Bozzword: Preferences

Preference_450x300bṓzz•word: (n.) an industry buzzword that inspires InfoComm VP Joe Bocchiaro to wax poetic. Or if not a buzzword, some other notion that moves Joe to prose.

Anyone who has been around the audiovisual community’s various training sessions over the last 20 years has had one of their questions answered with “it depends.” Nobody wants to hear that, of course, as the response could mean that the question is no good or that the presenter or instructor doesn’t really know the answer. It is usually a set-up for a long drawn-out diatribe full of anecdotes and scenarios far beyond the innocence of the simple inquiry. A litany of variables and interrelated parameters is sure to follow, interspersed with so many personal opinions that the question is forgotten and all sense of reality is lost. This leads to discussion, then argument, then an eventual truce amongst the crowd, with the recognition that there really is no answer to the question.

And so many times in audiovisual discussions, there actually is no answer, and yes, it depends.

This situation seems to be irreconcilable, but I propose that it is not a problem; it is just the way things are. For instance, when my wife and I bought our first biggish LCD HDTV two years ago, and I was finished moly-bolting and fire-stop caulking the swivel mount to our chimney, I realized immediately that the sound was just not going to cut it for me. Love that picture, but no bottom end, no surround, no sizzle or punch. I love to watch action movies and apocalyptic science shows, and the next step was to solve the problem with more masonry anchors and a soundbar with a wireless subwoofer. Right away the disagreements began.

My wife says the screen is too big; I said it conforms (by design) to the CEA/CEDIA CEB-23 Home Theatre Video Design Bulletin. She says that the sound is too “boomy,” and “too loud,” and I say that it is set for movie sound according to the SMPTE 202M and ISO 2969 Cinematography (B-chain electro-acoustic response of motion-picture control rooms and indoor theatres) Specifications and Measurements Standards (yes, that). You can imagine how that conversation went. So when she watches anything at all, she does not turn on the soundbar. She prefers the way the television sounds, which is pretty much the way televisions have sounded for many years. I want to feel the explosions rumbling and hear the fires crackling; she wants to hear the dialog. She wants it to sound like a TV set. No value judgments made, only preferences expressed.

This idea of preferences pervades much of our performance standards-development conversations at InfoComm. All sorts of differences are discussed. For instance, they say that people in Japan prefer a different color balance than Europeans and North Americans. We know that the maturation of our hearing creates wide variations in our perception according to individuals’ age, and exposure to dangerous noise environments. Variations in people’s experiences with a variety of media formats will set them up for a lifetime of expectations and preferences. Human vision varies continuously depending on the brightness of the scene, and likewise, human hearing according to the overall volume level. Companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s know about differences in people and situations, and deliberately accommodate different multinational/regional preferences with variations in their products.

The InfoComm Standards Steering Committee oversees task groups that discuss issues such as variations in skin tone (videoconferencing lighting,) preferences in sound system equalization (spectral balance,) preferences in image sizes (display image size,) etc. Statistical evaluation (the Standards Studies) of preferences from a large sample group of volunteers has become a main part of our InfoComm Show activity.

In engineering terms, the bell-curved range of potential preferences expressed by the group could be called a “tolerance.” Yes, it is interesting to know why the differences occur, but what really matters is that a group comes to agreement on a median. So add these disparities to the huge list of other variables that go into designing an audiovisual system, each with its own “depends” factors, and you can see why there can be so much disagreement. As such, the standards are written to accommodate the middle of the normal distribution of human responses to preferences.

Will you agree with the results? It depends on you.

About Joe Bocchiaro

Joe Bocchiaro is Director of Standards and Industry Innovations for InfoComm International. He previously was an InfoComm Academy Senior Staff Instructor. He has worked as an audiovisual design consultant with Constantin Walsh-Lowe LLC and Electro-Media Design Ltd. Before that, Joe was Vice President of Media Technologies and Senior Engineer with the New Jersey systems integration firm A.V. Services Inc.

3 Responses to “Bozzword: Preferences”

  1. Joe,
    I have to agree with you on this one. We can never have too much bass. I guess “that depends” on how close you are to your neighbors. Great article!

  2. So can we include “it depends” as a point of reference in our standards criteria? Great piece Joe. There are so many variables in our world that having a concrete answer is sometimes the worst answer. That’s where the art of AV comes into play.

  3. Well, this clears things up! Thanks, Joe.