Lighthouse

All things projection

So You Want to Build a Home Theater? Step 1: Planning

jason_palmer_home_theatre_image_01_alt

When I first thought about the title for this post, I couldn’t help but think about a classic Byrds hit from the 60s, “So You Want to be a Rock & Roll Star.” In the song, the band laid out four simple steps to rock stardom: first, get an electric guitar; second, take some time and learn how to play; third, grow your hair right; and fourth, wear tight pants. What could be easier?

It’s in that frame of mind that I‘m approaching this blog series. I want to share my thoughts as well as insight from other industry experts on how a beginner–someone who’s never owned or set up a home theater before– can get their arms around the technical and aesthetic issues necessary to create a home theater that really rocks, regardless of the budget. And while I can’t promise that my advice will have the same life-changing effects as hitting the top of the music charts, I can promise that when you’re sitting in your new home theater watching your favorite movie, TV show or even classic rock video, you will feel like a rock star.

So here goes. The first of this series will look at project planning.

Part 1: Project Planning

Like starting any important project, having a plan that helps you think through a wide range of important issues and anticipates potential hurdles is critical. And while your plan may require somewhat more or somewhat less, the following five plan elements are a good place to start.

  1. Location: Determine where you’re going to set up your home theater. The answer for some might be easy and obvious. If you live in a small apartment, your home theater will most likely need to share a space that may also be your living room or bedroom. If this is the case, you need to think about where your screen will go and where your projector will be placed or mounted (I’ll get into projector and screen technical issues in Part 2 of this series.) If you live in a house, you might have multiple options, ranging from an underused guest room, a basement or attic, an enclosed patio space for those living in warm weather climates, a garage, or a living room or other communal space that you’d like to convert. Of course, a home theater in a home, even a big home, can easily be set up in an area with multiple uses. In my house we set up our home theater in a main living area where it serves multiple purposes – a play room for the kids, a living room area to host guests and a home theater for watching our favorite flicks.
  1. Purpose: What you’ll be doing in your home theater. Will it be limited to watching movies and TV shows? Do you plan on playing Xbox 360 Kinect or Wii-style games like bowling, dancing, skiing or supporting your child’s Minecraft addiction? Do you plan on a space that will let you snuggle up with your significant other or host movie nights with the kids, or do you plan on having movie parties for a dozen of your closest friends? All of these considerations are important to the layout of your home theater room.
  1. Layout: Determining where you’ll be seated when you’re in your home theater may very well be one of the most impactful decisions you can make. If your theater is in a rectangle shaped room, you might need to take advantage of the room’s length; however, if your space is square, you probably have many more options. Of course, windows, doors, fireplaces and other home features may require some creative thinking. From outdoor chic to traditional home theater to cozy and unconventional, there are plenty of ideas online to get your juices flowing.
  1. Light: If you’re constructing a dedicated home theater in a renovated or add-on space, you can easily control the amount of outside light that will enter your home theater. If your home theater will be in a family room or other shared space, you will need to think about how dark you’ll want the theater. The good news here is that many projectors and screens can deliver very bright extremely vivid images in rooms with ambient light.
  1. Budget: Saying you want a home theater is a little like saying you want a new car. You could get a Rolls Royce or a Ford Focus. Both cars will get you from place to place and each has their distinct benefits. Building a home theater from scratch will require a projector, a screen, a sound system (speakers), and possibly some in-wall/in-ceiling wiring. It may also need to include new seating and other fun features that will make it a home theater you’re proud to call you own. The best place to start this process is setting your maximum. From there you can scale your theater’s performance and features to meet your budget.

As I said before, planning is key. Whether you’re a back-of-a-napkin kind of planner or a spreadsheet aficionado, the sooner you start planning the sooner you’ll be enjoying your home theater.

Flat Panel Displays Fall Flat in Classrooms

IMG_0170With great power comes great responsibility, and Kurt Henne has both at California State University at Monterey Bay. As equipment coordinator, he has been tasked with choosing the best and most appropriate technology to outfit the campus’ brand new classrooms—not a job to be taken lightly. And he doesn’t.

But therein lay the problem: What was the best product to outfit classrooms with? Over the past 14 years at CSUMB, academic locations on campus have grown from 10 to over 75 with basic technology. Which product could fit in his budget, minimize downtime in the classroom and, most importantly, hold the students’ attention?

Luckily for CSUMB, Henne’s 30 years of experience in the audio visual field gave him the knowledge and skills to make this critical decision. With around 6,000 students and founded just 20 years ago, CSU Monterey Bay is one of the Cal-State system’s smaller universities—but it’s growing. New buildings are under construction on campus, situated on the former military base at Fort Ord on California’s central coast, and Henne is overseeing the technology selection and installation process.

“The first thought was to install flat-panel televisions. They’re cool and they’re new, but they’re a lot more expensive,” said Henne.

That’s not to say that flat screens won’t be gracing the new buildings at all, as Henne realizes that there is a place for them in conference rooms and as digital signage. But for classrooms, both he and the teachers knew that projectors were the way to go. When Henne joined the university in 1998, he walked around the classrooms, asked the faculty questions—and listened. “They want the latest technology, because they know that students are learning when they use these tools,” Henne explained. “The teachers also understand that the Epson projectors have great new technology, including interactive capabilities that just can’t be found on any flat-screen television.”

And like a painting or other wall hanging, a flat screen is always there, taking up wall space; but a projector provides flexibility for a classroom. A flat screen creates ‘dead space’ when it’s not in use, meaning that the wall area can’t be used for anything else. When you use a projector, you can project on a blank wall or whiteboard. But when you turn it off, that whiteboard can be used as a whiteboard, and the wall can be used for just about anything. “CSUMB’s new platform of technology in the future is moving in the direction of BYOD (Bring Your Own Technology),” explained Henne. “And with an Epson 1430w interactive projector, DaLite Idea Panoramic erasable projector surface and Extron IP control solutions, we are able to accommodate any user.”

Henne definitely does his due diligence, and he was also factoring in keeping classrooms up and running, now that his teachers depend on the visual technology every day. “I can keep a few projectors on hand, but in the rare event a projector goes down, Epson will have a replacement out to us within one or two days,” Henne said. “So the only things we really have to store are bulbs and filters.”

On the contrary, new flat panels are too costly to keep on hand. “If I have a projector go down during a class, one person can go in and replace it,” Henne explained. “If a flat-panel goes down, it’s going to take two to four people to get that down off the wall. And then you’re going to have to wait until that thing is shipped in, serviced and returned, which could take a month to six weeks. And basically that classroom is down for that time.”

And while the size of the product is important, image size mattered too. Over his years in the business, Henne has also noticed the huge gap in attention levels when students are watching a television screen versus a large projector image. And the teachers he’s talked to know it too. With a projector, students in a classroom or lecture hall have no problems seeing the content, even if it’s a complicated image like a spreadsheet. For instance, the United States Sign Council’s Legibility Index rules of thumb state that a rate of 30 is considered legible, which means that letters should be one inch high at a 30-foot distance. A 60-inch flat panel display would provide a letter size of a half-inch or less, especially when showing an image such as a spreadsheet.

“I think the whole reason they’re pushing flat panels in classrooms is because it’s just the latest buzz,” mused Henne. “But any teachers I talk to on campus, and others in my capacity…they all say ‘No, it should be projectors.’”

Starry Nights: Projected Night Sky in the Home

Have you ever just gotten away from it all and headed off on a family camping trip for a few days? It’s always great to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city or suburbs and really reconnect with nature: The sound of the crickets, the hikes through the trees, the twinkle of the Milky Way. When those summer camping trips end and you’re back in civilization, there are some things you can recreate… hot dogs, story telling, campfires. But there’s one thing that just isn’t the same—laying back and watching the stars with the kids, pointing out constellations, and maybe even seeing a falling star. It’s an unforgettable experience, but through all the lights of the city, the stars at home never shine as bright.

You can recreate that feeling at home. Play a star projection through an Epson Home Cinema 2000 home theater projector, and the room becomes filled with bright, drifting stars. Try to place the projector in the far corner of a family or game room and aim it at the wall and ceiling to maximize the size of your sky. The Home Cinema 2000 can project up to 300 inches, so the bigger the room, the better! Put the star projection on repeat, hook the computer up to the projector, and turn out the lights.

If you want to get the true camping experience, tell some scary stories and freak out the kids. Toast some marshmallows on the gas stovetop and you’re on your way to s’mores, urban style. Grab a bunch of pillows and set them up on the floor so you can lay back and enjoy the stars like you did in the Great Outdoors, and maybe even sleeping bags for the kids if they really want to get into it. It’s an experience that can be beat only by a good old-fashioned camping trip. Although you might find that you prefer the urban camping trip—this way there are no bugs, no bears and bathroom breaks are significantly easier.

The star projection could also fit well at a chilled-out party or romantic date night. Download the star projection files, sit back, and watch the stars drift by. Share pictures of your urban campsites with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Going to the Theater: Shadow Puppets with Projectors

Right now it’s summer, and the sunny days and long nights make the ideal conditions for my children to be outside, playing in the yard. But inevitably, the fall and winter will come and my kids will be in forced outdoor-activity exile.

Usually, when they are relegated to playing inside, they’ll be starting fights and tattling on each other. My wife and I are always on the search for more constructive uses for their time during times of indoor captivity, and recently we hit upon a fun and unique use for our Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2000 Projector. It would let the kids be active, creative and inside …without killing each other.

We had the idea to create a shadow puppet theatre, complete with animal cut outs and giant exotic backgrounds, which should provide the kids with a playful storytelling experience. We imagine that they will find this much more fun than your typical little puppet show. What we like about using the projector is that it projects a huge image, and by using our laptop, we can change the backgrounds in an instant for new scenes, letting the play’s plot twist and turn as their imaginations run wild.

We’ll try the first theme, The Great Outdoors!, on the next rainy day. Seems fitting, doesn’t it? Everybody will be able to get involved in making some puppets and setting up the theater. Then we can sit back and let our kids loose to fight—but in the puppet show this time. It should prove to be a very entertaining process. So let the rain begin!

Download some example puppets and backdrops here or get creative with your own! We’d love to see what you and your children come up with. Feel free to share photos of your puppet theatre ideas or other rainy day activities either with us on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Shopping for a larger TV? Consider a Projector

We had a monster 40” flat screen in the living room and when it came time to finally upgrade, my wife and I discussed which direction we should go.  She wanted a larger flat screen. I wanted a projection system. The “discussion” was long, fierce and horribly one-sided. Yet for every objection she gave, I offered a well-reasoned response.

Her Objections My Responses
Projectors are too expensive. 720p projectors in the $500 range. We can get a good 1080p/WUXGA projector for under $2,000.  Screens sometimes go on sale for $49 for up to 130″. Try finding a 130″ flat panel for that money.
The screen won’t be bright enough. A 3,000 lumens projector is plenty bright for our small room with ambient lighting/windows. But to be fair, at 2,000 lumens, we may need to draw the drapes.
Glare from the windows will wash out the image. Glare off of a glass screen will be worse.
60″ is big enough. Let’s be serious. 100″ is better. And 130″ is amazing.
I don’t want a black box hanging in the middle of the room. It’ll sit on a shelf at the opposite end of the room.
It will be too difficult to install. It takes two people to mount a 60″ flat panel to the wall. One of our kids could put a projector on a shelf.
I won’t know how to use the projector. It works the same way as the flat panel. You press the power button to turn it on.

I felt so good about my arguments, that I started planning how to rearrange the living room to fit the new projector. Unfortunately, my confidence was misplaced, as we ended up buying a flat screen (wah wah). Here it is.

1. Upgrade 1 - FPD

But, just because I lost the battle, I wasn’t willing to give up on the war. I took up carpentry and built a shelf to go over the new TV. My wife loved it, even adding family memorabilia that we had collected over the years.

What she didn’t notice was the screen mounted on the underside of it (the white bar above the TV running the length of the shelf). Nor did she see the projector sitting on the shelf on the opposite side of the room.

1. Upgrade 2 - Screen

We have had people over many times for SuperBowl parties, NCAA tournaments, USC/UCLA football game, World Cup, etc.  We have also hosted movie night for my nephews and nieces, where we would push the couches across the room and lay blankets and pillows on the ground. Everyone loves it.

My wife still maintains that the image size is overly excessive. But that is exactly the point.  For the same price, we got a huge screen compared with the flat screen.

Nowadays, we use the projector almost on a nightly basis.  Whether it is watching her favorite shows (Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance) or playing Dance Central on the Xbox, she loves the larger screen. And when the kids go to sleep, we enjoy our own movie night–something we have not been able to do for years.

Notes:  

I chose the Epson 8350 ($1099) – 2,000 lumens, so we draw the curtains during the day. I’m looking to upgrade to the PL 1980WU model which has 4,400 lumens, WUXGA resolution.

Using Projectors for Home Decorating

WebOur house has this giant white wall that we call–no joke– “The White Wall.” It desperately needed some sort of decoration, but we didn’t have a clue as to what. So, my wife Stephanie and I called a family meeting.

Needless to say, soliciting ideas from a three-year-old and two, seven-year-olds (the one-year-old wasn’t invited) didn’t necessarily make for a productive meeting. “No, we’re not painting a floor to ceiling Frozen mural,” I said. “And, we’re not building an indoor rock wall either,” I said, hiding the fact that I secretly liked that idea.  Stephanie suggested that whatever we added to the wall should exemplify the whole family. After much deliberation, we decided on adding a simple, typographic quote. Now all we had to do was come up with a saying that best described the Palmer family.

As the father of four adorable, yet exhausting and overwhelming kids, I first thought of Keep Calm and Carry On. Then Bob Dylan’s, Chaos is a friend of mine, came to mind.  Luckily, more sensible heads (a.k.a. Stephanie) prevailed and the family settled on the classic quote, Home is where the heart is…”

Our plan is to use these instructions to decorate our “White Wall.” If the project works out as well as I expect, I may even entertain my three-year-old’s idea for a Frozen mural…of course in HER room, not the living room.

Do you have a blank wall and a projector? Download these starter ideas and let me know what you came up with.

Pomplamoose: A Couple’s Musical Creativity Illuminates the Internet

pomplamoose

When you think of musical couples, they usually follow one of two polar opposites: the cutesy duets like Sonny and Cher or doomed love in the style of Ike and Tina Turner.

But now there’s a couple on the music scene who are showing us how it’s done, without schmaltz or violence. Enter Pomplamoose, aka Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte, a band taking over the world through a healthy dose of creative mojo and a collection of glockenspiels.

This is a love story based on more than just a penchant for antique pianos and unusual musical instruments—since Jack and Nataly formed Pomplamoose in 2008, they’ve been creating music and making videos in a unique and inimitable style. Songs from Beyonce’s Single Ladies to Lady Gaga’s Telephone quickly gained the couple a following, and it didn’t take long to go from 10,000 to 50,000 subscribers. In fact, it almost happened overnight. Soon, they were even making enough money to support themselves.

It’s not just the songs—both covers and originals—sung in Nataly’s dulcet tones that create the hordes of loyal followers, it’s their unconventional videos that spring from their fertile imaginations. “We definitely spend way more time figuring out the song, and there are a lot of criteria that go into choosing the songs we cover,” explains Nataly. “Then once we do that, we realize we have to figure out what kind of video we make for it. That’s when Jack usually sits down with a notebook and listens to the song on repeat until he has an idea.”

And for their mashup of Lourde’s Grammy-winning song Royals with 2Pac’s California Love and Beck’s Loser, there needed to be a video that matched the musical genius. And by using nothing more than white foam core and a projector, Pomplamoose managed to produce one of the most inspired and interesting videos seen in recent memory. Rampant viral sharing brought the video to the attention our social media manager, who noticed a particular Epson-like shape to the projector. So we just had to reach out to the band to learn more.

“I was projecting an image on just a normal screen, moving objects on and off the screen to make it more three-dimensional,” Jack recounts. “I held up my hand in front of the screen to position something, and the image of a face appeared on my hand. I held up a piece of white card to make it clearer, and I started thinking—what if we sort of grabbed the corners and actually shaped each image to fit the white cards held up in three-dimensional space?”

A stationary video camera along with a handheld iPhone recorded the performance in a single take, and Jack liberally employed Final Cut Pro’s distort tool for the post-production work on the video. Posted on YouTube in November 2013, the video has over 650,000 views to date. Jack and Nataly liked the format so much they used it again for a video to illustrate their delightful Pharrell Mashup (Happy Get Lucky), which garnered over 200,000 views by the end of its second day on YouTube. If that wasn’t enough to describe its popularity, YouTube itself had this to say about the new Pomplamoose video: “Being that this is the most amazing music video on the Internet so far today, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Do I feel happy?’ Well, do you?” We can’t speak for everyone, but our answer is YES.

These are a few of the couple’s first forays back into Pomplamoose after a hiatus in 2011, after their popularity got a little overwhelming. “This side project that we really loved had turned into a bit of a monster,” Nataly remembers. “We took a few years off to focus on our solo careers, and it’s only in the last 12 months that we’ve been slowly revisiting Pomplamoose.” And with an album due to be released next month, their gradual revival of the band has increased rapidly. The duo tells us to expect several videos and songs to be released soon, followed by a U.S. and European tour.

Watch the two videos and check out their solo projects: Nataly’s album How I Knew Her and Jack’s EP Conte. Jack also started crowdfunding site Patreon, a website created to support creatives by connecting them with patrons of the arts. For more information on Pomplamoose and their upcoming tour, check out their the Pomplamoose website or their YouTube channel, Pomplamoose Music.

Photo courtesy: Pomplamoose

Be the Coolest Dad in the Neighborhood

My daughter chasing snowflakes on her playroom wall. It might not be a white Christmas outside, but for a girl from Texas, it’s pretty darn close.

As a father, there are many rites of passage that no parenting book can ever prepare me for. Early morning soccer games, tackling picky appetites and playtime clean-up can be challenging (how can something so small make such an epic mess?). However, few paternal challenges test my fatherly abilities like hosting the holidays.

Keeping everyone happy and entertained under one roof is one thing, but the real pressure comes while determining how to stand out in the sea of neighborhood holiday decorations. Blinking lights and the oversized inflatable Santa are great, but there’s nothing like putting a large, dynamic image up on a wall. That’s when I turn to AtmosFX, a company offers a holiday line of digital decorations called AtmosCheerFX. When projected onto a flat surface, the digital content offers a life-like holiday experience.

I’ve projected AtmosFX’s DVD collections for several holidays and birthdays–including Halloween–and adults and kids alike are amazed by it. Last Halloween, my neighbor blew up a giant inflatable King Kong and stuck it in his front lawn.  Not wanting to be the lame Dad, I projected Nightmare Before Christmas on the front of my house using an Epson Moviemate projector.  Within minutes, my doorstep look liked the mosh pit at a raucous Taylor Swift concert.  Even in a society that’s grown a little numb to the magic of things, I’ve had crowds of people stop on our front lawn to take it all in.

The best part is that everyone assumes it’s a complicated and expensive setup, when in reality, all I need is three things: a projector, a flat surface (in truth, it doesn’t even need to be all that flat) and a DVD player. In much less time than it takes to hang the lights on my house, I’ve got a 300-inch digital Santa display that puts the old man’s leg lamp to shame. You can project onto the front window, the side of the house and even onto the garage door.

I’d love to hear from other dads on their holiday secrets. Please post your comment here.

Photo Credit: Jason Palmer

Are You Ready for a Marathon?

Now that the kids are back in school and busy with their homework, it’s the perfect opportunity for you to train for a marathon.  Not a real marathon—I ran a half marathon once and couldn’t move for 3 days. Instead, I’m talking about couch marathons, where I catch-up on some great shows through binge-watching. Perhaps you can train for your own couch marathon and get current with some popular television series?

So, grab your remote control, crank up the home theater projector, and consider marathoning your way through some of my favorite shows:

Breaking Bad

A mild mannered father-next-door and chemistry teacher gains a new perspective on life, becomes fearless, and decides to enter a dangerous world of crime and drugs after being diagnosed with advanced stage cancer.  Emmy® Award-winning drama from AMC is now in its final season, season 6.  The first five seasons are available via Netflix.

Orange Is The New Black

After 10 years of living a law-abiding new life and newly engaged, Piper Chapman is sentenced to 15 months in a women’s federal prison for transporting a suitcase full of money for an international drug smugler.  Orange Is The New Black was developed by Lionsgate and is a Netflix original TV series.  This is one of 21 straight-to-Netflix programs released in 2013.

Arrested Development

Another Emmy® Award-winning series.  Netflix brought the comedy series, Arrested Development, back to life in 2013 after it originally aired on Fox from 2003 – 2006.  The critics loved it but the viewership fell below expectations according to Wikipedia.  The show follows a incredibly dysfunctional formerly very wealthy family and their fictitious life of luxury set in Newport Beach, California.

The League

Now in its fifth season, The League is a semi-improvised comedy about a fantasy football league, a group of longtime friends, and their lives.  The friends are endlessly making fun of each other and have great chemistry.  Some compare the show to longtime favorite Seinfeld, according to IMDB.

All intellectual property rights in the television programs referenced above are the property of their respective owners, who have no affiliation with Seiko Epson Corporation or Epson America, Inc.(“Epson”).  Epson disclaims any interest in such marks.  Mention of these television programs does not constitute an endorsement of Epson for any purpose nor an endorsement by Epson of such programs.