Those of you kind enough to read this column every issue will know that I generally write about pro AV, with very little in the way of reference to the residential sector. This is partially due to the fact that Installation has, over the years, leaned increasingly towards commercial over residential AV, and also because in recent times I’ve been mostly, although not exclusively, writing about and working in pro audio.
It may therefore surprise you to learn that I cut my teeth as a journalist in the residential AV sector many years ago: the beginning of a righteous path that led to these very pages.
Back in 1995 I was lucky enough to get only my second professional journo gig as deputy editor on new launch Home Cinema Choice. Springing from the pages of then market leader What Video, HCC, as it soon became known, was breaking new ground for consumers. The brainchild of industry stalwart Steve May, HCC was at the forefront of the UK’s residential audio/video movement and was hugely influential.
Manufacturers of audio-video equipment and organisations like CEDIA now had a dedicated platform in which to punt their wares and services, instead of the slightly awkward-sitting What Video (more about the kit than the whole AV experience) and What Hi-Fi, which at that stage had still to adopt its ‘Sound & Vision’ moniker, quietly dropped more recently.
Okay, another magazine was already making waves in AV, Home Entertainment – a magazine I subsequently came to edit – but the magazine’s remit was more broad, also straying into gaming at that time; and in any case Home Cinema Choice had nailed its colours firmly to the audio-video mast and was off like a rocket. While a reinvigorated Home Entertainment gave it a run for its money under my stewardship in the late ’90s, Home Cinema Choice was very much the industry’s favourite, a pseudo trade magazine almost as much as it was a consumer title.
While HCC’s fortunes dipped from the mid-’00s onwards, it is the only ‘pure’ AV magazine still standing in a now depleted market. Today, only What Hi-Fi, which continues to cover TVs and projectors, can be found alongside HCC on newsagents’ shelves, with Hi-Fi Choice, Hi-Fi World, Hi-Fi News and Hi-Fi+ racked nearby. Meanwhile tech/boys’ toys fanatics T3 and Stuff feature vision products alongside ‘sexy’ two-channel.
At the same time, what was once a crowded market of residential-facing AV trade magazines is similarly depleted, with hi-fi particularly unrepresented. The peerless ERT continues to impress, covering straight hi-fi alongside AV and custom installation, as well as other electrical goods such as fridges and washing machines.
Residential custom install-facing titles Essential Install and main competitor SVI (aka Sound, Vision, Install) are still going concerns, alongside a couple of online-only offerings. Previous industry fave Custom Installer and my own self-published HCD (previously Home Cinema Digest) are long gone – alongside Inside Hi-Fi, once the leading two-channel trade title.
At the same time, one of the things that struck me at this year’s ISE was how – in the face of ever-burgeoning commercial AV representation, with collaboration in particular growing fast – residential AV was still incredibly well represented. You’d perhaps expect nothing less from a show that is co-owned by CEDIA.
A glance through the ISE Daily – overseen by Installation editor Paddy Baker – on any given day at the RAI shows both ISE and the publisher’s commitment to the residential sector. Here in Installation, however, residential AV is perhaps as under-represented as it has ever been.
However, next month I’m going to swim against the tide and discuss how Roon could help to super-charge the hi-fi and residential install market – and potentially the commercial AV market too: this is a digital music solution that would add serious value to venues. I was lucky enough to experience some incredible Roon-ready kit at ISE, and I’m keen to share my findings with you. Even if you’re as likely to install audio solutions as risk a beating at Putin’s World Cup, you’ll want to know about Roon. Once experienced, it’s a must have!
Bigger Boat PR owner/director Rob Lane has been writing about AV technology since 1995 – in all guises – and continues to do so alongside his ‘day job’ commitments.