Frequently Asked Questions
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Do I need a specific-sized room before I can have a home theater?
Not necessarily. Certainly, some room dimensions and proportions are more desirable than others, mainly due to some acoustical benefits. Today, many homes are built with media rooms that average 20' x 24'. However, any room (like an office or spare bedroom) can easily be converted to a cozy theater. There are many ways we can help you maximize acoustics, and create better-than-theater quality at home.
Tell me about outdoor audio/video.
Well, it's happening all over. Outdoor living is the next big thing in "interior" design. Many outdoor-lovers are putting flatscreens on their patios. Placing a plasma or LCD on a covered patio is growing in popularity, and there are some water-proof versions. How about the new floating remotes by RTI? We carry them. There are so many outdoor speakers, we'll have no trouble helping you find something to blend with your décor: most are typical enclosures, but there are speakers shaped like rocks, planters or outdoor lights. So go ahead and build that outdoor kitchen, and plan to enjoy a home entertainment system outdoors--just as much as the one you have inside.
What's power conditioning, and do I need it?
Power conditioning on a home entertainment system is a must. The question becomes “what kind and how much.” In short, power conditioning helps protect your audio/video system from electrical imperfections such as power surges and noise.
Power from your electric company is unstable, in addition to being distorted and “noisy.” Components are at risk of being damaged from exposure to voltage surges, distortions and the familiar "dimming light bulb" or "sag". (At the very least, performance is compromised.) These electrical problems actually cause 90% of component failures. This is where the power conditioner comes in, as it reduces the effects of these instabilities on your system.
In the beginning, there wasn't much difference between a power conditioner and a power strip. The first power conditioners were power strips with surge protection and a noise filter. A few top-end models now add voltage regulation, and one offers sine wave correction.
Unfortunately, you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to power conditioners: some actually crush the dynamics of your audio system and degrade your audio signal.
So, yes, you do need it power conditioning on your system. We carry a number of different brands that can be specified for your particular situation, as determined by the demands and loads of your system.
We're considering switching from in-wall keypads to touch-screens in the home we're building. What are my options?
If you have enjoyed your keypads, you’ll be amazed by the capabilities of touchscreens. We can program the interface graphics to coordinate with the look of your room. We can match color schemes, or even repeat fabric or wallpaper patterns for the screen backgrounds. We’d be happy for you to visit our office and see the touchscreens we have on display.
What is structured wiring?
In technical terms, it is a centralized hub-and-spoke topology for the connection and distribution of low-voltage analog and digital signals throughout the home. In non-technical terms, structured wiring is the most efficient way to wire your home for even the most basic technology. Instead of phone, cable, satellite and internet being routed from your alley to each room, the services are first routed to a centrally located distribution panel. From there the services are distributed to each room. It's much like the hub-and-spoke functionality of an airline. Consider the low-voltage panel the main airline hub, and your rooms (and the technology in them: audio, video, internet, satellite) the outlying airports. Technology like Internet, satellite, and audio signals can be routed through your hub and distributed to your rooms with ease. Not only does the hub (the panel) allow you to distribute incoming data to different rooms in your home, it allows your rooms to control and share information with each other. The greatest advantage is the unlimited flexibility this offers (listen to classical in the kitchen, and reggae by the pool), and share sources throughout your home (access the same satellite receiver from any room). A second advantage is ease of service. With all of the connections inside the panel, changes and repairs are done quickly and easily.
How many speakers do I really need in my home theater?
It really wouldn't be theater without at least six, which is known as "5.1:" left-center-right fronts, left and right surrounds, and last, the ".1" which is the LFE (low frequency effects) otherwise know as the subwoofer. The whole point of having a theater is the ability to enjoy heart-thumping base and the delicate sound of a pin drop--where it makes sense in the room. Speaker quantity and placement is all about putting the sound where it belongs, in relation to what you're seeing on the screen. In our showroom, we wouldn't be without 7.2 surround. That is: two rears, two sides, two fronts, one center, and two subs. Pat says, "Audio as it was intended by the studio is literally what makes the image move from the screen, and into the room." You just can't take short cuts on audio, and be in love with your system.
How much do I need to spend to get a decent home theater?
I risk getting myself in trouble here. Before I throw out some numbers, let me qualify my answer by saying that this analogy reflects a system installed (labor included), with owner-provided interior and furniture, working from one remote and a screen of a minimum 44." That said, installing a true media room/home theater can be likened to buying a car. The technology-end of an entry-level theater can run as little as $5,000 for a Hyundai-type system (don't get me wrong, there's plenty of "good" in "practical and efficient"). A step up would be Chevy or Chrysler for around $12,500 for the technology. Of course you can go up from there with a BMW or Audi at around $17,000 worth of gear. And we love the Porches and Ferraris, which come in around--well--the sky's the limit.
How many times can a single coaxial cable be split before signal amplification is required?
In most cases, six. Cable TV companies typically deliver 15dB of signal strength. A quality six-way splitter has a typical loss of –10dB. Since the typical attenuation of 30.5m (100 ft.) of Series 6 coaxial cable is –4dB, then the result is 1dB of signal strength to each TV. Optimal signal strength for a TV is 0 dB plus/minus 10dB (a TV will deliver good picture quality from -10dB to 10dB).
I’m building a new home, and the electrician can run A/V wires for less than my brother-in-law's custom A/V company. I don't want to insult a relative, but the electrician has made me a sweet offer. What’s the difference?
New construction offers the perfect opportunity to get the right wire to the right place before the sheet rock goes up. A CEDIA-certified A/V company like UltraMedia, Inc. has the experience and credentials to pull low voltage wire for audio and video.
Low-voltage wiring must follow the local and national code and regulatory requirements, as well as the component manufacturers’ minimum specifications for performance, as it relates to their product. It is usually only the experienced and certified A/V company that is aware of the proper way to run all the various types or wires, and the amount of wire necessary to take advantage of today's technologies.
You will be happiest with a well-planned system. Be sure that the person or company you choose to do your prewire is CEDIA certified, and speaks with you at length about the particular technology you will be utilizing in each room. Don’t be afraid of over wiring—technology changes, and it’s better to plan for future growth than to be disappointed when you later have to spend exponentially more, because you cut corners today.
Is digital cable HDTV?
Good question, and the answer is “no.” This is a common misunderstanding, often promoted by cable companies. Digital cable is standard-definition that is broadcast digitally. The video quality is usually superior to analog cable, but the resolution is still only a maximum of 480i (480 interlaced lines).
Can I receive my local TV channels in high definition?
Yes, most programming providers like DirecTV, Dish Network, and almost all of the cable companies offer some of the local TV stations in high definition. They typically will offer the local ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox stations in high definition for an additional monthly fee, usually somewhere around $5-$6. But if you’re lucky enough to live in or near the DFW area, almost all of the local stations, including the independents, are broadcasting in the digital domain and in HD. And all of these stations can be received for FREE, if you have the right equipment. All of the newer HDTVs are required by law to have a tuner that will receive over-the-air high definition signals. All that is required, then, is an over-the-air HD antenna. These come in all shapes and sizes, but the most effective ones look like the kind that people had on their roofs in the 60s and 70s. Ideally they’d be placed on the roof for best reception, but, in some cases, you can put these in the attic so they are out of sight. Antennas range in price from $200 - $500 installed, depending on your physical location in relation to the broadcast towers and any specific needs and/or requirements that may be contained in homeowners’ association guidelines.
Which is the better technology? DLP, Plasma or LCD?
That’s not an easy question to answer, because they all have clean, crisp images with vibrant colors. So it really all depends on your application. In order to answer the “Which is better?” question, you have to know the answers to these questions first.
- Where will the display be used? Is depth a concern? DLPs are still 8” to 20” deep, flat-screens are 2.5” to 5” deep.
- What are the lighting conditions of the room in which you plan on using the display? If there windows in the room then a DLP projector may not be a good choice.
- What are the viewing requirements of that room? Does the room need a really large screen for a theater or a small one for the kitchen or master bath?
- Who will use the display? Plasmas are not a good choice if you know the kids will be playing games on it.
- How will the display be used? Or what will be displayed? A static image on a plasma from a game, or a news banner across the bottom of the screen has the potential to ruin a plasma screen.
- Where will the display be mounted? Can your wall support 70-130 pound plasma? Plasmas and LCDs will go over the fireplace but a DLP won’t, yet.
- Where will the source gear be located? In other words, where will the satellite or cable box, DVD player and TIVO be located and how will the signal get to the display? The new HDMI digital video has specific needs in order to work.
- How will you listen to your TV shows or movies? Do you want to use the TV’s speakers or use separate speakers?
Once you’ve answered these questions, the ‘Which is better?’ question will be much easier to answer.
Please clear up my “resolution confusion.”
Let’s begin with standard analog TV at 480 interlaced vertical lines. HDTV resolutions can be 720 progressive vertical lines, 1080 interlaced vertical lines (1080i), all the way up to 1080 progressive vertical lines (1080p). More lines mean more detail in your home theater picture. Additionally, digital signals are 100% free of ghosting or snowy images associated with analog TV. Some HDTV programs are so clear, it looks like you’re peering through a window. (Many actors are lamenting the incredible detail—age is more likely to show.) 1080p is the highest resolution available. But, the only 1080p content is in HD DVD and Blu-ray disc formats—not from cable or broadcasts.
I download music to my iPhone all the time. Can you tell me about downloading movies? Who's providing the service? What should I expect to spend and what quality will I get?
The serious players: AppleTV, Vudu, DirecTV VOD (Video On Demand), and cable VOD. AppleTV ($250-$350) suits general video users---Mac users benefit from expanded features for iPod, iPhone and iMac. Vudu ($300 & $1K) offers a general-use, stand alone unit; you might liken Vudu to Blockbuster or Netflix in a box. Cable is cable, always a masses- and price-driven, so-so, average solution---not bad, not great. DirecTV is the dark horse in beta mode with VOD, and is expected to really grow in about 12 months (currently low-res). VideoGiants offers premium music and video. No one compares in resolution, and is priced very well, for the quality. Users must have a Windows Media Player 10 or 11 on a computer, or a media server. Consider the “green” aspects of downloading movies: no plastic, no paper, no gasoline. It's our guess that this is the future, and the beginning of the end for disc-based content and delivery.
What's the status of LPs in the modern audio world?
While many types of audio media have come and gone (audiocassettes, 8-tracks), LPs (vinyl records, for you Gen-Xers) are here to stay and are as hot as ever, in the audiophile world. While new releases don't stay in print for long, buyers are motivated by 180-gram, extra-think pressings--delivering less surface noise than 'normal' records. Many classic (Bob Dylan, Tom Petty) and current (John Mayer, Franz Ferdinand) artists offer a vinyl option.
My neighborhood homeowners’ association says I can’t mount a satellite dish or antenna on my roof or chimney. What can I do?
Let us install them for you! Check out the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. Section 207 Restrictions on Over-the-Air Reception Devices reads:
“Within 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Commission shall, pursuant to section 303 of the Communications Act of 1934, promulgate regulations to prohibit restrictions that impair a viewer's ability to receive video programming services through devices designed for over-the-air reception of television broadcast signals, multichannel multipoint distribution service, or direct broadcast satellite services.”
For more information, visit www.fcc.gov.
In searching for an AV company, I’ve noticed that some are “CEDIA Certified” and some aren’t. What is CEDIA?
The Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association is a global trade association of companies specializing in design and installation of home electronic systems. CEDIA members are established, insured businesses with bona fide qualifications and experience in this specialized field. Consumers can rely on CEDIA referrals to find qualified, contractors to counsel them and work in their homes.
In addition to membership, reputable AV companies pursue rigorous training and testing to attain escalating levels of certification in both design and installation tracks. Consumers, builders, architects, and interior designers, recognize CEDIA-certified companies as a professional resource.
Why is it recommended to run two category 5 UTP cables and two 75 ohm RG6 cables to each room?
The Residential Telecommunications Cabling Standard Committee ANSI/TIA/EIA 570-A developed this requirement to accommodate multi-line phone systems on one category 5 UTP, data applications on the second category 5 UTP, external RF signals (CATV) on one RG6 coaxial cable and internally generated modulated signals on the second RG6 cable. This cabling scheme provides flexibility for homeowners to select service providers that use different types of media to deliver their service.
What's the difference between RG59, RG6 and RG11?
The ‘RG’ acronyms have historically referred to ‘Radio Grade’ coaxial cabling, and today are referred to as ‘Series 59,’ ‘Series 6,’ and ‘Series 11.’ Each of these coaxial cables has a characteristic impedance of 75 ohms. Series 59 coaxial cable has a smaller diameter center conductor than Series 6 (RG6), resulting in higher attenuation (signal loss). Series 59 cables are typically specified for use as equipment patch cords because of their smaller bend radius and enhanced flexibility. Since Series 6 cables exhibit less attenuation than Series 59, they are more commonly used for distributed cabling and are recommended for use up to 90m (295 ft.). Series 11 cables support even less attenuation than Series 6 or Series 59 because the center conductor diameter is almost twice that of Series 59. Series 11 cables are recommended for lengths up to 112m (400ft.).