Home Technology Demonstration Project

Part 3: Installing Home Theater Equipment

by Bob Hetherington, Editor, HomeToys

Home Toys Home Technology Demo Project Part 3: Installing Home Theater Equipment

Most of us already have some entertainment equipment and some of us have a bit of home automation and networking equipment as well. So ... how do we connect it all together and make it work simply and smoothly ... a challenge for sure ... but not as difficult as you may think.

If you have any ideas to for this project please let me know. That way we can all learn from each other.

Part of the concept of this project is to learn and demonstrate how to put together equipment from many different manufacturers into a system or series of systems that work together in a simple and efficient manner making a whole house automation and entertainment network. Most of us already have some entertainment equipment and some of us have a bit of home automation and networking equipment as well. So ... how do we connect it all together and make it work simply and smoothly ... a challenge for sure ... but not as difficult as you may think.

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If you were to start from scratch with a nice budget and prepared to buy all of the equipment new ... your systems integrator would probably specify the equipment and then prepare some sort of connection diagram for his installation team. He could then order all the wire and connectors, map out the wiring runs etc. ... plug it all in ... program the interfaces and away you go. This is undoubtedly the best way to build a home network and the result will be easy and neat to operate.

In our case ... this was not the case (bad writing but you get the idea). We started the project without much in the way of equipment ... just some hopes and dreams. We tried to foresee the wire runs we'd need and the equipment that we would like to use without the specific models or even manufacturers in place. Sound familiar? Even with the construction phase of the project nearing completion we still didn't have several of the components confirmed. And as you can see from the list at the right ... we ended up with equipment from several different manufacturers. By the way ... without these Sponsors ... we could not carry out this project or run this website ... so please help us say thanks by clicking on their links and buying their products.

So, lets start with the Home Theater room and see what we ended up with and discuss some of the issues with interconnection etc.

Marantz SR9200 Home Theater Receiver

The core of the system is a Marantz SR9200 Home Theater Receiver. I must admit when I unpacked this unit I gulped a bit. To begin with ... it's heavy ... which probably means it's good if you measure quality by the pound. On the back there are more plugs than I thought possible. Well ... we wanted to build options into our system ... and for that I guess we need the inputs and outputs. Perhaps now I understand why an interconnect diagram would be a good idea ... but the important thing here is that this unit will do everything we need and more. It's not something you would want to have to replace at a later date because all of your other components will terminate here ... either as an input or an output. And bottom line that is why putting together a system like this is not that hard ... really. If you understand this component ... the rest follows. If you can control this component ... the theater entertains. The SR9200 comes with it's own touchscreen remote which is really the same as a Pronto Neo ... an industry staple. It has all of the Marantz features built in and can learn all the other components as well ... so it could be our primary interface ... but let's not decide that yet. We'll call this"Remote Numero Uno" and place it into our bucket o' remotes for now.

First ... the Outputs.

Let's set the receiver in our Avträk Rotating A/V Equipment Rack and see if we can get any sound. Wiring speakers is something everyone has probably done at one time or the other. The important thing here is to us good wire ... 14 gage at least and keep the connections tidy and tight.Our's is a 5.1 surround system (5 speakers plus a subwoofer) using Snell Home Theater In-Wall Speakers (shown in the photo mounted up high on the screen wall behind hinged, material covered doors) and a Snell PS.10mk2 Powered Subwoofer. Snell Home Theater In-Wall SpeakersNo difficulty here ... just connect the speakers to the well marked terminals. The only thing unfamiliar to some may be the subwoofer connection which in our case uses different (RCA type) connectors. A powered subwoofer takes a low level signal and amplifies it so it's a bit different than a speaker to which you send an amplified signal ... thus needing heavier gage wire etc. The first thing we did was connect the speakers and turn on the tuner in the receiver to see if we got sound ... and yes did we ever. The only problem initially is from the subwoofer (located in a cabinet) which is a bit boomy and rattles the windows. I'll discuss the solution to that one later along with more about installing the inwall speakers. For now we're happy that all of the speakers work (in other words ... the wires are connected to the right outputs). Of course in order to get a good signal to the tuner we need to connect it to our cable (primary FM signal arrives via our cable company). There goes the 1st of the 4 RG6 runs back to the panel in the lab.

 Runco CinemaWall™ CW-42

Next output is video. Problem is ... our Runco CinemaWall™ CW-42 isn't on site yet. No problem ... we just set up an old TV temporarily so we could test the system as we added components.In fact this is probably not a bad idea in any case. Setting up and testing your system is probably the most wearing time for the equipment and turning an expensive video system on and off repeatedly is not the best thing for it's life cycle. If we look at the back of the receiver we see several Monitor outputs ... with different plugs and things. We've got composite video, s-video and component video ... oh oh ... better find out what those mean before we go any further.

Here are some definitions I found at http://www.dvdmadeeasy.com/glossary/

Basically meaning that composite video is OK, s-video is better and component video is better still. Your different components will have different video outputs depending on their age and sophistication (thus cost). Older VCR's etc. will be composite, cable boxes etc. may have both composite and s-video, DVD's may have all 3 options. Bottom line is that you want your system to be able to transmit the best signal possible to your monitor. That means that if possible (i.e. if your monitor has all 3 inputs) you should connect them all so that whatever the input device is ... it's best possible signal can be transmitted to the monitor. Four our test setup, the TV had only composite and s-video inputs so we could only connect those modes. When the plasma arrives we will be able to set up the component outputs.

OK ... that's it for Outputs ... sound and video ... all hooked up and ready to go.

Next ... the Inputs.

Inputs include all of the devices that play the music and show the pictures. The receiver has a bank of input plugs ... labeled for the input devices (i.e. TV, VCR, etc.). In our case we have the following:

OK ... that's about it for components and their inputs and outputs. Of course you will have a different set of components but the procedure is the same. Just read the instructions and connect the dots. It's best to test as you go as well. Install a component ... make the connections ... test the audio and video to be sure it works.

A bit about the cables!

CVR Cable

When you buy a component for your system you may or may not get connection cables with it. Even if you do they will often be lower quality cables than you need to get the most out of the system and the lengths will not necessarily fit your installation. Our Integrator and advisor, Dean of Simply Automated swears by UltraLink cables so I didn't argue with him on that point. What we ended up doing is using whatever we had available for the first run through and testing period and then once all of the spaghetti was in place and everything worked ... he replaced the cables with ultralink (different lengths to suit the installation) wherever possible. It made a very tidy and error free job.

But what about controlling all this stuff????????

Eventually we plan on incorporating a web pad or ??? to control the whole home network from the home theater. For now though ... we will use a learning remote to get things going. The Runco Plasma screen came with a Pronto Neo remote and that will suit us just fine. First things first though ... we need to install our IR network to process the signals from the remote. Xantech Connection BlockIndustry standard for this equipment comes from Xantech ... and that's just what we used. Since all of our equipment is behind closed doors we needed to install a plasma friendly IR receiver somewhere in the room and connect it via a connecting block to a series of emitters that stick onto the IR windows on each of our components. Xantech Emitter Since we are going to want to control the equipment from the lab as well as the Home Theater room we used up another of our CAT5 runs to connect the IR connecting block to another connecting block in the lab. This network allows IR signals to be sent and received from both rooms ... a very powerful feature of our system. Note ... IR only uses 3 of the wires in the CAT5 cable ... the rest are wasted ... unless we can find a use for them later :-)

Initially we had some problems with the receiver getting jammed with reflected interference from the plasma screen (there are several windows in the room that acted as mirrors to reflect the interference). In the end this was solved by putting the IR receiver behind a bit of speaker cloth in an antique speaker cabinet that sits beside the plasma screen. Looks great and works like a charm. One of those accidental solutions to a problem I guess. I was having trouble deciding where to mount the IR receiver to be inconspicuous and voila we just happened to have the old speaker box that goes great with the decor of the room.

Now ... sitting beside the chair we have a bucket o' remotes ... a virtual nightmare for the uninitiated. Gracie took one look at that and went out to a movie ... a feel good movie no less :-( I don't understand the problem. To watch TV all I have to do is use the Runco remote to turn on the screen, grab the Marantz remote to turn on the receiver and set it to TV mode ... then it's the Cable Box remote to select the channel etc. .... oops it's way too loud ... grab the Marantz remote to turn down the volume ... etc. OK ... time too get that Pronto Neo programmed to operate this system.

If you're at all familiar with learning remotes you'll understand that it's not all that easy to set them up to function simply and easily. If you have a systems integrator working with you it's probably best to let him do it for you as he has the experience to know the best way to set up the screens etc. It is a time consuming job however, and it will cost a few dollars ... but well worth it to get a system that everyone can operate and understand.

Pronto NeoThe Pronto Neo comes with software and a cable to connect to your PC serial port. You can build screens with all of the most common component buttons and program all the IR codes as well as other functions (such as a jump to another screen etc.). It will also learn macros which can be used to control several components with the push of one button. A typical TV macro will do all of the steps I mentioned above with one button push.

With our system I've taken the control another step. Remember that I used a CAT5 to network the IR signal back to the lab? I did that for one main reason ... I want to run the macros on the HomeVision controller rather than on the remote itself. Why??? Typically a macro that runs on a remote control will send a series of IR commands over a period of several seconds to turn on components ... pause to wait for it to come on ... set the mode ... etc.

Home Vision ControllerWell ... Gracie doesn't understand that concept and inevitably won't keep the remote aimed at the receiver long enough for all those commands to be sent. Hence, half of the equipment turns on ... the rest stays off ... and Gracie throws up her hands in disgust and goes out to another movie ... a fantasy this time :-(

To get around this problem I taught a bunch of remote codes (using an obsolete remote that I had laying around) to HomeVision (it learns just like a learning remote does). To these I assigned names such as "Watch TV" etc. I then taught HomeVision all of the relevant component control IR commands. Next I programmed the macros that would turn the components on and off as required. At the same time I programmed the lighting scenes in the Home Theater Room (these are X10 lighting commands to the Leviton switches in the room). Next ... I fired up the Pronto software and designed a "Main Control" screen that has buttons corresponding to these macros. I then downloaded the screen to the Pronto and taught it the IR codes for these buttons. The IR connecting block in the lab has an emitter and receiver connected to the HomeVision.

Now ... when I push the Main Control button to "Watch TV" it signals the HomeVision which runs the macro to send the appropriate commands back to turn the proper equipment on and off. One button push ... no need to hold the remote aimed at the IR receiver ... Bobs your uncle and Gracie can turn on the TV ... all by herself ... and stay home for that movie :-) She can even dim the lights with the same remote. Was that a small smile that I saw cross her face ...

Having this capability is the most powerful tool in the arsenal and shows how effectively a network of different components can operate together with the right controller. Let's face it ... Gracie's problems are not unusual at all. You shouldn't need an engineering degree to turn on the TV ... and you don't. With the HomeVision controller I can control almost anything ... and make it foolproof. Using flags it remembers which components are on and turns them off if the next scenario doesn't need them. You can set time delays etc. to wait for components to come on before setting modes. A cool one I use is that whenever the VCR gets an off signal ... it's macro first does a rewind for 10 minutes and then shuts off the unit. It also takes care of changing the video modes on the plasma screen depending on the component that is on.

that's it for now. It's late and I need some sleep so I can get this emagazine issue online in time. Next time I'll discuss the equipment that is down in the lab and how it all ties in. One last macro to run. I will push a button on the light switch outside the office and that will turn off all of the Home Theater equipment and give me 2 minutes to get to bed before turning out all the lights. I love this stuff :-)

If you have any ideas to for this project please let me know. That way we can all learn from each other.

Stay tuned!

Part 4: Multi-Room Audio System