AV Integration and LED Technology – Q&A with MediaCentric’s David Lopez

MediaCentric, an AV integrator, sits down for a Q&A with Daktronics about what’s happening in the AV world.

In the audiovisual world, there are a number of integrators that help bring projects from the idea stage into real-life solutions. One of the integrators Daktronics works with is MediaCentric. We sat down with David Lopez, President of MediaCentric, to go more in-depth into what they provide, how they work and to discuss his recent trip to Brookings, South Dakota.

Q: Can you tell us more about yourself and how you got involved with MediaCentric?
A: Overall, I started with computer technology. Fresh out of high school, I got certified as a computer technician. In 1986, I was nineteen when I got hired with a stock market company and worked on mainframe technologies installation and services in that market from 1986 to 1995. Then, from 1995 to 2000, I got into AV integration and video conferencing. I was able to take all that IT experience and overall technical services experience and apply it toward audio-video integration. Then, when the world didn’t come to an end after Y2K, I went out on my own in May of 2000 and started MediaCentric. When starting out, I had enough work to feel comfortable on my own. After about nine months, I hired my first technician and that technician is still with me today as a senior engineer.

Essentially, MediaCentric has evolved into a whole-sale, labor and commissioning, programming subcontractor to the AV industry. Our clients are typically integrators, distributors and manufacturers in the pro AV and IT space. These customers come to us for regular services on their projects. Next year, we’ll be celebrating 20 years in business. We provide a variety of services that customers can pick and choose from. These services might range on a project by project basis, depending on the need of that project or strategic regulatory choices that they use for very specialized services with us to supplement or round out their overall service offerings. The types of services we provide are installation/integration, design/engineering, sales/engineering, project management/systems commissioning, programming, training, network infrastructure, CAD, newly launched white-labeled help desk, field labor services, maintenance, and consulting. Last year we launched a franchise model, between corporate expansion or select/strategic franchisee. MediaCentric’s goals are to be a nationwide system of consistent and quality subcontract services to the AV and IT industry.

Q: Of all the different services and products that you provide, what are some of the markets that you work with since AV and IT can cover a wide range of operations?
A: We cover corporate, government and education. Corporate can include conference rooms, auditoriums, huddle rooms and board rooms. In education, we cover higher education and K-12. In government, we cover secure or unsecured rooms – it depends on what the integrator typically brings to us. We can take any one of those categories and break it down into many more categories.

Q: Within in those categories, what do you think is the role of the AV integrator?
A: You can get pretty deep and technical when talking about this group, but a more basic definition would be that they’re a technology contractor engaged by many different types of clients, in many different types of industries and vertical markets, to provide technology solutions that contain some form of video, audio, animation, lighting and acoustics. We can provide these services as fixed installations or temporary live events that we all see at corporate events or in any kind of a show. MediaCentric typically provides fixed installation services. As far as the AV integrator goes, most companies that provide skilled labor for these services need help delivering on the workload. They employ technicians, leads, foremen, project managers, AV engineers, programmers, service techs, trainers and many variations in between. It’s just not a sustainable business practice for them to provide staff for all the peaks of all their sales, year after year, and then have other seasons where large amounts of staff aren’t working. If they’re not building, they’re costing money. If they don’t give those employees enough work, then they’re going to lose those employees to another workplace. The practical solution, like any division of labor, is to staff at the averages or even below the averages. Then you can outsource or subcontract various skilled labors, like MediaCentric, to a company that you can trust and that you have a long-standing relationship with. A company that can perform in a consistent way. Someone that you can count on and stand behind. A company that is representing that integrator. This is the reason why I’ve been very successful since starting out almost 20 years ago in Southern California. Now we have around 50 employees in four states and we’re continuing to grow. We also travel quite a bit. For example, in 2017, we worked in 23 different states.

Q: What areas of the country do you generally cover?
A: Currently, we have localized technicians throughout California, Arizona, Texas and Missouri.

Q: In those areas, what are some of the biggest projects you’ve had since you started the company 20 years ago?
A: For the integrators that we work for, we can’t name any specific ones. We’re very discreet about our clients; we never share any information between the projects we work on. But we’ve done some cool things such as huge rollouts where we’ve done hundreds and hundreds of different conference room upgrades from simple/standard room types all the way up to several sophisticated spaces, divisible or combinable spaces, and board rooms. For one of our largest rollouts, we did about six or seven hundred rooms in a span of about nine months. We’ve done fifty or a hundred rooms quite often. We also do five, ten, fifteen rooms quite a bit. We’ve seen a lot of large corporate tech-type companies and other trades, law firms, and any kind of education. We’ve done a lot of sophisticated spaces as well with elaborate audio or video walls, and lots of video conferencing. We’ve done plenty of government-type things, such as high-security operations, where all the video conferencing is done over cryptos, cryptology or just secured networks on their IP.

Q: Are you starting to see a lot of more LED walls being implemented throughout these projects?
A: Absolutely. I’m always trying to look for that next potential disruptive type of technology that we can be good at, that we can invest in and that we can become known for specializing in. For several years now I’ve known about and been learning more about LED walls. We, as a company, need to try and differentiate ourselves, so a video wall is it. We’ve done a lot of LCD video walls over the years, but now we’ve seen these big, more experiential type of video walls that are out there. I mean, they’re so cool. So, I knew that I wanted to get us into that space. We’ve been getting certified, getting experience and marketing it. We’ve been staying close with a variety of certain integrators that we work closely with as well, manufacturers like Daktronics. We’re also trying to get more certifications and to become very specialized in that space.

Q: When did you hear about Daktronics or how did you hear about us?
A: Through an employee. There were some introductions and discussions. He’s friends with one of my sales and business development employees. There was a connection there and we’ve been keeping up with him in the space. I’ve also heard about Daktronics for quite some time through scoreboard and the large LED installations. Quite honestly, it was more through this Daktronics employee relationship that we learned quite a bit more. Finding out that Daktronics is one of the few manufacturers with longevity in the United States, but also that you were trying to do as much manufacturing and production in the U.S., that made sense for us to try and pursue.

Q: You were recently in Brookings for some certification training. What were your thoughts of our Brookings campus as you were pulling in from the interstate?
A: That was the biggest awareness “ah-ha” moment for me. I had no idea that Daktronics was this big and that you’ve been around for that long. We were all very impressed. We talked about how we didn’t know much about Daktronics in detail until after this year. I’ve always known Daktronics for being a major player in large LED displays or billboards, messaging, and scoreboard company. I didn’t know until this year that you were over 50 years old, all U.S. owned, operated and manufactured/assembled in South Dakota. That was very cool to see and learn about. I see that a lot up in Northern California, so I’ve been on most of the big technology campus that are there. Your facility might not have been as flashy as some of them, but it was as big as many of them.

Q: Did you find anything that was specifically helpful during that certification training that you were up here for?
A: Ultimately, the three of us that ended up going to the training were able to go through and, upon competition, we were a lot more comfortable in our ability to install Daktronics fine pitch products on our own and become very proficient at it. A very big part of it was because the training was mostly hands-on and had a good amount of presentation and theory to prepare us for what we were going to do during the hands-on part. I’ve been to a lot of trainings over the years and sometimes they’re all theories and sometimes they’re all just lab. It’s nice to just be able to get a little bit of theory like this is the process and we’re going to teach you this. It wasn’t a lot, anywhere from fifteen, twenty or thirty minutes, and we were able to ask questions and discuss some of that technology theory. Then we were able to then apply it to the install side. It was a great balance of that and that’s not always easy to do. Then to turn around and cover all the steps of the install to understanding the way it’s packaged and crated. This technology is very expensive, we all know that. Some of the jobs we’ve already done, we have a policy – that the guys that work on it know with other products – LEDs are very sensitive. So, we make sure all our nails are cut and our hands must be clean. There are some things that we’ve learned ourselves, but even on packaging. It’s hard to know exactly how things are packaged, to going from the unpackaging, uncrated, laying everything out for the preparation, to the assembly, to all the tight tolerances that are required in assembly, internal & external wiring, the testing, and the troubleshooting. Having the necessary tools to be able to do this, it was very cool to do. Over the many trainings I’ve been to throughout the years, this was one of the better ones.

Q: Were you able to stop by and see the reliability lab?
A: We did. That was a cool experience. I had no idea how many different pieces of equipment that can do a variety of different tests. For instance, the stress test and the tests of all those different kinds of extremes to make sure that these products have very tight tolerances as well as the environmental standards. I was just completely impressed by that. There were just so many different pieces of machinery for the different things that they were doing. It made sense because a lot of Daktronics products are outdoors and we must meet the different standards, such as from below freezing all the way to the high temperatures along with all the different humidity levels from across the United States and around the world. I had no idea that there was that much equipment that could bench test the componentry like that. All the other places I’ve been to, their testing was minuscule compared to the amount of testing Daktronics does.

Q: How was your overall experience coming to Daktronics’ campus in Brookings?
A: The tour was a small part of it, of course, but they walked around the different buildings where we were able to see many different parts of the buildings. The huge production floors, I had no idea how many products that Daktronics worked on, but your production floors, assembly floors, floors that you were burning in product, the automation that we have on the floors. I was surprised by the number of skilled workers Daktronics has that were assembling a lot of things by hand – it was cool to be able to watch that happen. There was a great balance, a majority of it was in the training class and doing the hands-on activities, but it was great to see and get the whole Daktronics experience.

Q: Would you recommend that people come and check it out and see it first hand for themselves?
A: Absolutely. I think it’s handy for a lot of different reasons, including manufacturing relationships and strategic relationships, especially for the integrator. Obviously, they represent a lot of different products and manufacturers, some align themselves solely with just a handful. Some, with their size, must align themselves with more. For the most part, most of us must remain agnostic, especially with MediaCentric since we represent so many different integrators, distributors and manufacturers. We must be well versed at a lot of different technologies, whether it’s on the display side or the audio side. We do have to maintain chops across all of them but, even for us, it’s just nice to have that full contact list of partners and what they’re about, where they’re headed, where they’re from, what they’re currently doing as far as where you’re headed. I’ve been learning recently about video walls and LED, where things are made, where the raw materials are from. The reality is that we know that many of them come from China, Asia, Taiwan or Korea these days. There’s not a lot of people doing US manufacturing, so to learn about that strategy with Daktronics, and how you’re trying to come up with some of the raw materials yourselves, is a good context for me to understand the future of things.

Q: How has this helped you so far, or what was next for you when you got back to California?
A: We haven’t done our first wall yet, but it’s only been a few months and these are newer products. Obviously, we’re working on being more strategic with Daktronics as an authorized service provider. We have several quotes with integrated partners. These are longer sales cycles and these are not inexpensive walls. They’re a decent product in a very complicated and typically large application. So, it’s more about preparing for the future right now as Daktronics moves more into this space.

Q: Are you seeing any different trends in the LED industry from your side?
A: We’re seeing the pixel pitch getting smaller so people can stand up closer to it and see the content without the degraded resolution of the bigger pixel pitches. Overall, less power consumption. In years past, there were a variety of different products that I worked with that were just so hot, regardless if it was LED, LCD or cubes. They would end up running so hot that you’d end up having to use separate cooling in there and airflow. Overall, the lower power consumption equates to better cooling for these products as they become more high definition, high-dynamic range (HDR) supported for that more advanced video experience. This includes the different curved mounting structures and options between off-the-shelf or semi-customizable. Traditionally, you’d have these companies come out and figure out a way to mount it, which can add a lot of cost in trying to figure out something for the whole solution. They think you need to have this extremely sophisticated, ginormous, super structure. The opposite was true for the products that we worked with at Daktronics, with the fine pixel pitches and having to assemble that structure ourselves and learn about that. You obviously must have some mechanical and structural skill sets. It made it more capable of precise installation, more inter panel connectivity. In years past, you’d always need this wiring going to every single cabinet. The trend of having that connectivity where you can plug your connections into the bottom of a vertical chain, but the thinner wires between each of the panels is an interesting trend. Better and brighter LED diodes, fine pixel pitches that are easily serviceable – these are changes that I’ve noticed that make all these products a little more capable, a little more commoditized. It’s still far from being commoditized, but at least it’s not so expensive and not so scary for people to work with. It’s all coming down to getting simpler and easier for people to install and support. When that cost goes downs, it looks a lot more intriguing to a customer.

Q: Do you see the images that are shown on these displays changing in any way, because of the tighter pixel pitches?
A: The market is moving toward experiential content. There are several examples out there where you can see this crazy experiential content and large-as-life content. For some context, I’ve lived in Torrance all my life, which is a suburb of Los Angeles. I grew up going to Disneyland and Universal Studios. And then I spent years taking my own kids to these types of theme parks to witness this form of experiential displays. Of course, some of these are used as projections, but a lot of them are used for attractions, rides and theatrics. Now, we see these types of products coming to these corporate lobbies, customer experience, retail experience and sporting events, and they’re giving us these crazy comparable experiences that we were only seeing at theme parks as only apart of a ride or big event. The cool ones are showing all kinds of high-end nature running in multiple high definitions that were recorded from a variety of HD cameras and then stitched together by a content expert. Then it’s displayed on entire walls, or multiple walls, with varying architecture in how it’s pieced together. The digital media that’s required to play that kind of content on these walls is a comparable growing market.

Q: What’s the main thing that sticks out as different today from when you started your company?
A: I couldn’t pick just one. I started out on computers and networking – automation, IOT, any of the display audio. If you take any single product in one of these different technologies and every single one of them has these leapfrog advances. Because of cost, manufacturing, off-shore manufacturing – there are just so many elements. The number of things they talk about with the amount of information that we as humans are gathering now as compared to a hundred years ago is just exponential in how much we’re learning and advancing. I could take any kind of product category and talk about the speeds or the computing power that’s now on our phones, compared to the best computers that we had back in the day or even ten to fifteen years ago. It’s all just ridiculous.

Q: Do you have any thoughts of what the future will hold?
A: I have my general gut feeling, of course, just because of the demand. MediaCentric is an example of supply and demand. If you take the first year or couple of years that I was in business, we were doing different business conferencing call decks, flat screens. Just very simple things. Now, you look at the demand year after year, and you see how advanced it gets. I can see that just through the business point and practices I can forecast and say, “Yes, I know this thing is going to be hot.” I’ve also done some general searching online and through trades. I found one here recently that was about a media research company about statistics and they were anticipating and showing the overall market of how the LED video wall market was expected to grow from almost $1.7 billion in 2017 to almost $4.3 billion in 2026 with a compound annual growth rate of 9%. It’s nice to see the market experts looking at these kinds of things, that are far more advanced and more quantified statistics than I have. To me, the data that comes from my experiences and the market overall is great. I go to InfoComm every year, so I see the products there and it gives you a better idea, but this is an exciting market segment for the integrator, the manufacturer and technology subcontractors, like MediaCentric. I’m very grateful to be in the middle of it with partners like Daktronics, for example.

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