This Old House Billerica house project
The Billerica house project, which was damaged by a fire before the TOH crew renovated it in 1999.
Back in the old days, around 1985 and before, the big question about a house's "electronics package" was "Where do I plug my stereo and TV in?" Now, of course, things are different. Just as the plumber and the electrician must think through and install a house's pipes and wires before the walls are closed in, so too must today's media systems experts design and pre-wire the entertainment center, surround-sound system, and whole-house speaker network that so many homeowners are asking for. Designing a home media system for the Silvas' house proved to be quite a challenge for us. First, I established how the system would be used and which room was the appropriate place for it. I quickly realized that the family room would be the nerve center of the electronics package, where the Silvas would watch TV and movies. But the room was designed to maximize views, light, access to beautiful decks on either side of the room and the enjoyment of a centrally located fireplace. My initial reaction to the room (which was rather unpopular, to say the least!) was "Get rid of the fireplace." Or move it, I only half-way joked. For an ideal home theater experience, the TV really needs to be a focal point, not just stuck off to the side where viewing will be inconvenient at best, uncomfortable at worst. My next questions were about furniture plans and traffic patterns. Putting the TV against either wall would block access to a deck on one side and the front porch on the other. The back wall was off-limits because anyone entering or exiting the room would have to walk in front of the TV. Plunking a large box down in one of the corners also seemed like a poor idea; the room would then have two competing focal points, something a furniture layout could never solve. A chunk of equipment hulking in the corner is just the kind of thing that so nauseates the design community. Fortunately, we could do better than that. To solve this location dilemma we reached into our bag of tricks and pulled out a new, cool technology—a flat panel display video monitor only six inches deep that gives a 42-inch diagonal image. These units were developed for the commercial markets which needed to display images in places where floor space was at a premium, like airports and building lobbies. Unlike a standard cathode-ray tube, which requires distance (the depth of the tube) to resolve images, flat-screen TVs use an electric grid mounted directly behind a screen of gas plasma. Changing electrical pulses cause the gas to light up in different colors and produce images. With this technology, we were able to hang the TV like a painting above the fireplace—right smack in the middle of the room's focal point. The result? A cool application of technology that is well-integrated into the room design. Sound is, of course, every bit as important to a film as picture, and Hollywood is quite committed to constantly pushing the sound effects envelope. To get the most out of everything from network movies to video games, a multi-channel audio system is essential. The latest technical standards require a whole array of speakers. As you can imagine, placing these speakers poses quite a challenge in any room; the Silvas' family room was no exception. We mounted the front three speakers flush around the TV, one each on the left and right and one directly above. Then we placed surround sound speakers in the ceiling at the back of the room. We installed two subwoofers—which reproduce bangs, booms and low frequency effects—in the walls flanking the doors. To house the eight components that produce sound for the theater and music throughout the house, we designed a custom cabinet. Placed just outside the family room, the cabinet keeps the equipment out of sight while it still allows the whole system to be operated from Dick's favorite chair. As you can see, careful planning can result in a warm complement of technology and style. Homeowners can truly have it all—and they do!
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