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Annual Home Improvement Issue

you’ve been collecting an array of electronic gadgets and
equipment as technology changes every few months. And now you’re
thinking about making a room to house all of these items. Here’s
what you need to know to build a useful media room of any size.

makes a great media room?

big-screen, high-definition TV? Surround sound? The latest,
greatest gadgets, such as TiVo or a Moxi?

It’s not
any of the above, not any single electronic device or even any
group of components, according to Carl Schaub, a man who makes his
living designing media rooms.

key ingredient is the design work-the integration of the
components into the room, not a pile of components,” says
Schaub, residential design manager for Ovation, an audio-video
retail business with locations in Louisville and Lexington.

people will have a piece of equipment. They will buy another piece
off the Internet, and buy one on sale down the road. They may see
a review and buy that component or see something a friend has and
buy one. They wind up with a pile of stuff. Each individual
component may be great, but they may not work together or look
good together. The biggest mistake people make is focusing on the
components and not on the room.”

Schaub says, you need to start by analyzing how you want to use
the room and what your vision for that room is. (See “Start
Here: Questions to Ask Yourself”)

people have really good ideas about what they want,” Schaub
says. “From there it is a matter of making the components
interact with the room.”

Ideal Media Room

Here are the characteristics of an ideal media room, according
to Schaub:

  • A flat, drywall
  • Padding on the
    wall in key spots to make the room acoustically dead. One inch of cotton batting
    stapled to the wall covered by designer fabric can do the job well and also
    look good. Schaub recommends pre-fabricated, more expensive acoustical treatments
    only in dedicated theater rooms.
  • Any good carpet-not
    hardwood or tile.
  • Dark-colored
    walls and furnishings: have you ever been in a white movie theater?
  • All the components
    tucked away in a closet or a beautiful cabinet so that all the energy is focused
    on the screen.
  • A single device
    that easily provides all control functions for the user, including lighting.
  • Comfortable
    seating. A key part of the ultimate media room is what you are going to sit

You want to watch in as much luxury as you can afford.

You may also want something that matches your family’s needs.

Brenda and George “Bud” Strickler worked with their
builder to create a distinctive media room when they built
their home in Bowling Green two years ago. The room has a Star
Wars theme-a favorite movie of son Travis, 8. Artist Phillip
Holder hand-painted the mural of a spaceship across one wall.
Then the Stricklers were ready to add the components into
slots in the wall that were pre-cut by their builder.

Although they also have a first-floor great room, the
Stricklers wanted the media room to have space for other
activities. Therefore, in their media room they also included
an island with a sink, a refrigerator, and bar stools. There
is room to eat or to work on a project.

“When we built this house, we had not had a home theater
room and knew we wanted one,” says Brenda. “Our
builder, Larry Smith, had done a media room in his home with a
1950s diner theme, and we wanted something similar to his.
Larry and his wife really came up with the idea.”

The theme was designed largely for Travis, but the location of
the room was designed for the parents. The media room is
located on the second floor on the opposite end of the house
from the master bedroom. As Travis grows into a teenager, he
will be able to entertain his friends in style without
disturbing Mom and Dad.

Equipment & Trends

Once you have a media room designed, you will probably have to
purchase equipment. To help you make sense of all the options, we
spoke with several other experts who provided information on the
latest equipment and trends, and offered a glimpse into the
future. They are Randy Sukow, principal technology editor for the
National Rural Telecommunications Co-operative (NRTC); Bernardin
Arnason, vice president of business and technology for the
National Telephone Cooperative Association (NTCA); and Matt
Swanston, spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association.

Here is what they said about various components:

HDTV (High Definition Television)
: Doubles the standard color
television picture resolution and incorporates compact
disk-quality digital sound. Also changes the proportions of the TV
picture from the nearly square dimensions of current TV screens to
the wide-screen shape of movies.

Advantage: Incredible, almost lifelike picture quality and sound.

Disadvantages: A limited number of programs available in HDTV and
a limited number of cable companies broadcasting HDTV programming,
as it requires a separate channel from traditional analog
programming. In addition, the cost of an HDTV set, while coming
down, is still significantly higher than traditional sets.

Personal Video Recorder
: New type of product that records
broadcast television onto a hard drive much like the hard drive on
a computer. Two brand-name operating systems are out right now-TiVo
and Microsoft Ultimate TV-with more brands expected soon. They
allow you to record television programs without the need for
videotapes or a VCR, record two programs airing at the same time,
pause live programs, and participate in polls. They even track the
kind of programming you record and offer suggestions of other
programs you might want to catch.

Advantage: Someone else does the recording for you, so you don’t
have to fret with programming a VCR or be concerned about the

Disadvantage: A monthly fee is required to get the latest
programming guide downloaded to your controller regularly.

Moxi: Resembling a DVD player from the outside, this powerful
little device can perform the functions of a personal video
recorder, a DVD/audio CD player, and a lot more. For example, it
can hold all your digital photos and home movies in its hard

The hype about it says that it “hopes to replace half your
media gadgets and control the rest.”

Advantage: One device for multiple entertainment needs.

Disadvantages: You get it through your satellite TV provider at a
monthly fee. It is not yet available in most areas of Kentucky.

DVD (Digital Video Disk)
: Resembling the compact disks (CDs) that
play music, DVDs play movies with digital quality in both picture
and sound-a big step up from traditional tape. DVDs also typically
come with other fun extras such as the original trailers that were
shown with classic movies, song tracks, or inside scoops about the
actors or the filming process. One manufacturer, Pioneer, recently
came out with a DVD player that also lets you record your own DVDs.

Advantages: Superior, theater-like quality. Also, you can jump
around on the drive like you can on a CD, eliminating the need to
rewind and review to get to the correct program. You can also
store or delete programs.

Disadvantage: Your videotaped movies won’t work on a DVD player.

Satellite Dishes
: The conventional large C-band satellite has
evolved into an 18-inch digital dish. Both beam programs from a
satellite in space.

Advantages: An array of channels is available, 500 or more in some
markets. With the new digital dishes, the quality is like playing
a DVD or CD with no snow or ghosting. Also, in some markets, you
can purchase high-speed Internet access through the satellite
provider as well. Available in rural areas.

Disadvantage: The monthly fee is typically more than cable.

Cable: Now a fixture in many homes, traditional cable has also
gone digital. Many cable companies are also offering high-speed
Internet services, allowing you to purchase both from a single
provider with a single bill.

Advantages: Generally the least expensive way to get multiple
channels of programming. Available in virtually all urban areas.

Disadvantages: Not available to many rural customers. In addition,
if you opt to receive your cable and Internet access from one
company, when the cable goes out, you may lose both your cable and
Internet simultaneously.

A Networking Future

Few people are brave enough to predict trends since so much is
occurring on so many fronts. All our experts agreed on one point,
however: the future is in networking-the ability to connect
multiple components together in the home.

“People think of home networks in terms of PCs now,”
says Matt Swanston, spokesperson for the Consumer Electronics
Association, an independent association representing hundreds of
electronics manufacturers. “In the future, a home network can
turn on and off the lights from a remote location or help you
watch the kids in a different room. Electronic ‘plumbing’ will
enable you to pull entertainment from whatever device you are

Bernardin Arnason with the National Telephone Cooperative
Association (NTCA) agrees.

“One of the trends we’re seeing is the idea of networked
homes, not just with computers but other entertainment devices and
other appliances,” he says. “We are already seeing
washing machines and refrigerators with Internet access. They
monitor themselves. If they need service, they can communicate
with a service organization without you even knowing. In some
areas, techies are already using technology to monitor their
air-conditioning systems at home while they are at work. It is
futuristic stuff, but it is here. It’s just too early to see if it
will become mainstream.”

All our experts believe the biggest boon for consumers will be
more choices.

“Technology is empowering consumers with more choices, giving
you the ability to dictate what you want, when and where you want,
to improve your quality of life,” says Arnason. “Right
now, your only choice is whether to take advantage of what is
being offered. In the future, you will have more of an ability to
dictate how things are presented to you.”

And of course, the idea is to have fun.

“The fun thing about consumer electronics is that companies
take risks,” says Sukow. “Sometimes an offbeat idea
takes off, and the thing everybody thought was a trend flops.
There’s always some new idea to watch.”

Start Here:

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • How many people
    are going to use the room?
  • Is the room
    just for movies, just for sports, or will it be a multi-purpose room?
  • Do you have
    the ability to control the lighting-in other words, to have the room completely
  • What are the
    dimensions of the room?
  • What is the
    ceiling like? This is a key question. If you have a cathedral ceiling or the
    ceiling is vaulted, it changes the acoustical qualities.
  • What is the
    floor covered with? Carpeting? Hardwood? Tile? Each resonates sound differently.
    Carpet is by far the best.


We’ve provided a listing of terms and definitions, available
online at

Media Room Online Help

For a list of Web sites on various equipment for media rooms, go
online to

Equipment List for Media Rooms

A good media room doesn’t have to be expensive, just well thought
out. Here’s a list of equipment Carl Schaub of Ovation recommends
for three levels of media rooms.

Basic Media Room-$4,000-$10,000

  • Large 36-inch
    TV or small 45-55-inch big-screen TV with wide-screen shape
  • Surround-sound
  • DVD player
  • VCR
  • Satellite receiver
  • Touch-pad control
  • 5 speakers plus
    a subwoofer

Moderate Media

  • Big-screen TV
    (65″ very popular)
  • Surround-sound
    receiver plus lighting control device
  • DVD changer
    that stores DVDs
  • VCR
  • Satellite receiver
  • TiVo
  • Touch-pad control
  • 6 speakers plus
    a subwoofer
  • Cabinet that
    hides all the components

Ultimate Media Room-$25,000-

(Cost depends on the chairs and the projector selected)

  • TV projector
    on the ceiling
  • TV screen on
    the wall or coming from the ceiling or floor (as large as 12 feet)
  • Surround-sound
  • DVD changer
    that stores DVDs
  • VCR
  • Satellite receiver
  • TiVo
  • Wireless, computer-controlled
    touch pad that operates all the components and the lighting for the room.
    The pad has TV menus with selections programmed for each family member
  • A variety of
    speakers to fit the room
  • Theater seats
    from conventional seats to rocking theater seats. The ultimate is motorized,
    leather reclining theater seats with cup holders
  • A large amplifier
  • A voltage stabilizer
    and power conditioner

Media Room Online Help

A must-see site when purchasing equipment. Sponsored by the
Consumer Electronics Association, the site is divided into five
sections: lighting and window treatments; voice and data
communications; environmental control/energy management;
audio/video entertainment; and security and access control. Each
section includes an extensive list of related sites and products.

Home site of the Consumer Electronics Association. Includes news
from the telecommunications industry as well as tech topics on
subjects such as market research, teleworking, home networking,
accessories, etc.

Mainly designed for industry insiders, this DSL (digital
subscriber line) site also has some valuable information for
consumers, including a buyer’s guide, related sites, drawings for
equipment, and a free newsletter.

Allows you to determine if DSL (digital subscriber line) is
available in your town by typing in your zip code. Other useful
functions include a section called “About DSL,”
directories, and reviews.

Perhaps more than you ever wanted to know, this site includes
product information, support, and resources that are useful for

Includes information on how the system works, tools and resources,
and systems for home and business.

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