linn_majik_speakerWhether you bought your speakers second hand, didn’t receive proper set-up instruction at the time of purchase, or just never bothered to properly place them, it’s time to re-examine your home theater’s speaker placement and specifically your front three channels. (left, center, and right)

Home theater speakers come in many different shapes, sizes, styles and most definitely price ranges but for our purposes today let’s focus on one specific characteristic, ported or non-ported. The port (sometimes called a baffle, although that’s something else entirely) is typically found on the front of a speaker (or rear) and towards the bottom quarter, although that’s by no means the only method or location for porting a speaker.

Ports are designed to allow air to flow into and out of the speaker to improve bass response, however a restricted port can affect more than just the perceived bass response. A restricted (read not enough space for air to flow) can wreck the sound stage, throw off the pace, rhythm and timing, and a whole host of other nasty side effects.

Not all speakers are ported however, some are sealed. The quickest way for determining what type of speaker you have is just to inspect the cabinet. If you see a hole in the cabinet, either a circular opening and or a slot in the front, you’re mostly likely dealing with a ported speaker.

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We’re inundated with advertising on a daily basis it seems as if it follows us at every turn, you might even find a bit here. But occasionally advertising goes beyond hawking products and actually attempts to educate you in the process. Take for example Panasonic’s Premiere plasma campaign, it asks the simple question: Looking for true black or black that’s true?

The question in of itself is one some may not have pondered and those who are aware that black level is important, may not have realized that there’s more to black level than just absolute black reproduction. You may have heard me mention grayscale or shadow detail, well take a look at the illustration at Panasonic’s Premiere page and hover over the image. I think you’ll quickly see that there’s more to black level than just the ability to reproduce deep, dark blacks.

Hovering over the lower left portion of the cave gives a good representation of what I refer to as crushed blacks (note, the actual performance of the premiere is irrelevant for my purposes and this shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement). Yes any given display may indeed create deep, dark blacks but if it destroys any semblance of detail in the process, who cares?

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Did you know that sometimes just moving a speaker a few inches one way or another can improve the sound quality? We’re talking about an improvement that could surpass the difference you’d gain from moving up to a higher end receiver. Not only is this sort of sonic sleight-of-hand possible I’ve demonstrated it to dumbfounded on-lookers, I even stopped one naysayer mid-sentence and made a believer of him about the importance of proper room acoustics.

It really just boils down to this, if your room suffers from poor acoustics and your speakers aren’t in their optimal placement in the room, you’re never going to be able to correct that by trying to spend your way out of the problem. Sure you may see some incremental improvement in a poor room but time and time again I’ve seen mediocre gear outperform high-end gear in a properly set-up/treated room, of course that same high-end gear would perform even better in the “right room”.

I look back on my introduction to room acoustics as one of the most important events in my eventual understanding of what makes a real home theater tick.  Display quality is ever changing; it’s a moving target, nothing wrong with that it’s just the nature of the beast. High end sound on the other hand is a little more stable and barring advancements like TrueHD and PCM audio from Blu-ray dare I say, almost dependable. But of course just because home theater sound doesn’t change as often as video, don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s easier to master and reproduce from room to room.

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This post may not score me any points with my custom installer friends but I’m not here for their benefit, I’m here to make sure you get the best theater possible for your hard earned dollar. For those of you considering going with professional installation for your home theater needs, get a line item (itemized) proposal, without one you’re just comparing apples to oranges.

There are several different formats for custom home theater proposals, I’ll try to be brief by describing the three most common. The first is the “value added” breakdown but about the only person getting any extra added value out of this one is the integrator. In these proposals you’ll see a brief description of the equipment going into each room and sub-total for that particular room, if I were shopping for a custom home theater I’d reject this type of proposal out of hand.

This type of proposal reduces the process into an A la carte endeavor and in all honesty it’s a potential sign of a lazy integrator. Don’t want this? Ok we’ll scratch it off, want to add another room? Just double the price of that last room. This type of proposal might be ok for a few rooms of multi-room audio but the underlying problem remains, we really have no idea what we’re paying for each item, just the bottom line price for the room.

The next type of proposal is often called a “detailed” proposal and when compared to the value added proposal it certainly is an improvement but still not quite what we’re looking for. Detailed proposals list most of the individual pieces of gear in any given room, and often times the major accessories, but rarely do they detail things as small as cables, rack components or individual speakers.

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As Blu-ray grows in popularity (at least among home theater enthusiasts) many of us have thought about consolidating our DVD collections to make room for more of those little blue boxes on our shelves. You might consider a DVD server as a way to streamline that process; I made the switch a few years ago and have never looked back.

Even those reluctant to travel down the full-fledged HTPC path, due the cost and complexity, may find a DVD server a viable solution. The great thing about a (standard definition) DVD only server is that the technical requirements and most importantly the cost can be kept quite low, at least compared with HDTV capable media servers.

dvd server

I’ll bet many of you even have an old PC or enough parts to get started, at the bottom of some closet right now. About the only thing you would need to add to a vanilla PC to get it up to DVD server status is a sound card or USB adapter with an S/PDIF output. (Trust me this is a much better way to go than trying to use 5.1 analog outs).

Programs like My Movies or Media Browser give you the slick user interface that really ties it altogether. And again, since we’re ripping the movies to the internal (or networked for that matter) hard drive; no need to locate them on the shelf, pop them into the player and then return them back to the shelf afterwards, the movie starts when you press play.

Congratulations! The renovation came in on time and under budget! The whole country’s going digital, so your timing is perfect. And those new, comfortable chairs—well, if furniture could talk, they’d say “what time is the movie?” You are about to create a home theater, and you and your family can hardly wait.

Only two considerations remain—equipment and a consultation with your lighting specialist. The following tips will help you make good choices to get your home theater up and running.

Choosing Equipment: Home theaters are based on one of two kinds of technology—projection-based and TV-only. Both have advantages and distinctive features.

Projection-based equipment features screens up to 100 inches—this is the real lights-camera-action big-screen experience. Think a bit about your room before you decide whether you want more information on front- or rear-projection units.

If you expect to use your theater room strictly as a theater, either system will work well. If, on the other hand, someone will likely be reading the paper, playing a game, or doing needlepoint in one area of the room, look at rear-projection systems. A front-projection system generates a light stream that can be interfered with by light needed for other activities. A rear-projection system is self-contained, and those who wish to turn on a lamp can do so without conflicting with the show.

Although screens are smaller (50 to 60 inches), TV-only theaters provide a great theater experience. Two types of TV displays are available. Again, issues of light may help you decide which display is best for your room. Plasma screens have a reputation for strong definition between dark and light tones, clear detail, depth, and true-to-life colors. The gas cells of a plasma screen do not permit any light-leaks between cells, giving truer and deeper black levels than LCD screens.

Anyone who owns an LCD flashlight knows that LCD means light and plenty of it. An LCD screen features brighter display and more intense colors than plasma. An LCD screen is the perfect choice for a room with high ambient light, whether from daylight or adjacent areas.

Close examination of both kinds of TV-only display systems will reveal no major differences in picture quality. You may well find that both perform equally well in your room, advise experts.

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vw40As far as I’m concerned nothing says home theater like a front projection system, there’s just something about a 2-piece system that really captures the magic of going to the movies. The beautiful thing about front projection is that even in this day a 50” Kuro plasma’s and a 40”- 1080p LCD’s for under a grand, front projection still provides the best bang for the buck in screen size, and with fuel prices continuing to climb that trend will likely continue.

As much as everyone around here loves projectors, it’s obvious that they aren’t for everyone. There are multiple reasons for this but two of the biggest are the need for a relatively dark environment and the fact that installing a projector really isn’t seen as a do-it-yourself project. Well, I can’t help with the dark room but I assure you that if you’re even moderately handy around the house, you can install your own front projector and screen.

First things first, I like to start with the screen. The screen should be your anchor, not the projector. Think of it this way, the screen is what you’ll actually be looking at, so it’s important to have it where you want it in the room and then worry about how to get the projector where it belongs. I fully acknowledge that there are other schools of thought on which comes first (the projector or the screen) but after having installed an upwards of 125 front projection systems over the years, I have come to know, love and embrace the path of screen first.

So with that we need to establish the proper height to mount the screen at. Even though we’re installing the screen first, take a quick look over your shoulder at the area where you’ll mount the projector and look for any obstructions. If you see a heating and air vent, smoke detector, ceiling fan or anything else that might be in the path of the projector or mount, you’ll need to factor that in. i.e. if the true center of your room is offset by 2” to the right due to an obstruction, you’ll want to shift your screen over to the right by 2”.

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Read the First Part of the Article: How-to: Install a Front Projector & Screen.

So with our projection screen mounted and waiting for video, it’s almost time to mount our projector. But before we do (you guessed it) there are a few tasks we have to accomplish first, one of them is determining the screens centerline, centering a projector is critical for proper optical alignment. I’ve seen and heard dozens of methods for determining true center in relation to a fixed object but none of them seem as easy or ultimately accurate (no, using a tape measure isn’t accurate, that assumes your room is perfectly symmetrical, it’s not) as the one I use.

projector-markprojector-markFor this part you’ll need an assistant, a ladder, the nylon string and pencil I mentioned previously. Pull off a long piece of the string and tie a knot at one end, have your assistant hold that knot in their hand and hold it up to one end of the screen frame (fig. A – at the top of the screen). Now, pull off enough string to make it back far enough so that you’re into the projector manufacturers recommended throw distance (Fig. P) for your particular screen size. (Note: the throw distance can either be found in the owner’s manual or on-line by searching for brand/model + throw distance).

Once you’re certain you’re back far enough into the recommended throw distance (preferably ¾ into it), tie the string around the pencil and pull the string tight. Once you’ve done so point the pencil toward the ceiling and make a light mark in an arc motion. Have your assistant move to the other side of the screen (Fig. B) with the string and then make a second, complimentary mark from the other side. As long as all the variables were minimized, i.e. the assistant held the string at the same position on each side of the screen and you pulled the string tight, you’ll have a perfect center mark.

Now a bit about cabling, of course you’ll want to run a HDMI cable from your equipment to the projector, and for good measure I’d recommend a component cable as well but go ahead and run a CAT5/6 cable as well. You may use the CAT5 cable as a screen trigger, you may use it as an IR emitter, you may never use it at all, but there is no time like the present to build in a little future-proofing. Now, since we’re on the subject of cables, we need to talk about getting power to the projector.

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These tips are somewhat brand specific but I just wanted to share a few things that might be helpful to those of you with shiny new Samsung LCD televisions. First off and this shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone familiar with consumer displays, but just keep in mind that just about every type of consumer grade display be it LCD, plasma, LCoS, front or rear projection will need to be calibrated; to get the best image the set is capable of displaying.

One of the biggest adjustment problems with off-the-shelf displays has to be brightness and contrast settings cranked up into the ionosphere. Honestly some of these televisions could light a small home, don’t be afraid to take the brightness down a notch or five. Getting to the HTPC specifics, if you’re using a VGA cable to connect to a recent “LN” or similar series Samsung (LCD television) you’ll want to select setup and then select “Home Theater PC”.

If you’re using HDMI and or a DVI to HDMI converter you’ll simply want to select “Just Scan” via the picture size control, this allows the display to operate in a 1:1 or pass-through mode which is preferable with HTPC’s. Note if you do use the 1:1 mode you may need to tweak the over scan controls of your HTPC to get an exact screen size match.

The PS3 has become the Blu-ray player du jour for many and with good reason, it’s highly versatile, relatively easy to use, relatively inexpensive and one of the few profile 2.0 players available, it is not however perfect unto itself. The omission of any inherent ability to be controlled via infra-red makes it difficult to be integrated into home theaters with IR universal remotes, luckily though third party manufacturers have supplied solutions to this problem.

There are several different solutions to use a IR remote with the PS3 but one of the cleanest has to be the IR2BT (IR to Bluetooth) converter. In a nutshell the adapter receives PS2 IR commands (those remotes are still available) and converts them into the PS3’s Bluetooth commands. It really couldn’t get much simpler than that, well that is unless the PS3 already worked with IR. The device sells for $55 and is available direct from the manufacturer.

The other solution, specifically the Nyko “Blu-Wave” infra-red remote uses a IR dongle to receive the Nyko’s remote commands but from what I’ve been able to gather the Nyko remote lacks a few functions available from the PS3 controller, functions that are available with the PS2 IR controller as well. So in essence, if you just want to integrate basic shuttle commands into your universal remote the Nyko may be the way to go, on the other hand if you want 100% functionality with IR source codes, the IR2BT is well worth a look.

From time to time we’re presented with unusual requests for home theater installations and more often than not the two that present the biggest hurdles are in bonus rooms above garages and or in the garage itself. Bonus rooms are fine for rear projection televisions, plasmas and LCD’s but in many of today’s homes the roof pitch is too steep to allow for a proper front projection screen. The garage on the other hand is workable, but presents its own set of problems.

Garages can indeed be transformed into home theaters but there are three (maybe more) areas that will need to be addressed before the space is suitable for use as a home theater. Keep in mind we’re talking about smaller two car garages not a full blown four to five car garage in newer homes.

First we’ll need to address the heating and air concerns. If like most garages the central air is inadequate, to keep us comfortable for hours at a time we’ll need to bring that up to scratch. This may include adding more air returns and or stand-alone heating and air conditioners.

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Earlier this year I made a post about which Blu-ray players I would recommend and did so with the caveat that those recommendations would have a shelf life of about a month. Ok so it was two, I was close.

Back in March with the different player profiles just starting to be sorted out and no real profile 2.0 titles available to speak of, I was perfectly comfortable recommending the Panasonic DMP-BD30K. While I still consider it a capable player it’s not the one I would recommend today.

Panasonic’s BD-Live capable DMP-BD50 is where I’d put my money if I were in the market again. The player features Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD MA, HDMI 1.3 with Deep Color and x.v. Color, 1080p/24 playback and 5.1ch analog audio outs.

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