“This is the end of life as we have come to know and love it.” I thought as I watched thirty five square feet and 1080 progressively scanned lines of glorious television walk out of my life forever. My roommate, along with his beloved projector, was headed for greener pastures, leaving the rest of us to languish away into sad, lonesome, standard-def obscurity.
There’s a lot of good literature out there on the Googles that will help guide you to the perfect projector. Since we had become accustomed to a certain standard of television, we were looking for a 1080p projector, 60Hz would do, with a minimum contrast ratio of 1:2000. But In terms of what kinds of projectors are available on the market (from the $200 VewSanic knock-off to the $20,000 3DMax Sound-O-Vision Extreme), the price range we were expecting was between $500 and $1000. But for us our wallets, we were just looking for something to “scrape by.” So, when we found an $800 projector that hit our minimum requirements, but was available for $580 through a special refurbished program, we jumped at it. BOOM. And we had a projector again.
Everything was hooked up to the cable and DVR—we turned it on and… there’s no sound. Maybe we should have thought this out better. With a trip to RadioShack for a ⅛” stereo to ¼” mono adapter, we were able to jury rig my fiancée Meggyn’s bass amp in as a temporary sound system. Well, at least it was loud and thumpy!
Bliss settled in, until we realized we were merely maintaining the status quo. Like cavemen watching the firelight flicker across the wall. With the projector haphazardly settled on an end-table with a book underneath to prop it up, the risk of inebriated guests leaving open-topped drinks on the same table and toppling them into the delicate internals—the horror, the horror!—was just too high. Of course, I’d just dropped an inordinate sum of money on a brand new projector, so I wasn’t keen on the idea of dropping even more moolah on a television mount that wouldn’t directly affect the viewing experience.
One of the nice things about living in a leased house is that you never know what surprises you might find! After hunting around for extra shelving, I came across an old television mount up in the back corner of the garage (the kind for those tube TVs that could smash toddlers to atoms). And so began the next obstacle: the mount was bolted into a high wooden rafter in the garage, but we only had drywall in the living room… To Google! It turns out that as long as there’s a stud behind wherever you’re screwing in the mount, it should hold weight. After a trip to the local Ace hardware to buy some screws that could be used to drill to China and a quick download of the Bubble Level app—to make sure we weren’t setting ourselves up for a neck kink—we got to work. (Contrary to Meggyn’s expectations, the level app did a good job!)
And then failure struck—we broke two of the screws because we thought we could get away without drilling pilot holes. It’s TOOL TIME! We borrowed a drill (thanks, mom!), and we raised the projector up like the Mennonites raising a barn. Then we cracked open a few beers to celebrate exactly like the Mennonites would not have.
Now we were getting somewhere! We could no longer inadvertently destroy all of our wonderful video goodness without some extra effort of lobbing liquids towards the ceiling. The next failure, of course, being that we couldn’t actually connect the cable or the power to our ascended projector. Who wanted to get lost in the details of connecting this, right? What are we, rocket surgeons?
To solve our connection problems, I repurposed some unused bookshelves I had bought for my room. With a few more marks and holes in the wall next to the projector mount, I added a shelf in the living room that we loaded up with every bit of television-related electronics. To paint the picture for you, we now had the projector on the old TV mount (in the dead-center of the wall), an overburdened shelf stacked with enough boxes with blinking lights that it may have been flagged by the NSA, a bass amp on the floor, and so many power cables and audio/video cables strewn about that they might as well have been vines in a nightmarish Lovecraftian dystopian future of cybertronic Amazonian forest… Let’s leave it at “messier than a dorm room during finals” and be done. But now that everything worked, I was at: “Please, for the love of God and all that is holy (and not blinking lights at me), let me be done.”
Now we had a beautiful 1080p picture taking up the front wall and plenty of loud thumpy sounds to accompany it. Except if you changed the input from the cable to the Wii. Or to the Chromecast. Or to the Xbox. Was I the only one around here who understood which colors get connected to which inputs on the back of this thing?! Rather than attempting to teach every person who came to the house which cables to disconnect/reconnect to switch the audio whenever you switched the video feed (I just wasn’t up for writing the Connectionist Manifesto), I decided that another trip to RadioShack was in order. There I found an A/V switch for under $20 along with a few new A/V cables and a shiny new sound bar with subwoofer for definitely not under $20 (Meggyn was complaining about wanting her bass amp back and, hey, it was payday!). I returned to our humble, if electrically dangerous, abode armed with my new equipment, a sharpie, some wire ties, some labels, and as much determination as I could muster. I tackled the monumental task of improving our sound system, organizing our A/V shelf, wire managing all of the dangly bits (can’t leave any extra 1s or 0s), and setting our theater system up in such a way that at the press of a (CLEARLY LABELLED) button, my roomies, or any of our guests, could switch between video and audio streams at will.
The Finishing Touches
Life almost seemed perfect. It was simple enough to use the newly organized system, the new sound system was much more balanced than a 15 Watt bass amp, and whatever we watched was beautiful (except the Wii… stupid standard-definition output). But if you can’t find a problem to fix, then you aren’t looking hard enough. Some of the darker colors were being washed together by the projector, and it was sometimes hard to tell what was going on during scenes that took place in the dark. Blackout curtains became the next addition to the room. We got these thanks to a generous donation of leftover fabric from Meggyn’s mom. They just barely cover the full width of our window, but it works. Now, we can watch the projector during the day as if it were the middle of the night (without that pesky bedtime thing). Our last improvement was to go to OSH and buy some cinder blocks, push the couch forward so that it was closer to the wall (or rather, the screen), drop the cinder blocks behind the old couch and ADD ANOTHER COUCH. Because couch. Now, we’ve got theater-style seating to go with our home-theater!
I still don’t think we’re done making improvements, but for the moment we’re pretty happy with how everything turned out. And the only really spendy parts were the projector itself and the sound bar—things which will be following us to our next house! Thanks to some successful craigslist foraging, the new couch was free, and the cinder blocks we used to prop it up were a few dollars apiece. We used five blocks for the couch and another three to make a recycled-plywood footrest.
All-in-all, we could have done a much worse (much more expensive) job of converting our living room into one radical home theater.
Photo by Michael Cox