CEDIA’s Walt Zerbe on the Importance of A/V Standards

Since CEDIA sold the rights to the annual CEDIA Expo trade show a few years ago, the organization has been busy honing and expanding the world-class educational programs it produces for professional integrators who design and install A/V entertainment and smart-home systems. The Indiana-based association also plays a key role in developing industry standards with the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). We recently caught up with Walt Zerbe, CEDIA’s senior director of technology and standards, to learn why industry standards and recommended practices are important and what they mean for enthusiasts.

S&V: CEDIA recently became an “accredited standards developer” recognized by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and assumed responsibility for the Residential Systems Committee that had been run by the CTA. As I understand it, the purpose of the committee and its working groups is to establish standards and recommended practices for the design and installation of residential technology systems, including home theater and other audio/video entertainment spaces. Let’s talk about the significance of this behind-the-scenes industry group — what does it do and why it is important?
Walt Zerbe: A long time ago, I was involved creating standards and recommended practices for the CTA and volunteering for CEDIA and its Technology Council. At the CTA there were — and still are — groups dedicated to disciplines such as audio (R3), Video (R4), home networks (R7), and more. The CTA represents technology companies, including manufacturers, and runs working groups that develop recommended practices and standards for protocols and devices. While this is wonderful and really necessary, no one was focusing on the installation side of audio/video and related home entertainment technologies, which led to the creation of the Residential Systems Committee (R10).

The job of R10 is to come up with recommended practices and standards for installing technology. The difference between a standard and a recommended practice comes down to two words: “shall” for standard and “should” for recommended practice. When it comes to ANSI standards, it’s important to have wide representation of the various categories of interest so no single group dominates a work effort. In CEDIA’s case, we have members who install and integrate products and manufacture or distribute products. Then there are general interest members who represent federal and state regulatory agencies, research companies, other organizations and associations, or consumers.

Today, we have a strong and diverse group comprised of integrators, manufacturers, and technology providers who work jointly to create consensus-driven recommended practices and standards. CEDIA uses this output to assist in forming education guides used for CEDIA boot camps, online learning, white papers, podcasts, and webinars as well as fodder for certification and work-force development. Work done by the R10 committee also helps manufacturers ensure their products are properly installed. It also highlights needs integrators may have that manufacturers either aren’t addressing or haven’t thought about yet.

S&V: I’d like to break the conversation into the audio and video and start with video as it relates to home theater design. Current recommended practices developed by CEDIA and CTA provide a “standardized approach to designing a high performance video experience…that meets or exceeds the commercial viewing experience.” Can you elaborate a bit on what is meant by a standardized approach to design?
Zerbe: So, what you’re referring to is “CTA/CEDIA CEB-23-B Home Theater Video Design.” [This free bulletin can be downloaded here.] It covers recommended practices for things such as viewing angles and seating arrangements, optimizing room layout and environment, calculating recommended screen sizes based on the primary seating position, recommendations on how to accommodate multiple rows of seating, and aspect ratios and masking, which includes using an anamorphic lens to match screen shape to content and eliminating black bars. The bulletin also covers room lighting and décor, ambient lighting, acoustic treatments, recommended colors for walls, ceiling, and carpet, and lots more.

It’s important to note that this document was created in 2011 and revised in 2017, hence the “B” designation. Though the document addresses 4K, it does not cover high dynamic range (HDR) so it is due for a revision, which we anticipate starting Q3 of 2021. It’s also worth mentioning that that when the Committee develops a recommended practice or standard we don’t re-invent everything. We always cite relevant references, which in the case of CEB-23, include things such as the CIE’s (International Commission on Illumination) 1931 XYZ color space and the latest release updates from the HDMI Forum.

The reality is that much of the Committee’s work ends up being recommended practices and not standards because there are so many variables. We can’t always say you shall do something a particular way 100% of the time.

S&V: Okay, with that in mind, what's it take to achieve a topnotch viewing experience, starting with room layout? What are the key considerations?
Zerbe: In a nutshell, it’s all about design. You can have wonderful performance from inexpensive gear and terrible performance from expensive gear if the design part isn’t done correctly. Seating distance, for example, is very important. To achieve an immersive “movie theater” experience you need to take into account how far the seating is from the screen when selecting screen size. Then, there are more technical things to consider, like room color and, hopefully, the absence of surfaces that reflect light back onto the screen. Where you put your gear also plays a key role in system design. Placing a projector with a noisy fan in the room will make it impossible for viewers to experience the suspension of disbelief, which is the goal of any media presentation.

S&V: Great point. The distraction of a noisy fan is something many people wouldn’t think about until it’s too late. What about the video hardware itself — what’s most important here? And are the standards and best practices for video projection or do they also include big-screen TV?
Zerbe: Hardware is always important, but design and setup are equally important. Budget will often determine whether a two-piece projection system will be used versus a flat-panel TV, but that will not always be the case. In rooms with ambient light issues — like a multi-purpose room with large windows — matching the display technology to the space is important. Something like QLED [Samsung’s LCD-based display technology] might be good for a room with high ambient light levels because of its relatively high light output, whereas an OLED TV might not fare as well in that room as it’s 100% emissive and, therefore, has lower overall light output.

In the case of cables, it’s important to use a known good cable or test them to ensure they can handle the bandwidth being asked of them. In the case of the Apple TV, they have a method where you can try the higher forms of delivery with a safeguard of reverting back to a lesser option automatically if the cable can’t accommodate it. That’s a down-and-dirty way to see if a cable might be a weak link to your video system.


Traveler's picture

So this mostly effects people who sell to people with money to burn.