Sunday, January 18, 2009

Home Theater System - Part 1

Q: What's harder than deciding what home theater audio receiver to buy?
A: Figuring out where to put it all, and how to hook it all up.

I finally decided on a home theater "in-a-box" system to get: It's the Onkyo HT-S7100. Yes, Tristin, it's the same as your's. After looking at similar models, one which was almost identical, I found a $100-off-sale at Newegg: $100 off, no tax, free shipping. How cool is that? It took 2 weeks (at least) of looking at systems and their operating manuals (with specifications) and trying to decide if each would do what I wanted. I ordered it today, so I can probably expect to be seeing the big box at my front door in the next 5 days or so.

Anyway, my house has a very open floorplan, with the "great room" being open to the kitchen and a large entry in front of the dining area. The "great room" ceilings are vaulted, and are 10' high. Finding a place to put 2 sets of surround speakers was challenging, to say the least. So my plan is now to mount them to the walls. They will be a little high, and slightly higher on one end of the room than the other, but I don't think that will matter a whole lot. Unless you have a room to dedicate to a home theater, there is no practical way to mount these things in a real room.

I spent all afternoon preparing the wiring routes for the "big plan"...which goes like this: On one side of the room is this sloping ("vaulted") ceiling above the back windows. I plan on putting the speakers right before the ceiling slopes -- one between the back door and first window, and one between the first and second window, as shown in the photo below:

If you look carefully, you can see the strings hanging out of the ceiling that will be used to pull the wiring into the attic. You'll also see the patch I had to make because of a mistake on that string on the right (what was above that section of the roof was not something I could fish a wire through). A close-up of this is below:

The wire will come down from above and behind the speaker (I had to fish the wire on the sloping part of the ceiling because of the house's framing).

Then there's the other side, which sports an interesting "beam" arrangement to separate the entry area from the great room:

I'm planning on mounting the speakers to the horzontal beam, one just left of the vertical "post" to the left of the ladder and the other just left of the one to the right of the ladder (essentially, above the ladder). How do we get the wires there though without them being visible? Well, I was able to drill a hole from the attic into the middle of that post to the left of the ladder. Hidden from view (see, it worked) is a hole on each side just above that horizontal beam that, again, has a string fished into the attic for the wire. It looks like this:
(the bolt attached to the string is to prevent frustration and obscenities that would occur should the string get pulled back into the attic without the wire being attached first) What I'm planning to do is staple the wire out-of-sight up on that beam, and then come down to the speaker, so very little of the wire will be visible.

Easy, huh? Well, no. Working in my attic is like trying to do acrobatics in an booby-trapped obstacle course. The activity today took place in this area near the air conditioning unit, and next to a huge skylight (that insulated "wall" on the right):
In that space right below the air conditioning ducts in the front is where the string from the post got pulled through (was thankfully able to get my drill, wood boring bit, and an extension there without too much trouble). Finished product looks like this:
(the white pipe is the air conditioner drain line...) The strings from the area above the windows came up along the roofline, and I have them tied to a pseudo-truss, again to avoid an "oh, sh*t" moment... You can kind of see the strings in the first attic photo. What I'm doing another day, because I already pretty much know what I'm in for with that, is getting it back down to the TV. Getting it there means going through this mess:

See where the big ducts drop off and go down way off in the distance? About 3' below that is where I have to bring my drill and all the wires. Oh, joy. I'm already feeling the effects of breathing fiberglass insulation and boric acid dust (from the over-zealous exterminator) and this was all I dared do today.

The front speakers? That is a whole nother story. Basically I was looking at my set-up, and thought that I'd just rearrange the shelves so they could hold the new 14" tall speakers (instead of on top where the existing speakers are):
After spending the evening rearranging everything, I realized what a pointless idea this had become, particularly in terms of having enough space to keep everything. So I basically undid the shelf changes, and the new speakers will go on top of the shelving units like the existing speakers are. Yes, the audiophiles among us will cringe but again I present to you a real room. There is no room to put the speakers anywhere else - not even on floor stands (the subwoofer is going to the right of the rightmost set of shelves - I made space there). The good news is that all the work I did allowed me to rearrange things and ultimately clean things up a little. It looks better now.

So all afternoon and all night, to get ready for the upcoming home theater in a box. If I had speaker wire all run it would feel like I accomplished something. Right now, I have lots of strings coming out of various places in the room, and having to look forward to running 4 wires down the wall behind the TV.

Because I had the camera out, I'd like to wrap-up a couple of loose-ends from other comments I've made. First, here's a close-up of the TiVo HD with the tuning adapter on top. It still works well.

I am going to refrain from talking about my recent conversations with TiVo about my letter explaining the frustrations you've read about here, or with TW about my completely fsck'd-up bill (they made it better, but it's still a mystery where they got the numbers from).

The other is a completely off-topic remark. There is a stray cat in the neighborhood that is so friendly that we pretty much consider him a "community cat." One of the neighbors has pretty much adopted the guy and he stays at (in?) their home most of the time, and they feed him now. They called him "Riff Raff" and he's such a great guy I had to include him in one of these postings. What you don't realize is how hard it was to take this picture. Riff Raff is so friendly and is so excited to get attention that it is very hard to get him to sit still long enough to take his picture. This cat is funny - as soon as he sees me pull into the garage, he just strolls across the street, meowing all the way across, until he gets to me.

Yes, obviously I have a soft spot for cats. You'd never know that though, would you? :-)

Well, at 5am, it is now time for bed. Okay, past time for bed. Tomorrow is another day (by tomorrow, I mean today).

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