There’s something about the word “custom” that always seems to make my heart beat a little faster, but then again, who doesn’t drool at the thought of something being made just for them? For example, I love both books and creative architectural details, and there’s this house in a historic neighborhood not far from where I live, which I’ve affectionately come to refer to as “bookshelf house” in honor of the gorgeous custom built-in bookcases (they’re even lit, mind you) that are visible to passers-by when the house is lit up at night. You’re just driving along, glancing casually at the passing homes, and then suddenly you get an eyeful of perfectly painted crimson walls set off by semi-ornate white bookshelves almost artistically loaded with a small library’s worth of reading material. I can never resist giving that sight a longing, head-turning glance, and it’s almost always inevitably followed by me returning home, walking into my guest room, and staring with disgust at the twin particleboard deals holding a hodgepodge of paperbacks and dust. I like to think that the owners of Bookshelf House must feel pretty darn smug.
While this particular example of custom lust is probably a little too old-school and tech-free for a blog that deals primarily with gadgets and cables, here’s something that’s not: Field-terminable HDMI cable from BTX Technologies. Whether you’re fed up with home theater cables that are always longer than you need them to be or are just Jonesing for something made with only you and your sweet A/V setup in mind, you’ll definitely want to take notice.
BTX’s field-terminable cables are rated to HDMI 1.3 standards, and come in either round or ribbon styles, depending on whether you’re planning on bundling them with neighboring cords (choose round), or routing them flat along the wall (that would be ribbon). The bulk cables are simply measured to the exact length you need (no more paying for or cable-managing a bunch of useless slack) and terminated with specially designed crimp-on connectors that achieve an even stronger connection than soldering.
Both the round and ribbon-style home theater cables are made to be ultra flexible, so they can take most tight bends and curves without risking breakage or attenuation. Durability is further enhanced by the connectors’ additional extended plastic boot and strain relief, which gives your HDMI cables extra support just where they need it most.
Custom is now better than ever.
Middle Atlantic’s RDR Series: Home Theater Racks That Won’t Make You Feel Like You’re in a Server Room
So, you drop big bucks on a home theater. Amazing screen. Killer audio. Super posh decor, and furniture that’s almost impossible to part ways with at the end of the show. As you, the fam and maybe a few friends snuggle in for a fun night in front of the big screen, you glance over at your equipment rack, and suddenly you’re whisked away to a cold, brightly-lit, featureless data center, where the only thing to make you feel cozy and comfortable is the warm air being exhausted by the enclosure ventilation fans.
No, you’re not hallucinating or having a nightmare, and you haven’t been forcibly sucked into some weird parallel universe in which you’re actually an IT guy. You were just shocked out of your sweet cinematic surroundings by the stark, metallic, “a-little-too-techy” look of your electronics rack. What the heck is that thing doing in your perfect (well, near perfect) home theater? Have you no sense of style?
It’s a good thing that the designers at Middle Atlantic got wind of the fact that there are more than a few people out there who are butchering the aesthetics of otherwise well-planned home theaters with racks that were designed for… well… less-than-decor-conscious environments. Clearly, they must have asked themselves, “Do movie lovers kick back in residences, or telco closets?” And as I imagine it, they then glanced around the room at each other during a brief silence, shouted “residences” in unison, collectively nodded their heads, and then got down to business designing their home-worthy RDR Rack Series.
Much like your standard-issue server rack, RDR home theater racks are built out of tough steel that can take abuse and still support the weight of hundreds of pounds of electronics. The difference is in the finishing touches, from the decorative trim that replaces sharp, angular corners, to a sleek black woodgrain top as the crowning touch. It’s like Clark Kent turning into Superman. Moneypenny to Bond Girl.
Hey, look! You’re back from the data center.
Filed under: Home Theater, Raceway, Duct and Conduit
Up to about yesterday, whenever I heard the term “surface raceway,” my mind would conjure up the image of long, rectangular sticks of wire channel. Boxy. Angular. Lacking in subtlety. Raceway is great for routing and concealing cables, and does help to camouflage things quite a bit, but as for shape, there isn’t much flow to the standard garden varieties. Straight line, corner. Straight line, corner. All the way around. Great if you’re into a Cubist aesthetic, but if you prefer something a little sleeker, it’s less than ideal.
So imagine my surprise and delight when D-Line Half Round Raceway came waltzing through the door. Unlike its boxy counterparts, this decidedly shapelier version has curves in all the right places, but not in the way that will make anyone look twice. In fact, the semi-circular shape actually helps D-Line Half Round avoid notice, since it blends and transitions and more smoothly with walls than rectangular raceway does.
If you look at the picture, you’ll see what I mean. Isn’t it great the way it blends right in with the baseboard molding that it’s installed right above? What’s really nice it that you can even paint it to match. That gentle curve actually mirrors the detailing in the molding, and unless someone were to get down on their hands and knees and do some close-range squinting at it, they’d be none the wiser of its presence.
In addition to being paintable, D-Line half round raceway is also easy to cut with scissors or a PVC cutter (depending on its size) and is available with the inner and outer corner fittings that make it possible to “bend” the raceway into, out of, and around corners. As for installation, it’s a piece of cake: after you’ve cut the raceway to length, just peel off the backing, and press the pre-applied adhesive against the wall. Then step back and admire your work. But be warned: you may need to take a really close look – this stuff can be easy to miss.
Dasco Media Storage Racks: Simple, Organized Storage for Offices, Studios, Libraries or Home A/V Hounds
Filed under: Home Theater, Server Racks and Enclosures
So, A/V fans, how do you store your media? Unless you’ve gone completely Technologically Awesome and have, by now, ripped all of your CDs and started downloading all of your favorite movies from iTunes, you still need a place to keep that stuff (for the record, I do, too). I don’t know about you, but my music and movie storage situation tends to get a little precarious at times, mostly because discs (boxed, jewel-cased or au naturel) aren’t meant to be stacked into mini-skyscrapers until you need them. Bump into one of those piles, and bad things happen. Try to whisk one disc out of the stack without disturbing the others, and you’re in a predicament that’s worse than Jenga and the Tablecloth Trick combined.
Sounds like it’s time for a media rack.
I just recently got a load of Dasco’s Media Storage Racks, and I have to say, I like what I’m seeing. If you’ve ever wished that you could get your hands on the type of shelving units you see at the neighborhood movie rental place or your library’s AV department, these are them, just a little better. Their angled shelves keep things from sliding off, make it easier to scan titles, and can be adjusted in 1 inch increments, depending on what you need to store. Whether you’re into CDs, games and Blu-Ray discs or are still kickin’ it old school with the audio cassettes and VHS tapes of your glory days, it all fits.
I’m not going to even try to imply that this would be the perfect fixture for your living room, but if you have a separate, dedicated home theater or media room, it would work like a charm. What’s really nice is that you can choose the configuration that works for you – there are multiple heights, single and double-sided designs, and standing or wall-mount versions available.
Lest I paint too narrow a picture, here, Dasco‘s media racks aren’t just for home A/V types – they’re also great for offices, schools, studios, and any other environment with lots of media in need of proper storage. It’s time to stop treating your discs and tapes like building blocks.
These days, on the home entertainment cabling front, no one settles for anything less than HDMI. We’ve tossed our 3-part component and composite cables, and now only have eyes for the one-connector, all-inclusive digital wonder that is HDMI. Then why do we treat our HDMI cables so badly?
You know what I’m taking about. The way we smash and twist them to fit behind our shiny HDTVs. The way we bend them at angles that would make most contortionists shudder. Come on, people – HDMI cables have feelings, too! Well, maybe not feelings, but they do have very specific bend radius needs… needs that we, selfish entertainment hounds that we are, are constantly ignoring.
Ummmmmmm, bend radius? Yes, bend radius. It’s the term that describes how tightly you can bend a cable before it cries “Uncle!” and either starts losing signal, or just stops working completely. As far as HDMIs go, there’s no such thing as partial signal loss, like you might get with a data cable. They just quit on you altogether. Sigh. Sounds like it’s time to clean up our acts, and start treating our home theater cables with a little more respect.
If you’re worried that this self-improvement is going to mean moving your TV for the benefit of your HDMI cable, it doesn’t. No compromise there. But it is going to take a little thing called an HDMI adapter, which is designed to snap right onto the end of an HDMI cable, and into the device of your choice. Sound like no big whoop? I’m not done yet. Vanco is making a line of special HDMI adapters that bend, swivel and rotate at the connector level, so that your cable remains straight (or almost straight) no matter how you need to position it, and keeps those gorgeous audio and video signals moving right along. Okay… now I’m done…
Everybody loves an HDTV, and these days it seems like hardly anyone takes the “stand” route anymore – it’s wall-mount or bust. Wall mounting is a great way to show off your flat panel, but it can be a little tricky, in that it usually requires two things: a professional AV installer, and studs. To any of my fellow ladies out there who may be starting to get excited, don’t try to simplify things by hiring an A/V installer who also happens to be a stud. While that would be a very scenic option, it just won’t work, because I’m talking about wall studs, not man studs.
Technically, the A/V pro is optional, as long as you (or someone you know) is handy with a level and a power drill. But as for studs, they’re a must-have, because if you haven’t noticed, flat screens are heavy. Try to hang one of those babies on drywall alone, and you’re done for… within minutes (or even seconds), both your TV and a section of the wall it was hanging on will be on the floor, in pieces. Not good. But if you anchor your HDTV mount into studs, the weight is distributed and supported, and everyone can live happily ever after. Except…
What if they’re aren’t studs located exactly where you want your TV to go? Hmmmmmm…. little dilemma, there. Honestly, I don’t like inanimate objects telling me what I can and can’t do, and I’d be really ticked if a couple of punk studs were to prevent me from centering my new flat panel on a wall, just because they weren’t in the right place. Sheesh.
Luckily, Vanco has found a way for HDTV fans to get around hassles like uncooperative architecture. Their Secure Mount anchor kit lets you provide plenty of support for your wall and TV – without tapping into studs. It’s all thanks to ingenious D-shaped drywall braces that are able to support up to 150 lbs of TV, despite the fact that they’re less than 4 inches long. Now that’s engineering.
Frequent presenters who don’t have the luxury of a permanent projector and whiteboard in all of their meeting rooms are about to get very happy. 3M’s V2 Mobile Presentation Stand is built especially for facilities where multimedia presentations are a regular occurrence, but small rooms don’t allow for an extra equipment. This intrepid cart is built to roam from room to room on demand, fully loaded with everything you need, including a close-range projector, whiteboard, a laptop, and maybe even some dry-erase markers.
Installing all of that equipment on one cart might sound kind of cumbersome, but actually, it’s not. Thanks to its compact and well-thought-out design, the V2 presentation cart can easily wheel down halls and through doorways, and won’t further cramp your space, even in a packed room. What’s really nice is that, with the optional laptop stand, it allows you to keep your eyes on your laptop throughout the entire presentation, instead of constantly turning around to refer to the screen.
Movement is no headache, either. Four casters help keep things balanced and moving smoothly from place to place, and then lock to prevent the cart from sneaking away once you get it where you need it. And then for the whiteboard adjustability, which is steady and jolt-free compliments of the V2′s pneumatic shock absorbers. Presentations can be stressful enough on their own. Make things easier on yourself with the right equipment management.
Filed under: Computer Accessories, Gadgets, Home Theater
There’s nothing like a projected image to make you feel like you’re at the movies. When I was a kid, it was always a thrill to see the media center lady roll a projector into the classroom after we got in from recess, because it meant we were taking a break from the drudgery of Science and Social Studies, and getting to slack off with a few action-packed educational film strips instead. And then there was that time about 10 years back when, despite my being a mature grownup, I jumped right in when my Dad hauled out his work projector (typically reserved for presentations) to entertain my sick, stuck-at-home little brother – let me tell you, the best way to watch Ice Age is on the living room wall.
But those childhood (and kid-at-heart) warm-fuzzies toward projectors in general began to change as I left college and became immersed in things like real-world jobs and the multimedia business presentations that they often require. I’ve sat in more than one crowded conference room, looking on as guest presenters fumbled with laptop-to-projector connections as the hour of meeting commencement, pointing and laughing in derision, jogged right past them. Yikes. And these were intelligent, capable people. But technical difficulties will happen, especially if you’re an outsider dealing with other peoples’ electronics. It’s painful to watch.
That’s why I think that the X20 Digital Projector by 3Mlooks so incredibly useful and promising. What better way to avoid technical difficulties than to bring your own projector along? I know, I know – it sounds like a schlepping nightmare, but it’s not at all. To start out with, the X20 is little: only 11 by 8 by 2 inches (approximately). And at around 4 pounds, it’s definitely one of the lighter projectors out there. Did I mention that it comes with a carrying case? That makes it a natural for travel. But what I really like is that it can help cut down on how many other things you have to haul around.
While the X20 and it’s cousin, the WX20, both offer (of course) connections for laptops and other devices, the X20 also has USB ports for a mouse and flash drive – perfect for computerless .jpg presentations. And you know what that means, right? Leave the laptop at home!
Sorry, this product has been discontinued.
Filed under: Electrical, Home Theater, Power and Data Distribution
It’s not something that most of us give any thought to, but did you know that studs and beams play a huge role in where your home theater’s A/V faceplates are located? We only see what’s on the surface of the wall, but if you were to take a peek behind the sheetrock, you’d most likely find that your outlets and home theater connections are actually supported by cable boxes, which, in turn, are securely screwed onto studs or other structural supports.
While that system has worked up to now, if you’re installing a home theater from scratch, it can be pretty frustrating to have stud placement dictating where you can or can’t put in a wall plate. The location of faceplates can affect where you place your TV, speakers, and even furniture – who wants their style cramped like that? Not me. That’s why I like the single-gang (in non-tech speak, that’s “regular size”) Wall Plate Mounting Bracket from Cables To Go®. It doesn’t have to be anywhere near a stud to give you a solidly-installed connection.
As I mentioned before, most mounting brackets and electrical/cable boxes need to be attached directly to a stud; otherwise, they’d wobble around like crazy whenever you tried to plug anything in. They also need to stand up to the extra gravitational pull put on them by cables – when cables naturally sag toward the ground, wall plates can take a lot of the brunt from that downward force. Attachment to a nice, solid stud ensures that brackets and wall plates will be as close to rock-solid as possible.
Luckily, Cables To Go® has figured out how to create a solid faceplate installation minus the studs. Their bracket has a unique design that uses fold-down tabs to grip onto drywall. To install, you cut a hole in your sheetrock, fit the bracket into it, and then fold the tabs back to hold it in place. From there, you just attach in-wall A/V cables to your wall plate, and then screw the plate onto the bracket. It’s simple, solid, looks great, and is perfect for retrofit installs.
Here’s to the Man Cave, that magical realm of testosterone where beer, nachos and video games reign supreme. Where there’s always a rack of pool cues at arm’s reach, and a live sporting event on TV. Where you can work on your Shelby Cobra kit car in peace, and get crumbs on the floor if you darn well feel like it.
Every guy has a different idea of what his personal Planet Man should be like. While I, being female, don’t have anything special in mind, the Dude’s Dude I’m married to has tons of ideas, but he’s mostly riding the fence between the Blowout Tiki Bar, and the “So Manly and Full of Diamond Plate That it Would Make Chip Foose and the Entire Overhaulin’ Crew Pee Their Pants in Envy” Garage.
But of all the types of Man Caves out there, there’s a single common denominator that all of them share: a TV. Preferably of the flatscreen HD variety. And no girly Pottery Barn entertainment consoles, here: that baby’s going on the wall, or better yet, hanging from the ceiling, sports bar-style. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh yeah.
If at this point you’re grinning and nodding your head along in agreement, but at the same time furrowing your brow and thinking: “But how the heck am I supposed to do that?”, allow me. All you need is the Chief® Flat Panel Ceiling Mount. If you’re handy (and what Man Cave master isn’t?), this ceiling mount is pretty easy to install, and won’t require to you to use any expensive or out-of-the-ordinary tools.
What I really like about this Chief® mount is that it makes it super easy to adjust the screen to the perfect angle. A technology by the name of Centris™ lets you adjust your TV using only the pressure of your fingertips, and once it’s positioned, it won’t budge until you decide to move it again. I’m really into this feature, because flat screens are pretty heavy, and you wouldn’t want to worry about your TV spontaneously “readjusting” itself under its own weight. After all, it’s pretty tricky trying climb up and fix that when you’ve just knocked back half a pizza and some wings.