SURROUND SOUND, QUICK DIRTY

A simple wiring trick derives center channels.

Back in the late 1970s, I worked as a movie theater projectionist. That’s when I learned this dead-simple trick for wiring a center-channel speaker to augment the right and left channels.

To do it, you wire the left and right speakers to the amplifier as usual, red to red and black to black. Then wire a middle speaker by connecting | one pole to the amp’s right red output and the | other pole to the left red output. This will take the signal that’s shared by the left and right speakers, more or less, and put it in the Ј middle. Then left and right speakers will produce only what is discretely left and right. Needless to say, the center speaker must be capable of during a full range of sound. Add a fifth and sixth speaker to a quad system, and you’ll get true surround sound. The separation is great, even with low-dollar stereos (don’t tell the Dolby and people). A good six-speaker arrangement would be to use two excellent speakers for front and rear channels with a four-channel stereo, and four less expensive speakers in the corners.

Audiophile purists may complain that adding speakers decreases the overall impedance and throws off the load balance between amp and speakers. But I’ve been using this hack in cars and homes for decades, always to great effect.

Here in snow country, winter heating bills can get alarming (mine was $128 last December). Many people install programmable “smart” thermostats, which turn down the temp at night when you’re in bed or during the day when you’re away.

Good idea, but these $100-plus thermostats assume that each day, you follow one rigid schedule for that day of the week. And you might have to program 28 different events and temperatures for your one-week cycle.

Forget all that. For about $3, buy an incandescent night-light — the kind that turns on and off with a photocell. Take a length of string and an extension cord, and hang this on the wall below your regular, “dumb” thermostat.

At bedtime, when you turn off the room lights, the night-light switches on and acts as a localized space heater — fooling the thermostat into thinking the room is warmer. You burn less fuel, and environmentalists cheer your virtuousness. Experiment with string length; the closer the light, the greater the effect. And unlike a “smart” thermostat, this adapts to your actual bedtime.

Morning light turns off the night-light and restores the normal thermostat setting. So if you get up before dawn, it could be a little chilly before you flip on the room lights. If you’re feeling truly obsessive, you could plug the night-light into an appliance timer set to turn power off just before dawn, but that spoils the simplicity of things.

I’m still wondering how to adapt this idea for when the house is empty during the day. (Covering the windows would work for some homes, but my shades aren’t opaque enough.) And what about my friends in Texas, where the scariest bill is for summer air conditioning? Any ideas?

Input a special code to disable Macrovision and play DVDs from around the world.

About a year or so ago, I picked up a digital camera combo device — the Panasonic SV-AV30. This handy little $400 device records voice, video, and takes pictures. It’s all low resolution, but fine for posting stuff to the web.

The AV30 includes a cradle that can play its recorded content to a TV/stereo (AV out) or record directly in (AV in).

A lot of devices that have “video in” — like the SV-AV30 and many of the new portable video players — can record from just about any video source, but if the signal is from something that utilizes the Macrovision video copy prevention technology, these portable video recorders simply will not allow recording of DVDs. It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it. What good are these devices if you can’t watch your purchased or rented DVDs on them?

The technology behind Macrovision is basically unwanted noise that scrambles or signals a chip inside a recording device to not record. When I try to record a DVD on my SV-AV30,1 just get a warning screen.

Of course, there is a menagerie of applications that rip DVDs to allow you to copy the video to different kinds of players. But what I wanted was a DVD player that ignores Macrovision and would let me record things just like I did in the good VCR days. I wanted to pop in a DVD, press play, then press record on my devices.

With some research and eBay action, I scored one of the best DVD players that not only allows optional Macrovision playback, but can also ignore region encoding so you can play DVDs from anywhere in the world. If you’ve ever bought a DVD while traveling, you’ve probably been let down by not being able to play it at home. What is this magical player I speak of?

The APEX AD-3201.1 got mine for $50. On the outside, this is your run-of-the-mill DVD player; it plays DVD-Video, SVCD, CD, HDCD CD, MP3-CD, CD-R, and CD-RW, as you’d expect. It has the usual AV hookups, but this DVD harbors a gem of freedom. By inputting a special code, you can disable Macrovision and also play DVDs from any region.

There will be a new menu displayed, the Macrovision and Region code setup screen.

Press ENTER on the remote control to select the Region. Select 9 for Region Bypass (plays all DVDs).

Press the down arrow on the remote control to select Macrovision and press ENTER to turn Macrovision on or off.

To save the settings, press the eject button again to close the tray.

And that’s all there is to it. Now, when I pop in a DVD I bought, I can record it to my SV-AV30.

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