Oct 31, 2007

Home Theater Plans

What I have now:
  • Audio/Video
    • Onkyo TX-SR504 7.1 110W A/V Receiver
    • Onkyo Front / Centers : Dual 5" woofers and 1" tweeter
    • Onkyo Surrounds: 3.1" woofer, 0.75" tweeter
    • Onkyo Subwoofer: 230W 10" woofer
    • Westinghouse 37" 1080p LCD
    • Xbox 360 Premium (no HDMI)
    • Composite-only set-top box
  • Crappy speaker wires from the Onkyo HTIB
  • Wooden speaker stands for fronts and surrounds
During the move to the condo, all of my surround speaker stands broke so I'm currently running 2.1 audio. Since I finally own a place, I figured I can finally do something decent with the surround speakers. Since I'm in a condo, I can't run the speaker wires completely hidden in the wall (no access to ceiling or floor and no desire to rip open the wall at every stud!). I looked into a few different ideas for hiding the wires:
  1. Under the baseboard
  2. Under the carpet
  3. Using flat wire and painting over it
  4. Run cable raceway along either the baseboard or crown molding
The only solution that seemed to work would be to use raceway so I picked up a few hundred feet of corner raceway from CableOrganizer. The room with the home theater has a bay window, a few hallways, et cetera so the only way to run the cable is as such:
  1. From the receiver down to the baseboard
  2. Over to the bay window wall
  3. Up the wall to the ceiling
  4. Across to the wall parallel to the TV
  5. Along that wall to the wall parallel to the bay window
  6. Part way along that final wall
The raceway was just delivered last night and I'm quite impressed. It's attractive, well-sized, durable and not too heavy. Installation shouldn't be a problem at all. Based on this fairly annoying Dolby site and the fact that I have to mount the right surround at a certain spot, I've found what I would consider the optimal positioning for the four surrounds. I'm going to get some cheap wall mounts that offer some adjustability.

Here is where I'm not quite so sure as to my plan. I know the speaker wires will be run along the ceiling and then will have to drop a few feet to the speakers. I could try to make it look extremely clean by running the wires behind the wall for that short stretch but that would require putting EIGHT holes in the wall. I could make very small holes; just enough to fish the wires. I could install keyhole plates but if I'm running the cables to the exact location of the speakers, why bother? I could also just run more cable raceway down the wall. I think I'm just going to run the wires bare for now while I contemplate these options.

I am going to toss the included speaker wire, get some bulk wire and do this right. I'm pricing wire out from Blue Jeans Cable, Parts Express and Monoprice; looks like PE is winning. I'll run bare wire at the speaker and use banana plugs for the receiver side. Using those plugs will alleviate the headache of trying to do side-entry screw posts for 18 connections of 12 gauge wire! Just getting these speakers finally mounted and using some quality wire should help immensely.

But what about after that? The TV is currently sitting on an ugly IKEA TV bench, the 360 is hiding behind that, the cable box on the other side and the receiver is the only thing in the bench. Unfortunately, the only place for the center channel is under the bench! Highly suboptimal. My desire would be to wall-mount the TV, wall-mount the center channel just beneath the TV and hide all the cables. Hiding the power for the TV would require something like a PowerBridge and right now, the TV itself is doing all the video switching. It has to deal with the 360, cable box and the PC I have just off to the side. Running all of those cables up the wall sounds terrible! The receiver I have now can do 3x component and 3x composite in and does composite out. That would cover everything but the VGA (or DVI) in from the computer, which I can deal with for now.

An HDMI-switching receiver would be a great investment as I could just have the single HDMI cable run up to the TV. I could even use a DVI-HDMI cable to connect the computer to the receiver. I'd also replace the TV bench with an open component rack, for better cooling. The receiver and 360 both get extremely hot! Since I would have space on the rack, I'd probably get either a HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player to enjoy the setup. At that point, I might try to upgrade the speakers but they seem fine to me. I'm not an audiophile by any means.

Ah dreams, oh for the want of time and money to make them true.

Oct 15, 2007

Kitteh! Snorgle snorgle

Clare and I just found the cutest cat in the whole world and he's turning out to be quite the lover!

We had been scouring petfinder.com for the last few weeks, toying with the idea of getting a cat. I'm pretty much settled in to the condo, Clare is staying with me every night and we both wanted a pet. She's more of a dog lover but my little condo just couldn't support a dog lifestyle. We've sent each other tens of petfinder.com links but none of them seemed like "the one". Finally, Clare sent a link early one morning titled "HHHOOOOOOONNNEEEYYYYYYY!!!" and a wave of realization hit, here was the one!

I had a few criteria in mind when picking out a new cat. These criteria were not of the "must have" variety, but more of the "must not be" variety:
  • Cannot be a kitten. Everyone wants a kitten. Kittens only temporarily end up in shelters; they get snatched up immediately.
  • As a corollary: cannot be fairly young. No one wants an older cat, so the older, the better I would feel about adopting.
  • Cannot be in perfect shape. A healthy, pretty kitty will be adopted over time. There is little chance a healthy, well-behaved cat would have issues being placed in a wonderful home.
The cat that Clare linked to was six years old, had a teratoma removed from his neck and needed a tooth removed. On the other hand, you could tell he was so sweet and once healed up, would be beautiful! He's a Siamese mix: mostly a domestic short-hair body but with blue-points and the cutest blue cross eyes! We ran through a few name ideas but since he's mostly a light cream color with blue points, I came up with the name Roquefort, or Ro for short. Here he is: