AV9000 Checklist Item Under Test: 3.1: The Design Package includes measurable performance specifications, as well as a functional narrative. Supporting architectural and AV drawings are accurate and current. Special instructions from the client about system standards, performance standards, etc., have been included in the design. In short, all input documentation required to build the system is present.
Reasoning: In this year’s “The Commish,” I will discuss some potential pitfalls that integrators and designers may encounter in the market segment that Sound & Communications is highlighting that month. In this issue, the focus is on Houses of Worship (HOWs).
Design specifications are not always that specific. They may include a functional narrative and equipment list, but may lack pertinent information dealing with why a particular device was selected. If there are no changes, or the design is still fresh in the designer’s head, swapping out equipment should be easy. However, if the specifications of a device required to make the design work are not explicitly detailed in the design package, they can be overlooked easily, if and when design changes happen. Projects with HOWs have notoriously long timelines from the programming to construction phases, so including pertinent, specific specifications is crucial to the success of the design.
The Story: It was an innocent enough request. The pastor’s cousin worked at a well known appliance retailer and he was offering an incredible deal on displays. They were different models than what I had specified, but they met my general criteria. They were from a reputable manufacturer. They were the right size. They had an RS232 port. They had a few HDMI ports. I thought the change would be a no brainer.
The design had been completed 18 months before this deal presented itself, so I told him to go ahead and purchase them from his cousin. I was in the middle of a busy week, and didn’t really think much of it. The project required six displays, money was tight with the congregation and they stood to save a significant amount of money from this deal.
Have you ever had an AV nightmare? Well, that night, I woke up in a cold sweat after I realized that the displays would not work. The church had a bunch of legacy equipment that they still wanted to use, but they did not have money to convert those analog sources to digital. The original displays were selected because they were one of the few non-commercial models left on the market that still offered an analog VGA input. I had authorized the pastor to purchase six relatively expensive displays that would not work with the current design without adding expensive scaling hardware.
I immediately shot out an email at 3:30 in the morning to attempt to halt the purchase of the displays. I also called him first thing in the morning. Luckily, he had only verbally given the OK to his cousin to purchase the displays, but never officially authorized the purchase. The potential nightmare was averted. Thanksgiving dinner might have been a bit awkward for the pastor and his cousin, but at least the church didn’t waste a bunch of money on displays that wouldn’t work with the design.
There were two big takeaways from this experience. First, any change in a design or proposal, no matter how seemingly small, requires a formal design review. I’ve seen too many tiny, “simple” changes in the design result in unintended, dire and expensive consequences.
Secondly, I had to ask myself why I hadn’t included the requisite display features in the equipment list of design specification. I had the highlights listed, such as display size and type, but completely missed the crucial specifics: “The display must have an analog VGA input to support an analog high-resolution input.” That simple sentence or bullet point would have reminded me why that particular display was recommended.
It’s not enough to simply copy the highlights of the proposed devices from the manufacturer’s brochure in a specification. Design packages and proposals should include the nitty gritty. The display shouldn’t just be listed as having “several HDMI inputs.” If the design calls for three HDMI inputs, the line item should be listed as “the display must have three HDMI inputs” in the specification. If a DSP mixer requires 10 echo-canceled inputs, the specification should reflect that. Some manufacturers offer more than 10 in one box, but many only offer eight. Switching manufacturers after the first pass at the design might easily result in not having enough microphone inputs if it is not explicitly stated. The same holds true for control system ports, supported resolutions for switchers and extenders, VESA mount standard if a display has to mate to an existing custom mount, and many other design aspects.
As designers and engineers, we need to be more specific with our specifications. It creates a more complete package. If a design hasn’t been reviewed in months, the ramp-up time to get reacquainted will be drastically reduced. The installers and client will have a better understanding of why particular devices were selected. There’s a reason why we refer to these packages as “specifications” and not L.A.R.s (Looks About Right).