Terra's Take on The Art of the Demo

The hardest of hard-core AV enthusiasts live in a world of perpetual upgrades. They love tinkering and being the first on the block with a shiny new piece of gear. They also love showing off those prize possessions, wowing friends, relatives, neighbors—anyone they can get to sit down with their new 4K OLED screen, full-tilt Dolby Atmos surround sound setup—you-name-it.

The folks at Terra, the Maine-based company specializing in outdoor speakers, talk about wowing clients with demos in a recent post on the company’s website. We thought it was worth passing along. Just substitute relative/friend/neighbor for “client.”

Whether you’re an AV pro performing demos for your clients or a proud homeowner who’d like to show off your system to a friend, the following should be of value to you. (This is, by the way, part two of our three part series on demo tips

A brief overview:

1. People pursuing a home theater demo typically want to experience three things:
a) Enough bass to make their pants legs flap in the breeze
b) Lots of high volume, especially with oodles of explosions, crashes, bangs, booms, thuds, etc.
c) Hearing and being aware of the surround speakers all the time.

2. If and only if you think your client is open to learning what really makes for exceptional home theater you can try explaining that:
a) There should only be leg flapping bass during extreme bass passages (a recent example is any one of several scenes in Interstellar where they specifically pumped up the LFE to higher than normal levels for dramatic impact)
b) Crashes, explosions, etc. are all good fun. But they often accompany potentially disturbing violence, blood and gore. Reminder: Families aren’t into this.
c) The majority of what comes out of the surround speakers is secondary to the action taking place on the screen. Therefore it’s typically background/environmental sounds and not “front and center” like what comes out of the L/C/R channels. In most cases, you shouldn’t even be aware of the surround channels until they are shut off.

So what makes for a good surround sound demo source?

1. Pick a scene that’s no longer than 5-6 minutes
2. Choose a scene that tells a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end
3. If the scene ends with a laugh or an “emotional tug” (think puppies) it will help substantially
4. There should be lots of clear, well defined dialogue
5. Any bass events should be clearly recorded and impactful (think the Tyrannosaurus footfalls in the first Jurassic Park)
6. Choose a scene with substantial surround content (because even though you’ve explained the surround channels as above, they’re still gonna want to hear them all the time anyway)
7. Clear, colorful video. An excellent example are many of the animated Pixar feature films. They’re just about ideal in every respect, including superb video and sound quality while remaining inoffensive and fun
8. Choose both a movie scene and a concert “cut”. Try to determine the client’s musical choice or at least their generation for the music selection. Of course, that means you need to have a reasonable selection of well recorded concert cuts available to choose from
9. Every demo seems to have a volume level that’s “just right” for demo playback. Not too soft nor too loud. Determine those levels before the demo and set them during your presentation
10. If your demo facility includes a media server, load your best and most popular demo material scenes and musical cuts into a folder for quick and easy access

Do you have any great demo tips you can share?