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Trial By Fire….
When it comes to making choices on how we display and decorate in our homes, we’re often left with a choice between what looks good and what is the most practical solution. Wood floors look great, but they probably aren’t the best choice for a mud room that sees almost as much dirt and water as your garage floor. Tile floors are great for this due to their durability and ease of cleanup, but you probably wouldn’t want them in every room of your house unless you REALLY were in love with all of those grout lines. The same idea holds true when decorating your walls. How many pictures or pieces of art should you hang on a wall? How high should you hang them, and how far apart? We run into these same situations with our electronics. Do we put them where we can show them off, hide them out of sight, or install them in the location that gives us the best experience?
When it comes to most electronics, one of the big questions clients always have for me is where’s the best place for all of their equipment? We’re talking about the cable box, Blu-Ray player, gaming systems, etc. My answer is almost always “where would you PREFER to put them?”. Do you want them out of sight or do you want to be able to see everything? Should they go in the cabinet to the left or the cabinet to the right? Like the drawers and cabinets in your kitchen, it’s entirely about what’s convenient for the client. But there is one trend that is starting to become the standard among homeowners, and even though you’ve seen it in dozens of your friend’s homes, IT’S THE WRONG CHOICE.
Think about that brand new, 60 inch, sleek, as thin as smooth as glass television that Santa somehow managed to get down that shoebox size chimney of yours. Where do you put it? Over the past several years, as televisions get thinner and lighter, more and more homeowners feel like the right thing to do is mount them over the fireplace. Why? Because it looks good!!! Well, that is until you sit down on your couch to watch your favorite show and realize jolly ole Santa forgot to put a kickstand in your stocking to help hold your chin up all night.
Simply put, the majority of televisions mounted over fireplaces are far too high on the wall for proper viewing. When watching television, your eyes should focus naturally on the middle of the screen. Go sit in your favorite chair or recliner and pay attention to where your eyes fall on the wall when you’re most relaxed. You’ll find that it’s actually much lower than several feet above the fireplace mantle – that is, unless you plan to stand all evening (even then it’s probably still a little too high). In addition to this, we need to remember from science class that heat rises, so that new set of yours will never have cold feet. It’s always best to keep electronics on the cool side to reduce the change of damage. Simply put, holding your new set to a trial by fire will never have a good long term outcome.
Manufacturers of flat screen television mounts offer a wide variety of options to try and minimize the angle of viewing that can lead to eye and next strain over time. Tilt mounts allow a screen to be angled down 5 to 15 degrees, and higher end oscillating mounts allow you to pull the television out from the wall and adjust even further. While these certainly help, they definitely do not fix the problem.
Am I saying you should never mount your television to the wall? Of course not. In situations like a bedroom where you will likely be watching TV while sitting in bed, it actually makes sense to have the set mounted a little higher on the wall. Again, it’s all about the angle that is the most comfortable for you. If you have an open wall in another room that doesn’t have space for large furniture, a wall mount is a good option here as well. Just remember to keep in mind where your eyes will be most comfortable. Save the money from those chiropractic visits and treat yourself to a new universal remote control instead. Let your fireplace take center stage in your family room. If you just HAVE to put something over it… how about a nice piece of art instead?
Looking for the right mount for your new television? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
Home Theater Design Series: Starting From Scratch
For this particular project, we were faced with two obstacles. While seating preferably would have been for 8 people, the client ultimately had to compromise and go with 6 seats due to a pesky stairwell.
The second issue had to do with a water meter that was inside the room. Ideally, the water meter would have been relocated to an area outside of the theater space, but local laws did not allow for this, so the owner was forced to build around the meter, while still allowing for access for monthly readings.
In a situation where an obstacle or eyesore can not be removed and must instead be covered up or hidden, the best approach is a design where this fix actually looks like it was intended all along. The design team chose to wrap the water meter and copper piping with a column that was then drywalled, painted, and covered with a fabric access panel that would also work to absorb some of the unwanted sounds in the room. To make this fix look less obvious, the column was duplicated on the same wall near the front of the room to add symmetry.
We’ll continue to track the progress of this installation in the coming days and weeks. Key obstacles that were overcome through the design will be referenced to show how identifying issues early on can not only help eliminate headaches throughout the process, but can ultimately enhance the design by creating a final product that has that custom, out of the box feel.
Before we close out today’s article, I’d like to mention one final element that can have an enormous impact on the project – inspiration. Check out the below picture of a sconce the homeowner came across LONG before the build began:
An inspiration piece can be many things. In this case, the homeowner wanted to bring in the amber and brown colors from the sconce, while creating a warm, rustic feel. This was ultimately achieved through a rich color palette, dark carpet, and deep stained wood. Your inspiration piece may be similar, or it may be very different. Maybe you have a poster of a favorite movie, or there’s a favorite theater, bar, or even room you may have seen somewhere. Any theme or item that you’re passionate about can not only help kickstart your design, but can also act as an anchor in the project. By constantly referencing your inspiration, you’ll ensure that your completed room will hold true to the look and feel you imagined on day one.
Let’s Make A Connection….
Before we get into the basics of speakers and an AV receiver, we should probably take a few minutes to discuss how all of your components will talk to one another. While your projector will have a smaller number of inputs and outputs than today’s receivers, it’s still important to understand what each one is, as well as how the evolution of video will affect you. The 5 types of video connections you’ll typically see on your devices are composite, s-video, component, DVI, and HDMI. We’ll discuss each one below.
Composite – Composite connections are by far the ones that have been around the longest, and you’ll be hard pressed to find something that DOESN’T have these inputs. Like that person at the office who’s been there forever and performs sub-par work, composite will always be here because frankly “we don’t know what to do with (insert “him or her here based on your personal experience”).
Whether it’s that new receiver, that old VCR, or even the flip down DVD system in your new car, composite is everywhere. Comprised of three cables, composite cables will carry both audio and video. Audio is carried in a separate left and right channel (identified by a red and white cables), and video is moved over a yellow cable.
S-Video – But then the masses spoke. “WE WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS! WE DEMAND A BETTER IMAGE!”. And with that, S-Video was born. While not much of an improvement by today’s standards, S-Video (the S stands for “Super”) went one step further than composite by separating the video into two channels – one for color and one for brightness. Audio would still be carried by the red and white composite cables discussed above. If you’re stuck between these two options, and these two options only, go with S-Video.
Component – Sticking with the office analogy, component video is the old guy at work who’s been there forever, loves his job, and continues to do great work after all of these years. Sure, there are some newer kids in his department with some wild and crazy ideas, but Mr. Component has a work ethic that is tried and true – you can count on him. Component video is the last of the analog world, with DVI and HDMI moving into the digital realm. Because of it’s high degree of reliability, component video can still be found on the back of almost every television sold today.
As with composite and S-Video, component also passes the responsibility of moving sound to other cables. What it does offer over S-Video is no three separate channels, based on color, for video. Each cable (there are 3 – red, blue, and green) moves the respective color. What this means for you is a much clearer image and higher resolution (think HD!).
DVI – You may see variations of this name , such as DVI-I and DVI-D. Don’t worry about it. For all intensive purposes, DVI is DVI. The first truly digital connection , DVI was born in the computer world and first made an appearance on graphics cards and computer monitors.
Seeking more from life than just continuing the same day to day routine in the family business, DVI sought to expand it’s horizons. It did a Priceline search, found cheap airfare to Europe, met a sexy European AV receiver…..and history was made. Their time together was fun, but alas, the receiver’s father demanded more from the person who would take care of his daughter. DVI, as digital as he was, simply could not compete with the local jock – HDMI.
HDMI – He was fast. He was athletic. Sure he had problems, but so what? People liked him and he could do no wrong. What makes HDMI so special you ask? How about the fact that he could carry video AND audio in ONE cable?
What? Say that again, you say?
Ok. How about the fact that he could carry video and audio in one cable. That’s right. HDMI appeared to be the answer to all of our problems. Not only did it offer true 1080p and the ability to carry encoded surround sound to give that true cinema experience, but people could now plug in their TV without having to take a local course at the community college on how to plug in a television or dvd player. One cable to rule them all.
But HDMI did not come without problems. Unlike most analog cables, HDMI signals will degrade over long runs, so if you’re trying to connect that projector to a receiver 2 floors away, HDMI may require a little thought. Also, earlier versions of HDMI may experience some handshaking issues where one piece of equipment will perform an action before waiting for the last one to say “I’m done”. It’s kind of like being cut off by someone before you finish speaking.
HDMI has also gone through several revisions from 1.1 to 1.4, without anyone being there to set some rules and guideline. Like an unruly teenager, HDMI does what it wants, and could evolve to version 1.5 without any notice. Things do appear to have settled down some with version 1.4, which is 3D compliant, so you should be safe for awhile.
And that’s it in a nutshell. HDMI is your best choice, and composite is your last choice. Work in this order and you’ll always have the best video signal you can get. Next, we’ll touch the basics of audio, surround sound, and what all of those fancy acronyms mean like DD and DTS that you see in every movie you watch.
Taking The Mystery Out Of The Aspect Ratio
Before we take the leap into projectors, there’s one final item you need to decide on for your screen – aspect ratio.
Simply put, aspect ratio refers to the shape of the image being projected. Most people these days are familiar with the term HD or “high definition”. While this term actually refers to the resolution of the image, many people associate it with the shape of the screen.
Ever notice that those sets on the wall of televisions at your local best buy don’t look as square as the ones people were buying in the 80’s or 90’s? That’s because the aspect ratio has changed for the majority of programming now available.
Aspect Ratio Made Simple
Where do we start? Well, to understand aspect ratio, we’ll first have to hop in my trusty Delorean, fire up somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.21 jiggawatts, and go back in time! Initially, televisions were made to suit the broadcasts that were going over the airways. Programming was typically broadcast in a 4:3 ratio, which simply means that for every 4 units wide (whether it be inches, centimeters, etc) the image had to be 3 inches tall. This aspect ratio is also commonly referred to as 1.33, which is what you get when you divide 4 by 3.
If you’re one of the unfortunate souls to still own one of these archaic television sets, you’ve probably noticed that when you pop in a DVD of one of today’s movies, your image is even SMALLER. Not only that, but there are now black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.
Why is this?
That’s because you’re trying to watch something that is in a DIFFERENT aspect ratio, most likely 16:9 (also know as 1.78). This is the most common aspect ratio for what we know as high definition television, but it’s been common for awhile (as well as some additional aspect ratios that we’ll discuss soon) in commercial theaters. 1.78 ratios and above are what give you that true cinema feel where you’re taking in everything from left to right across the entire projection stage.
In today’s home theater world, 16×9 screens are by far the most common, as this aspect ratio accounts for a huge majority of movies on DVD today. But there’s a screen ratio that will add even MORE realism and immersion to the cinema experience – 22:9, also known as 2.35:1 or simply “scope”. Almost every action movie out today is formatted for this ratio or even a slightly larger one. Below is a graphical representation of several different aspect ratios:
Which Aspect Ratio Is Best For Me?
In my opinion, if you’re going for a full cinema effect in your home, a scope screen is definitely the way to go. If you’re worried about playing other formats on such a wide screen, don’t. Just like how you’ll see black bars on the top and bottom of a 4:3 set while playing a widescreen movie, you’ll simply have black bars on the left and right of a scope screen when playing 4:3 (commonly called SD content) or widescreen material.
The easiest way to make your decision is to first determine WHAT you’ll be viewing on your new screen. Have a thing for old films and ONLY old films? 4:3 might be best for you. Look at your DVD collection. On the back of each box you’ll find the aspect ratio listed. Are most of yours 1.78 or 1.85? Maybe one of those screens is best for you.
These formats are also the standard for video game consoles such as Xbox, Playstation , and Wii. But if you’ve got a thing for explosions, action, gunfire, and flat out in your face action, you’ll probably find that you already have a huge scope collection. Darth Vader may have said it best – “the choice is yours”.
(photo credit Gustavo Devito)
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Would you like to be able to play music throughout your house, without having to run wires from room to room? How about a wireless audio system that allows you to stream music directly from your mobile device to any room in your home? With the products available from SONOS, each family member has the ability to listen to what they want at the same time, all from one convenient app. Not sure where to start? Contact us via phone or e-mail, and we’ll be more than happy to help get you going.