A guide to home entertainment services
A guide to home entertainment services
Hannah Shanks - Editor
The phrase "home entertainment" is an umbrella term for a vast range of electronic goods that have become a standard part of every home in the United Kingdom. Ranging from a standalone television set to large integrated systems; these items are commonplace and, despite their obvious functional applications, are increasingly being used as focal points for rooms and can dominate their design and layout. The technology involved is not only very advanced, but is also developing very rapidly. Expert advice or extensive research is required to make the most of what you are paying for. A simple and well synchronised system can often work far better than simply combining the most expensive constituent parts.
Elements of a Home Entertainment System
The popular television program "MTV Cribs" can be an interesting insight into the more garish side of interior design, where the houses of celebrities are explored and the number of televisions totted up as if to score the house on this merit. This trend for having television sets dotted across a house may satisfy many people's constant need for entertainment, but is certainly not the most sophisticated in terms of design. If the house is to be let, for example, a system installed in the bathroom could be used to attract clients, although it may equally put some people off. When deciding on such elaborations, it is important to consider to whom you want the property to appeal. A garishly large television may suit a young professional's attic apartment, but would look hideously out of place in an Elizabethan retreat. All modern entertainment systems will include a flat screen television; the following points are worth considering with regard to choosing and installing one:
Size, type and price – High definition plasma screen and liquid crystal display (LCD) television screens can cost several thousand pounds, and so it is worth knowing a decent amount about the technology before purchasing one. LCD screens provide very high contrast, a no flicker picture and work well in a broad range of lighting conditions. Plasma screens are available in much larger sizes than LCD screens and are priced much lower than LCD models of equivalent size. Screens of up to 60 inches are now available from high street shops, but the work involved in mounting or concealing something of this size may not justify the actual function of such an item. A very large or complicated piece of kit is only likely to appeal to true film or technology enthusiasts who, in any case, are more likely to want to select the entertainment system themselves.
- Mounting – A large screen can either be wall mounted or placed on a stand. Using a stand involves no structural work and can, of course, be moved when re-designing or organising the room. Attractive and stylish stands can be bought relatively cheaply or even custom made to match the style of the room. They can also be used as a feature for the room and combined with other storage, which can reduce the impact the item has on the room in terms of floor space. Wall mounting can be a fairly straight forward task, providing the wall is sufficiently strong to take the weight of the set and bracket. Trailing wires can spoil the aesthetics of a well mounted screen, but cable chasing is a difficult task. The cable types should be checked stringently to ensure a good picture will be achieved once the cables have been concealed.
- Professional Mounting – There are independent companies that will assess the situation and give individual quotes according to the amount of work that needs to be done. This is not necessarily the cheapest option, but all work should be guaranteed, and choosing a smaller independent company that must rely on maintaining its reputation should insure against receiving a poor service. The alternative is a flat rate installation service offered by a large electrical retailer. This is usually in the region of several hundred pounds, but it may be worth considering that this price includes advertising costs and glossy catalogues that are used to promote such businesses. As a result, the service is not necessarily especially high quality. Most services of this type do not include concealment of cables, configuration of the screen, mounting the speakers. A telephone survey is carried out before the work is carried out, but it depends heavily on the customer knowing details about the construction of the wall. A home visit allows for a professional to make the relevant assessments themselves and advise on the most suitable positioning, bracket and cabling.
DVD looks as though it will be the most common format used for film for at least the next five years. A decent player is therefore a sound investment, especially if it is to be used as part of a home cinema type system. The most expensive players cover all international formats, allowing cinema enthusiasts to watch imported films. The audio output and encoding are also very important when knowing which player will integrate best with amplifiers and speaker systems. High end players from companies such as NAD (who are most famous for their excellent amplifiers) provide the option to adjust the sound output according to speaker size, distance and level. This is done before the sound is encoded, which provides better sound than adjusting the levels once the sound data has left the DVD player. A good retailer should be able to advise on which model will give the highest quality visual and sound output. In a rented property, the look of the system is arguably as important as the function. You must ensure the style, shape and finish on the player fits the rest of the electronic system and the room. You may want a player that simply matches the rest of the equipment, or that can be easily hidden or displayed discretely.
Once "High Definition" televisions (HD TVs) fall in price and become more common, a battle is set to ensue over the format which will be used for film to maximise the image quality of these new sets. The contenders are Sony's "Blu-Ray" and Toshiba's "HD-DVD", both of which use a blue laser as opposed to the conventional red, allowing more data to be stored and thus giving a better picture. Therefore, it is definitely worth waiting to see which prevails before purchasing a player that may well become obsolete in a few years.
Storage and Media Servers
A library of films, CDs or records can say a great deal about the owner and, if presented well, can be used an attractive feature of a room. Custom built racks are a simple way to ensure that the storage matches the rest of the furniture and maximise the available space. The design is obviously subjective though, so be aware of the risks before you plump for a particular style. Equally stylish and cheaper options are available, for example the CD rack designed by Charleen Spiteri which is part of the Habitat Very Important Product range. An alternative to such storage is a 'Media Server'. This is a central storage system which allows visual and audio data to be stored electronically at one location, which is normally hidden, and accessed through a range of different devices. It does require all film and music to be converted and installed onto the server, which can be a painstaking task. Expert advice is required for setting up such a system to ensure that devices are compatible but, once in place, this is a very simple way to store and access huge volumes of information from across the house.
Most people looking to rent a furnished property will expect some sort of hi-fi system to be in place. While choosing the type of system to buy and install, the size of room, amount of furniture, flooring and type of music to be played must all be considered. High street electronics chains are not a good option. Staff are rarely well informed about the products and have specific sales targets to meet. Similarly, Hi-Fi review magazines must present the technology in a sensationalist fashion to maintain interest and readership. Small, independent retailers are therefore the best choice, as they are often staffed by enthusiasts and will be able to provide a much more personal and informed service. Competition with internet based companies is furious and, as they are destined to lose out in price, small companies must make up in service.
Multi-room systems can be a very attractive option to potential tenants, as they provide the ability to set specific moods across the house both while relaxing or entertaining guests. If selling a furnished property, such a system is something that is definitely worth considering as a functional and stylish addition that few people have the time or knowledge to install. A media server will be required to maximise a multi-room audio system.
Lighting can completely alter the appearance and mood of a room. The quality of lighting and the ease with which it can be adjusted is therefore very important. Simple dimmer switches and additional lamps are an easy way to do this, but modern technology allows for far more dynamic systems to be used. When choosing a lighting system, the different activities which take place in a room must be considered. It is worth employing a specialist to help assess the requirements, although this can be very expensive. Intelligent lighting systems use information from exterior and interior light sensors to appropriately modify blinds and lights. These systems can be controlled using handheld remote controls or on wall mounted buttons, which tend to be more subtle and ultimately more stylish.
Lighting, music and visual entertainment are usually run in isolation from each other. Smart Systems aim to integrate these elements in order to save energy and improve the performance of each element. "Smart Homes" have been hailed as the homes of the future for decades and are slowly becoming a reality. Designing and installing such a system is best done as early as possible in the construction process, although large synchronised systems are not currently a practical reality. The most realistic option at the time of writing is a system which integrates all of the above elements, and independent consultancies will help you do this at a price.
Choosing a consultancy
Research is of paramount importance before installing a large home entertainment system. The wiring and mounting of all equipment puts demands on the wiring and structure of the house. Any company that is to install equipment for you should check your home for compatibility before they sell you anything. Structural modifications and exterior wiring or installation may also be necessary and the conditions of tenancy agreements and registered deeds may not permit this. Sound can travel very large distances through buildings, and excessive noise from neighbours is an environmental health issue. The quality of sound insulation should therefore be tested, using a decibel meter, before considering a powerful system. Again, structural work may be required to insulate particular rooms against noise, which must comply with the tenancy agreement and deeds.
A good consultancy will be proud of their references and have examples of previous projects, so these should be offered as standard. Be sure to ask about their opinions and positions on trends and styles, as these change over periods of years rather than decades and a home entertainment system may be something you want to last longer than that. Minimalism is no longer in fashion and bespoke design is now a more commonly banded phrase, a company which emphasises such factors would be ideal if the property is to be a professional let, for example, but perhaps less suited to a family home.