the world evolved into custom installation, we started doing that and in the early days we really just put car speakers in the ceiling of the house. So we were there at the very beginning, learning what worked, what didn't work and how to make it pass code. So one way or another, I've been in custom installation pretty much as long as there's been a custom installation. In the late 90s, the gentleman that owns Metra had a large home done with 24 zones of distributed audio for Milan and a Theo Camera Maracas theater installed in it, which is in the first Theo book. There were a number of issues with the installation. The previous integrator found it prudent to leave town and Elan contacted me to see about saving the job. So everybody did not wind up in court.
Ron: So at that time you were an integrator and you were called in to assist?
Brent: Absolutely. And I've been actively integrating as a full time job. I'd started in the early 90s, left the show floor because I just got tired of dealing with walking traffic. Honestly. Sure. It was a lot more fun being an integrator in solving the problems than dealing with the well, is that cash check or charge, sir?
Ron: Sure. Yeah. So in terms of Metra, so the Metra at the time was mostly car 12 volt. Is that accurate?
Brent: Absolutely. Now as a sidebar, Metra had actually in the early days supplied stuff to the television industry. In the 60s. They supplied product and parts to the TV repair guys, knobs, dials, parts and pieces. But not custom integration cause there really wasn't anything at the time that existed like that and you know, sure few Mackintosh dealers running speakers throughout the house. But really there was no custom installation until the late eighties. With the advent of automation, people starting to put relays and devices and controlling them remotely. Sony DSTs, Fox, early AMX, early Crestron. That is what opened up the world for what we now call customer installation.
Ron: Okay. So is Metra still in the car, audio business or?
Brent: Absolutely. We still make 80% of the dash kits, wire harnesses, antennas, and steering wheel interfaces that are used in the world.
Ron: I would say that means you're still in that business.
Brent: Yes. That's amazing. And honestly that is what pays the bills for us to do home theater correctly. If we were a standalone company, the things that we were able to create because you're expensive to do in the HDMI world couldn't be done.
Brent: Cause you cannot justify the expense and a lot of cases of product development for HDMI without somebody else to carry that load. And the car side allows us to do that. Make things that are unique, that fix problems without making every one of those single items support itself 100%.
Ron: So what's kept you, Brent, in this business? The notes here. I see since 1977, why haven't you gone into some other space and spent your time, you spent your whole career in this channel?
Brent: Pretty much. I've tried a few other things. I was a teacher for awhile. I know you enjoy that tremendously. The politics runs you out of that. I actually sold tombstones for awhile. Family business.
Brent: But it's the challenge of this. It's dealing with the dealers, solving their problems, meeting them at the shows, creating new product. My goal is honestly to work to 75 here at Metra. Sure. This job is a ton of fun. Every job. I don't care who you are. And you have those days when you look at the law and you think really? But for me, those are the tremendously great exceptions. The ability to work with a dealer on the phone, find a solution to what's causing his issues and make it work is a huge feeling. It's awesome.
Ron: And how many dealers do you think you've worked with over the years?
Brent: Certainly thousands beyond that, I couldn't tell you there was a core of about a thousand that I talked to over the course of a month. Pretty much every month.
Brent: And I will get anywhere I operate from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM seven days a week. If they're working, I'm working. And they all have my cell phone number. My cell phone number is on the website. So somebody has an issue, they can call me because I deal with Europe, America, the West coast, South America, Canada, excuse me.
Ron: Yeah, no problem. So in terms of integrators, what is an audio video contractor or any technology contractor that's buying Metro stuff? What type of stuff are they buying? I know that you had mentioned they're buying HDMI cables. What's the portfolio of things your company is typically serving to the industry?
Brent: Well, we consider ourselves an accessories company and this is the same thing with the car site. That means cables, solutions TV mounts, video surveillance products, velcro, screen mesh for speaker grills, cloth, power products. Wire ties, screws, anything they need that really is not the AVR, the source of the television we provide.
Ron: Awesome. We got a few comments here on Facebook, by the way, Brent. Greg, I don't know if you know this name. Greg Calvin Montez.
Brent: Yeah, he's from Pittsburgh Home Theater.
Ron: He says you're famous.
Brent: Well you know, this job does come with a lot of good friends. It really does. And a lot of what we do, you were just asking. What we sell, comes from the dealers. For example, Greg called me in 2005, had had a problem with the lightning strike taking out HDMI ports all the way down the system, component work, composite work, power on and off. Worked, but none of the HDMI. It's because of him that I created our first HDMI surge protector.
Brent: The dealers are super important to us. I mean not just because they buy things and that pays the bills, but because they tell me what they need, they'll call. I have a dealer in New York had an issue with sources not synching properly when he turned them on because of him, we created what we called the voltage control trigger that allows a forced shutdown of the hot plug within the HDMI interface. So you get a resync every time. These are all solutions that came from a dealer call.
Ron: Interesting. So what are the innovations that are happening out there, you know, like 4k and 8k? What role is that having in terms of, I'll just be specific in terms of HDMI and where do you see that going?
Brent: Well, that certainly is very important in the fear factor. There is a lot of misinformation and a lot of fear with dealers and manufacturers and short history lesson. When HDMI first started, it was five gigabits. It was easy, 1080p, and even then if you got past 20-22 feet, you were doing good. As time progressed, it got further up. 3D was introduced. 3D took it up to about seven and a half gigabits. Now this fell within the one dot three and one dot four specifications. 3D as everybody knows, was a sales disaster. It didn't make it three months and the manufacturers realize this was a bad call. 4K, came about 18 months earlier to the consumer than had been planned because of the 3D debacle. Because of that, when 4k was introduced, it had to be done within the existing one dot four domain 10 gigabits. So we got what we call foque or liked. That meant that you only got four two oh color so that every pixel on the television does not get its own color information and meant that you typically got 24 frames per second 30 if you were lucky and only eight bit color. So this kept you below 10 gigabits. This was done for a couple of reasons. The cabling infrastructure really did not exist to go past that. The TV manufacturers didn't have the chip sets in place to go past that. And honestly the sources which are still really only 1080I so the only way you could get 4k was from a standalone player. Sony had the round one, Red had one and a couple of others or on streaming devices, Netflix or eventually Amazon Prime. It wasn't until Samsung released their first UHD HDR player with 20 discs that we broke the 10 gig barrier. Now Xbox One X PlayStation Four Pro. We are at 18 gig and beyond. So dealers that had working systems a year and a half to three years ago are starting to see failures and they're afraid. Where do we go? How do we go forward? And when HDMI announced two.one a year ago, CES a little premature. That also set up a tremendous amount of fear. It's like they can't make work what they have. How do we go forward? The reality of it is we can, the infrastructure that has been around for 10 years with the proper electronics can move forward. Guys don't have to panic so there's a lot to be forward thinking. There's a lot to be happy about and there's a few things you just need to plan going forward to make your life easier. It's not the world ending, it's just how do we prepare.
Ron: So what are some of those tips for planning forward if an integrators doing a project or selling a project right now?
"The number one tip is conduit. It's that simple and that is the toughest thing to get out of a customer or a client. I cannot tell you what the terminal is going to look like in five years."
Brent: The number one tip is conduit. It's that simple and that is the toughest thing to get out of a customer or a client. I cannot tell you what the terminal is going to look like in five years. We can't, we are going to 48 gigabit, 24 with display screen compression, which will make a big step a whole lot easier than going straight to 48. But we still don't know where the terminal is going to go going forward. Currently there's 19 pins. They may need more and if the wires in the wall it's kind of limited to its structure. If you put your conduit in, there's a lot more flexibility. Is it going to be fiber? Is it going to be a different winding? Is it going to be more term, more pins in a terminal? We're not sure yet. We do know that 48 gig or XD, my two.one as it has been announced is not a physical change, meaning the terminal stays the same. The same 19 pins. There is going forward, a higher bandwidth demand of the internals on the terminal, meaning how it's pinned out internally, how the solder's done, how the traces land, but the physical terminal will plug into the same terminal we have now fully backwards compatible. If a dealer has a passive cable in place, the chances are of it going forward into some level of two dot one with added electronics is pretty high.
Ron: What about for the people that pulled various types of fiber? You know over the last 10 years? Can much of that be adapted
Brent: If it is unterminated fiber, possibly. If it is terminated fiber, the electronics that are in that fiber are the limiting factor. Up until about a year ago, fiber was a 10 gigabit solution, so if you had a fiber system with it had 10 gigabit electronics, that's it. There's a brick wall you're not going to break. If you have fiber that has 18 gigabit electronics and it's available now, you can cover everything that's currently available and for the next several years and be fine. Is it going to take you to 24 or 48? Probably not. HDMI is changing the way the data is transmitted right now. HDMI data is only over three channels, red, green and blue. The fourth channel is on high-speed side, a clock that will change within two.one and then four channels, red, green, blue and clock will now be video channels with the clock laid over all four channels, so there is a change coming that will affect electronics and active systems, whether it's an active fiber cable or an active copper cable. Passive cables in many cases will be okay. Unfortunately, not all. A lot of manufacturers will take liberties on the clock channel because it's very limited bandwidth and not build it properly because it still passes the need, but not going forward.
Ron: Okay. How does Metra, how do you guys stay ahead so that you're manufacturing product that meets the technical requirements and needs of the new standards?
"By using products for connectivity that they know function, it reduces what they're fighting to find the solution."
Brent: Well, there are several things involved in that. First of all, we are a DPL member. Digital performance laboratories. Our cables our electronics, a lot of our products are tested and verified by them and they are very aggressive and staying on top of what's happening within the standards and all the DPL members have access to this information. As an individual company, Metro Electronics, myself, Stuart, the other people that worked with me, we'd worked with directly with a lot of the hardware manufacturers, Sony JBC, Epson, Denon, Morantz, Akio, Integra, Yamaha, and work directly with them to make sure that we're on top of what's happening and help them. In a lot of cases, if you go to training seminars or shows for the electronics manufacturers listed, you will find my products are their default connectivity. They want to make sure if all of that works, if there's a failure, they know what it's not. They don't want to be fighting. Is it the TV? Is it the cable? Isn't this, it's this, that. So by using products for connectivity that they know function, it reduces what they're fighting to find the solution.
Ron: By the way, we have another comment Brent. Morgan Burton has stated that Brent is a wealth of information for this industry. He has seen it all.
Brent: Morgan has watched me work at shows. I haven't met her and she has watched me work at shows and I obviously I'm a bit of a ham. I love working a show floor. CES, CEDIA, ISE. I love talking with the dealers. I bounce around a lot. You can tell I'm not what you'd call a low energy person. And shows to me are the greatest fun in the world. You meet the dealer, you see things, they tell you the problems, they tell you what's going on. And it's generally a phone call. When I can get a phone call it's generally somebody with a problem. Help me fix this. The show floor is different. It's like here's what I'm seeing. What are your thoughts on this? Well that is tremendous amount of fun.
Ron: Speaking of shows, so you're just coming out of CES, I'm assuming you were out in Vegas.
Brent: Yes sir. Two and a half weeks.
Ron: So what were the product announcements or if you had some and or did you have a good time?
Brent: Well, first off, Vegas is not a big fan of the city, but I love the show. I need to see a lot of people there. I am there first and last out cause we set up the booth, work the show and tear down the booth. I'm not sales. Sales are basically shackled to their desk. They have a much harder job than I do and I don't make that as a joke. My job is fun and easy. Sales is a hard job. What we saw this year that was interesting from our standpoint was short distance fibers for guys to do in racks to make life cleaner and more reliable. So new extenders new video surveillance products. Mostly it's to take us forward into 48 gigabit from a show standpoint, LG, Sony, and Samsung are all showing 8K products to take you forward. So the reality of this is not pie in the sky, AK and two. one is real. It is coming and it will be available certainly in limited markets, if not worldwide for the 2020 Olympics.
Ron: Okay. When do you think that we're going to see 8K hitting the consumer? When are you going to see 8K TVs getting sold? I'm kind of disconnected from that timeline. I'm curious.
Brent: Six months before the 2020 Olympics? I believe there'll be available six months before the 2020 Olympics. I can't tell you the dates of the 2020 Olympics, but my guess is in order to get any level of penetration, they will start shipping products to the store six months before the Olympics because there's the buildup with the networks or with the network and what they're going to be able to show.
Ron: Okay. And we'll pardon me if I'm asking a silly question, but I'm sure there's at least somebody else out there that's at my level of technical aptitude. Would the 8K signal be sent by the cable company to your cable box? Like how does that work?
Brent: I believe the plan, and I am not privy to this, I'm guessing. You will see a dedicated channel within the cable systems via IP cause they'd most gone that direction now anyway, right over the air and on satellite direct TV at the very least possibly Dish.
Ron: Okay. So with the cable box most people have, there'll be a channel serving up that high res content.
Brent: And the other thing you will see is between now and 2020 bandwidth over the national infrastructure for IP will increase dramatically. So there's probably going to be, if you have a streaming box of Roku an Apple TV and video devices like that, I am sure there'll be Olympic apps to get high res downloads, 4K, HDR with HLG and probably 8K.
"There's going to be people watching or listening or reading this content that maybe just started their business last year. Maybe they've been running for 10 years, but yet they haven't been able to kind of break through and reach that stride that they want."
Ron: Okay. So if you don't mind, Brett, let's go a completely different direction here. So you've been working with lots of integrators for lots of years. Could you maybe give a couple of bullets, two, three, four bullets of takeaways or attributes of some of the better performing integrators. In other words, there's going to be people watching or listening or reading this content that maybe just started their business last year. Maybe they've been running for 10 years, but yet they haven't been able to kind of break through and reach that stride that they want. I'd love to hear your perspective on what you think are some of the best attributes of some of the better companies.
Brent: Number one, flowcharts. Okay. As an integrator when I am, when I'm designing a system, I flowchart every single thing in that system because it's really easy to miss the small things and the small things mean overnight shipping. Overnight shipping kills profitability in a job. So step number one, once you've met the client, got an idea of what their expectations are, what you're going to deliver, set out a flow chart. I need to accomplish this, this, and this in this job, and then under the flow chart you'll start bullet pointing. Okay, I need a source that does this. I need switching that does this. I need displays that do this. Once you have those, it's easier to formulate a proper thought process and determine the items you need. It's always the little things you forget that cost you in profit without question because they're overnighted or you got to find them or they're out of stock. Whenever possible, try a new combination of hardware gear, of connectivity in the office before you go to the job site. Our goal as integrators is to look like a God in front of the client. That means when you show up at their house, everything needs to work. Now, I don't care who you are and how will you plan. That's not a reality, but that is the goal. Nothing is worse than you sitting there staring at a stack of things with that client, leaning over your shoulder wondering, am I going to have music? When the party starts in 30 minutes and every CI has been there, it's a fact of life. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. If you don't document what you're doing and where you put things, you're going to forget it. There's too many jobs going on right now. Everybody's got a different job at different location every day. The world's busy again. CI has picked back up and if you don't document what you've done at a job site and we've all done it, you walk in the room, you look, it's like, why is that? Why are there, what was its purpose? What was I thinking? This doesn't mean write a book. Yeah, everybody's got a smartphone. Take a video of the job site, make audio comments on it and save it. It will save your butt and increase your profitability for sure. Absolutely. Because the less you have to order quickly, the more you plan ahead, the less money you spend and the more you make.
Ron: Those are some wise words from a veteran. When you're not busy helping people run their business better or solve their HDMI issues or having fun at trade shows. What are you doing for fun, Brent?
Brent: Two-channel music. I still thoroughly enjoy it. I enjoy going home. I had a nice pair of sound Halo stack and a set of Beachy Ribbons that I listened to almost daily and have a Miata. I love a top-down right along the beach at night, enjoying the sunset on the west side of the world and the breeze in my face. Other than that, it truly is work. This is still fun. At some point it may become a job, but after 40 years it hasn't.
Ron: Well. What do you enjoy most about your job?
Brent: The dealers. Interaction with the dealers. Solving problems. Without a challenge, life gets boring and that's why HDMI has been honestly for me. Fun. There are frustrating days just like why did they do this? But as a whole, solving the issues, moving it forward has been a tremendous amount of satisfaction for me and shows, God knows I love a show. I'm going to Amsterdam this weekend for ISE.
Ron: Oh, I love Amsterdam and I love the ISE. It's such an amazing show.
Brent: Yes, it is, it's a different market and a different feel over there. Yeah. The integrators are different. In America. Integrators tend to be a little bit more seat of the pants and in Europe they tend to be more focused in both ways. In my opinion, have a tremendous amount of value. I think American integrators can adapt to changes a little quicker than what we see over in Europe. But the European integrators are more focused on job productivity, meaning they're a little bit more organized. They have, they know what they need in their toolkits and everything's there. I met a few that offer both together, not enough on either side of the ocean, but either way is a valid statement. I don't want to say this is better than that because I do both ways. Seat of the pant means a problem comes up, you can get through it and you moved on where people very focused on procedure may not be able to do that as well.
Ron: Any favorite restaurants over there in Amsterdam?
Brent: The Thai restaurants and the sushi restaurants in Amsterdam are fantastic.
Ron: Yeah, I remember Indian, some of the best Indian I had had was the Amsterdam masala. Yes, absolutely. Well, Brent, we're gonna, we're gonna call it an interview, my friend. I really appreciate you taking time and sharing with my audience about yourself and about your company. It was a lot of fun.
Brent: One more thing to add. Again, I am available from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM and anybody in the company can call. It doesn't have to be management. I'll happily take a call from an integrator. If you're working, I'm working. It's that simple.
Ron: What's the best way to reach? Do you want to throw out a phone number?
Brent: My cell phone number is area code 3868467264. If you call and you do not reach me, there's really only two reasons, I'm out to dinner and the phone's off or I'm in the Miata and the tops down. Leave a name and a phone number to text and I will call you back.
Ron: That's awesome Brent. Thank you buddy. I really appreciate it,
Brent: Ron. Thank you for a wonderful opportunity. You know, hope you have a great day.
Ron: Awesome. So ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching. Don't forget to like this post, share this post, throw us a comment even if we're offline, let us know what you thought of the interview and really appreciate you checking it out. So on that note, I want you to have an awesome rest of your Wednesday and a fantastic rest of your week. And I will see you next time on the next episode of Automation Unplugged. Should be next week on Wednesday. So thanks guys. And I will talk to you soon. Be well.
Brent McCall has been in AV, 12 Volt and custom Installation since 1977. More specifically he has been with Metra Electronics for over 20 years. In that time he progressed from a floor salesperson to a custom integrator to (now) HDMI product development and support. Brent's work includes time in the field with dealer/installers and other hardware manufacturers.
Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly became the leading marketing firm specializing in the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution, Mercury Pro.