If you had asked me yesterday if I knew much about flat-screen mounting options, I would probably have told you yes. Seeing as how I appreciate a well-executed home theater, I’ve stayed pretty in tune with stationary screen mounts, tilting screen mounts, swiveling screen mounts, telescoping screen mounts, and even screen-mounting systems that masquerade as wall art. All around savvy, I would say. But here’s the thing: I’ve never really gone as high-tech as to think about screen lifts, but that all changed this morning.
Your ears just perked up, didn’t they? Yes, lifts. I’m not talking about those things that you slip into your shoes to sneakily make yourself look taller, or the stands you use on your desk to raise the elevation of your laptop or monitor. I’m talking about a real, motorized lift that you can attach a plasma or LCD screen to, in the interest of hoisting that TV to the perfect viewing position, and then lowering it down into a piece of furniture so you don’t have to look at it when you’re done. Just think about it: one little point and click, and your TV levitates out of an attractive piece of furniture, like Aphrodite rising from the sea. Poetry.
All romanticisms aside, though, the Chief® Automated Flat-Panel TV Lift actually lets you hide your high-def TV inside a cabinet or console – as long as it’s large enough to fit the screen and sturdy enough to support the screen/lift weight, you’re in business. Imagine the possibilities. I love the very thought of this, because I’m the kind of person who doesn’t necessarily like to stare at my home electronics when they’re not in use, and I would never, under any circumstances, do something as insane as wall mounting a flat screen above a fireplace. I guess I’m saying that I want to enjoy the viewing benefits of a flat panel, without having to suffer any of the decor hazards on the side. Sigh. The mere concept of this screen lift has left me grinning bigger than I have in a long time.
I thought that my video-related posts were going to top out at 2 for this week, but strangely enough, I’m sneaking in a third. We’ve talked sleeving and mini projectors, but this time, we’re taking on cable. Even if you’re not an A/V installer, you probably know that video of any kind, whether it deals with cable TV or closed-circuit security monitors, has traditionally meant coaxial cable. You know, the round stuff with the funny pin-style connectors on the ends. It’s good cable and we’ve all used it, but cost-wise, coax has never been as cheap as twisted-pair Cat data cable, and while it’s pretty easy to terminate, it calls for special compression connectors and crimpers. Sigh. If only installing coax was as simple as using an RJ45 connector and regular punchdown tool on network cables, it might be a little easier for data installers and DIYers to run their own video, as well.
As it turns out, it is that easy, and coax no longer has to be a piece of the video puzzle. Mohawk has developed the very unique Spectrum™ low-skew, twisted-pair video cable, which has all the physical characteristics of Cat cable, but transmits video signals instead of data. That means that running video in your home is as easy as making your own network cables, using the same old RJ45 connectors and everything.
If that weren’t reason enough to smile, what would you say to cable runs up to 2000 feet long, without signal degradation? Or the fact that this stuff is a lot thinner than coaxial or RGB, so you can fit more runs in the same amount of space? Not to mention it costs less, too.
Call it blogger’s block. I was wracking my brain for days, trying to settle on which product to write about next, and just kept hitting wall after wall. All I can say us that it’s a good thing that my husband has been on a home theater kick this week, because the other night, while we were out for a stroll, conversation took that turn, and I started to school him on some of the cooler A/V accessories out there. Somewhere in the course of my monologue, Vutec’s ArtScreen™ came up, and a lightbulb went on in the old cranium. “By gum,” I thought, “I haven’t told them about that one yet!” And so, here we are.
Now ladies, I know that many of you, like me, have guys who are Jonesing for a sizable plasma or LCD screen, which would preferably be mounted smack in the middle of the most prime living room wall. And guys, I know that it’s hard to talk your women into one of those, because (also like me) they just don’t want to have to look at it all the time. And that’s where the ArtScreen™ comes in -it’s the middle ground that just might make it possible for everybody to get what they want.
The Vutec ArtScreen™ is what is technically referred to as a “screen masking system,” but in regular people speak, it’s a clever disguise for your wall-mounted HDTV. Made up of a custom frame, a small motor, and your choice of “art,” the ArtScreen™ lets your TV be a TV when you feel like watching something, but also helps it masquerade as wall art when it isn’t in use.
Here’s how it works: you select a framing material that best suits your tastes, and it’s made into a custom frame according to your TV’s exact measurements. This frame is fitted with a motorized roller, which raises and lowers a custom “canvas” (featuring artwork from Vutec’s collection, or a design of your own) at the touch of a button. Wanna catch the latest episode of “The Big Bang Theory”? Click. Picture up. Had enough TV for the time being? Click. Picture down.
You know you want one.
Filed under: Home Theater, Power and Data Distribution
First of all, let me say that I am not a two-face. A few months back, I did a blog post on a line of home theater wall plates that act as transition points for A/V cables wherever they enter into, or emerge from, your walls. Really neat products. Today, I learned about a different set of wall plates that operate under the same general concept, but with a slight design twist. So, before I tell you about those, I just wanted to clarify that I still fully endorse the first wall plates I wrote about. But new mention-worthy things come along from time to time, right?
Okay, now that I’ve cleared the air, we can get down to business. Like I said, the particular wall plate we’re going to be talking about today, the Recessed Media Box by Datacomm, is made to cover cable entrance and exit points on your walls, but unlike the hooded designs you’ll find a lot of the time, they’re styled more along the lines of self-healing grommets. If you’re wondering what the heck I mean by “hooded design” and “self-healing grommet,” let me explain.
In every home theater setup, there comes a point where your A/V cables need to come through the wall and attach to your A/V equipment. So far so good? And while some people go for schmancy, professionally-wired wall plates, some of us want to forego the extra steps and expense, and just pull our cables out of a hole in the drywall and carry on with our business. But you don’t want an ugly, rough-cut hole staring you in the face. That’s where hooded wall plates come in. They create a neat border around the exit point, and protect cables from abrasion as they come through the wall. The hood actually helps to further neaten things up, and direct the overall cable flow.
On the other hand, you can have a self-healing grommet-style wall plate – case in point, the Recessed Media Box. With this type of face plate, cables are fed through radial slits in a flexible material. These slits gently grip and conform to your A/V cables, holding them in place while ensuring that no gaps or holes are left around them. The gap-free factor is the part that I really appreciate, because I’m not completely sure that I’d want an ever-open hole in my living room wall. In the event that pestilence or mold spores were lurking behind my drywall, I’d want them to stay there, not have a way to creep through. But that’s just me… I’m an apartment-dweller with shared walls, so personally, I just like the idea of having somewhat of a seal in place.
So, you want to stretch the distance between your HDTV and a high-def source (like an HD-DVD player, Blu-Ray, or PS3 gaming console), but shudder to think of the search for, and cost of, a 100+ foot long HDMI cable? I feel your pain, but don’t worry – you won’t be in it long. Your worries, and HDMI-related budget woes, are about to melt away – at least they will as soon as you meet this Cat5e HDMI Extender from Vanco.
As you can probably tell from its name, this particular HDMI extender uses Cat5e cables (delightfully inexpensive Cat5e cables) to carry your HDMI signals from Point A to Point B. By now you’re probably wondering, “How the heck do you get a decent high-def digital signal over a type of cable that’s usually used for Ethernet connections?” Easy – it’s all in the transmitter and receiver.
While it’s called an extender, it’s actually made up of two separate components – the above-mentioned transmitter and receiver. Using 2 short HDMI cables, the transmitter is connected to the high-definition source, and the receiver is connected to the display. From there, you just need to run 2 Cat5e cables between the transmitter and receiver. The transmitter starts out by translating the HDMI signal into the proper format for Cat5e. The modified signal then travels down the Cat5e cables to the receiver, where it’s translated back into HDMI format, and fed through to the display. And there you have it, ladies and gents – long distance HDMI.
The Vanco HDMI Over Cat5e extender works for distances up to 200 feet, and the resolution can vary depending on how far you’re sending the signal. Up to 100 feet, and the final resolution delivered is 1080p; for 100-165 feet, you get 1080i. When you push it anywhere from 165-200 feet, the resolution drops to 720p, but that’s still high-def! The extender system also reduces annoying EMI and RFI, so you’ll get the clearest audio and video possible.
Ever plug in an appliance that you wanted to place right against the wall, only to have your plans foiled by how far the plug ended up sticking out from the receptacle? Sigh. More flat screen TV, coffee maker, and microwave placements have been wrecked from Jutting Plug Syndrome than I, personally, care to think about. But do you know what soothes my rattled interior design-conscious psyche? The fact that everything can be set right with a recessed electrical box from Arlington Industries.
Arlington’s recessed electrical boxes are just like run-of-the-mill power outlets, except for one special feature: they’re actually set back into your wall, instead of leaving outlets flush with the wall’s surface. This one seemingly-minor detail makes a world of difference, because when you plug into a recessed outlet, you’ll find that instead of protruding impolitely from the wall, plugs are almost entirely hidden away inside the depression (let me clarify: good depression) created by the wall box. When plugs are below surface level, you’re left with complete freedom to, well, put whatever you want in front of them. Flat screens can actually lay flat, as nature intended, and you can push kitchen appliances (remember the microwave and coffee pot I mentioned earlier?) all the way against the wall to save on counter space. Furniture placement suddenly gets a lot easier, too.
Gone are the days when home A/V setups were nothing more than a TV, a DVD player, and maybe some speakers. These days, we shell out for high-def Plasma and LCD screens, HD-DVD and Blu-ray players, gaming systems, and full SurroundSound. With the exception of speakers, just about every other element in our home theaters is connected to our TVs via HDMI cable. There isn’t trouble with HDMI cables, per se, because they deliver the best digital signals out there, but what do you do if your TV doesn’t have enough HDMI inputs to accommodate all of your home theater devices at once?
Considering that you’ve placed a pretty heavy investment into all of those fine electronics, you probably want to be able to use any device whenever you want, without the hassle of crawling behind your entertainment center to unplug your DVD player so you can free up an HDMI port for the PS3 system. Luckily, there’s a way to kiss the old device-juggling routine goodbye: just work an Xtreme Cables 4×1 HDMI Switch Box into the mix.
Built to the latest HDMI standard (HDMI 1.3), this extremely compact switch (it’s only 7″ x 3″ x 1″) packs quite a punch – it lets you connect up to four HDMI components to your HDTV using just a single cable. You just plug 4 HDMI devices into the switch, and then run the switch’s cable up to one of your high-def screen’s HDMI ports. Once that’s done, you just use the included remote control to switch back and forth between devices as often as you want. And one of the really nice features of this product is that it’s incredibly easy to install and use, even for home theater fans who aren’t completely tech-savvy. There’s no software or special programming required to get started – just plug and play.
The 4X1 HDMI Switch Box by Xtreme Cables supports resolutions that range from 480 to 1080, in both interlaced (i) and progressive scan (p) formats.
Sorry, this product has been discontinued.
If you have an HDTV that’s wall mounted in a dedicated home theater room, chances are pretty good that viewing angle is never a problem – after all, in situations like this, chairs and sofas are usually arranged so that everyone can view the TV head-on, and at fairly close range. But many of us don’t have the space or budget for a dedicated home theater, and have our plasmas or LCDs in a multipurpose room instead. These days, the concept of the “Great Room” rules, and this means that many homes are embracing an open floor plan that combines kitchen, living, and dining areas. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to see your TV whether you’re on the couch or at the table?
Now you can. The Chief® iC® Swinging Arm Wall Mount brings a full range of motion to flat screen HDTVs up to 50″ in size. It not only allows you to tilt the screen up or down, it also lets you swivel and angle it freely from side to side, and can keep your HDTV snug against the wall for a traditional look, or extend it out into the room to give you a more up-close view. This wall mount can really let you make the most out of a flat screen in any multipurpose room.
It’s been a while since I’ve written about one of our Friday training sessions, so today, I’ll get back on track. This morning, we met with a rep from Vutec, a well-known projection screen manufacturer that’s right in our neighborhood. About a year and a half ago, I got to take a very interesting tour of their manufacturing facility (it’s like being inside an episode of “How It’s Made”), but this morning we focused less on the process and instead took a more detailed look at their projection screen styles and fabrics.
They offer a lot of very cool options, among them an acoustically-tranparent screen material that lets you hide your speakers behind your screen, with no decrease in sound quality. But my favorite product from this morning’s meeting was the SilverStar™ Projection Screen, a rigid (read: non-fabric) screen that utilizes some very unique technology developed right at Vutec.
SilverStar™ screens have a high gain (6.0), which means that they give you a nice, bright picture with excellent contrast, even in rooms with a lot of ambient light. While high-gain screens make for a terrific projected image, many of them have one not-so-small problem: their “viewing cones” are smaller than low and medium-gain screens. “Viewing cone” refers to how wide an angle you can view a screen at and still be able to see the projected images. For example, many low-gain screens have a 180° viewing cone, meaning that you could be positioned at a 180° angle to the screen and still be able to see a clear picture. The thing is that, in most cases, the higher the screen gain is, the narrower the viewing cone becomes, so you need to sit as close to the center as possible to get the best picture. It’s a trade-off.
But not with Vutec’s SilverStar™ screens. Vutec developed a silver-based material that provides multiple optical layers, so you actually get the sharp, bright picture of a 6.0 high-gain screen, with the wide viewing angle of the lower gains. You can get the best picture possible, but still have lots of flexibility in seating options, which comes in handy when you want to watch a movie with more than 2 or 4 people in the room.
It’s the best of both worlds.
Say you have a beautifully decorated living room, the focus of which is a home theater setup of top-of-the-line A/V equipment. Everything looks great… until you notice the straggly audio wires that are leading from your receiver to each of your Surround Sound speakers. An undeniable visual flaw in an otherwise perfectly designed room. How do you fix the situation without spending a small fortune to have a professional run in-wall cabling? With FlatWire, of course.
FlatWire is an incredible new wiring system that is made up of, literally, paper-thin flat cables that adhere to your wall and can actually be painted over. Easy enough for any home DIY’er to work with, FlatWire is completely invisible once installed. The installation process involves a few steps, but they’re all simple, and the results are well worth it. It all starts out with plotting out the placement of your speakers, and then measuring and cutting the cable. Once the cable is cut to size, you apply spray-on adhesive to the marked cable path, then smooth the FlatWire onto the adhesive. From there, the wire is covered with mesh tape and compound, sanded smooth, and finally painted over. And you’re left with a professional-looking home theater for a fraction of the price of paying a pro installer.