Owner of UK custom install company, Imagine This, Guy Singleton has kept himself very busy these last few years – and not just with a steady stream of salubrious install projects. Speaking exclusively to CE Pro Europe, Guy reveals what he has been fitting in around his day job of late: the creation of The Cinema Designer (TCD), which – put simply – will change the cinema design industry as we know it.
Alluding to the existence of the innovative software in a recent interview in which Imagine This described the creation and installation of a £4.5 million custom home cinema for a well-known film director, one week before ISE 2017, Guy is ready to reveal all.
Despite not officially launching until ISE where it will go live worldwide on February 8th, TCD has already been hailed as ‘a stroke of genius’ by Trinnov Audio, a ‘game-changer” by both Bowers & Wilkins and Datasat, with Classé declaring that it is ‘a total no brainer’.
Fundamentally, TCD is an online design tool that allows users to create technically impeccable cinema designs, support documents and aesthetic renders, within minutes. CE Pro Europe recently saw this first hand: in less than five minutes, TCD completed a full 9.1.4 Dolby Atmos custom cinema design, complete with downloadable support documents including 3D CAD placement drawings, cinema specification data, a bill of materials, topped off by 1920 x 1080 photo quality renders.
Imagine the implications this has for quickly providing clients with a vision for their future home theatre, and you’re beginning to appreciate the impact the software could have on cinema creation.
TCD does in minutes what would typically take a cinema designer around three weeks to create, creating nine drawings comprised of four isometrics, a top plan, four elevations, and a PDF file – amounting to around 25 pages to produce to the client. Did CE Pro Europe mention that TCD can create a 3D CAD drawing for any room in under 30 seconds, and can be used anywhere in the world, on any room?
“TCD has already been hailed as ‘a stroke of genius’ by Trinnov Audio, a ‘game-changer” by both Bowers & Wilkins and Datasat, with Classé declaring that it is ‘a total no brainer’”
“I built it for me really,’ says Guy. “I built it because I knew it could help installers design jobs quickly. Imagine spending a lot of time designing cinemas, which is hours of tendering and producing documentation. For the installer to not win that project at the end, well, it’s a lot of work.
“I showed it to a few people and they said ‘it’s too good to keep this to yourself; this could benefit the whole market’. So I started to think, maybe this will be something the industry will need. I carried on working on it, and I remember one Sunday morning I had a bit of a Doc Brown Back To The Future moment when it worked perfectly – from there I didn’t look back. I’ve been honing it since.”
What TCD does is allow the installer to design what would usually take three or four weeks, in three of four minutes. With those kinds of results, Guy is quietly optimistic about the take up of the software, as it allows even the smallest of install companies to compete with the largest, confident that the results will be tailor made for any cinema install (that includes commercial cinemas by the way – TCD is not just for home cinema applications).
“I have designed a larger room with over 100 seats, so principally it’s the same. A few bits just need to be tweaked for commercial application, but essentially, it could do it,” Guy clarifies.
It is worth noting that all CEDIA awards entries need documentation; TCD provides all relevant documentation for theatre design, allowing any company to enter the awards, no matter their size.
“Whether it’s a one-man band or a team of 100 people, it makes no difference,” he adds. “It saves all of your past projects so you can access them at any time. You could do three different designs for one cinema with different budgets and let the client chose. I’m fairly okay at cinema design,” he says, modest as ever, “and this would take me weeks and weeks to do – this is not a two-minute job. If you asked a CAD guy to sit down and CAD you up four elevations, a top plan and four isometrics, it would be days and days of work for someone who’s very experienced. This document does all of the heavy lifting; it does all of the maths for you.”
Installers and CAD designers needn’t panic; TCD is not designed to replace them – they are still very much at the heart of the process. TCD is intended as an addition to a cinema designer’s toolkit and, when you get down to it, profit margin, helping save time and money. It’s a serious design tool. It isn’t a gimmick, it’s not an App – it outputs something valuable.
“The room design is only the start,” Guy nods. “CAD guys will still need to layer lighting, power and other features. What it does is takes away the fundamental room set up. In short, it will speed up and simplify their workflow whilst designing rooms to a set standard. The average person can’t just design cinemas with this; this is going to require you having some experience and an understanding of how to make some sense of the numbers.”
How Does It Work?
Watch the full TCD rundown in this video:
Once the user has entered a few basic details (such as room dimensions and screen size), the software calculates the arithmetical design data within seconds and generates design documents in less than a minute. With respected brands such as Bowers & Wilkins, Barco and Screen Research represented in the product database, the tool accurately specifies equipment based on the correct design principles and performance data.
Other key features include an interactive seating configuration design tool and a Sabine equation / RT60 calculation tool. Amplification and required SPL can then be specified. “What we’re looking for with an RT60 value is about a .32 to .39, so if we were to find a room that would be around .35, that would be fine,” says Guy.
TCD can create a 3D CAD drawing for any room in under 30 seconds, and can be used anywhere in the world
TCD isn’t subjective; it’s not Guy’s opinion on cinema design – the software follows rules governed by mathematics. The theatre designs are based on CEA/CEDIA CEB-22 and CEB-23 home theatre standards for design, as well as several ITU documents on audio and video criteria.
“Why do you use Excel?” Guy asks, rhetorically. “Why not longhand, or use multiplication? You do it because you have found a better way. Basically, it’s all of the things that unite to produce a predictable outcome. You type in project name, put in the dimensions [which are available in inches and mm], then you type in the size of the room. Instantly I can tell you the volume of the room and what kind of subs I’m going to need.”
Aspect ratios for the screen can then be selected. “If I took you to the movies and said ‘where do you like sitting?’ you might say ‘I sit absolutely in the middle,’ or ‘I sit two thirds of the way back,’ – some people might want to sit right at the back, or the front, and that’s quite a personal thing.”
Using TCD, this choice of seat preference guides the user as to which screen would be the best fit. From here, the installer can chose from a range of screen manufacturers that are available from a dropdown list (with more being added to the database every month).
TCD cares (as much as software can) about the gain, colour and the off-axis viewing when it comes to screens – the manufacturer doesn’t factor into this decision. TCD takes into account if a screen is acoustically transparent or not, which then affects loudspeaker placements, factors in if there is ambient light in the room that can’t be controlled, and creates a list of suitable projectors that can excel in that specific environment based on lumen factor.
“One of the most difficult things is: which lens do I specify when I buy a projector?” Guy admits. “Because they come with various different lenses.” TCD has that covered: the drop down menu allows the user to click on a lens, which will then prompt the software to highlight where that particular projector should be located within the room. Then it inspects the lens, then guiding the user step by step through the seating plan. It takes into account sightlines, allowing the user to reduce the distance, change the arm width, seat depth, riser height and reduce the gap between the seats, until the installer is happy.
Naturally, codecs are taken into account, allowing the installer to specify Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio configurations (although Auro-3D currently works at a beta level and is coming to TCD very soon).
“It works slightly differently as it’s a channel-based system, not an object based system, so there are some different parameters with Auro-3D,” Guy notes.
Next, suitable loudspeaker brands can be selected. Despite not launching yet, TCD already boasts Artcoustic, Crestron, JBL, Meridian Audio, Procella, Sonance, Triad, Wisdom, with more being added all the time. It used to be that Guy approached the manufacturers asking them to join TCD, but as the word has started to spread, now they are approaching him directly.
The software knows what the sensitivity of each speaker is, the relationship between the sensitivity of the loudspeaker, the seating distance and the required amplification needed in order to hit the required SPL. If the user’s preferred loudspeakers aren’t yet in the database, they have the option of manually adding in loudspeaker sensitivity figures, or lumens for a particular projector.
TCD provides all relevant documentation for theatre design, allowing any company to enter the CEDIA awards, no matter their size
Next, it’s on to sub placement and bass management; TCD has four preferred sub placements – the same that appear in CEB-22. Essentially, the user can select a button that shows them the models available that will get the job done; it won’t let the installer select an eight-channel model if they need 16.
TCD takes into account the carpets, chairs, plasterboard, or if there’s fibreglass present, altering the reverb time whilst telling the installer exactly how much m2 of plasterboard to order. Then the user can experiment with different renders by choosing different ceilings, décor, carpets and panels – ready to present all documentation to the client.
“When you hand this to the client, you’re not saying: ‘I’m trying to give you bigger loudspeakers because I want to make more money.’ TCD proves that it’s the only way to hit the numbers. You can sell technically better by having a mathematical equation that backs up what you’re saying. You can show them all of the room design: a top plan, view from the back of the room, a side elevation and an isometric view.”
How Do Installers Get It, And What Does It Cost?
Cinema designers can register to set up a TCD account here. TCD is priced at £150 GBP for a single use of the tool, while a subscription provides 30 uses each month for £60 GBP per month. Those that prefer to pay in one go can purchase 365 uses over one year for a one-off payment of £710 GBP. There is no trial version.
“If I made it cost 50p in the App store, you’d have every electrical contractor or aerial guy getting it,” Guy reasons. “I didn’t want to devalue it to the point that an installer is not needed. I don’t want people to think ‘well I can do this myself’. I wanted to make the barrier enough so that it’s for professionals to use. I want people to be able to sell their own designs.
TCD isn’t subjective; it’s not Guy’s opinion on cinema design – the software follows rules governed by mathematics
“Plus, if you give something away, it’s worthless. This isn’t worthless; it’s something that is actually really valuable. I could have sold thousands of these by making it cheaper, but I would be happier if 100 people used it rather than 1,000 if they were the right professionals. You could use it for £150 as a single use, which you might look at and think: ‘that’s quite a lot’. But you couldn’t hire a CAD guy for £150, you couldn’t do any of that. You take that £150 and add it to your design and bill of materials.”
The reason it is capped to 30 uses a month is to stop inevitable password sharing. “It will almost police itself,” Guy asserts. “You might say: ‘I don’t do 30 cinemas a month’. I don’t even do 30 cinemas a month! But what I might do is four or five incarnations of the same cinema.”
As TCD is a web based design tool, all of the updates are part of the subscription process; there will be no ‘new versions’. “This is all web-based, it’s all live,” Guy stresses. “The minute I make a change, everybody gets it. It’s not about selling people version one or version two and up-selling; the minute you are on board, you have access to it. You can tell when it was last updated; you may wake up one day and have a whole new set of features.”
In regards to training, Guy anticipates that some installers may require some in order to finesse their use of TCD, and will look into hosting a series of webinars in future. “Some people will understand certain aspects more than others. If you are THX, HAA, ISF or CEDIA certified, it’s definitely going to help.” Guy will be at ISE 2017 in the CEDIA training area for the duration of the four-day exhibition, should any installers interested in TCD have any questions.
CE Pro Europe tries something bold: is it possible to get Guy to sing his own praises?
“I don’t think there’s anything like it anywhere – certainly nothing that I have seen,” Guy replies unassumingly. “You can use Google SketchUp to sketch a room, but is there anything that creates a CAD drawing in 30 seconds? No. And that’s the bit that we patented: the inventive step – the fact that we brought everything together: the regulations, the standards, right the way through to the colours of the seat.
“This isn’t D-Tools, this wasn’t meant to specify a product and give a price on materials. This is about designing things mathematically that are technically correct. If you want to export this into D-Tools and crunch some numbers, that’s fine – but this is about designing cinemas properly. I think it will change the industry – I hope it does.”
“I think [TCD] will change the industry – I hope it does” – Guy Singleton
With its big reveal set for ISE 2017, Guy does feel some trepidation as – in his own words – “I’m sticking my neck on the block. With things like this, the more you put yourself out there, you probably expect some criticism. But it makes me feel fairly happy and proud; my hope is that it will help people.
“I would say that the potential for installers to use TCD is fantastic and that’s because if I’m designing cinemas properly and so are they, ultimately it will be the client that gets a better deal. My hope is that one day people will look back and people will say ‘remember when we used to goof around with that for three weeks by hand? Now it takes three minutes,” he grins.
Installers can sign up for TCD here.
Vincent Bruno, CEDIA CEO
“Guy has put an incredible amount of thought into developing The Cinema Designer and the end result is nothing short of inspiring. We know that for home technology professionals, time is one of their most valuable resources so any tool that can help them deliver exceptional experiences to their clients while saving time is a complete win.”
“The CEDIA and CTA Home Theater Standards documents, CEB22/CEB23 are simply applied physics for designing high performance audio and video home systems. We see the Cinema Designer as a user friendly tool for obtaining system compliance with these Standards. For 2016 and beyond submission for CEDIA Awards requires following and documenting Standards compliance. We applaud the launch of this tool to help integrators ensure high performance for their clients.”
Imaging Science Foundation, ISF
Bowers & Wilkins
“We have followed the progression and development of this software from a very early stage. At an early stage it was possible to see that this instrument would become a game changer. Having a tool with the ability to create cinema designs to industry standards, to the latest formats and have technically accurate drawings that can be dropped into CAD is something incredibly useful. Add to that a sales tool in the form of 3D renders and a kit list – Wow. Oh, and by the way, it does it ALL in around 30 seconds – I’m still in front of the client and their design, to correct standards, is complete! Something we will be recommending to all our dealers. Not as clumsy or as random as a person. An essential elegant tool… for a more civilised age.”
Ben Davidson, Custom Installation Manager, Bowers & Wilkins
“It’s been a really long time since I’ve been blown away by any form of software or hardware. But I must say that I was blown away once I see the software at work – the potential is huge and for me I think Guy’s software is a game changer on a global level – well done!!!”
Randhir Verma Vice President, Commercial & Consumer Sales EMEA, Datasat Digital Entertainment Ltd
“Guy Singleton’s stroke of genius!! This product is not only very promising, it is incredibly smart and useful. We strongly recommend and look forward to using it.”
Arnaud Destinay, Trinnov – High-End Audio, International Sales Manager
“Wow, what a great development tool. It helps elevate the professionalism of immersive theatre designs while slashing development time. Best of all, clients will be reassured by the clear, objective consequences of choosing different design goals and associated equipment. It’s a total no-brainer.”
Dave Nauber,President, Classé
“Designing a great theatre is actually not that hard. Acquiring the knowledge and experience is however a lifetime investment. Time is often the evil parameter over knowledge and skills, that result in high-end theatre performance trade off. The average project will throw more design changes than your ability to fully re-engineer a solution. This tool will first and foremost benefit the best designers as a go-to solution, helping them keep up with the project life cycle. It will also help every systems integrator acquiring design knowledge at a much faster pace than their older piers did. While everyone will praise Guy for his engineering talent, I must admit I am jealous of his sales skills. All it took was a 30 second demo/pitch and we were sold!”
Luc Guillaume, MD, Wisdom Audio
“This design tool is incredibly powerful and simple to use. I believe it will certainly make everyone’s lives easier and promote high standards within the industry”
Phil Lord,Cinema Sales Manager – UK & Nordics, Christie
“We work really hard to ensure that our cinema designs are built to the CEDIA CEA guidelines and appreciate how time consuming this process is. The guidelines are in place for a very good reason; to ensure repeatable results. This is absolutely critical and the design tool gives you exactly that: years of study, practical experience and knowledge in a simple to use yet incredibly powerful program.”
Barry Sheldrick, Director of Sales, Meridian Audio Ltd
“This design tool will save many custom installers and their technical departments hours of detailed work. In the hands of experienced and knowledgeable designers; after the correct information has been established, I’m convinced the tool will be an invaluable resource.”
Mike Beatty, Managing Director, Pulse Cinemas
Read all of the TCD testimonials here, including those given by well-known installers who regularly use TCD.