Next Stop: A Man Cave
You’ve redecorated or remodeled nearly every space of your home: the kitchen, living room, dinning room and all the bedrooms. You’ve replaced every outdated leaky window, recovered your roof and sprayed insulation throughout your walls. You’ve even done work to the garage. But now you’re up for a real challenge … don’t you think it’s time to finally build that man cave you’ve always wanted?
To get started you’ll need to make some serious decisions, in particular, how will you source your video content? These days there are several options ranging from streaming Video-On-Demand, old-fashioned cable and videodisc (either DVD, Blu-ray or 4K Ultra HD) and this decision, above all others, will dictate nearly every decision you’ll make for this project.
The evolution of video content sources has rapidly evolved over the past decade. The standard definition DVD, around since before you bought your first flat-screen TV, is limited to a screen resolution of 720×480. Blu-ray (along with the now defunct HD-DVD) paved the way for 1080p video content which is still higher resolution than most broadcast television (either over the air or cable). 4K Ultra HD derives its name by providing four times the resolution of Blu-ray. When it comes to video streaming the sky appears to be the limit. However, you are still limited by the resolution ability of your TV screen as well as the download bandwidth of your internet provider. As you can see, all these options carry advantages and disadvantages that only you can determine which is right for you.
Choosing the size of your screen is just the beginning. More than a decade ago screens were limited by the biggest tube available, and in most cases that was (by today’s standards) a measly 34 inches. As projection screens such as plasma and LCD were invented screen sizes increased rapidly and prices fell, all but assuring that regardless the size you’d purchased it would soon be too small. Today there’s virtually no limit to size with even 100 inches or more becoming more available and affordable.
Video technology, in terms of how the picture is generated as well as aspect ratio and resolution is vast in its options and constantly in flux. CRT screens (which were the vacuum tube standard) featured superior ability to reproduce white and black colors but was also severely limited in resolution, screen size and a 4:3 aspect ratio. The advent of High Definition TV (1920×1080 resolution) in the late 1990s opened the door to a 16:9 aspect ratio and flat screens with sizes stretching into the 50 and 60 inch range. Technologies such as plasma, which was once the favorite of movie aficionados due to its deep, uncompromising black level and the ability to reproduce the look and grain of film, and LCD, which has limited viewing angles and difficulty reproducing the color black, have both become unavailable.
The technology behind LCD continues to evolve, however, with newer incarnations known as LED, OLED and QLED, and what was once considered high definition (1920×1080) has been replaced by 4K Ultra HD (with rumors already circulating about future 8K Ultra HD).
Playback and Content Providers
Not too many years ago DVD was the preferred video carrier for home viewing, but today that has been surpassed by Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD (higher res Blu-ray) and countless options for streaming Video-On-Demand such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. Most will likely choose more than a single option, one for live viewing such as sporting events and news via cable, and Internet-based streaming for movies such as Netflix. Still, more will prefer the ease, stability and picture quality of Blu-ray/4K (depending on whether or not you have a high-def screen (1920×1080) or 4K (3840×2160).
The main thing to keep in mind throughout all this, however, is that all your technological choices must line up in order to work, i.e., if you wish to go the 4K route you’ll need both a screen and player capable of producing and displaying the technology.
Not to be shortchanged in the equation is sound quality, and just as there are many choices to be made concerning screen size, resolution and technology, so too are their choices in audio. Standard sound found on DVD’s was compressed surround sound, originally in Dolby Digital and later DTS, which were both capable of providing up to 7.1 surround sound formats. With the advent of Blu-ray uncompressed high-resolution audio became available in the form of DTS Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD, both of which support up to eight full-range channels of 96 kHz/24-bit audio and six full-range channels of 192 kHz/24-bit audio. Although all Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD players have this capability your preference will dictate your selection in amplifiers based on their ability to pass the audio stream of your choice.
In any event, do not skimp on getting a good quality subwoofer, which is a non-directional, down-firing low-frequency speaker (the “point one” in “7.1” surround sound) that will give your sound system a true low-end punch, particularly when viewing action and sci-fi films.
One a final word on live streaming: remember that although the requirements on hardware (screen size, resolution and audio playback capability) are nearly identical for streaming, cable, and Blu-ray/4K Ultra HD, you absolutely must have wi-fi download speeds capable of passing the data streams at a fast enough rate to ensure playback. Error-free download speeds for 4K Ultra HD content is recommended to be at least 10 Mbit/s.
Have you given consideration to how you wish your man cave to look? Furniture and decoration choices will go a long way to your enjoyment of this new entertainment space, but have we forgotten a fundamental step here? Perhaps it would be prudent to go back to the beginning and do a check to be sure your basement is properly waterproofed before you add thousands of dollars of audio and video equipment.
Does your basement smell musty? Do you see condensation on the floor, windows or walls? Are there wet spots? These are telltale signs that you’ve got a problem and nearly all basements are susceptible to water seepage. The use of a dehumidifier will go a long way in controlling unwanted moisture, and if you live in a humid climate this step is essential.
Methods vary, but usually waterproof paints suitable for interior walls and floors, such as Drylock or Water Tite, will take care of most of your needs. Outside prevention can also involve preparing the ground with sand or gravel in an effort to direct standing water away from the structure.
Now that you’ve got the waterproofing issues under control its time to get back to the fun stuff, creating that man cave. Regardless what technology you select, the size screen that will fit in your space or whether you prefer streaming or 4K Ultra HD, you’ll certainly be happy you’ve done your homework first.