Building The Lounge
Months ago we started a journey to turn the rarely used upstairs cave into a swank space call “The Lounge”, a multi-use space for big screen HDTV viewing with a clean craft area at the far end of the room.
We started with having Uncle James install energy efficient windows and me suffering through roles and roles of insulation for the crawl space and walls (itch, itch, itch). I ripped out all the molding and and carpet. We then started to plan colors, lighting, wiring and media center. Since the natural light in the room is very limited we wanted to make sure that we used lots of light color and as much white as we could manage.
We have a new Miller paint store a few blocks away so we jumped right in. My lovely wife started by painting the ceiling “icing” and I finished up with the walls “cyprus”.
Uncle James built us a beautiful new banister with copper stiles. I then installing new molding and trim for the windows, walls, built in entreatment center and the two speaker alcoves. One of the most involved part of the project was painting all the trim, windows, banister and built-ins. We used Acrinamel Gloss that took longer to set but is said to be the toughest, more durable, and washable paint. We did three coats. Thanks to Erika for lending a hand.
We worked with Marion’s Carpets (a challenge) to get an off white stain master hoop and cut carpet. Carpet Carl, the owner, did not like the deal that salesman Charles made with us and tried to cancel even after we put a 50% deposit down. Strangest purchasing situation I’ve even been in. Great deal, bad customer service, overall just a sad experience. The carpet was installed by an independent contractor who did a great job.
Wiring was next. Installed a few new outlets, one more recessed lighting can and a 3-way IR remote control switch (one of the most exciting part of the whole project). While I had holes in the ceiling and was scurrying around in the crawl space I also wired for 5.1 surround sound (4 speaker wires and 1 coax for the sub) and ran two cat-5 cable up from the office cable modem.
Now that The Lounge as a room was done it was time to get the gear. One of the motivators for building the lounge was big switch to digital TV. As you might have read we have been watching HDTV on our laptops for the past year or so but most of our TV viewing was done solo. To start I put together a rough list of what I would need.
To start with I upgrading the home network to 102.11n with an Apple Airport Extreme . I originally thought that it made sense to install a 1TB Time Capsule but the cost premium and a few horror stories led me to pass and just get an external 1TB.
Next came the HDTV. One of our key constrains was the size of our built-in entertainment center. We could not go more than 27″ high by 46.5″ wide. The first issue was plasma vs. LCD. I loved the high contrast of plasma (like the Panasonic Viera TH-42PZ85U) but the brightness, color, high resolution 1080p at 40-42 inches and the good fit as a computer monitor made LCD the better choice. Other requirements included 120Hz refresh rate, high contrast and wide color gammet. I did my research, talked to my buds and narrowed it down to Toshiba 42XV545U and the Samsung LN-40A650. We downloaded content from http://www.w6rz.net/ to see color, motion, contrast and brightness and loaded it up on our Mac to take to the video store. A local place called Video Only had all the models and a knowledgeable staff. We ran the Toshiba and the Samsung through there paces. The picture on the Toshiba just looked better. I also did some follow up on quality and reliability and found better results for the Toshiba. It was also 2″ bigger! After a few prices research I did some negotiation and did the deal to buy the Toshiba 42XV545U. One small rub was that with the pedestal attached the Toshiba was an inch too tall. But I figured that I could just pick up a mounting bracket and attach it to a truss in the back of the entertainment center. As a bonus the whole thing floats in the box and can easily be swung out to get to the back of the box.
Media Center Software
For over a year now we’ve been using EyeTV to watch and record OTA broadcast. We started out with a EyeTV Hybrid USB TV tuner stick but quickly upgraded to a HDHomeRun to watch TV on our laptops over the 802.11g network. Now that we’ve upgraded to an Airport Extreme we have the bandwidth of 802.11n to not have hick-up with 1080i content.
Watching media on a laptop is pretty straight forward. You can pick the application that best suits what you want to watch. Hulu in a browser, live or recorded content in EyeTV, DVD with a player software and music with iTunes. But I really did not want to use a keyboard and mouse with while sitting on the couch. The Mac comes with a simple piece of software called front row that lets you use the included remote to access and control iTunes and DVD content.
But out of the box it does not allow integration with EyeTV.
Another 10 foot interface that I really like is Boxee (built on XBMC). It allows for a simple remote control interface into the most popular streaming content on the web including Hulu and Comedy Central. With a bit of configuration I was able to get it to point to and play the TS files that EyeTV uses to store recorded HDTV. But still not live TV, Preview Guide, or record/pause control that EyeTV gives. But with a little bit of digging and a little bit of hacking I was able to bring it all together.
Using Frontrow as the primary application launcher I have added Boxee and EyeTV to the menu system. Download Boxee then download the FrontRow plug-in (how to). For EyeTV download PyeTV and you can also install ETVComskip to auto skip over the commercials in recorded programs.
Up next… sound and tying it all together with one remote.