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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Step By Step: AKA "How do you DO that?"

Posted on October 10, 2011 at 3:35 PM

There was a brief, yet magical period a few years ago when Sound + Vision's feature’s editor, Mike Gaughn, had the idea of running a how-to column in each issue. I think it was in something called “The Tech Zone” or the like and the feature section was titled Step-by-Step.  As in, “Here are the step-by-step instructions for you to go forth and do…something.” Kind of a For Dummies type of thing, without the awkwardness of a potential name infringement lawsuit.

Being the resident expert on all things custom, I think I wrote like 93% of these pieces, giving basic, practical advice on how to do a variety of things related to custom installation. Think of these DIY-help pieces as somewhere between the massive itemized detail of how to make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and Steve Martin’s simple two steps on how to be a millionaire and never pay taxes.  (“First, get a million dollars. Now, you say, 'Steve, what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, '"You have never paid taxes"?' Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: 'I forgot!'")

So I thought I would throw these links into one easy to find location. A Sciacca knowledge repository as it were, helping you to go forth and be as master customer installer-er-ey as you can. Now, if you are of the sit back and write a check, sipping on a cool mint julep and barking out occasional commands like, “Hey! Why aren’t you done yet?” and “Hey! While you’re here, can you do these like six other things for me? At no extra cost?” while someone else toils away, then you can just skip completely over this section. Reading it will likely just frustrate and confuse you with terms like “work,” “stand up,” “screwdriver” and “do this.”

For the rest of you go-getters, go getter yourself a cordless drill, some nice Klein wire-strippers, a whole heap of electrical tape, a level and a tape measure ‘cause we about to get all custom up in here! Might as well grab some Band-Aids while you're at it. You know what they say: It ain't custom unless someone is bleeding...


Perhaps the thing that people have done more than anything else nowadays is mounting a flat panel TV to the wall, and while many people like to pay others hundreds of dollars to do this for them, in most instances, it’s really not all that difficult. Now, if you take nothing else away from this post, take this: DO NOT JUST HANG ONTO THE SHEETROCK! Never has the phrase, “You need to find a stud” been more applicable. A TV falling off the wall – whether or not it actually lands on and maims/kills the family pet – is considered the most epic of fails…

Here's the how to...


Unless you have a new magic TV – and let me just spoil it for you and tell you that you DON’T – you’re going to need some wire to that new TV. Or pair of speakers. Or subwoofer. Or whatever. And unless you are living in a frat house where wire strung across the floor is considered a sign of how cool you are, or your mom has just given up on the hope that you will ever one day meet a real girl and move out of the basement, then you’re going to want to conceal that wiring inside the walls. Or risk never getting to have sex again. It’s your call.

Here's the how to...

And once you get a taste for running a few wires to your TV, you’ll probably want to do the whole house. Thus you’ll need to know…


This tackles the subject or running hundreds, nay, thousands of feet of wiring throughout a house. Fun stuff like preparing the spools, picking a route, hogging out massive holes with a big-ass drill, labeling and protecting the wire. You know, real life-of-the-party kinds of stuff!

Here's the how to...


The A/V receiver is probably the most crucial piece of gear in an A/V system. It is the quarterback. It is the Commander in Chief. It is the Alpha and the Omega. So, A) Don’t buy a crappy one. And B) Make sure that you take the time to set up the one you DO buy correctly. (Since this piece ran, much of the set-up process has now been automated and been reduced to: “Plug in Audyssey microphone. Press 'Begin Test' button. Wait a few moments while WHAP-WHAP-WHAP sounds emit from speakers. Follow instructions on screen. Press 'Save Results.' Enjoy sound!")

Here's the how to...


Of all the things we do, this is the thing that most blows people away. I could walk into most homes and proclaim that I could either A) Cure cancer or B) Allow them to control their gear with a remote behind closed cabinet doors and I think the remote thing would get more gasps of amazement. Truth is, this is a simple trick. About $250 in parts and less than 30 minutes of work. Go on. Make some magic in your living room. Something that doesn’t involve “pull my finger” for a change.

Here's the how to...


There’s a common misconception that your TV out of the box is as good as it can be. In reality, the picture straight out of the box is about as F’d up as the manufacturer can make it. That is unless your living room has giant arc sodium lighting and is competing with like 200 other TVs and a million suns exploding to look at bright and LOOK AT ME! as possible. Fortunately, with some readily available test discs – or even patterns found for free on many DVDs – you can quickly improve your picture quality.

Sidenote: I wrote this whole story while in the waiting room at the hospital just after Lauryn was born. She had some bruising and had to stay in for a few extra days for some testing.

Here's the how to...


I’ll admit, this title is a *bit* mis-leading. Actually “soundproofing” a room is crazy difficult and mad expensive. And the only way to REALLY do it is to built a floating, room-within-a-room on some springy shock kind of de-coupling contraption that is going to cost you SO much money that unless your last name is Gates or Buffet, you’re going to just say, “Wow! I guess it isn’t so necessary to do after all!” But, there are some things that us non-billionaires can do to make our theater rooms quieter. And these are those things.

Here's the how to...


Alas, with digital cable, this too is becoming a far trickier proposition. In the past we would create modulated channels with He-YA! abandon; crafting a wild west of new programming to the homeowner’s delight. “See that front door video camera on channel 88 on every TV in the home? Done, sir! Done!” “Too cheap to actually buy more than one DVD player – or, for the love of Pete, pony-up for a Kaleidescape system! – and want to just have ONE player that sends pictures to EVERY TV in the house like a poor man’s Motel 6 video system? You betcha!” So, this is how it was done. Now, you’re far better off using a matrix video switcher, a ton of Cat5, some Baluns, and a control system. But, well, this can still kinda work too.

Here's the how to...

Categories: October 2011

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