How to Tame a Media Room Pt. 2
For those without the space or budget for building a dedicated home theater, a media room can be the best solution. But media rooms typically have several distracting drawbacks that most dedicated rooms don’t. In Part One of this series, I tackled the biggest distraction media-room owners face: Light.
Here we’re going to tackle the second biggest distraction: Visible electronics.
In a dedicated room, whether the lights are on or off, the room is designed to focus all attention on the screen. Whether through a stage, proscenium, curtain, angled walls, color scheme, or rows of carefully positioned seats, a well-designed dedicated theater blocks out all external distractions. And this definitely includes eliminating stacks of distracting electronics.
But it’s different with most media rooms. They not only don’t have the luxury of focusing all attention on the screen, they’re often hampered by having a cabinet filled with electronics sitting below the screen. (I will definitely cop to being guilty of this design issue.) Besides taking away from the look of the room, a rack full of electronics features an array of blinking and twinkling lights that are not only distracting but can rob the image of contrast. But with a little planning, your room doesn’t need to be hindered by having all the gear on display.
Solution 1: Hide the Gear
For the most part, the gear doesn’t care where it lives. Give your electronics a place with nice ventilation and they’re just as happy being in a closet or equipment room on the other side of the house as they are right below the TV. Obviously, wiring costs are more expensive since you’ll need longer cable runs, and some items—such as a 4K-capable HDMI-over-Cat6 balun—can be costly. But this is a small, one-time price to pay for an eternity of uncluttered space.
The bigger issue is controlling the gear. Since it will no longer be right in front of you, you obviously won’t be able to just point a remote at the system. Fortunately, this is a simple and easy proposition that doesn’t have to break the bank. And, honestly, if you’re working with a media designer/installer that hasn’t made a universal control system part of your bid, RUN!
The least expensive solution is an infrared control system. These are readily available, cost about $250, and work with any brand of remote control.
But it’s far more reliable to use a control system that communicates via radio frequency (RF). These systems don’t require pointing at an infrared target and often incorporate advanced features like RS-232 and IP control over electronics, giving two-way feedback such as which source is selected and displaying the current volume level. Also, many RF systems can be integrated into a larger whole-home automation system, letting you also control your lights, HVAC, security, etc. Your installer will likely suggest a model from a company like Control4, Crestron, RTI, Savant, or URC.
Solution 2: Ditch Physical Media
With the gear out of sight in another room, no one is going to want to traipse across the house every time they want to put a new movie into the Blu-ray player. And while streaming services like Vudu, Netflix, Amazon, and Apple can provide content in 4K, the highest performance solution is going with a media server like Kaleidescape’s Strato.
We’re big fans of the Strato here at the Roundtable because it delivers all the quality of the physical disc with none of the storage and handling requirements, or the limitations of streaming. Movies are downloaded to your local hard drive, giving you instant access to all your content. Perfect!
Solution 3: Hide the Speakers
At a minimum, a surround sound system will feature 5.1 speakers. But the current trend is to use 11.1 (or more!) speakers for a fully immersive Dolby Atmos system. That is a lot of speakers to conceal in a room. Or is it?
Every speaker manufacturer you can think of designs a series of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. These fit inside standard 2×4 wall cavities and mount flush to the wall or ceiling. And a ton of R & D and technology have gone into these designs to ensure that quality isn’t lost over form. Modern speaker grilles also feature bezel-less designs that call little attention to it. These grilles can then be painted to blend into the wall or ceiling color, virtually vanishing. We’ve even done projects where painters painted the grilles to match the room’s wallpaper!
Speakers can also be installed into cabinetry, columns, or panels, hidden behind acoustically transparent cloth that lets all their sound pass thru unaffected. Some speaker manufacturers like Monitor Audio even make speakers that resemble framed works of art, covered in a variety of prints and images.
In Part 3, I’ll discuss how to overcome the next biggest media-room distraction—the display.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.