Riding the technology wave

More often the author of HiddenWires articles, Michael Heiss becomes the subject as he chats about an exciting and varied career that saw him named the recipient of CEDIA’s Lifetime Achievement Award this year. He talks to Amy Wallington.

AW: Let’s look back to when you first started. How did you get into this market and has it always interested you?

MH: When I was in high school I figured out I could avoid certain aspects of school I didn’t like by getting involved with the AV squad (essentially a group of students tasked with setting up 16mm projectors to watch films in class) which sparked an interest in electronics. 

After that I was (rather luckily as it was the only one I applied to) accepted at Ithaca College in New York that had, at that time, one of the top five television radio departments in the country and I loved both the technology and the arts side of the course. After four years at Ithaca, I went to university. If it's bad enough that I have one degree in this stuff, I now have two!

While there, I covered a job for a class mate, which became permanent, essentially operating a very early pay-per-view business, building revenue from hotel movie channels. I oversaw massive installations to connect hotel rooms to huge routing switchers. 

The experience in entertainment carried me through a number of jobs which laid the groundwork of a career covering home theatre and home technology. I helped establish the first video cassette rental company and got involved in multichannel audio as Dolby started to develop that.  

Over the course of my career, I’ve gone from home run wiring a massive hotel, to streaming devices. It’s been interesting to participate in these massive changes, to witness them, and to write about them. I’ve always been at the front of developments. Except for working at television network NBC, all the industries and businesses I’ve worked in didn’t exist when I went to college and university. 

While I was running Harman’s video projector and home theatre business, I was part of a group of consumer electronics professionals that decided to form a trade association. I was in the meeting that saw CES established. It was just 25 to 30 people, jammed into this little room and from there became the start of what today is a really wild, cool, interesting, innovative global trade association.

The technology has changed in the custom market; what hasn’t is the personal touch, striving to get the right product for the customer. People who just sell boxes don't get it. This profession doesn't sell boxes. That's what high street stores, chain stores and Amazon do. We sell the value of what the stuff inside the boxes brings to someone when they use it. 

AW: What roles have you had throughout your career within CEDIA?

MH: I was an SME (subject matter expert), with the group that put together the first certification exams. I’ve acted as both a board member and a participant in various committees, I've done events in the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Italy at one point, and of course in the UK. It was great to travel and was interesting to learn about the different requirements in different countries. 

For two or three years I worked with a friend to stage ‘The Garden of High Definition Delights’. We took over a fairly significant meeting space in the CEDIA exhibit hall and we got together 30 different high definition TVs and projectors. We created two home theatres, with big audio systems, and ridiculously bright projectors. 

What CEDIA did through that was to teach people what was coming. Display technology is moving quickly to ever higher resolutions. The average TV set used to last 11 years but things are accelerated now. You need to think about the lifetime of a product, know what’s coming next, and with the high turnover consider recycling. 

AW: So where are you at now in your career and what’s next? 

MH: I’m still doing a fair amount of consulting and I work with some very innovative home theatre and audio companies.  For instance, I’m currently working with someone on how to implement HDMI 2.1 into their gear and then help them convey that messaging to their customer.

I guess the best part, the fun part is getting to work with new stuff. Lately I've been concentrating on streaming devices. In the last maybe eight to ten weeks, we've seen new Roku Fire TV, Chromecast and Nvidia Shield, all which kind of do the same thing but do it differently. I teach myself more detail about the manufacturers and the products, instead of just jamming it into a box. That’s not enough, especially if the systems become more complicated. So, working with all of that stuff is really cool. And it leads to a totally messy workspace. 

Let's just say although I'm honoured to be the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, I might also be the recipient of the Worst Dressed Rack! There are wires flying everywhere in my office. 

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