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The modern family room is all about having the latest entertainment gear to keep mum, dad and the kids happy. Radolph Ramsay looks at what you need to fill your family room with fun. 

Want to start World War III? Try designing a family room entertainment system that will please everyone – the kids and mum want their say, and dad wants nothing but the latest technology. To keep everyone happy, family rooms (which are often adjacent to kitchen and dining areas) need a perfect integration of sound, games, TV and information systems, all hooked to a broadband internet network.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE FAMILY ROOM

In times past, the family room used to be the refuge of dad’s tattered old recliner and a big screen tube TV. Modern family rooms, however, have evolved into becoming the main entertainment centre for the entire house, with a full home theatre setup, a large screen, games and more taking over from ping pong or pool tables as the centerpiece.

SJB Interiors Director Andrew Parr says that technology more than anything else has changed the nature of the family room. Instead of trying to imitate a pub or a hotel with the inclusion of a bar and pool table, they now try to imitate the cinema. “The home theatre has taken away from the billiard table concept, with the family room now the cinema room. People used to sacrifice space for a billiard table. I don’t know many houses recently that have requested a billiard table, unless it’s a really large-scale house,” he says. “The screening of a movie has become the main form of entertainment.”

Parr, an award winning interior designer, says the family room is becoming more of a ‘kids’ room, where all of the entertainment is handled, and the living room has become an ‘adults’ room, where the environment is more controlled. “The ‘adult rooms’ are the ones where you’ll generally find they have sound but they won’t necessarily have vision there, so it’s a much more controlled environment. Whereas the other room is all about having the home cinema and the theatre complex – it’s an entertainment room, which has taken over the concept of a rumpus room. It doubles up as a room where the kids can play games, and it turns into a cinema room later,” he says.

When it comes to the look and feel of a modern family room, Parr says the furniture needs to be more robust and comfortable than what you would fi nd in a living room. “Sofas and that sort of thing will be larger in scale, so they can fi t more people or can be moved away from the wall. The fl oors are generally a hard fl oor with a rug that can be moved – it’s just about being more fl exible in that space,” he says.

 

 

 

SIZE UP YOUR SCREEN

Choosing the right screen is probably the most important decision you’ll make for your family room. Flat screen plasma and LCD panels are not only are they sleek and stylish, but also take up much less space than a CRT TV. Their quality is also increasingly becoming comparable to CRT televisions.

42″ plasmas, which were more than $10,000 just over a year ago, are now selling for as low as $3000 to $4000. LCDs are becoming bigger and cheaper as well.

Plasma and LCDs have their own strengths and weak- nesses. Plasmas, for example, come in bigger sizes (although LCDs are expected to catch up soon), and are also said to be brighter and have better uniformity of colour than LCDs. LCDs, on the other hand, tend to have better resolution (more pixels on screen), meaning a sharper image that’s suited for high defi nition signals like DVDs or digital TV.

Good connectivity is also a must, as it’s likely you’ll want to plug a wide variety of devices into it, like your Xbox or PlaySta- tion, DVD or digital camera.

Getting a TV for the family room is not your only option, however. Projectors are becoming more affordable and, providing your room is big enough, could add that extra ‘wow’ factor. They start from $3000 and are simple to set up. Projectors come in two fl avours – LCD and DLP (JVC has its own standard, D-ILA, which is similar to DLP). LCD projectors are thought to be of lower quality than DLPs, meaning most of the low-end projectors will probably be LCD designs.

Projectors need darkness to be at their best, so make sure your family room can be darkened; and you’ll need a proper screen to project the image onto (white walls simply won’t do).

SOUNDS GOOD

To relive the cinema experience at home, you’ll need a surround sound setup to do justice to your big new screen.

You have a few options when going the surround sound route, with a 5.1 setup (five speakers and a subwoofer) being the most common. There’s also 7.1 and 9.1 surround sound (seven and nine speakers with a sub respectively), but you’ll need an amp/receiver that can support all those speakers, and they’re not that common (or cheap) yet.

The easiest option is to buy a home theatre-in-a-box kit, which includes all of the speakers you’ll need plus a DVD player. Home theatre kits are hot sellers at the moment, with some starting as low as a few hundred dollars and going up to a few thousand. Look for how much total power the system can pump out, as well as what the included DVD player will do (does it come with progressive scan, for example). Price is usually the best indicator of quality, so don’t expect stellar performance from a $300 system. You can, of course, build your sound system from scratch with speakers, amps/receivers

etc. A system you build yourself offers you a better upgrade path for the future, but you’ll need to make sure you do your research first. Having all those speakers, of course, could create quite a clutter in your family room. Several vendors such as LG and Pioneer are now offering wireless surround setups, which helps take care of all those unsightly wires.

MULTIMEDIA MATTERS

You’ll want the latest DVD recorder or media centre device to complement you audio visual setup. DVD recorders, particularly models with hard drives, are becoming more common and affordable. Expect to spend about $1000 for a recorder with a hard drive, allowing you to store dozens of hours of television in the machine itself before you have to start burning discs.

New media centre-like devices can store vision, sound, photos and more. They allow you to record (and in some cases pause) TV, as well being a repository for all your other media files. Models such as the DVICO TViX (RRP$494) can store digital movies, still images and music files on its 80GB hard drive and play it onto your TV, home entertainment system or hi-fi.

 

 

 

The true media centre experience, however, is just around the corner, with the imminent launch of PCs powered by Microsoft’s much heralded Media Center operating system. Media Center, running on PCs powered by Intel’s new entertainment – focused chips, will bring your PC into the living room as the hub for all of your entertainment experiences. Media Center will allow you to record and pause live digital TV, store all of your audio files, create slideshows from all your digital photos and much more. It’s due in the middle of October.

If you already have a PC in your home office, there are several products available that allow you to wirelessly stream any digital media you might have stored straight into your AV system. Products such as D-Link’s DSM-320 wireless media player stream music, videos or photos stored on your PC using your wireless home network.

GAME ON

What would a modern family room be without a games console attached to the flat screen and surround sound system? Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox lead the way, with Nintendo’s GameCube coming in third. More games for the PS2 and Xbox have surround sound support for cinema sound experience. The graphics of modern games scream out for a big screen, so fire up that projector. Many games now give you the option of taking the fun online and competing against others, so a broadband connection to your family room is a must. Be mindful of downloads and extra charges as online gaming can be quite bandwidth exhaustive. Setting up a wireless network lets you share one connection for the entire house.

And finally, don’t despair at the sight of all those remotes cluttering up your coffee table. Several vendors produce universal remotes, which can integrate all of your remotes into one handy system, such as Harmony’s H768. Using a universal remotes is a great way to get full control over your family room entertainment experience.

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