AV & Media Room Design

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I've come to the somewhat sad conclusion that a media closet just isn't big enough, especially when Father Time means less agility and willingness to move around on one's knees or in tight spaces. My next house will need a whole room devoted to PC's, DVD players, etc, etc.
Since I'm going to be moving soon, I would like to be more proactive in designing a whole house AV system than in the past, when things just sort of grew together as I acquired them. I envision starting from scratch. About the only specification I know about in advance is that it will have to be a "wheel-friendly" house like a rancher, preferably with a basement, but not necessarily.
While I realize the end design will be very closely coupled to the space available, there are certain concerns that are universal. For me, the primary concern is good access. Has anyone turned a large-walk in closet into an AV media room? Was it large enough to allow swing-out or roll out equipment racks?
I was also thinking that large "frames" like doors made out of pegboard could divide a room in half so that I could swing them open and access the back panels of the AV gear and provide storage for cables, adapters and other gear. A normal bedroom split in half would work, with the second half of the room a place for an exercise bike or something that could be easily moved to one side of the room to allow a panel to swing open. The biggest problem I see is that a room that had good access to the front and back of the equipment stack would really have to have two doors.
Another consideration for me is that my dad (who helps with setting up on occasion) is in a powerchair, and although it's got a pretty narrow turning circle, it needs room. My dad's chair and my new Roomba's gotten me thinking about how important unimpeded access for wheeled devices will be in my future. I'll have to measure the height, but I think the wheelchair arms are
I hate the idea of having to give up a whole bedroom-sized room for AV gear but there seems to have been a never-ending parade of new formats and advances that overloaded the garden variety stereo "console" a long, long time ago. I've got CCTV and other AV related gear dispersed throughout the house and when I move I'd like to centralize them.
I'll be looking at houses today and I thought I'd pick everyone's brain as to how best design an accessible AV center.
Any input would be appreciated.
-- Bobby G.
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On Sat, 16 Jun 2007 15:54:25 -0400, "Robert Green"

Consider a "Server Rack"; used in network closets.
This site** has a three step click and buy (only a pointer link).
**Server Racks Online's rack configurator lets you "Click & Design" server racks from leading manufacturers. Build a rack to your specific requirements, and we'll ship the rack you designed! http://www.server-rack-online.com /
-- Oren
..through the use of electrical or duct tape, achieve the configuration in the photo..
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<stuff snipped (sorry I've been so late in replying!) >

as
Thanks, Oren. Since asking that question here and elsewhere, I've come up with a DIY approach with double slotted heavy duty shelving that I think will serve my needs.
I'm going to put the "servers" - by which I mean PC's, DVD jukeboxes, etc. in the basement. I've decided to put all of the equipment in an "island" configuration the way some kitchens are designed. That way, there should be "wheel around" access to all the components. This design appealed to me because all the wires could be routed to conduits and wouldn't be lying on the floor where they would interfere with powerchair wheels. Since I've gotten a few floor cleaning bots, cords on the floor are a real show-stopper.
The issue I am facing now is the length limits on all the new cable schemes like HDMI and USB. If the server room is just below the living room, I'll be able to route the HDMI and USB cables directly. The plan is to have very little "artifact" in the living room. Right now I envision a remote control, an external single disk DVD player - perhaps even a "slot load" drive that can be built into the wall or into some furniture. With PC based music and video servers, it should be possible to operate nearly everything remotely. The upstairs DVD player could be used to play rental DVDs and disks friends bring over. After fussing with a number of DVD and Tivo-like stand-alone recorders I've given up on them and will build my own video server.
Thanks for your input,
-- Bobby G.
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I hate to say it, because I usually like to design and build stuff myself, but it sure sounds to me like this is the time in life for you where it might be best to consult an A/V design specialist. A good one will take your requirements (space, access, expandability) and create a plan you can follow for the build.
If you find a good one, it'll well be worth the few hundred dollars for the consult.
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You might want to look at this site for some getting started info: http://www.conceptron.com/articles /!article_index.html
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It cost me $100.00 for a "certified " specialist for an in home evaluation . I received a detailed folder, including the design, statement of work, itemized material, cost, etc.
The certification escapes me right now... -- Oren
..through the use of electrical or duct tape, achieve the configuration in the photo..
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<stuff snipped (sorry I've been so late in replying!) >

You guys *are* my consultants! (-: I've looked at swing-out commercial racks and a number of other solutions and have decided to "roll my own" for now. I just haven't been impressed by the "bang for the buck" I get from commercial designs. While they make more sense in industrial and business environments, they're a little too pricey for the size setup I envision.
What I've decided to do is go the "island" route. I WAS going to drop some 2 x 4's from the basement ceiling and mount them to the floor but I found out that might be against code. I'll have to talk to my local inspector first. If it's OK, I'll run industrial strength dual-slot steel shelving standards along the length of the 2x4's. Since the shelves will be floating (not backed against a wall) I should be able to access the front or back with ease, as long as I take the powerchair's turning radius and clearances into consideration.
If money were no object, what I would really like is some sort of hydraulic lift that would enable to access several shelves' worth of equipment from the wheelchair. If I find some sort of heavy duty lift mechanism that I can adopt that can raise and lower the shelves the way some fancy legal filing cabinets work, I'd be ecstatic! Dad's powerchair has a lifting center column, but the bad part is that it only extends a paltry 6 inches. Better than nothing but darn close to it!

I find it never hurts to ask on the web first about anything because it at least helps me insure I've covered the basics and learned the lingo. I've already come up with a dozen modifications to my original plans, just seeing the way other people do things.
One gentlemen's approach (John W., if memory serves) was to mount equipment at waist height between stud bays and cover the openings with vent panels. Ten bucks worth of super neodymium magnets make it removable without tools and accessible from a wheelchair. BruceR. used long outlet strips to provide good ventiliation and access to all the wall "wart" power transformers that power a lot of home A/V gear.
It may turn out that a consultation will provide me with even more ideas and clue me into local building code issues. I'll probably get good wiring diagrams out of the process, too, so it's something I will seriously consider.
As for mounting gear hidden in stud bays, my only concern would be a potential heat buildup but that problem can be assessed by initial monitoring with a good recording thermometer. Thermal protections could also be built into the enclosure just to be on the safe side. I can also add fan cooling and fan rotation monitoring so I can shut down the gear if the fan fails. Cheap PC 3-wire fans generate a signal that corresponds to their RPM so it's simple to tell if they've failed. A simple clothes-dryer type thermostatic switch could be used to shut off system power and sound an alarm with a few simple components and a relay.
Thanks for the input, Abe, I appreciate it.
-- Bobby G.
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On Sat, 16 Jun 2007 15:54:25 -0400, Robert Green wrote:

You might try the AVS Forums. Here is a link to the "Dedicated Theater Design & Construction" forum:
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/forumdisplay.php?s=&daysprune=2&f 
It's takes a while to get your bearings on the AVS Forums because there is so much information there.
Scroll down to the bottom and change the screen color from AVS Dark Theater to AVS White and it will be easier on your eyes.
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An active Usenet group is _alt.home-theater.misc_
-- Oren
..through the use of electrical or duct tape, achieve the configuration in the photo..
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<stuff snipped>

Theater
Thanks! I looked on Usenet and all I found was the rather moribund:
_alt.home-theater_ which only had 10 or so posts a month. Sometimes the hierarchies don't seem to make much sense. I'll go take a look now . . .
-- Bobby G.
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as
Thanks! Sorry for the long delay in responding. That's an excellent resource. Your comment is quite accurate. It's a very information-dense site. Nice to know that there's a dedicated forum. I'll scan there for some ideas.

Theater
Ah yes. I noticed that there are a number of viewing options that make things easier. I chose the "print" view because the clutter of the regular view is for a younger generation!
I've been thinking about putting in ventilation that would capture the heat from the equipment in the winter but vent it externally in the summer and picked up some ideas here:
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/archive/index.php/t-748441.html
I might even look at using a heat exchanger so I wouldn't upset the humidity balance in the house with a low-tech dryer vent sort of arrangement.
Thanks again for the URL.
-- Bobby G.
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Try something like this. Find a house that has a room with a large closet, with the closet on a wall that is shared with a room that would be an acceptable room for watching TV.
If your TV is a plasma or LCD that you can hang on the wall, hang it in the viewing room on the shared wall, and put the equipment in the closet, and connect through the wall.
If the TV is one that you can't hang on the wall, put it in the closet, facing the wall, and cut a viewport in the wall. As above, put your gear in the closet.
If your gear needs access from the viewing room (e.g., to insert DVDs into the DVD player), you can cut more holes in the wall, and build shelves that hold the equipment such that the front panels are in the viewing room but the backs are in the closet.
You only have to give up a closet this way.
For anything you need other than the viewing room (e.g., music for the bedroom), run the connections from the AV closet up through the attic, to the destination, and down.
--
--Tim Smith

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Or, since drywall and 2x4s are relatively cheap, just look for a space that won't be terribly expensive to remodel to suit your actual needs. Always factor in repainting the place, this will make drywalling less painful too.
All too often a great deal of time and money gets wasted trying to shoehorn the wrong stuff into the wrong spaces. Like not rearranging a wall and jamming expensive gear into a tiny closet and having it get wrecked by overheating. Or trying to reuse existing gear not well suited for the new installation.
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that
too.
I had been planning to build an shelving rack on 2x4's dropped from the basement ceiling joists but learned that some local codes frown on tying floors together like that. I can make a free standing unit, but that might cause problems with the powerchair. If I brace the basement joists I could probably get around any issues tying the floors together by just "hanging" the AV racks from the ceiling with nothing on the floor. That could end up transmitting too much vibration from the floor above to the equipment since there's a turntable involved. Not many of Dad's favorite records from the 50's ever made it to CD format. (-:

shoehorn
The tendency when making things accessible is to cram everything into the "sweet zone" from about 36 to 48" off the ground. I've alread had cooling problems as a result and have added small cooling fans to heat generators like receivers and recorders. The problem with that is even cooling fans won't help of there's no way to vent the heat build-up. The fans just end up pushing around super-heated air.
On the positive side, providing sufficient manuevering room for a powerchair usually means there's more than sufficient air flow. Hopefully I can find some metal grillwork that I can use to make equipment shelves, perhaps by making "frames" out of 1" square hardwood and the metal grillework if I can't find something pre-made that doesn't cost a fortune. Having fully ventilated shelves will hopefully keep "hot pockets" from forming when equipment gets stacked up.
-- Bobby G.
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On Wed, 1 Aug 2007 17:44:52 -0400, "Robert Green"

After a burglary relieved us of audio gear (later recovered by the police) and enough of our difficult-to-replace CD collection to serve as a warning, I moved much of the AV equipment into the basement with the other HA infrastructure. And since there is only a crawl space under most of the house and the space in the full basement that does exist is at a premium, I (bravely? naively?) chose to shoehorn all the gear and wiring into an otherwise wasted part of the basement that was poorly accessible owing to the air-handler, boiler, water heater and duct-work. IOW, I created lotsa obstacles to a 'clean' installation. I am once again addressing these realities owing to the partial retirement of CyberHouse and its physical sequelae.
(One advantage of the 'federated, PC-centric approach is that although much of the HA system is disconnected and in boxes on the floor, hanging from the ceiling and/or in my Porch Sale, the What-Me-Worry Napco security system has remained completely unperturbed and fully operational.)
Part of my solution is to use two surplus 5-foot-tall, roller-mounted 19" racks. These are open on all sides which provides excellent cross ventilation, but create yet another challenge/problem -- namely how to connect the moveable racks to the extensive wiring on the wall.
The solution for the 'computer' rack is to connect it to the rest of the world only through a 12 gauge extension cord powering a 120VAC isolation transformer on the rack and two fiber optic cables (one is gigabit ethernet; the other is audio). This tether is long enough to let me move it anywhere in the basement. An important advantage of the galvanic isolation provided by the use of fiber, transformer and rubber wheels is a high level of protection from lighting/transient electrical sub-systems damage. We have suffered repeated equipment failures despite whole-house surge protection at the meter installed by the utility. The damage was partly of and apparently partly because of the plethora low-voltage gizmos attached to the computers.
At last count, the HA system controlled by a PC on this rack had about fifteen RS-232, RS-422 and RS-485 devices. They are no longer connected directly to the PCs, but via www.comtrol.com multiport Ethernet--> RS-xxx hubs which in turn are connected to the PC's via fiber. An added advantage to this approach is that the RS-xxx-connected devices can be controlled by any computer connected to the Internet (as we used to say, "anywhere in the world" ;-). This also provides a means for failover from one computer to another and permits the re-allocation/reconfiguration of individual serial devices from one computer to another with a batch file or a few clicks/keystrokes and without physically unplugging and replugging.
I also 'rolled my own racks' (pun intended) using with 19" rack rails from http://www.gruber.com like these http://cgi.ebay.com/Pairs-of-16-Space-16U-Rack-Rails-for-EIA-19-Rack-Mount_W 0QQitemZ190135078156QQihZ009QQcategoryZ23789QQcmdZViewItem bolted on to 24x18x6" steel HA 'sandboxes' from our local www.graybar.com. I'll post some pictures when the HA system looks presentable again. Right now that part of the basement looks like the I35W bridge in Minneapolis.
... Marc Marc_F_Hult HA and Electronics Porch Sale jist beginning at www.ECOntrol.org/porch_sale.htm
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That's an interesting idea. Since one of the goals was to reduce the heat load in the viewing room by moving all the electronics outside the room, even a partial "removal" might be helpful. It might even be possible to put remotely operated sliding doors in the viewing room that expose the gear when access is needed. That would also address another goal - to make the living room still look like a living room and not a Best Buy showroom!
I'm beginning to wonder if new houses shouldn't be built like old horror movie castles with passageways between each room. The number of wires associated with PC's and home theater just seems to be growing exponentially but I've haven't seen any solutions that I really like.
Thanks, Tim, for the suggestions.
-- Bobby G.
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On Sat, 16 Jun 2007 15:54:25 -0400, "Robert Green"
<snip>

The equipment generates a lot of heat. I used open shelves with back ventilation to allow for that. I guess you can rig up a few quiet ventilation fans. Wires can get out-of-hand, so plan for some cable management--I kept all the electrical on the left side, all the other cables on the right and used Velcro fasteners to keep the wires neat. I have a seven-channel amp with wiring hidden in the crown molding. In general, the shorter the wires, the better. I put my theater room on a separate electrical circuit. Moving cables after everything is setup and works can create troubleshooting headaches. It's my guess that future AV rooms will have more and better wireless components.
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Bedroom-sized? Assuming you place everything within reach of a wheel chair bound person, you could install 56" tall (32-space) racks for everything. Install cooling fan inserts in the lowest 2 spaces. Place a 2-space vent at the top of each rack. Here's an example from Middle Atlantic, one of our vendors: http://www.middleatlantic.com/rackac/cooling/uqfp.htm That leaves you with better 28 spaces (49") for gear in each rack. They also make several "residential" cooling solutions: http://www.middleatlantic.com/rackac/cooling/qcool.htm These are better suited for listening room racks.
Middle Atlantic makes custom rackshelves which are precisely cut to fit the fronts of your A/V gear. They have an extensive library of cut-outs for thousands of models. If your unit isn't in the library they will make the face to your specifications. They don't charge for custom fitting. The finished look is much slicker than the typical rack since all the gear looks as though it was made to fit.
I've installed media racks (mostly Middle Atlantic) in numerous homes, including my own, over the years. In a home theater environment I like to install the racks in a side wall or, if the front wall is wide enough, on either side of the screen. Done right the effect is attractive and the system is easy to use. If you can afford to buy enough A/V gear to fill a bedroom, make the front of your home theater wide enough for two side-by-side racks on each side of the screen. This would give you 112 spaces (16'4") of usable rack. With most components using between 3 and 5 spaces (both of my HT receivers need eight spaces) you'd have room for enough gear to provide a large home with entertainment throughout.
You can install an IR pickup on the ceiling to trigger a sequence that opens the curtain, powers up the projector and sets the lighting. Here's an example of a low profile IR receiver from Xantech, another of our vendors: http://www.xantech.com/newprod/49090.htm
--

Regards,
Robert L Bass
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Robert Green wrote:

That would be a bit of overkill don't you think?

One easy method is a closet with access to both front and back. How you decide to accomplish this is up to you. Doors on both sides, door front and open back, open front and back, door front and removable panel on back, open front and hang a black blanket on the back, the possibilities are endless.
I remember one house with bypass doors on front and back. This allowed a bunch of equipment (6' wide) and the bypass doors can be removed easily when major work is required.
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One home we did in CT quite a few years ago had a large, unfinished basement. They built the HT room in the middle 1/3, leaving about 1/3 for utility space and another 1/3 for bathroom, guest room and a small kitchenette.
I had a reveal made to cover the bottom of the RPTV (a 50" Mitsubishi) which fit into an opening in the wall between the HT and utility area. We built custom in-wall and in-ceiling speakers for effects channels, used a pair of Martin-Logan towers for the mains and built a matched pair of 12" subs to fit into the wall behind each of the main speakers.
There was a closet in the plans for the theater but I convinced the homeowners to let me take it over. I had the carpenter frame a "window" in one wall of the closet. The opening was nearly floor to ceiling, designed to exactly fit a standard rack (they come in 1.75" increments). IIRC, the rack was 48 spaces (7') high. We installed Middle Atlantic custom rackshelves (cf. earlier post to this thread) for his Yamaha receiver, two dual mono-block amps, power controller and source gear.
There were channels being built on the ceiling to hide HVAC ducts. I had those built a few inches wider to accommodate conduit for the HT system, whole-house audio, alarm, intercom and phone cables (this was before structured cabling became a household word).
That single, 7-foot tall rack held all the A/V gear he needed for a 4-story (basement + 3 floors) home. If I were doing the same thing today we'd need a bit of space for a couple of media servers. Other than that, I'd have done it pretty much the same way.
--

Regards,
Robert L Bass
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