Home Theater Design Tips and Mistakes

Home Theater Design Tips and MistakesHaving a home theater to retreat to after a long day is a feeling like none other. A home theater should isolate you from everything else in the world and allow you to immerse yourself in whatever world appears on the big screen. To some, a home theater is merely a set of equipment that allows you to play movies on a big TV in your living room. To others, a home theater is simply a smaller version of what you’d find at your local movie theater. The difference between the two can be quite a lot in both terms of execution and budget.

Creating an environment that maximizes your movie enjoyment and minimizes outside distractions means isolating that space from the rest of your home. Having a spare bedroom or a closed den to place this space is certainly helpful, though not everyone can afford that luxury.

With a few tips, you can create the perfect movie-viewing experience for yourself — and even a few guests.

Control Lighting

Uncovered windows and improper lighting can ruin a viewing experience. Think about how a theater is lit. A dim, indirect light can make a big difference on how things look on the screen without making it so dark that you risk eye strain or tripping over something on your way to the popcorn machine.

Consider installing some accent lighting on a dimmer switch. If you can’t afford to install something permanent (or you live in an apartment) a lamp that directs light to the ceiling with a low-wattage bulb installed can do the trick. Alternatively, you can go for something behind the television to create an interesting glow that gives you a little more light in the room without risking a glare on the screen.

In my apartment, we have cheap Halloween rope lights placed along the top of cabinets to give us enough light to see without causing any reflection or distractions from the television screen.

Tiered Seating

Having the screen set so everyone has to look up to see it can be a real pain in the neck. If you want to fit more than a few people in an extra bedroom, for example, you might want to look into tiered seating. This can be accomplished by setting up chairs (or couches) on multiple levels to mimic the stadium seating available at most commercial theaters.

This tip might take a little effort and a few trips to the hardware store, but it can make a huge difference on the viewing experience of you and your guests.

Consider this, the television in your living room only has a certain acceptable viewing angle. Setting up seating in a V or side-by-side causes viewers to turn their heads or experience discolored video. By arranging seating in rows directly in front of the screen, you’re improving the viewing experience for everyone. Creating a platform for the second row makes it so everyone can see without straining their necks or being blocked by someone’s head in front of them.

This might look crazy in a living room, which is another reason why a home theater should be in a separate space.

Hide Those Wires

The last thing anyone wants to do when taking their seat or heading to the popcorn machine is trip over a speaker wire. If you have decided to go with surround sound, find a way to tuck those wires out of view. Most homes are made with a space between the carpet in the wall that is perfect for hiding wires without adding rugs or some other cover. Utilizing this won’t damage your carpet or force you to do any woodwork. The eraser end of a pencil is usually the only tool you need to do this.

We’ve written a separate article outlining popular methods for hiding unsightly speaker wires.

Invest in a Movie Theater Style Popcorn Machine

I know it sounds crazy, but a lot of people (my wife included) just can’t get over the association between popcorn and movies. Having one of those popcorn machines that look like they belong in a commercial movie theater helps set the mood for a night at the home cinema. Believe it or not, these machines can be found very cheaply. We have one from a company called Oster that looks and works great. Best of all, it cost us less than $80 and has saved us that much in popcorn costs over time.

Common Mistakes

Common home theater mistakes are easier to overlook than one might think. Here are a few common mistakes people make when designing their home theater.

Wrong Speakers for the Amplifier
Pairing the wrong speakers with your amplifier is a common mistake. It’s easy to overlook ohms and wattage numbers when shopping, and things appear to sound fine at first. Over a period of weeks or months, you run the risk of burning out your amplifier, receiver, or even blowing your speakers by mismatching audio equipment. Pay attention to the owner’s manual. It can save you a lot of money and hassle.

Buying the Wrong Size TV
Bigger isn’t always better. There, I said it. You aren’t going to enjoy a 60″ television if you have to turn your head to see the entire picture. Pick up a TV that fits the space you’re working with. For most people, that’s a television that is four times the feet of the viewing distance in inches. A 40″ television would fit perfectly in a room with a 10′ average viewing distance.

Improper Surge Protection
Not all surge protectors are made the same. You get what you pay for in this market, and buying something cheap just because it looks like everything else on the shelf can cause you more harm than good. Don’t be cheap here. It’s already the cheapest part of a home theater so there’s no reason to scrimp and save on it.

Spending too Much on HDMI Cables
We’ve gone over this one before, but I can’t stress enough just how much of a ripoff gold-plated HDMI cables are for home theaters. Stop it.

Digital signals aren’t like analog signals. You either get them or you don’t, and no amount of diamond-encrusted gold plating is going to improve your picture quality. If your video sticks, it’s probably your other equipment. If you really want to be sure, buy two cheap HDMI cables and swap them out as the first stage of troubleshooting. If nothing improves, buying a $300 HDMI cable isn’t going to do much good.

Picture: Amazon

Microsoft Kinect – How To Set Up Your Living Room Correctly

The Kinect by Microsoft offers a new and exciting way to interact with your favorite games. But in order for the Kinect to function properly, you may need to make some minor furniture rearrangements for both one or two person play. Microsoft states that for one person you will need at least a 6 feet by 6 feet area cleared in front of your TV. When adding a second person, Microsoft recommends a 8 feet by 6 feet area be cleared. In a small living room some may need to remove the coffee table and push back the furniture in order to meet the minimum specifications.

In addition the placement of the Kinect sensor is also critical for proper operation. One article explains that:

The sensor is an amazing piece of hardware-software synergy, and luckily, it’s actually a pretty flexible device. Its movable head allows it to aim up or down, so you have a pretty lenient set of rules as to where it can be placed. Microsoft recommends between two and six feet off the ground, either directly below or above your TV, and centered with it. In my experience, two feet above the ground might be a little low, especially if your living room isn’t enormous–it’ll be tricky for the sensor to capture both your feet and head.

There is also a warning note. Users should not attempt to force the sensing unit to tilt. There is a built-in motor that will handle the proper angling of the device.

Another warning is for those with center speakers, do not place the Kinect sensor on top of the speaker. This could potentially mess up the audio quality of the unit. Vibrations from the speaker can also distort the video.

Lighting is also important. The Kinect video will be best in a room with dim lighting and not bathed in full sun light.

The small speakers in your TV may not provide amble audio quality from your Kinect. It is recommended that you use a home theater system which will enhance the audio performance of the Kinect.

Do you have any suggestions on how to properly set up a Kinect sensor?

Comments welcome.

Source – POPSCI

How Do Some People Find A Way To Win – No Matter What?

There should be an image here!Whether it’s sports, poker or the high-stakes world of business, there are those who always find a way to win when there’s money on the table.

Now, for the first time, psychology researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are unraveling the workings of a novel brain network that may explain how these “money players” manage to keep their heads in the game.

Findings suggest that a specific brain area helps people use the prospect of success to better prepare their thoughts and actions, thus increasing odds that a reward will be won.

The study, published Aug. 4 in the Journal of Neuroscience, identified a brain region about two inches above the left eyebrow that sprang into action whenever study participants were shown a dollar sign, a predetermined cue that a correct answer on the task at hand would result in a financial reward.

Using what researchers believe are short bursts of dopamine — the brain’s chemical reward system — the brain region then began coordinating interactions between the brain’s cognitive control and motivation networks, apparently priming the brain for a looming “show me the money” situation.

“The surprising thing we see is that motivation acts in a preparatory manner,” says Adam C. Savine, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in psychology at Washington University. “This region gears up when the money cue is on.”

Savine and colleague Todd S. Braver, PhD, professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences, tested 16 subjects in an experiment that required appropriate preparation for one of two possible tasks, based upon advance information provided at the same time as the money cue. Monetary rewards were offered on trials in which the money cue appeared (which happened randomly on half the trials), provided that the subjects answered accurately and within a specified timeframe. Obtaining the reward was most likely when subjects used the advance task information most effectively.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers detected a network of eight different brain regions that responded to the multitasking challenge and two that responded to both the challenge and the motivational cue (a dollar sign, the monetary reward cue for a swift, correct answer).

In particular, Savine and Braver found that the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), located in the brain approximately two inches above the left eyebrow, is a key area that both predicts a win, or successful outcome, and prepares the motivational cognitive control network to win again.

Simply flashing the dollar-sign cue sparked immediate activation in the DLPFC region and it began interacting with other cognitive control and motivational functions in the brain, effectively putting these areas on alert that there was money to be won in the challenge ahead.

“In this region (left DLPFC), you can actually see the unique neural signature of the brain activity related to the reward outcome,” Savine says. “It predicts a reward outcome and it’s preparatory, in an integrative sort of way. The left DLPFC is the only region we found that seems to be primarily engaged when subjects get the motivational cue beforehand, it’s the region integrates that information with the task information and leads to the best task performance.

The researchers actually observed increased levels of oxygenated hemoglobin in the brain blood flow in these regions.

The finding provides insight into the way people pursue goals and how motivation drives goal-oriented behavior. It also could provide clues to what might be happening with different populations of people with cognitive deficiencies in pursuing goals.

Savine and Braver sought to determine the way that motivation and cognitive control are represented in the brain. They found two brain networks — one involved in reward processing, and one involved in the ability to flexibly shift mental goals (often referred to as “cognitive control”) — that were coactive on monetary reward trials. A key question that still needs to be answered is exactly how these two brain networks interact with each other.

Because the brain reward network appears to center on the brain chemical dopamine, the researchers speculate that the interactions between motivation and cognitive control depend upon “phasic bursts of dopamine.”

They wanted to see how the brain works when motivation impacts task-switching, how it heightens the importance of a one-rewarding goal while inhibiting the importance of non-rewarding goals.

“We wanted to see what motivates us to pursue one goal in the world above all others,” Savine says. “You might think that these mechanisms would have been addressed a long time ago in psychology and neuroscience, but it’s not been until the advent of fMRI about 15-20 years ago that we’ve had the tools to address this question in humans, and any progress in this area has been very, very recent.”

In this kind of test, as in the workplace, many distractions exist. In the midst of a deadline project with an “eye on the prize,” the phone still rings, background noise of printers and copying machines persist, an interesting world outside the window beckons and colleagues drop in to seek advice. A person’s ability to control his or her cognition — all the things a brain takes in — is directly linked to motivation. Time also plays a big factor. A project due in three weeks can be completed with some distraction; a project due tomorrow inhibits a person’s response to interrupting friends and colleagues and allows clearer focus on the goal.

The researchers intend to explore the left DLPFC more as a “uniquely predictive measure of pursuing rewarded outcomes in motivated settings,” Savine says.”Another key research effort will seek to more directly quantify the involvement of dopamine chemical release during these tasks.”

And they may test other motivators besides money, such as social rewards, or hunger or thirst, to see “if different motivators are all part of the same reward currency, engaging the same brain network that we’ve shown to be activated by monetary rewards,” Savine says.

[Photo above by shoobydooby / CC BY-ND 2.0]

Todd Braver @ Washington University in St. Louis

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New FCC Proposal – Universal Set-Top Box For TV And The Internet

The FCC has made a proposal that could, if passed, have a significant way in which we consumers could receive TV and Internet services in the future. According to the chairman of the FCC, the proposal would be for a universal set-top box, which the consumer would purchase. The new set-top box would provide both television and Internet services in one device. The benefit of one single set-top box is that it could be used, even when the consumer changes service providers.

As with any proposals coming from the FCC that could spur competition, the big boys in television and Internet services could fight the plan. In fact I would be so brazen to state that they would fight the changes. LOL

In addition a recent article also states that:

“We think the FCC wants to lay the groundwork for over-the-top video to potentially impose some competitive pressure on pay TV providers in the future,” said analyst Paul Gallant of the Concept Capital research firm. That policy could help Internet TV providers like Netflex, Apple, Google and Amazon, he said.

“The idea of accessing the Internet through the TV screen is certainly attractive – so attractive, in fact, that the marketplace already appears to be delivering on that vision without any help from the government,” McDowell said. “A quick Internet search revealed more than a dozen different devices available to consumers who wish to bring some or all of the Internet to their television screens, ranging from specialized web video products and software applications to elaborate home theater PCs and even online gaming consoles.”

While I applaud the FCC and their efforts to provide the consumer with the best possible options for television and Internet services, the reality is that the big cable, satellite & Internet providers have political clout. Unless we see changes in Congress with new representatives who will be actually representing the people, I seriously doubt this proposal will fly.

What do you think?

Comments welcome.


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Panasonic 50″ Plasma + Blue Ray + 7.1 Home Theater For Only $1399!

I was checking the Best Buy web site yesterday, Sunday October 4, 2009, when I spotted their weekly advertisement and decided to see what deals were available. I spotted what I believe is a great value at a great price. The package included a Panasonic 50″ 1080p Plasma HDTV plus a 7.1 home theater with BlueRay for $1399.98.  According to the advertisement the price also included free delivery and hookup.

Here is what was included:

Ensure stunning depictions of high-action films and video games with this 50″ flat-panel plasma HDTV featuring a true 1080p display and a 600Hz refresh rate.

What’s Included

  • Panasonic VIERA / 50″ Class / 1080p / 600Hz / Plasma HDTV
  • Tabletop stand, 4-device remote
  • Batteries, power cord
  • Owner’s manual

Product Features

  • From our expanded online assortment; not available in all Best Buy stores
  • Built-in HDTV tuner
    Add HD-capable antenna to receiver over-the-air high-definition broadcasts, where available. Optional set-top box required for high-definition cable or satellite programming.
  • 49-9/10″ screen measured diagonally from corner to corner
    Everyone will have a great view of the show or game.
  • 1080p display
    Provides the highest quality progressive-scan picture possible from a high-definition source.

The Home Theater includes the following:

With a built-in dock for your Apple® iPod® and VIERA CAST support, this 7.1-channel home theater system acts as a complete multimedia centerpiece to your entertainment center.

What’s Included

  • Panasonic Blu-ray Disc player
  • Passive subwoofer
  • 2 front speakers, 1 center speaker, 2 surround speakers, 2 rear surround speakers
  • Remote
  • Owner’s manual

Product Features

  • Powerful sound
    1000W (125W x 2 front speakers @ 3 ohms, 1kHz, 10% THD; 125W center speaker @ 3 ohms, 1kHz, 10% THD; 125W x 4 surround speakers @ 3 ohms, 1kHz, 10% THD; 125W subwoofer @ 3 ohms, 1kHz, 10% THD).
  • Multiple surround sound decoders built in. Learn more about surround sound home theater
  • Built-in surround sound decoders
    Include Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS and DTS HD MasterAudio for surround sound support.
  • Blu-ray Disc player
    Supports BD-ROM, BD-R, BD-RE, BD-R DL, BD-RE DL, DVD, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, DVD-R DL, DVD+R DL, DVD-RAM, CD, CD-R/RW, CD-DA, WMA, MP3 and JPEG formats for a wide range of media options.
  • Delivers greatly enhanced video performance with standard DVDs
    By upconverting their video resolution to HDTV-compliant 720p, 1080i or 1080p via the HDMI interface.
  • Check out the advertisement and see what you think. Sales ends on October 10, 2009.

    Comments welcome.

    Best Buy ad

    AT&T Offers Services Similar To Geek Squad

    AT&T is about to take on rival Best Buy and their squad of geeks [Geek Squad] in offering technical services equal to what Best Buy offers. On their web site AT&T Connectech, they are offering a list of services not only for computers but also for TV and home theater systems. Pricing for the services range as follows:

    Computer and Network Installation as low as $99.00

    Computer Services and In-Home Support as low as $179.00

    Television and Home Theater as low as $149.00

    PC/Home Network Telephone Support as low as $69.00

    In addition AT&T states on their site that:

    AT&T ConnecTech professionals will help you get the most out of your computer, high speed Internet, and home theater investments. To order call 1-800-344-1734, 8 am to 11 pm CT, 7 days a week.

    But here is the small pint:

    AT&T ConnecTech Services available for residential customers only. Not available in all areas. All offers are limited time offers, hardware and software limitations may apply, and service-specific terms and conditions apply. Subsidiaries and affiliates of AT&T Inc. provide products and services under the AT&T brand. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

    So there you have it. Best Buy has a new competitor and one would hope that competition could be good for the consumer and may result in lower pricing. The ‘not available in all areas’ and ‘subsidiaries and affiliates’ sounds like AT&T may be hiring 3rd parties to do the servicing.

    What do you think? Would you hire AT&T to service your electronics?

    Comments welcome.


    Onkyo's TX-SR304 Home Theater Receiver

    There should be an image here!Onkyo’s TX-SR304 Home Theater Receiver in stylish silver packs a punch with five channels at 65 watts. Built with most of the latest digital and analog decoders to deliver an excellent, expansive field of sound no matter what you are listening to, the TX-SR304 also includes easy setup with color-coded terminals to take the guesswork out of plugging in your A/V equipment.

    With 30 presets on its high-quality radio receiver, two digital inputs, and more, the TX-SR304 Home Theater Receiver will look great and, more important, meet your home theater and audio needs.

    Special price: $149.95 + free shipping

    Home Theater Speakers Tips

    • Consumer Reports reviews them regularly, and you can get their take on how good Bose (and other) speakers are. You should also go the websites of the high end magazines: Stereophile and The Absolute Sound to get an idea of what they consider to be good budget level home theater speakers. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find. [Sara Cleveland]
    • Sites like Epinions have a limited usefulness, but they can show you a trend that a particular brand of speaker is outstanding or is terrible; if people give enough reasons for their views, you can determine if they think about home theater the way that you do. [Sara Cleveland]
    • You should not buy speakers that you have not listened to, and you should audition more than one brand. I would suggest that you take a favorite movie or movies or music DVDs that you are totally familiar with and use it to “test” the speakers. The demos in the store are designed to show the best qualities of the speakers as perceived by the salespeople and may not be what you are looking for. Plus, they’re using their TV and tuner, etc. and not yours. Additionally, they will have the volume tuned very loud because your ears perceive sound quality to be better when the volume is loud. And, they have special rooms which may not be anything like what you have at home. [Sara Cleveland]
    • When you use your own software, you may discover differences in the sound quality for better…or for worse, that can help you make the right decision.
      Also, you may want to consider high-end used speakers in the store which often have a full warranty and have been traded in for fancier, costlier equipment. I’m looking at your criteria again: great sound, design statement and not break the bank. I would downplay “design statement” because great sound is much better than great design, but that’s just me. I have what is considered to be an entry-level high end music system (I’m not interested in surround sound). the components are either black or silver, very plain & sleek and with stunningly good sound because that’s where I chose to spend my dollars. I didn’t buy anything online because I’m not technically adept and I didn’t want to deal with payment and shipping issues. My speakers and CD player were bought new; the tuner, turntable and power amplifier were bought used 5 years ago and I’m now replacing the tuner and turntable (I’m an older person who has plenty of vinyl which will never be transferred to CD). [Sara Cleveland]

    • For speakers that are inexpensive, but good, try NHT – or if you don’t mind searching around and doing a bit of research, try getting some older Infinity, Ohm, or possibly near-field studio monitors – which will work well with the addition of a subwoofer. I have been an audiophile for over 20 years and the worst thing that can happen is getting something that might have been impressive in the showroom, and then drives you away from your listening room after a short stay at your house. This can put you on the fast track to serial upgrades! [Marc Klink]
    • Bang & Olufsen is the best. When I set up a home theater in my third-floor condo, I had to buy speakers with rich sound and horsepower – but also with neighbors in mind. I chose B&O BeoLab 6000s with built-in receivers. It might not make your “C” criterion, but it only costs a little more to go first class. [Norm Stoehr]
    • Stay away from the mass produced speakers if you really want good sound. Buying Bose is like buying an HP computer from WalMart. Do your own research. See Stereophile and Audiogon. You should listen before you buy. I settled on PSB speakers six years ago and I’m still pleased. A great subwoofer is a must for Home Theater. [Bill Howell]
    • The absolute best speakers for home theater – and also home audio – aren’t yet available in the US. From Sweden, the Ino Audio and GURU speakers, designed by a guy named Ingvar Ohman, are the most natural and neutral I’ve ever heard in the 40 years I’ve been an audiophile – as good as speakers costing $20,000 and up – and the least expensive model will sell for about $850 here in the States! They’re worth waiting for (they’ll be available on this side of The Pond by the first of the year). [Lars Erickson]
    • I never cease to be amazed that PC users can listen to the hideous sounding garbage through even the most expensive PC speakers. It’s as though people don’t have a clue that there are high-quality speakers available. Yes, they cost a great deal more than the trash sold as PC speakers, but you get what you pay for. You should expect to pay about $2000 for a high-quality amplified subwoofer. For a PC, you want pro audio near-field monitors, not consumer audio speakers – they are specifically designed to sound right when placed close to you (e.g., on each side of your screen) instead of being a dozen or more feet away. [E. Douglas Jensen]

    Continue reading “Home Theater Speakers Tips”

    Klipsch Speakers – The Best?

    Dan wrote about Home Theater Speakers in yesterday’s Technobabble (which you may or may not have seen). The feedback we received was nothing short of phenomenal. Seems the general brand winner, as far as Gnomies are concerned, is Klipsch. Good to know! Here’s what you said today:

    Andrew M: B&W speakers are great for home theaters because they sound smooth and balanced. Voices sound more natural than Bose, music sounds clear and smooth, and explosions have good “oomph.” Klipsch speakers sound “exciting,” but their slightly brash tone may be tiring to listen to after a while. Many well-known brands of home theater receivers have crisp, slightly elevated treble response. Smooth, even-sounding speakers help balance that out. Choice of speaker wire can also affect the tonal balance. If you own your home you may wish to consider in-wall speakers that offer subtle appearance and hidden wiring. Again, B&W speakers are among the best of the in-wall type. Stores that sell B&W are usually happy to let you listen with no pressure to buy.

    Jon Chorney: May I suggest that you consider the following brands for review: Boston Acoustics and NHT. These and a couple of other brands are entry-level brands often sold in high-end stereo / home theater stores (as well as mail order). These companies deliver fine quality sound for reasonable dollars – and there are, as I say, other brands which you may not have heard of that do the same. Most high-end stores are happy to work with people who are new to fine quality sound and typically go out of their way to help them. By the way, I own and love classic Klipsch speakers – but they are very different than what is produced under the brand name today. Good luck and I’ll be interested to hear how things work out for you.
    Continue reading “Klipsch Speakers – The Best?”

    Samsung Has The Ultimate Valentine's Day Gift Ideas For Techies At Heart

    Samsung Woos Technology Lovers With MP3 Players, Portable DVD Players, Sports Camcorders, LCD TVs And Home Theater In A Box Systems.

    Valentine’s Day, the holiday when family, loved ones, and friends shower each other with gifts of affection, love and admiration. Candy, cards and jewelry may not be enough to satisfy the technology enthusiast in your life. Samsung’s innovative electronics products offer tech aficionados the most unique ways to show that special someone you care. Some of the most distinctive and hottest gifts for your “techie” at heart include:
    Continue reading “Samsung Has The Ultimate Valentine's Day Gift Ideas For Techies At Heart”

    Connecting Your TV to a Remote PC

    The whole home theater PC revolution being pushed by Windows XP Media Center Edition is a piece of cake to enjoy, as long as you have your home theater and your PC in the same room. Separate the two with a wall, or put them on opposite ends of the house and the options get convoluted. You need something cable of displaying video output and playing back audio tied into your home theater system Microsoft offered a baby step in the right direction with the Media Center Extender add-on for the original Xbox, although the need to insert a DVD in the Xbox every time you access content on your PC is both annoying and convenience defeating. Xbox 360 offers more promise, although there are plenty of people who will skip the Xbox simply because they don’t game. Once you get past the umbrella companies of the Microsoft brand, the options become murky and convoluted. A number of proprietary solutions claim to deliver a solid video streaming experience without living up to the promise. Your best bet at this point is one of the newer Windows Media Connect devices. I review some of the options in an article on connecting your PC to a television in another room.

    [tags]xbox,windows media,home theater,media center,capture card[/tags]