My Home Theatre

It’s been a hiatus… I’ve been a bit busy lately, it’s summer time and all… I’ve been enjoying the beautiful weather with my family but I feel like I’m due, so here we go!

Home Theatre! This topic interest me big time, ever since I bought my “new” house 5 years ago I had been planning to do something nice in terms of an entertainment space. The space I had in my mind was a bit different then your typical audio/videophile types dream of but it’s what I dream’t of at this stage in my life.

I will be the first to admit that this post is late to the game, and I anticipate to upgrade my projector and receiver to native 4k within the next 6-8 months. I have my eye on you Optoma UHD60!

Coming from my previous house (a shoebox) I had a big room to actually call my mancave, a 25’x16′ room. The picture below is pretty unflattering… and it only shows the room from one angle, but this is all I could find for the time being… This was a couple days after we moved in. In hindsight I should’ve taken more before and after photos for this project.

mancave_before-1

Here is the original conceptual design of what I envisioned the room to actually become.

mancave-schematic

First step was to build the A/V closet and shelving, the closet did not exist originally so I had to rip out some drywall and attach into the existing framing. Here is a before picture of where I put the closet in.

AVcloset-before

Here are some pictures of the AV closet build out. The shelf design I found on another site, if I can find it again I will give them a kudos link, man is it a solid design – homemade shelf that can hold a ton of weight and gear. All of the supplies for the shelf I purchased at Canadian Tire and Rona. All of the cabling, connectors, wall plates and in ceiling speakers I purchased through Monoprice.

 

Here are pictures of what it looks like today, don’t mind the mess I have a few kids.

Projector Mount

If you look at the projector mount picture below you’re probably saying wow that’s a crazy mount is this guy a nutcase? Actually it’s pretty much mandatory in my mind to design something like this if the projector is going to be installed in a basement like setting.

When I originally mounted the projector I was truly a newbie… I affixed it directly on the floor joists, what a mistake. The feedback was vicious and the projector was bouncing like no tomorrow… and when it started to bounce it really didn’t recover quickly since there was nothing to absorb the movement that reverberated off the joists.

This is something I came up with through trial and error, this works for me, it doesn’t eliminate movement entirely, if my kids are bouncing off the walls upstairs it will shake, but it’s absorbed quickly by this design and I can rest well knowing that my investment is safe. To date I have almost 5000 lamp hours using this rig and the projector and lamp still lives on.

I used a large piece of MDF that spans three joists, I tapped into the joists using 2 1/2″ wood screws. From there I lined up where the projector was going to be mounted and penciled in four pilot holes where the bolts were going to be installed. These four bolts affix the actual mount to the MDF base, they are 3/8″ in width in my application, the bolts are fairly long I believe around 3 1/2″. I used several washers, rubber grommets and springs as you can see from the photo, these items are doing a lot of the hard work to minimize any vibration and impact.

projector-mount

Projector

At the end of 2012 I was on the hunt for the right projector for me. I didn’t want to spend a ton but I wanted a projector that was a good bang for the buck, but mandatory was good input lag and 3D. I stumbled across the BenQ W1070 Home Theatre DLP Projector. It’s a great unit, I’ve been using it now for almost 5 years, so it’s done really, really well… no issues whatsoever.benq_w1070

 

Screen

I went the Do-It-Yourself route. After abundant research I ended up using the following for the screen paint:

Sherwin Williams ProClassic Smooth Enamel Satin Finish Extra White – 6260 UNIQUE GRAY. I don’t believe Sherwin Williams carries this formulation anymore.

Down the line I believe I will switch to an actual screen for my next projector install. Don’t get me wrong the paint is great and a money saver, but I found that it cannot cover imperfections in your actual drywall. If you look close enough you can pick up on these subtle things while the unit is on.

I used a somewhat dark color for the rest of the wall around the screen. Sherwin Williams Classic 99 Satin Finish Extra White – 6549 ASH VIOLET.

The screen is approximately 110″ measured diagonally.

Screen Frame

I used 2 1/2″ MDF trim I mitered the corners at 45 degrees and installed L shaped hinges on the back side. I primed and painted with flat black paint and used brad nailer to affix it to the wall.

Speakers

I opted for a 7.1 configuration, the front and center speakers I got a sweet deal on from Newegg, they were on clearance dirt cheap… I could not pass it up. I picked the JBL Studio 1 Series Studio 190 Front and Center speakers. For the subwoofer I went with the Klipsch KW-100, for the sides I went with Klipsch RS-62s. For the in ceiling I went with Monoprice 6-1/2 Inches Kevlar 2-Way In-Ceiling Speakers.

The in-ceiling speakers I cut a plywood template to hold the speaker since I have a drop ceiling with soft fiberglass tiles. The plywood template fits into the 2’x2′ grid and the grid take the weight of the speaker and not the tile.

For the Klipsch surround speakers, I mounted the speaker to a stud on opposing walls using a single screw.

I am not an audiophile but they sound good to me, most would recommend not mixing and matching, but really for me I was going with the best value/deal at the time as speakers can be really expensive for something better then bottom of the barrel.

AV Receiver

For the receiver I went with the Onkyo TX-NR616, I had never purchased an Onkyo before but I can say I have been really happy with it.

The receiver can not fully power my front speakers in it’s current 7.1 configuration, if I used 5.1 it can power them fully, but the sound is still good, I don’t pump it too often… just something to keep in mind if you are purchasing an AV unit.

The one issue I have had which seems to be some kind of glitch where HDMI switching stops working after the projector is turned off, it doesn’t happen all the time… it is a random thing. Simply recycling power on the receiver corrects the issue.

IR Repeater

For extending my IR remotes (satellite receiver, AV receiver, etc…) I went the cheap route. I picked up a USB powered IR repeater from Amazon – Neoteck IR Repeater Infrared Remote 1 Receiver 4 Emitters Control Kit. I just plugged it into my AV receiver’s USB port to get power, and I installed the IR receiver discreetly along the edge of my drop ceiling. It’s cheap but it does the job and I can close my cabinet if need be and not have to fight with pointing remotes directly at the device.

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Ready for fall gaming?

Winter is coming, and that means new titles, less time spent outdoors and more time in front of the TV and monitor. For us gamers that’s a blessing in disguise, I’m sure my gym going routine will suffer a bit. 

I recently picked up the Gigabyte Radeon HD 7970 OC Windforce… that’s quite the mouth full if I might say so myself. This is essentially the R9 280, minus 100MHz on the core clock and 125MHz on the memory clock. It’s missing a couple of features as well, but at the steal that I found this at I have no qualms about picking it up. You could catch this up to the R9 280 frequencies with a simple OC, but unfortunately Gigabyte locked the voltages on this line. Either way I was ready to upgrade from my dual 5870s, and the performance boost will be most welcome. I’m going from 1GB to 3GB RAM and this is necessary for the Ultra settings in any game. Well actually you could get away with 1GB GPU RAM but then the computer needs more than 8GB of RAM. Either way BF4 will look better than ever, and so will the other titles this winter.

For those that already own 7970 cards and wish to update to the new R9 series from AMD, have I got a little treat for you. You can go a step further and crossfire the 7970 with a R9 280X. That’s right folks, since they share the same silicon they can be crossfired. The only down side to this,  if one card has a higher clock than the other, the one with the higher frequency will be down clocked to match the slower card. The same goes for the other R7 series cards. Now that is what I call customer service and good old fashined Canadian engineering. If you want to read a little more about this head over to Hardware Canucks they will explain it to you in grater detail. http://www.hardwarecanucks.com/forum/hardware-canucks-reviews/63551-will-crossfire-r9-280x-hd-7970-scaling-tested.html

Then comes Mantle, for those of you not familiar with this term this is AMDs new API. This API gives developers direct access to the silicon and all the features it comes bundled with. It supposedly eliminates the unnecessary overhead of DirectX and OpenGL, improving performance and giving greater control of the hardware to the developers. Currently developers are slaves to the likes of DirectX and OpenGL, and these APIs do not support all the features of the GPU. With Mantle Game Developers will have the same API for the PC, Xbox One, Wii U, and PS4. BF4 will be patching their game in December to utilize the Mantle API from AMD. It will be interesting to see some benchmarks on this to test the performance. While Nvidia spent 5 million on optimization for a couple of Ubisoft games this fall, AMD paid DICE 8 mil or so to essentially design or rather optimize their Mantle API for the Frostbite 3 engine. This encompasses all platforms and a plethora of upcoming games. Whereas Ubisoft is notorious for ignoring the PC gaming space and releasing less than stellar software for it, Ghost Recon Future Soldier comes to mind for me. GRFS was unplayable for 3-4 months after being released on the PC. Go online now and it’s a barren wasteland. Looks like Nvidia is backing the wrong horse. AMD got the better deal and made a smarter business decision in the long run.

There is a lot of exciting and interesting things happening in the PC gaming space right now. Steam is at the fore front of all this trying to Steam roll all the competition/consoles and make it’s way into the living room. It already has into mine. Me being a PC gamer and a member of the Glorious PC Gaming Master Race, this is very exciting in deed. Steam and Valve have the potential to shut those console peasants up for good. I kid, I kid, I own consoles as well and use them as paper weights and book ends, ha ha ha.

Here is a video demonstration of the Steam controller.

Happy gaming to you all.

Microsoft does not understand it’s audience anymore.

Gamer’s a fickle bunch, strike that PC Gamer’s are a fickle bunch. Add to that a dash of Xbox One and a pinch of Windows 8.1 and you have yourself a perfect recipe for disaster.

Perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, a behemoth like Microsoft would be and is really hard to take down. You have to give them credit where credit is due if anything but they are persistent.

Let’s look at windows 8 for a second, when it came out there was an outcry about the Start button. I think the cries where a little muffled by the time they got to Redmond though. I don’t think it was as much as the lack of a start button but more of the lack of desktop and the fact that the start menu would take up the entire screen. This lead to the slow adoption of the operating system. Don’t get me wrong, for tablet and a touch interface windows 8 is great, and that OS is very deserving of the form factor.

Queue Windows 8.1, I hopped on MSDN and I grabbed the early version available to subscribers. I grabbed the ISO and installed the OS via flash drive. After install I changed a few settings and rebooted. Awesome, it now boots into the desktop environment, start button is there but as soon as you press it, BAM! full screen persistent start menu. What we have now is desktop/tablet hybrid OS. I was so disappointed that I could not change the size of the menu, and that it eats up all my screen real estate, that it prevented me migrating from Windows 7 to 8. I feel like the start menu is way too intrusive in the desktop environment, and yes it is has more customization, but it is not the start menu I like and find convenient. It’s supposed to be a sub menu for the OS not a fully fledged application like interface. I guess the only option left for users of Win 7 that wish to migrate to Win 8 is Start8. As a gamer and heavy desktop user, this irks me a little.

This brings me to Xbox One, when I watched the unveiling I was slightly impressed with the features. However I noticed two things. One the lack of hardware specifications, and two the complete lack of game focus. Instead MS decided to focus on the media capabilities of the device what it can do for sports, and Television, etc. I thought to myself I’m a gamer, I don’t watch sports I only play them. I don’t even have cable television let alone any television subscription except for Netflix. No longer is the Xbox a gamecentric device. I get this, it is supposed to appeal to the whole family not just the gamer in the house, but what if the gamer in the house is the whole family? Either way it looks like an interesting multimedia device, if it is able to play MKVs it would be a winner in my living room for sure.

At the moment all the media is giving MS flack for not having as good hardware specs as the competition, saying it’s 50% less powerful than the rival. I kind of laugh at this because as someone with a Computer Engineering background I know that hardware specs don’t necessarily mean better experience or performance. Prior to the 360 being released 7 or 8 years ago I worked for a company that designed the testing hardware, we worked closely with Microsoft and the drivers for the 360 weren’t finished until a week prior to it being released. Not only that, but driver optimization is a powerful thing, and if Microsoft knows something it is software, perhaps not their audience but definitively software.

Look at Nvidia and AMD they optimize their GPU drivers heavily sometimes yielding 33% performance gains and that’s in an open system such as a PC, imagine the optimization that can take place in a closed system such as an Xbox One. So all the naysayers are probably still working with Alpha drivers complaining about performance, let’s see what November 22nd brings. Either way someone from MS should step out and say something to that effect, because all the dirty console peasants are up in a roar pitchforks and shovels in hand.

KBtalKing v1.1 PRO Mechanical Wireless Keyboard.

I’ve been looking for a wireless gaming keyboard for a while. Specifically a mechanical wireless gaming keyboard. To tell you the truth, there aren’t many out there. Actually I think there are only a couple of companies in the wireless mechanical keyboard business.

After some digging I was able to find a product by KBtalKing. The only thing I was worried about is the fact that it uses Bluetooth as a method of communicating. It uses Bluetooth (BT) 3.0, but in general BT communication is a bit laggy and slow. It is not ideal for gaming where milliseconds matter and can mean the difference between fragging or being fragged. I decided to take the plunge and purchase it anyways. This keyboard can connect up to 10 BT devices including PS3, Android, and iOS devices. Or be connected via a USB cable to a PC.

Both wireless receivers for the mouse and keyboard were connected to a powered USB hub, which is connected to a 85 foot USB 2.0 cable that runs from my living room to my bedroom where my gaming rig is located. Both the keyboard and mouse were about 7-10 feet away from the wireless receivers. The keyboard is rated for bluetooth 3.0 and was connected to a Broadcom bluetooth 4 dongle. The manufacturer recommends Broadcom bluetooth devices as they find they work best with their hardware.

As for the keyboard itself it is Black on Black keycaps with MX cherry red mechanical switches. It comes with extra key caps to replace the windows or command button, and a key cap puller. The red mechanical switches are very sensitive, especially for my big heavy hands. Resting my fingers on the keys of this keyboard is not an option, the slightest touch and the key press is reproduced on screen. It took me a couple days to get used to the sensitivity of the mx cherry reds, but now this is a non issue. I like the key cap remover, I use it all the time to remove the console key for BF3, the #5 key, and the ‘f’ key. I have a very big problem pressing the console key in BF3, where I press it and then I’m stuck not being able to move with the keyboard. This generally happens when I try to select weapon slot 1. With the key cap remover it takes me 2 seconds to pull the key, this way I don’t accidentally press it.

These are plate mounted switches so they can be swapped out if one should so desire.

After setting my TV to GAME mode to minimize input lag I set out to test the wireless keyboard performance, the session was accompanied by a Logitech G700 wireless mouse.

By default I was expecting some lag, the reason being is that my Gaming PC is in my bedroom and I have it connected to my HT in the living room via a HDBaseT device and a 85’ long USB 2.0 cable. With all the cabling running this long distance I expected input lag, and a game like Battlefield 3 to be unplayable.

However to my surprise this was not the case. Not only was the keyboard responsive, the game was playable, very playable. I gamed for several hours with this keyboard in my living room. Not only that, the keyboard was so responsive my game was taken up a notch. I found that it responded very well to my key presses, it was livelier, and a day and night comparison to my G510 rubber dome keyboard. With 6 key rollover, being mechanical and bluetooth 3.0 this keyboard did not miss a beat. In fact it performed well over my expectations.

I even tested the keyboard distance with the Bluetooth dongle I had bought, I got about 12 feet before the signal started breaking up, to the keyboards defence it was through a couple walls.

I’ve never been a fan of wireless keyboards and mice due to the input lag from wireless technologies. Well this is no longer the case, KBtalKing PRO in wireless mode performed very well, gaming grade well. They sell what they advertise. I had a nerdgasm using this keyboard, which was well worth the price that I paid.

I was playing last night and the Health fitness timer went off, which means I was in the middle of a BF3 gun fight and I lost the ability to move. I do not recall setting this and it took me a minute to realize what had happened. It’s a little weak on the indicator for these functions.

Also the keyboard came with a silly calendar which one assembles out of the instruction manual. Totally random.

Keyboard Specifications:

Number of Keys: US 108 Keys (ANSI)

Keyboard Color: Black

Keyboard Type: Mechanical – Using top quality Cherry MX Red keyswitches. Cherry MX Blue (clickier/louder) also available. Cherry MX switches are tested at more than 50 million strike life cycle.

Keycaps:

  • Standard – Laser Etched White Characters on Black ABS Plastic (UV Coated)
  • Black on Black – Laser Engraved Black Characters on Black ABS Plastic (UV Coated)All keyboards come with Mac compatible keycaps (4 pcs – command x2, alt/option x2).

Hotkeys: 27 (See full list of explanations on proprietary hotkeys and functions)

Anti-ghosting/N-Key Rollover: 6-key simultaneous input without ANY conflict/interference (Tested in both USB & Bluetooth mode Any key combinations).

Wired Interface: USB (Detachable cord)

Wireless Interface: Bluetooth 3.0 (Pairs and saves up to 10 devices)

Exclusive Technology: Multi-Pairing Bluetooth (10 devices) with switchable USB connection

Compatible Bluetooth Devices: Google Android 3/4 devices, and Apple iOS 4/5/6 (iPhones, iPads, etc.), Playstation 3

Compatible Computers: Windows XP / Vista   / Win7  / Win 8 / MAC OS 10 or higher

Batteries: AA x 2 pcs (not included)

Battery life: Approximately 1000+ hours. (3 hours/day x 365 days)

Accessories Included:   User Manual, USB Cable, Mobile device stand, keycaps for Mac (4pcs), keycap puller

This manufacturer tutorial page has all the details about the device and the OS specific function keys. Check it out… http://kbtalkingusa.com/kbtalking-pro-tutorial/

In conclusion, this is a gaming grade mechanical keyboard with wireless features able to connect up to 10 wireless devices and one wired device via USB. It kept up with my gaming needs with great wireless Bluetooth 3.0 performance.

As a side Note, I had a problem with Windows 7 and using the keyboard. Pressing the Capslock button would kick a game out of full screen mode. I tracked the problem down to BTTray.exe (the Bluetooth dongle), the on screen indicator for the keys being engaged and disengaged would kick the game out of full screen as it would render a visual notification on the desktop. This feature can be disabled via a registry edit.

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SOFTWARE > Widcomm > BTConfig > General > KeyIndication

Change the value of “KeyIndication” from “1″ to “0″

Reboot..

Problem fixed. This will only be an issue if there is a BT device connected to the PC. I use both wired and wireless on my PC.

Thanks for reading.

HDBase-T

I recently got my hands on an HDBase-T device.

Quoi?

HDBaseT supported by the HDBaseT Alliance, is a consumer electronic (CE) connectivity technology for transmission of uncompressed high-definition video (HD), audio, power, home networking, and some control signals, over a common cable with a standard connector.

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In this instance it is a single device which passes an HDMI signal over cat5e (Network Cable) up to 100 meters or 320 feet. Generally devices such as these go for about $200 – $500. So you can imagine how sceptical I was when I saw this nGear branded one for $140 CDN.

There were alternatives out there on Amazon for a lot cheaper, but they weren’t HDBase-T. Which means limited support, and it will not support 3D or DTS 7.1.

What do you get in the package? You get an input and output terminator, you get two power adapters for the terminators, and you get two IR transmitters/receivers. The IR transmitter/receivers are able to pass your remotes signal over the cat5 cable to your connected device.

Initially when I got this device I was worried about the connectivity, I could not get it to work. Then I decided to crimp a new cable. With the new cable in place I was able to watch a 3D movie in 5.1 surround from my PS3 in my bedroom on my home theatre in the living room.

This is not what I intended the device for. I wanted this for my Gaming PC which sits in the bedroom. Now I play my PC games with a controller in the Living room.

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Additionally to the HDBase-T device I had to get a super long USB 2.0 cable which also runs from the gaming PC to the living room. I have connected a USB hub to this cable and a MS Wireless controller adapter so I can play games with my 360 controller. Sports and adventure games. When it comes to first person shooters I play it at my desk on my 3 monitors, mouse, and keyboard. I have both options available.

Switching between the 3 monitors and the Living room is easy, with AMDs Catalyst profiles I either press Ctrl+Alt+F4 (Desk) or Ctrl+Alt+F5 (Living Room). You can set this up yourself with any key combination you desire. Here’s a little visual guide someone put together.

So that was part of the battle the next challenge came in when I was in the living room I could not start and close applications with my controller, I would have to go to the bedroom unplug the mouse and bring it into the living room. That kind of defeated the purpose of the entire convenience. This is where Xpadder came in. Xpadder alows me to setup my controller and map mouse movements and clicks to buttons and joysticks on the controller. I mapped the mouse to my right analog stick and left click to my right trigger. It was a safe bet that it would no interfere with any controls in games. If you play any games the right stick always translates to mouse movements and right trigger always translates to left mouse click on the PC. I was right it really doesn’t interfere much, having payed Tomb Raider and Fifa 12 on the big screen it works pretty well. Now you can download Xpadder from the official site with a donation, or you can find it for free on other sites. Up to you.

At one point the GF saw me playing Tomb Raider on the bis screen, and she was amazed at how realistic the graphics were “movie like” was her comment. I chuckled, because it totally justified my purchase and it reminded me of this.

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As far as lag goes in gaming, there isn’t any that I have noticed. It works very well and I’m happy with it. My next purchase might be a blue-tooth wireless mechanical keyboard to put in the living room that can connect to 9 different devices.

So there you have it HDBase-T by nGear is a very solid and reliable device. I played through Tomb Raider on it and it hasn’t given me any trouble. I supports up to HDMI 1.4 but without ARC support.

I give it a 9 out of 10.

Here is a quick spec sheet:

HDMI version ———————————————    High speed with 3D support
Support HDMI resolution—————–  1080P/1080i/720P/576P/576i/480P/480i
Support video color bit ——————————————  deep color 24bit/36bit
Support audio format———————————   LPCM/Dolby-AC3/DTS7.1/DSD
Input Video signal ————————————————————- 5.0Volts P-P
Output cable distance—————————————————————-  <=5m
Input cable distance——————————————————————- <=5m
Data transfer speed———————————————–  6.75Gbps-10.2Gbps
Operating Humidity range————————–   5 to 90%RH (No Condensation)
Operating Temperature range————————–    -15 to +55C° (5 to 131°F)
Power adapter format——————————-  Input AC(50Hz.60Hz) 100- 240V
Power  Supply———————————————————————–   DC 5V