Home Entertainment Tips And Tricks
Home Entertainment Tips And Tricks
Jeff Colen (President, A Sharper Home, Inc.) gives expert video advice on: What one component should I not skimp on and why?; How are people using media in their homes?; What types of control systems are becoming popular? and more...
What's the best tip you have for buying a new TV?
The top tip that I have when purchasing a TV is to make sure you understand how far away you're going to be when you're watching the TV. Remember, you want to pick a TV that the height of the TV is one third to one quarter the viewing distance you have. So, for example, a 5 inch TV is 3 inches tall. If you're sitting more than 9 to 12 inches away, you'd want to consider a larger TV. If you're sitting closer than that, you want to consider a smaller TV, a 42 inch or a 37 inch, and that ratio holds true most of the time. The only time I'd vary on that is if your room is exceptionally large or small, or if you have a lot of other things on the wall where you're hanging the TV, because that will impact how it appears visually. A bigger wall calls for a bigger TV. A wall that has a lot of material on it or a low ceiling, you'd want to get a slightly smaller TV.
What's the best tip you have for an advanced user?
For the advanced users out there, I highly recommend that you route all of your audio and your video through your AV receiver. When you're purchasing an AV receiver, make sure you're getting one that's going to allow you to do things like incorporate digital video in there, that has the HDMI connections in the back. By routing everything through your AV receiver and using that as an AV switch, you minimize the number of components that have to turn and switch inputs and outputs all at the same time. The result of that means that it will consistently provide the right audio and video at the same time.
Can you give us some trade secrets?
Most plasma TVs, not all but most, share common glass. In other words, they're giant sheets of glass that go into the TVs. They're only made at a few manufacturing facilities in the world, and what happens are the different TV companies purchase the raw material, the actual glass and the underlying electronics from the same manufacturers, and rebrand it as their own, and they add a few extra pieces that relate - maybe is specific to themselves but that's pretty much it. So a lot of times when you're out there looking around at different types of TVs, remember you're probably looking at the same manufacturer of the glass. Another trade secret if you will, is that cabling - there is no inherent advantage in spending tons of money on speaker cabling. The most important thing about speaker cabling is that A) it's made out of a copper, and B) it's relatively inexpensive to purchase. There are a number of cables out there that can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars that really don't add value to most users that are buying them.
Can I build a home entertainment system for less than $1000?
If you're looking to put together a system for under $1000, I would go with a component-based system. I would look to spend up to $400 or $500 on the receiver, the DVD and the remote control. Then I would spend an additional $400 or $500 on the speaker set. So roughly break down half and half between speakers and the AV receiver and source equipment. It's important to purchase good speakers, bottom line. If you want to have a great experience with your system, the better the speaker, the better the experience generally.
What one component can bring my current system up to date?
If there is any one particular component that you would replace in your current system after buying a new TV, you'd look to your AV receiver because more than likely that is the one piece of equipment that in the last five years has changed the most, and where the price point has fallen almost as dramatically as the TV prices have. By purchasing a new AV receiver, you are going to get benefits like surround sound processing which only existed in very expensive receivers just five years ago. You'll get multizone capabilities that will allow you to play one type of music in one particular part of your house and then play a different audio in another part of your house. You'll get capabilities that will allow you to do sound customization to program a room to set up it up correctly, set up your audio correctly, built into the receiver itself and finally you will be able to process and handle high definition video content which you could only do in very expensive receivers only a couple of years ago.
What one component should I not skimp on and why?
If there was one component I would say "Do not skimp out on," it would be your remote control. The reason for that is that if you do not buy a remote control, then it can totally detract from your audio and video listening experience. No one enjoys sitting down and trying to work a system that looks complicated or is frustrating to use, and frankly when you're sitting down you just want it to work. The remote control is probably the linchpin that makes it all hang together.
Where can I save money when buying an entertainment system?
There are a couple of areas where you could save some money on not getting the top of the line as you buy your entertainment system. First and foremost would be the cabling and the interconnects, which is essentially those cables that connect up the different components. You want to make sure you get decent cables, but they don't need to be super-expensive cabling. Once again, speaker wire is just copper with rubber around the outside. You could use lamp cord and it would still work just as well for most systems. So cabling and interconnects are the number one spot where people overspend on home entertainment systems. Number two spot where they overspend: fancy surge protectors. You want to look for surge protectors that provide protection against surges. Unless you have a bad electrical source, which typically is exhibited by weird colors or a hum on your system, you don't need to get a fancy electrical surge protector that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. You can get one that costs $30 or $40. Those are two areas where you could skimp and not hurt the performance of your system. A third area to consider where you could save some money is on a DVD player. Most of the DVD players, non-high-definition DVD players out on the market today under $100 do a perfectly adequate job of giving you a great picture and great audio for your system. So you don't need to spend hundreds of dollars on a standard DVD player or thousands of dollars on a standard DVD player. Those are the three areas I think you could save the most on.
What do you wish your clients knew?
I take the the biggest mistake that we see out there are people buying the wrong equipment for how they like to watch TV or listen to music. They get the wrong size TV. They get the wrong resolution TV. The buy the wrong types of speakers for their particular stereo system, those kinds of mistakes. I wish my clients would spend a little more time working with a firm like ours or any professional installer out there to really understand what their option are before they go out and spend the money. I can't tell you how many times I've spoken to a client after they have already gone out a purchase equipment and their calling me basically help them get it into their house or figure out how it all works together when we could have saved them a lot of money up front by advising them on a different course of action.
What are "touch panels" and what can they do?
The latest thing that we're selling a lot of are touch panels. Remote controls typically are one way - press a button and something happens. But there's very little feedback that comes back to the remote control saying this is the channel that I'm on or the tv is on or off, or this is why we're watching it. It's sort of sends the command and you hope that everything is working.The latest, or the thing we are selling a lot more of, is the two-way touch panel interfaces where I cant not only turn the lights on and off, but I can also see the lights at sixty percent. I can adjust it in real time up and down. I can do things like bring up video surveilance cameras. I can move them around on the screen and they will move as I move my finger around on the screen. So those are sort of the newer technologies that the price has gotten to the point where people are buying them and putting them in their houses.
How are people using media in their homes?
We are seeing more and more media rooms. What we're also seeing a lot more of is distributed audio and video across the house. People are buying their iPods, and they want to hear them around the house, and there's a lot of neat enabling technology that'll allow that to happen. We're also doing a lot of retrofits in people's existing houses, putting audio across the house so they can enjoy music again. It's a really nice thing. It really is. So, that's big, and then integrating your computer with your TV is another big area. People want to use their monitor as a giant screen for their computer or their laptop, and being able to sit there in your comfortable theatre chair with a wireless keyboard and mouse, surf the net, check out YouTube, www.youtube.com, and do other things like that, is a great thing. We're seeing more convergence along those lines. With the hi-def DVDs and the Blu-Ray DVD players, there's a lot of merging between watching something on the screen and then getting background notes, for example, on the movie. Something that's coming (it's not here yet) is the ability to watch a DVD and then, say, press a button to say, "Would you like to view another one by this artist, or by this director?" and then download that video from Blockbuster or Netflix or some other provider of DVD material. That's coming; where these things will merge together and there'll be less of a distinction between a computer, a stereo, and a TV.
What types of control systems are becoming popular?
The coolest stuff is the control technologies because it used to be so unreliable, and so complicated, and so expensive to install it. When we did them, we always did them with a little bit of fear and loathing because they were really hard to support on our end, and what's happening is we're seeing a revolution on that front. In the way that the digital portable players have changed how people listen to music, these control systems are really going to change how you view your house, how you do entertainment in the house, and how you control your house. So, that's probably the most exciting piece of our puzzle right now.
What can I do if my remote stops working?
If you're ever having a massive problem with your remote control, check the batteries. It's the first thing to look at, because ninety percent of the time if you haven't been touching anything and you haven't changed anything out in your system and all of a sudden your remote control stops working, then the problem is probably the batteries have gone south.
What do I do if the picture on my TV freezes?
Pull the power cord out of the back of the box and plug it back in again. Your box is probably locked up. A cable tuner or a satellite tuner is nothing more than a pretty primitive computer, and like any computer, it sometimes freezes. That's generally what's going on with that particular system.
What are the advantages of a universal remote?
This is a "universal remote control." It allows me to control all of these different pieces of equipment that you have in your stereo system at the press of one button. It's all in one device. It replaces things like individual remote controls for your DVD player, and for your TV set, and for your stereo, and for your cable tuner box and for anything else that you might have in your system. I can program one stick, if you will, that lets me do all the adjustments; change channels, turn things on and off, and do so without having to hunt around for the correct settings and all these different other remotes. Now, this is not inexpensive which makes it probably one of the most overlooked pieces of your stereo system. However, I highly recommend if you are out there and you're looking to put together a well thought out, well integrated system, that you take the time to buy a good universal remote and also get it programmed correctly.