Archive for the ‘Home theater’ Category

Protect your electronics from heat damage by installing a cooling fan in your entertainment center

01 Jun

Entertainment center exhaust fanReach your hand behind your receiver or TV. Do you notice that it’s warmer back there? You’re feeling the residual heat given off by hard-working electronic devices. Unfortunately, high temperatures contribute to the failure of all kinds of small electronic components, from printed circuit boards to resistor, capacitors, and batteries. It’s a conundrum: audio and video electronics produce heat, and yet heat is seriously hazardous to their health. Between the receiver, two video-game consoles, and the TiVo, my entertainment center can get quite hot, especially during the summer. Since the TiVo (and, to a lesser extent, the consoles) is on at all times, it never really cools down inside the cabinet.

Computer designers tackled this problem long ago: most PCs include a rear exhaust fan and one or more open grills near floor level to admit fresh air so the computer does not overheat. Now that we’re putting PC-style devices in our living rooms, we need to treat the entertainment center like a giant PC case.

To keep my equipment cool, I installed an exhaust fan in the back of my entertainment center. Adding an exhaust fan that pushes air out of the case creates an effective negative pressure in the case and draws in new air from every open point. Of course, you need an inlet hole for air to enter the case for this process to work. Hot air rises, so you want an exhaust hole near the top to remove heated air and an inlet hole near the bottom of your container to draw in cooler air.

You spent a lot of money on this stuff! Make sure your equipment keeps working for as long as possible by keeping its critical parts cooled. All you need to do is cut a minor hole in the back of your entertainment center, find a suitable fan, and decide how to power it. I promise to make it simple. Read the rest of this entry »


The System: How to choose a movie to watch, democratically

27 Jun

DVD library

In theory, getting a group of friends to agree on a movie to watch should be easy. After all, you and your friends probably have similar tastes and interests or you wouldn’t be friends in the first place. So why is it so hard to choose a movie?

Perhaps it’s because we have so many choices these days. If you have only five movies to choose from, it’s a lot easier to express a preference confidently than if you have 1,000 to choose from. With on-demand streaming services like Instant Watch (from Netflix), your choices often aren’t restricted to the DVDs in front of you, either. With more choices comes more headaches. Reaching a consensus rarely works; all it takes is for one person to disagree and you end up with a stalemate (or else that one friend is sitting in the corner wishing he had stayed home and balanced his checkbook instead). Regardless of the cause, it’s a problem that all sociable people have to deal with.

Fret no more. I am here to teach you The System, the time-honored democratic method my friends and I have developed to choose a movie to watch. It works best with at least four people, and all you need are pens, paper, and movies to choose from. Once you’ve learned it, you can use The System to settle all kinds of choice-based disagreements. Read the rest of this entry »


The last set of speaker cables you’ll ever need

24 Jun

Banana plugs on audio cableNo price is too high for premium audio equipment if you’re an audiophile (pronounced “crazy person”). I appreciate expensive equipment but have no interest in spending lots of money for minimal improvements in sound quality. After a while, the features these folks lust after sound like ad executives playing Mad Libs. Gold-plated speaker connections? Vibration-proof turntables? Wooden, “tone-enhancing” volume knobs?

I once visited a man who had built an addition to his house solely for his stereo system. His speakers were taller than he was. From the floorboards to the ceiling, he had chosen all the structural materials based on their acoustic properties. He even had a separate electrical feed in order to isolate his power supply from any fluctuations caused by home appliances. All this overkill struck me as a bizarre fetish, but he loved his work. And overkill or not, I’ve never heard music sound better than it did at his house.

I doubt I’ll ever take my stereo that far, but I’ll keep upgrading my equipment on the cheap as opportunities arise. I stumbled across a tutorial at DIY Audio Projects on building audiophile-grade speaker cables and decided to try it out. The result: much better speaker cables than the thin RadioShack wires I’d been using since high school. These things are handsome and heavy-duty; you’ll never wish for a new set of speaker cables again (assuming that’s the sort of thing you wish for).

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Convincing your parents to get a TiVo Premiere and explaining how to set it up

06 Jun

TiVo logoIf your friends or relatives ask for your advice on their new HDTV, you can just send them here. I already wrote out the directions, so you might as well use them.

Friends don’t let friends watch nothing but standard-definition on an HDTV. I owed my parents no less, I thought. Forget that they have always resisted my campaigns to have them buy new gadgets that I thought they would enjoy. As always, this was for their own good.

They took to the DVR revolution rather well. It didn’t take them long to fall in love with their original TiVo (Series 2) and fill it with episodes of NCIS and WWII specials. Getting them to transition to a larger TV took longer, but now they’re equally thrilled with that, too.

It follows that I, never content to let them remain happy with what they have, pointed out that they still needed a new cable box or TiVo to actually watch anything in HD. I saw no point suggesting a Blu-ray player (DVDs are plenty) or a mere antenna (no going back once you’ve had a DVR). I figured their brand loyalty would make TiVo the best option, since cable-company DVRs never work as smoothly. I left out BluRay, media computers, and the old-fashioned antenna actual insisted that they needed an HD TiVo. Read the rest of this entry »