One thing almost all of our customers have in common – whether they are a residential customer planning their dream home or a commercial customer planning their conference room upgrade – is that they have no idea what technology systems cost. Most people’s only references are online sources, such as Amazon, or local big-box stores, such as Costco. Unfortunately, however, those types of sources are designed for the do-it-yourselfer, not for someone who is contracting out a project. The quality of the equipment is generally of the lower grades, and the price, of course, does not include any system design, labor, maintenance, training, or follow-on support. A good analogy would be estimating the cost of building a house using a DIY store. Yes, a trip to the local Home Depot will give you an idea of how much the various components of a house cost, but you can’t simply add up 2x4 beam, concrete bag, and tile flooring costs in order to determine what it costs to build a home. (this is oversimplified, but you get the point!) Additionally, once again, Home Depot mostly carries lower-grade products because those cost less and are more for the general buyer. For more discerning buyers and higher-grade products, one generally has to go to a specialty store.
So then, you’re asking, how exactly do I determine the appropriate costs and budget for a technology system in my home or office? It’s not that easy, frankly, but we’re updating our website to provide more information, and I’ll offer some top-level tips here as well. Please read on!
The first step towards determining what your technology system is going to cost is determining which technology subsystems you’re going to want. If you’re building a new house or buying an existing one, some things are obvious – almost every home will have audio and video (i.e., speakers and TVs), for example, but what about other subsystems? In my obviously biased opinion, every home should have some level of an automation system to control these disparate subsystems. Part of the automation system should also be a lighting control system – or at the very least, a plan for lighting control. If you’re concerned about monitoring the outside and/or inside of your home, you should also consider adding a surveillance system (a.k.a. a camera system). All of these things must be connected to a home network, so a quality network system is an absolute must. Automated or motorized shades and other window coverings are yet another consideration. Finally, every house should have at least one surround sound system. But do you want a dedicated theater, a media room, or simply a couple of surround speakers in the living room?
All of these various independent subsystems should ideally be linked together as much as possible into one technology system. At Arizona Sound & Light, we try to fully integrate all of the equipment so that it can all be controlled with one app on your phone or one keypad or remote control in your house. Designing for that kind of ease of use is not easy. Trust me, I used to design tactical missile systems, and electronic system design is often more complicated! This is why companies like Arizona Sound & Light are called “system integrators.” Although most people have never heard that term, there are over 10,000 system integrators in the US! Just like an electrician or a plumber, it is important to have a good system integrator working on your project!
The second step, once you’ve picked the systems you want, is determining what grade of each system you prefer. There are generally about 10 different grades of each type of system in the residential equipment world. For some – e.g., your main surround sound system – you may want a higher grade. For others – e.g., your garage speakers – a lower grade may be perfectly fine. I use the car analogy for this a lot, but you can pick anything you’re an expert at or an enthusiast of. You may want the Toyota Corolla of some equipment, the Mercedes S-Class of other systems, and the Ferrari SF90 of certain key equipment. It’s okay to mix and match grades in your home. It’s not okay, however, to believe all equipment is the same. Like cars, handbags, watches, and wine, all electronics are definitely not created equally!
Once you know the specific systems and grades you want, there is an excellent national organization called the Home Technology Association (HTA) that can help with pricing and budgeting. This organization was created to independently qualify and certify system integration companies across the US. There are many fly-by-night operations around, unfortunately, and you need to know which ones you can trust! Arizona Sound & Light is currently in the process of becoming vetted and certified by the HTA, so we can’t put a link to their website on our website just yet, but we can suggest that you Google them and go use their budget tool! (Just go to their website and push the “Calculate Your Budget” button.) This is a very easy-to-use tool that will ask you questions similar to the ones that you’ve hopefully already answered above. It will then provide a range of pricing estimates that you can use for budgeting purposes. Tucson tends to be less expensive than most of the larger cities in the US, so you can generally assume the Arizona Sound & Light price will be towards the bottom of or below the lowest values of the HTA estimate. Try it out – it’s really easy to use and will be very eye-opening for most people who, again, don’t have any idea how much these things cost! (Spoiler alert: most whole-home technology systems are generally in the range of $25,000 to $50,000. Some can go as low as $10,000 if you don’t want much technology, and, at the other extreme, we’ve sold systems that cost over $1,000,000! So, pricing varies a lot – it’s all based on the number of systems you want and the grade of each system you prefer.)
In this post-COVID world, the entire work environment paradigm has been forever changed. I worked for over 25 years at a company that would barely approve my working from home for a single day. Now that same company has 50% of its workforce working from home every day! So, the demand for improved conference rooms has increased dramatically as a result. So, a lot of people are trying to figure out how to budget for their now necessary conference room improvement project. The rules for budgeting for commercial systems are very similar to those of residential systems. The first step is determining which features – which subsystems – you need. The second step is determining what grade of each subsystem you want.
Note that there are fewer individual grades in the commercial product world, but there is definitely a huge difference from the lowest quality to the highest quality products. They all basically look the same and sometimes even have the same specifications, which makes choosing one vs. another very, very confusing. An expert consultant can help you learn the differences in performance, use, and reliability, so you can choose what matters to you and your business.
For conference rooms these days, almost every system needs a way to do remote video teleconferencing. Depending on the room size, you may need more than just a single camera. Do you need a “PTZ” (pan-tilt-zoom) camera that can move and zoom to different speaker locations? Or maybe one that will perform this function digitally? Will you need a microphone system – these can range from a simple table-top microphone to a programmable array in the ceiling designed to pick up any presenter at a large conference table. What about the display? Will you need a single display or multiple displays? How many different sources will be potentially providing images that go on the display? (laptops, phones, in-room computers, etc., are all potential sources) What type of display will it be – TV, projector, or direct-view LED? And what about sound – is a soundbar at the front of the room enough, or do you need speakers throughout the area? Finally, how much control do you want to have over the system? Do you want a simple, manual wall-mounted keypad with push buttons or a table-top touch screen with easy-to-use preprogrammed virtual buttons? Should the system control the lights and scheduling as well?
In addition to conference rooms, commercial systems can also include networks, surveillance/camera systems, access control (i.e., automated door locks), motorized shades, automated lights, and security systems. You may need some or all of these for your business or office.
Unfortunately, there is no commercial equivalent of the HTA budget calculator mentioned above. So, I am going to put something together for the Arizona Sound & Light website very soon. In the meantime, I can only offer some general guidelines. A well-designed conference room system generally runs in the range of $10,000 to $25,000. We have designed and installed some very minimal systems for less than $10,000 and some very complex, large systems for over $100,000. Surveillance systems typically run between $3,000 and $30,000, depending on the number of cameras, quality of cameras, and amount of video storage space you require. Network systems generally run between $3,000 and $5,000 for an enterprise-grade network (i.e., a step or two above the big box stores), all the way up to $20,000 to $50,000 for a top, commercial-grade network.
So, just like residential systems, there is a large price range, depending on the systems you want and the grade of each system you choose. Your best bet is to consult Arizona Sound & Light or another reputable commercial systems integrator for advice, options, and pricing.
Budgeting for complicated electronics and technology systems can be daunting, but it is a necessary task if you are going to achieve the performance, enjoyment, and ease-of-use of the system that you want. Just like a kitchen, a pool, or a house in general, it is very important to at least be familiar with both the price ranges and available grades of all of the systems you want. To return to my earlier analogy, when we go to purchase a complex personal inter-city transportation, safety, and entertainment system (i.e., a car), we generally know the range of pricing for the type of car we want. A small, base-model Toyota sedan with few features and lower-grade materials is a lot less expensive than a top-of-the-line Mercedes sedan with loads of technology and luxury accoutrements. One costs approximately $30,000, and one is close to $200,000. If we go to the dealer expecting a fully loaded Mercedes S-Class to cost under our $30,000 budget, we will be in for a rude awakening as they kick us out the door! The world of electronics, like the world of automobiles, is extremely competitive. That means you pretty much get what you pay for. The total system price is more directly related to the type, number, and grade of systems you want than to the particular systems integration company that is selling it. Most reputable systems integrators charge about the same for the same quality of systems. If you find something for significantly less – chances are you are getting significantly less!