Redefining Home Entertainment
When Larry Allhands witnessed the destruction of his prized Blu-ray DVD collection at the hands of his toddler son in 2011, it spurred him to search for a digitized media service to prevent such an event from happening again.
“I started investigating the market to see what was out there, but there was nothing that met our needs, so I decided to just build one myself,” he says. “As a technologist, I built one from scratch and ended up showing it to my now partner, Dave Putman − he and I both serve as US Army Signal Warrant Officers for the Texas National Guard − and he was blown away.”
“He wanted to start selling it immediately, but I was reluctant because it was just a hobby of mine. We decided to take it to a lawyer and when he reviewed it, he said, ‘Don’t bother paying me − just give me one of these instead.’ And when my lawyer didn’t want money, I realized we had a product.”
This led to the creation of FIRE-FX − an award-winning high-performance home theatre media player and storage system development and manufacturing company. FIRE-FX assimilates industry leading technologies to provide users with the ultimate home entertainment experience at an affordable price. Larry quickly received validation that he made the right decision to market the product.
“We went to our first tradeshow to see what our competitors were doing in comparison to us, and they were so far behind, it wasn’t even funny,” he recalls. “In fact, some of our biggest competitors spent a lot of time in our booth studying our interface and what our system could do, so we knew we had something.”
FIRE-FX merges award-winning software with advanced PC components to deliver top-of-the-line devices − powered by cloud computing − that allow users to replicate the authentic cinematic experience from the comfort of their own home. As a small company, they employ the Agile Software Development Methodology to fine-tune their products quickly and efficiently, ensuring they are always on the cutting edge.
“Agile methodology allows us to perform iterative and incremental changes on our products as we continue to develop,” Larry explains. “Getting feedback directly from customers allows us to really move quickly in a way that larger companies can’t do, and build superior product lines that really meet our customers’ needs and desires.”
Over the years, they have used this data to optimize their product line to further separate themselves from the competition. For example, their first system acted as an all-in-one media player and storage device, but after roughly 10 months on the market they realized that it “wasn’t going to fly” as a storage device, so they ended up creating a separate unit for that purpose.
“Now we have the HUB − a NAS (Network Attached Storage) that’s more than just a ‘dumb’ storage device,” says Larry. “Most NAS devices just store and serve media, but ours has proprietary intelligence built into it that allows it to do many things that a standalone NAS normally doesn’t do.” The Hub comes in two variations − the DHUB (Desktop) Series and the RHUB (Rackmount) Series.
Complimenting the HUB are the media players. These also come in two series − the DPLAY (Desktop) Series and the RPLAY (Rackmount) Series − which work synergistically with the HUB to generate a “much faster and much more stable system than anything on the market.”
They have also recently added the UPLAY Universal Player to their product line, which allows users to just replace the players in their current media systems without having to purchase an entirely new storage system too.
“It’s an inexpensive upgrade that gives immediate performance increases to make it look like you’ve upgraded the whole system, when all you’ve done is put a new player in,” Larry reveals. “By doing that we’ve actually kind of disrupted the market, and we’re taking over accounts from some of our big competitors as a result.”
Above all else, the company’s product line is highly regarded for its user-friendly interface. FIRE-FX went to great lengths to ensure that “you don’t have to touch anything” once the devices are plugged in.
“We took a holistic approach to our market because we’re selling directly to professional integrators who are selling to their customers,” Larry clarifies. “As such, we have two customers that we need to satisfy, so we wanted to build a product that people love and integrators really want to install. Market data shows that system integrators recommend the product between 80-90% of the time on a project, so they’re really the decision makers.”
“We decided to automate as much of the network configuration as possible to make it ‘plug-and-play’ for the integrators so it would be a product they would love to install,” he adds. “You just start up the HUB, get it on the network and plug the player in. The player then automatically finds the HUB, mounts the drive and updates the database. There’s no configuration required.”
“Our mission is to create amazing media systems that integrators enjoy installing as much as their customers love using. We’re all about giving them the fastest and most intuitive way to store, control and experience their media content.”
Badge of honour
In just a few short years, FIRE-FX has garnered a great deal of industry recognition. In January alone, they received both the 2015 Media Server Product of the Year award from Electronic House Magazine and the 2015 Media Management Product of the Year accolade at the CEA Mark of Excellence Awards − the second consecutive year they’ve won the award − for their innovative UPLAY Universal Player. Larry points out it’s a “badge of honour” to be in the company of other industry giants such as Savant, Elan, Crestron and Sony.
“It’s really exciting to be recognized by our industry as a small business,” he proclaims. “We’re recognized daily by our customers and when they buy our product, we know it’s a vote for us. But when you have industry professionals recognizing our product for the excellent work we’ve put into it, it means a lot to our business. We’re going to strive to continue to earn these accolades through hard work and dedication.”
With the market trending in an upward fashion, it certainly seems as though they will have ample opportunity to continue making an impact. According to Larry, the average income of the typical installer increased by 27% last year and the average growth rate is projected to be between 5-7% moving forward.
“We’re in a growing industry and we’re going to expand our business, operations and product line accordingly,” he says. “We are actually the only media player that can display Mandarin, simple Chinese and Korean characters, so there’s just so much we can do internationally. Right now we’re totally focused on North America, but the demand has forced our hand to go into other markets overseas and we’re excited to do it.”
Admirably, Larry indicates that FIRE-FX will become increasingly supportive of their “brothers in arms” as the company continues to flourish in the coming years.
“We’re a veteran-owned and operated business, so we’re going to continue showing our support anyway we can, whether it’s hiring them when they get out or supporting them while they’re in,” he affirms. “We’re also strong supporters of the PTSD Foundation of America and Camp Hope, their treatment facility in Houston. We have donated equipment to setup media servers in temporary housing and child care facilities for soldiers and their families to enjoy while they’re staying there. Our bond to the military is still strong and still very important to us, so that’s something we’ll always do.”