Is HDTV Really Important for a Home Theater?

If you are planning a home theater, you should have an HDTV as part of your setup in order to take best advantage of the home theater viewing experience.

Availability of HDTV Broadcasts
HDTV programming is widely available, with HDTV broadcast, cable, and satellite service increasing in availability across the country. Also, the audio that is supplied with HDTV video is often encoded with surround sound, which takes further advantage of your surround sound receiver.

The Progressive Scan Factor
Another twist in the setup is that even though DVD is not a high resolution format, HDTVs can display what is referred to as a progressive scan signal. This enables you to get the most out of your DVD player (most players can output progressive scan which gives the viewer a smoother film-like image when shown on a progressive-scan capable television).

DVD Upscaling
In addition, most DVD players also have HD-upscaling capability, which takes further advantage of high definition capabilities of an HDTV.

The Blu-ray Factor
Another reason to incorporate an HDTV into your home theater setup is Blu-ray. Blu-ray Disc players are widely available and very affordable. Blu-ray takes full advantage of the capabilities of HDTV, superceding upscaled DVD with respect to image detail, especially when viewing on large a LCD or Plasma TV, or on projection screens. For more information on how Blu-ray can benefit your HDTV and Home Theater experience.

The 4K Factor
In addition to the importance of HDTV in a home theater setup, another factor has entered the picture, 4K Ultra HD TV. Although 4K programing sources are not as common HD sources, and 4K content is not accessible from traditional broadcast sources (for those that receive their TV programming over-the-air via antenna), there is a steady growth of a available Ultra Hi-res content via streaming (Netflix, including forthcoming Roku support), and soon via satellite, as well as a forthcoming Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format that should arrive by the end of 2015.

Also, all 4K Ultra HD TVs provide upscaling for lower resolution signals – so HDTV content can look better than on an Ultra HD TV (depending on how well the Ultra HD TV performs upscsaling functions).

HD and 4K Streaming
Depending on your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and broadband speed, the ability to access High Definition and 4K via streaming is on the rise. For example, Netflix makes much of its content available in HD, and now offers some 4K streaming of select titles. Also, services such as Vudu and Amazon Instant Video offer a lot of HD content. So, if you have either a HD or 4K Smart TV, or a network media player or media streamer that is connected to a non-smart HD or 4K TV, and you have the appropriately fast broadband connection, you can multiply your HD or 4K viewing options for your home theater setup that can be viewed on an HD or 4K Ultra HD TV.

With all of the above ways to access HD content, if you don’t yet have an HDTV in your setup yet – you are missing out on getting the best possible TV viewing experience.


Some Home Theater Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

You spent a ton of money and time setting up your new home theater system, but something just doesn’t seem right. Did you make any mistakes? To find out, check out my list of common mistakes many of us make when trying to put together a home theater environment.

Buying the Wrong Size Television
Everyone wants a big TV, and with the average screen size purchased by consumer is 50-inches, a lot of larger screen sets are finding places in many households. However, an excessively large TV is not always best for a particular size room or viewing distance.

A good rule of thumb to follow is that the minimum optimum viewing distance from the viewer to an analog or standard definition TV screen (if you still have one) should be about 2 times the width of the TV screen, and for an HDTV (720p/1080p) the optimum viewing distance is about 1-1/2 times the width of the television screen. In other words, if you have a 50-inch Plasma or LCD HDTV, you should sit about 5 to 6 feet from the screen. If you sit too close to a TV screen, (although you won’t damage your eyes as your mother told you), there is a greater chance that you may see the line or pixel structure of the image, along with any processing artifacts, which can not only be distracting, but uncomfortable.

However, today’s trend towards 4K Ultra HD TV does provide a better viewing experience at closer seating distances than previously available, as the pixels on the screen are much smaller in relation to screen size, making its structure much less noticeable at closer viewing distance (perhaps as close as just a little over one times the screen width).

To determine the best screen size option for your TV, first, make sure you take stock of the space the TV is to be placed in. Measure both the available width and height available – also, measure the seating distance(s) from the screen that you have available to view the TV.

The next step is to take both your recorded measurements and your tape measure to the store with you. When at the store, view your prospective TV at several distances (in accordance to your measurements), as well as to the sides, to determine what distances and viewing angles, in relation to the screen, will give you the best (and worst) viewing experience. Base you TV size buying decision on the combination of what looks best to you in relation to your available space.

The Room Has Windows
Most TVs do fine in a semi-lit room – however, darker is better, especially for video projectors. Never place your TV on a wall opposite windows. If you have curtains to cover the windows, make sure they cannot pass light through into the room when they are closed.

Buying Cheap Speakers
Some spend a small fortune on audio/video components, but don’t give enough thought on the quality of the loudspeakers and subwoofer. This doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands for a modest system; but you should consider speakers that can do the job. With many choices, it may seem difficult, but the best thing to do is to actually listen to speakers at a dealer (or get an extending tryout period from online-only dealers) before you buy. Do your own comparisons. Take your own CDs and DVDs with you to hear what they sound like with various speakers.

Unbalanced Speaker Levels
You’ve connected and placed the speakers, turned everything on, but nothing sounds right; the subwoofer overwhelms the room, dialog can’t be heard over the rest of the soundtrack, the surround sound effect is too low. This is easily solved. Most Home Theater receivers have a setup menu that allows you to note the size, as well as the distance of the speakers from the prime listening position, but also includes a test tone generator to assist in adjusting the sound output level of each speaker.

Buying by Brand or Price, Instead of What You Really Want
Although considering by brand is a good starting point, it does not guarantee that the “top” brand for a particular item is right for you. When shopping, make sure you consider a variety of brands, models, and prices into consideration. Also, avoid prices that seem to be too good to be true. Although a high-priced item is not necessarily a guarantee of a good product, more often that not, that “door buster” AD item will not be able to fill the bill, in terms of performance or flexibility.

Cable Mess
We are all guilty of this. Every time a new component is added to our home theater, we add more and more cables. Eventually, it is difficult to keep track of what is connected to what; especially, when you attempt to track down a bad cable signal or move the components around.

Here are three tips:
1. Make sure your cable runs are not too long; but long enough to allow easy access to your components.
2. Label your cables using colored tape or other marking so you know what is going where.
3. Take advantage of any wireless connection options that may be available.

Using Cheap Cables
There is constant debate on whether it is necessary to purchase very high priced cables for a basic home theater system. However, one thing to consider is that the thin, cheaply constructed cables that come with many DVD players, VCRs, etc… probably should be replaced by something that is a little more heavy-duty. The reasons are that a more heavy duty cable can provided better shielding from interference, and will also stand up over the years to any physical abuse that occurs along the way. On the other hand, there are also some outrageously priced cables. For instance, although you shouldn’t settle for cheaply made cables, you don’t have to resort to spending few more for a 6-foot HDMI cable either.

Not Getting Professional Help When You Need It
You have done everything you can – you’ve connected it all, you set the sound levels, you have the right size TV, used good cables – but it still isn’t right. The sound is terrible, the TV looks bad. Instead of spending more time and money, or returning it all, first check out the Tips and Tools Section on this Website to see if it is something that you may have overlooked or can resolve yourself. If you are unable to correct the problem(s), then consider calling a professional installer to assess the situation. You might have to swallow your pride and pay some amount, but that investment can salvage a home theater disaster and turn it into home theater gold. Also, if you are planning a custom installation, definitely consult a home theater installer. You provide the room and budget; the home theater installer can provide a complete component package for access to all desired audio and video content.


Benefits of Automating Your Home

We live in a time unlike any other. With so many technological advancements at our fingertips, our lives are made easier, which is fortunate considering the fast-paced lives most of us lead. In recent years, great strides have been made in making homes a bit more “tech savvy.” This technology, in short, allows the homeowner to run his or her home while away through a remote, often on a Smartphone or iPad. In fact, these homes have been labeled as being “smart,” due to the fact that they can seemingly think on their own. This ability to “think,” also known as being an automated home, helps homeowners in a number of ways. What are the ways in which a home automation system can benefit you?

Adds Safety Through Appliance and Lighting Control
Another home automation advantage is added safety for both your family and home. You have the ability to control the small appliances and lighting, again with the simple tap of your finger on your favorite technological device. You can always check to make sure your daughter turned off her curling iron or ensure that your oven has been flipped off from the morning family breakfast. Your home and family also enjoy an added measure of safety through your ability to control the lights in your home. Not only does this allow you to make sure lights are off when you are gone to save electricity, it also allows you to turn them on at specific times if you would like it to look like you are home. This also helps increase the safety and security of your home.

Secures Home Through Automated Door Locks
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of an automated system in your home is automated door locks. How often have you left for work in the morning only to realize that you forgot to lock your front door? Through an automated system, you can lock your doors with the tap of your finger. This quickly eases your mind, so you can focus on your day’s work rather than who may or may not be entering your home. This is also a great benefit for you if you have to leave to work before your children leave for school. Often, children run out the door to catch the bus and forgot to lock the door. You can easily have control of the situation by locking the door from your office each day. The fact that you can be alerted each time someone enters your home also allows you to monitor who is entering your home at all times, even when you are not there.

Increases Awareness Through Security Cameras
Unfortunately, we just cannot be everywhere at once. This means that we often miss things that happen, perhaps even in our own home or yard. With a home automation system, you can easily see what is happening. Now you can make sure no unwelcome guests arrive unbeknownst to you or your family. Security cameras increase family safety by recording clips when detecting movement or at specific times of the day or night.

Increases Convenience Through Temperature Adjustment
Often, we leave for work early in the morning and forget to adjust our thermostat. As a result, we come home to a house that is severely too hot or too cold. This is inconvenient, as it usually takes a good amount of time for the household temperature to increase or decrease after being adjusted. However, with a home automation system, you can simply adjust the thermostat from the convenience of your office a few hours before heading home. This is both cost effective and saves on energy, and it helps you stay “on top of” your life when you have run out the door first thing in the morning without considering much else besides arriving to work on time.

Saves Time
It is no secret that today’s world is busier than in days past. If you are like most people, you are constantly running from place to place, working to accomplish everything on your never-ending “to-do” list. Because of the high-tech nature of a home automation system, you never have to worry about running home to open the door for your children after school or making a quick stop at home in order to adjust household items. In short, you easily save precious time and experience more daily productivity.

Saves Money and Increases Convenience
As mentioned earlier, a home automation system saves money. The most beneficial impact the system will have is on your monthly utility bill. No longer will you be spending money for household appliances left on in your family’s absence. You will also save on gas costs, as you will never need to stop by the house in order to turn something off or on. This is certainly convenient. You will have complete control to make sure costs are low without exerting any additional effort

Contributes to Economy
Simply put, you are contributing to the economy when you purchase and utilize a home automation system. You ensure that you are only using the energy and resources that are necessary while you are home.

Increases Peace of Mind
Perhaps this benefit will not apply to everyone, but for those who habitually worry about whether or not they have taken care of everything at home before leaving for the day, a home automation system is a perfect investment. In short, it offers peace of mind. This is quite beneficial for those individuals who leave each day, obsessively worrying if everything is in order. With so many stresses in daily life, it is nice to take at least one off the list by being able to see what is going on at home without physically being there.

Allows You Control When Out of Town
Have you ever gone out of town and given a key to a neighbor? Many do this in order to allow the neighbor to perform household chores that cannot be neglected such as feeding the plant, taking care of the dog, or delivering the mail. A home automation system allows you just a bit more control than simply turning over a key, which is a great relief to some homeowners. You can easily set up a time for the person to enter your home and let him or her in yourself through your smartphone or iPad.

This allows you to stay in control of the situation. You no longer need to worry about the neighbor losing that key or having complete, unrestrained access to your belongings. In addition, you can make sure the chores are actually being completed, so you do not have any surprises when you return home.

Keeps Tabs On Your Children
Through the home automation system, you can easily keep tabs on your children. You can ensure that they make it safely into the house each night, letting them in without getting out of bed to greet them. You can also see their comings and goings on security cameras, as well as make sure the porch is lit when they arrive home.

This helps you keep them safe, as well as helps you know what they are up to each day, which can be quite helpful for a busy parent. In sum, investing in a home automation system will benefit you in several ways. It is cost effective. It will save you time and energy. And perhaps the most important? It will keep you and your family safe and your home secure.


Guests Revel at Crestron Controlled Hotel Rooms

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Crestron automated room control brings luxurious experience to guests and significant savings to property 

After years in decline, Atlantic City is poised for a rebirth led by Revel, an upscale $2.4 billion resort and casino that opened in April.

Among its amenities are Crestron systems in all guest rooms, meeting rooms and public areas that go far beyond anything previously installed, even in high-end Las Vegas properties.

“This is by far the most sophisticated system in any hotel anywhere in the United States,” says William Schafer, principal of Warwick, NY-based Assurity Design Group. “By integrating all of the hotel’s major systems, including lighting, HVAC, audio/video, door locks, mini bar, shades and drapes, the property dramatically improves the guest experience, simplifies system monitoring and maintenance and has saved nearly $2 million over the cost of installing separate systems.”

Throughout the four years it took to plan, implement and commission this system, Assurity worked hand-in-hand with engineers at Crestron, who developed several new products specifically with this project in mind.  “Revel has definitely set the bar for every hotel in the United States,” adds Schafer.

Automated amenities  

One of the biggest advances that Revel brings to the hotel industry is automation of its sleeping rooms.  The Crestron system goes to work as soon as the guest checks in, automatically setting temperature and lighting levels to comfortable, welcoming levels.

Once in the room, the guest has full control over lights, climate, TV, pay-per-view movies, and the mini bar from a simple, Crestron handheld remote. Press the “Do Not Disturb” button and the doorbell is disabled and a red indicator is displayed outside. Press “Housekeeping” and a green “Service Needed” indicator lights up outside. Before guests leave the room, they can simply turn off all systems with the touch of one button.  In ADA-accessible rooms and suites, the system also provides drapery and shading control.

All of these functions are connected to Revel’s property management system, so that the front desk, reservations, billing, marketing and security can access them as needed. When guests check out, the Crestron management system automatically turns off everything (lights, TV, climate control, etc.) in that room, resulting in significant energy savings.

In addition, each of the guest room systems is constantly monitored for possible problems through Crestron Fusion RV™ software. Assurity staff works in tandem with the IT and facility departments to help maintain and operate these systems, Schafer explains. “They know if there’s a problem in the room, even before the guest notices. For example, if the temperature hits 80 degrees and that’s not how the guest normally likes it, we will check to see if there’s a mechanical problem, an electronics problem, or if the guest desired this temperature.  The system is so comprehensive, Schafer adds, “It will know when the batteries need to be replaced in a remote.”

Although similar systems have been installed in high-roller suites in some Las Vegas hotels, at Revel every one of its 1,898 guest rooms is automated, from standard guest rooms to luxurious loft suites, which feature two stories of windows with spectacular views. Furthermore, this is the first time these systems have been integrated to this degree, and that’s a major advantage to the property.

“As in most other hotels,” Schafer explains, “everyone’s product is networked. You have a mini bar that rides on a wireless network, as does the room key system and a doorbell/room entry system, with each company normally installing its own network and its own server.

“In a building this size, to install those three separate networks, each with its own wiring and parts would have cost close to $2 million more than our solution, which was to integrate everything onto a single Crestron network.”

Another important advantage to Revel’s guest room system is that it can be upgraded very rapidly. “For example, we recently added a sleep timer function similar to what you’d find on a TV remote, except that it turns the lights off in addition to the TV. Once we had written the code and tested it, we were able to upgrade the entire building in about 30 minutes, without the need to visit a single room or disturb a single guest.” Another new feature, which Schafer hopes to implement soon, will save guests’ temperature and lighting preferences, so that when they return for future stays, their room will automatically be set up the way they like it.

Luxury suites

The hotel features five two-bedroom Hospitality Suites and two three-bedroom Sky Suites on its exclusive 44th floor, each with a living room, mini kitchen and bar, two full baths and a dining/conference area.

Each of these suites offers guests a music system with multiple iPod® docs and XM® radio, using a multi-zone Crestron Adagio® media system to allow guests to play what they choose in any room.  The suites also include a wireless Crestron touch screen controller to further simplify the use of the various electronic systems.

Two super-luxurious Sky Suites add a media room, two private massage rooms and a butler’s pantry to the floor plan. In addition to the other amenities, they offer a Crestron DigitalMedia solution that allows guests to watch the same movie on any or all of six large-screen TVs, either from the hotel’s video system or an in-room Blu-ray Disc®  player.

The electronics in the luxury suites represent collaboration between Assurity Design for the electronic amenities and Cerami & Associates of New York City for the audio/video systems, with KMK Technologies of Monroeville, NJ handling the installation.

Conference and common areas

The innovations at Revel continue beyond its guest rooms and suites.

The common and back-of-house areas of the hotel –the lobbies, halls, employee lounges and restrooms– all use centralized Crestron lighting control, together with Crestron dimming systems and occupancy sensors – to maximize their energy efficiency and minimize their carbon footprint.

In addition, Cerami & Associates designed audio/video systems for a conference center and more than a dozen restaurants and bars, all using Crestron DigitalMedia technology, to optimize quality while reducing installation and maintenance costs. These systems also feature Crestron control to simplify operations.

“We have integrated all of these systems with Fusion RV as well, so that Assurity staff can monitor them constantly and anticipate any problems before they occur,” Schafer explains.

For Atlantic City, the opening of Revel is more than the addition of a fancy new hotel and casino. “Governor Christie worked hard to ensure that this property was built here, because he saw it as an opportunity for the state, which it definitely is,” Schafer says.

“Four years ago I started traveling to Atlantic City regularly to work on this project. In those few years I’ve seen a transformation. The city has been revitalized. New homes and condos are being built. Other hotels have watching what Revel has been building, and I think they’ve been saying, ‘we’ve got to pick up our game.’

“Revel is setting the bar, and that’s a great thing for the hotel industry.


What Is Surround Sound and How Do You Get It?

Surround sound is a term applied to several types of processes that enable the listener to experience sound coming from all directions, depending on the source material.

Getting Surround Sound – The Home Theater, AV, or Surround Surround Receiver
To get surround sound, you need a component that can decode and reproduce surround sound from a source, such as a DVD. Most commonly, this component is referred to as an AV Receiver (Audio/Video Receiver), Home Theater Receiver, or Surround Sound Receiver.

A Home Theater, AV, or Surround Sound Receiver usually combines the functions of three components:
1. A radio tuner for AM/FM and, in some cases, HD (High Definition Radio) or XM-Satellite Radio.

2. A Preamplifier that switches and controls which audio and video source is selected (such as a DVD player, VCR, CD player, etc…) and processes the incoming stereo or surround sound signals and distributes them to the correct amplifier channels and the subwoofer output. The preamp in an AV receiver can also route video signals coming from source components (such as a DVD player) and direct the video signal to the television.

3. A built-in Multi-channel amplifier (5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 channels) that sends the surround sound signals and power to the speaker system.

Receiver or Separate Components
The Home Theater receiver is the heart of a home theater system and provides most, if not all, the inputs and outputs that you connect everything, including your television, into. An AV Receiver provides an easy and cost-effective way of centralizing your your home theater system.

However, in many higher-end installations, the functions of a Receiver are often provided by separate components: Preamp/Processor, Tuner, and either a single multi-channel amplifier or even separate amplifiers for each channel. Such a setup provides more flexibility in switching out and/or upgrading the separate aspects of the system as well as isolating any interference that is caused by having all these functions combined in a signal chassis and sharing the same power supply. For the average consumer, however, a good Home Theater, AV, or Surround Sound Receiver will function just fine.

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