Installations: The House That Jim Built - Part Two Page 3

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We discovered a small problem when we went to mount the front speakers: The drywallers had cut holes for the left and right speaker wires about 7 inches below where they should have been for the speakers to be centered next to the plasma set. Since I'm the kind of guy who can't enjoy watching TV with off-center speakers, we cut the speaker openings where they were supposed to be - but that left holes beneath the speaker frames. That's why several weeks later I was scrambling to tape, spackle, and repaint the walls before the photographer arrived to shoot the pictures for this story.

0609_installations_wh_hoUsing the plastic paint inserts that came with the speakers, I was able to paint the front speaker trim while they were mounted in the wall, although I did remove the grilles - and the cloth batting inside them - beforehand. Thankfully, the installers had reminded me to cut a stud and to frame the opening so the center-channel speaker could be mounted horizontally. With all the holes cut properly, the speakers installed quickly, with spring-mounted clamps holding them in place against the drywall.

I next connected all the components, which sit atop an antique Chinese bench below the TV. My budget wasn't the only reason I stuck with my current Denon receiver. Since the new HDMI 1.3 connection specification was still being finalized as we went to press, receivers that have it won't be available until later this fall. HDMI 1.3 - which will be used by newer HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc players - supports the new Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio lossless multichannel audio formats. Since I plan to get a Blu-ray player later this year, there's no way I'm buying a new receiver without HDMI 1.3.

But the AVR-3805 doesn't have DVI or HDMI inputs or outputs, let alone HDMI switching. As a result, I connected the DirecTV HD satellite receiver and a Pioneer DV-563A universal DVD player so I can do component-video switching through the Denon. Knowing I'll eventually be adding a Blu-ray player, I got an HDMI switcher, which lets me connect the satellite receiver and the DVD player to the NEC's single DVI input. Weiner recommended Gefen's 4 x 1 unit ($349) for its high-quality construction, bulletproof operation, and ability to be programmed so I can do the switching via a universal remote.

The last addition to the system was the desktop version of the Sonance iPort ($200), which lets me plug my iPod into the main entertainment system. And since I decided to forego a whole-house audio system, my white Bose iPod SoundDock ($299) supplies the music while I'm cooking in the kitchen.

Hooking up the system was fairly straightforward (the installers labeled all the wires clearly), but there were a few hiccups. For example, when I used the Denon's auto-calibration mode and DM-S305 omnidirectional microphone (which I placed on a tripod roughly where the sofa would be) to set the levels for each speaker, I couldn't get any sound from the surrounds. After checking all the connections and the onscreen setup guide several times, I called Denon and discovered I'd missed the second page of the setup menu, which enabled me to configure the surround sound outputs for my 6.1-channel arrangement.

That did the trick. Once my sofa arrived, I fine-tuned the system using an SPL meter, angling the ceiling speakers' adjustable woofers and tweeters toward the listening area, adjusting the levels of each, and setting the appropriate level for the subwoofer.