Kid-Proof Your Home Theater

Extract from wired.com

Considering splurging on that kick-ass new home theater system? The one that will allow you to watch movies in all their HD glory from the comfort of your couch? It’s just as well if you have young kids, because if that’s the case, going out to the movie-plex isn’t the casual option it used to be. But something you may not have considered is the sort of havoc your toddler is capable of wreaking on your new shrine to hi-fidelity entertainment. This guide will help you make that expensive tower of gear in your home theater furniture resistant to the cruelly destructive impulses of small children. It’s been proven time and again that “kid proof” is an urban myth, but we’re aiming to get as close as possible to that ideal.

The Television

The centerpiece of a new home theater system is going to be a flat screen television of some sort. The bigger the better. The first thing most people want to do with that flat screen is to mount it on the wall. In a home populated by adults (and maybe even teenagers) that is a perfectly sensible way to save space and to show off just how thin your new toy is. Unfortunately, wall-mounted screens and toddlers can be a bad combination. Not only might that wall mount offer some very tempting handholds for swinging from, but the big, reflective TV surface just begs to be touched. Pedestal stands look cool and minimalist, too, but they won’t cut it either. One good push…

You could mount the TV high up on a wall and tilt it down so the viewing angle isn’t completely off, but looking up at your TV in such a way is like sitting in the front row of the movie theater. Some people opt for “over the fireplace,” but not everyone has one of those. And not everyone wants their plasma competing with a roaring fire as the room’s centerpiece. A screen protector is a consideration, but they can be homely. Not to mention the fact that they add weight, might affect the viewing from some angles, and won’t stop the kids from using the TV as a very expensive jungle gym.

If you have the option of doing so, flush mount the TV within a recess in a wall, then add protective doors to cover it when it’s not in use. This is tough to do in older homes, so the next best thing is to put something between the TV and the kids — an obstacle that makes reaching the screen more difficult. That brings us to cabinets.

How About Cabinets?

It sounds contrary to the whole flat screen aesthetic thing, but when you’re dealing with kids, a deep, relatively short cabinet is what you want. The idea is that you place the cabinet against a wall, with the
TV either sitting on it (as close to the wall as possible) or mounted to the wall itself. If you put a few feet of cabinet top between a toddler and your screen, you’re going to spend a lot less time with the cloth and cleaning fluid, trying to get those peanut butter and jam smears off of the screen. Unless you’re willing to go whole hog and buy a complete home entertainment enclosure, this is the best option.

A deep cabinet is much less likely to tip over, and it gives you plenty of room to set up and protect other components like your amplifier, DVD player, game system and VCR (you’re so old school). Of course, you’re
going to need to make sure the cabinet has doors — preferably lockable — and you’ll want them to be glass, not wood, so you don’t run into issues with IR remotes.

If the cabinet is offending your sensibilities and you hate the thought of your sleek new flat screen sitting on top of one like a 90’s vintage tube behemoth, remember that this is only a phase. It’s temporary — eventually the threat level will go down and you’ll be able to hang things from the wall to your heart’s content.

The Speakers

A good pair of floor-standing speakers are capable of making the sofa shake. However, as many of us have discovered the hard way, toddlers can climb on speakers, knock them over and pull out the wires. It goes
without saying that speaker stands are a no-no too. Wall-mounted speakers are a nice alternative, but unless mounted very high up, they become yet another thing to swing on, and there are more wires to
conceal; vertical ones this time (which means fishing wire inside the wall or resorting to ugly and vulnerable surface mounted cable channels). Wireless surround systems seem like a good idea until you realize that wireless actually means each speaker has to be placed near a power outlet and plugged in, or that it requires batteries.

There are also home theater cabinets that include a bridge piece over the TV itself for housing speakers; these can be serious pieces of furniture that require a big budget and a lot of space.For a simpler option, if you want decent sound (including such niceties as Dolby 5.1 Surround) and you have young kids, the sound projector is your new best friend. A number of companies offer these things, which put a collection of speakers inside a single, compact enclosure. They’re about as kid-friendly as you’re going to get.

Sound projectors may be a little expensive, but most include an amplifier, so you don’t have to worry about extra gear. When your children are a little older, or when you become a bit more confident, you can add a subwoofer to your sound projector or upgrade to a real surround system.

Save The Media (And Your Sanity)

Parents quickly realize that kids have an almost endless capacity to return to their favorite toys, books and videos again and again and again. To save your own sanity and to preserve your DVDs and DVD player, consider a media server of some sort; an Xbox, PS3 or anything that will allow your kids to easily access their favorites without having to physically sling discs around.

Safety

Most television sets and home theatre furniture pieces include a safety strap or safety anchor that fixes the item to a solid object (such as a wall stud), helping to prevent tipping-related accidents. Use the safety strap! If your TV or piece of furniture did not include one of these, go out and buy one. Most hardware stores carry them and they are inexpensive insurance. If a five dollar piece of nylon, two screws and five minutes of your time can prevent junior from pulling over your two thousand dollar flat screen, shattering it into a gazillion pieces and quite possibly injuring himself in the process, wouldn’t you go for it?

It goes without saying that electricity and toddlers do not mix. Unfortunately, you will likely have at least a half dozen devices that require plugging in. If possible, buy a power bar that will fit behind or beneath your component cabinet and route all power cables through the back of the unit so that they are not easily accessible by small hands. If you can, use a power bar with a plug that flush mounts against the electrical outlet, allowing you to push the cabinet right against the wall- it may be a pain to pull the cabinet out if you need to unplug something, but if it helps keep little fingers away from the AC it’s worth the inconvenience.

Tip: The old college trick of stacking shelves on concrete cinder blocks to make a TV stand was a bad idea back then, and it’s a bad idea today — just for different reasons now. If you can’t figure that one out, maybe you should re-think the whole kid thing for a few more years.

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