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Thursday, June 5th, 2008

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I'm building a home theater system in my living room. My living room is not quite big enough for the system I'm building but I'm not letting that stop me. I've purchased to date:

A video projector, the Panasonic PT-AE2000U. It's a 1080p display, if that's useful to you; it's the same as a 1920x1080 pixel display. I run my Dell 24" LCD on my computer at 1920x1200, for comparison.

A projector screen, the Elite Cinetension 2 TE100HW2, and the subject of this post (in a moment). This is the part of the system that's three sizes too big for my apartment: the 100 part means the diagonal on the screen measures 100". In the 16:9 widescreen format that puts it at about 8' wide and 4'6" tall. 4'6" doesn't sound too tall, does it? Nah. Never mind that the TV that it's replacing measures 24" in diagonal. Sad TV.

A home theater speaker system, the Panasonic SC-PT760. The screen and projector are in my apartment now but I'll receive this item tomorrow afternoon. I bought it only last night (actually, way early this morning), admittedly after some prior deliberation, but bought only so I'd have all the components of my system for the weekend. Thanks to Amazon Prime this 45 pound package is winging its way from York, PA to Mountain View, CA as I write this, at a marginal cost to me of only $3.99.

A bunch of cables and hardware, purchased or yet to be purchased. Boring.

So, yes, the screen. I received the screen last week, ahead of everything else (the projector was backordered for 3 weeks, then 2 more weeks, but I wanted a jump on getting everything installed) and threw a screen-raising party last Sunday. It's like a barn raising party except with less livestock. It turned out that mounting the screen to the ceiling was much easier than expected: two 1/8" pilot holes, two 2 1/4" #10 wood screws to secure the mounting brackets supplied by Elite and I'm ready to go. We heft the screen in place, admire it's beauty, then plug it in (it's a motorize screen - fancy!). No reaction. Good, of course; all I did was plug in the electricity. While the rest of my guests entertain themselves I find a remote control, insert batteries, aim, and ... nothing. *click* *click* *click*. Nothing. Different remote (it comes with two): flatline. Try the wall plate: *click* *click* still nothing. Uh... huh??

So, the barn's up, but the doors don't open, for reasons that we can't even comes close to guessing. The mounting brackets fortunately make it easy to take the screen down, too (and, I'm pretty sure it's going to come down in the next 5.0+ earthquake), so down it comes and we poke at it. It's not like there's a lot to poke at: an RJ-45 port for the wall plate, an IR eye for one remote (the other is RF), electricity, and a sticker that explains how to change the min and max set points of the screen (but, in hindsight, I don't think the affordances the sticker describes even exist...). We take turns looking online for troubleshooting ideas. The best we can come up with is that the fuse is blown, although the fuse isn't easy to find. We try to take the end cap off to read the fuse, fail, sorta give up, then I come back with a hammer and with lots of tapping work it off. And this is when the excitement starts.

So, inside the tube there's precious little. There's a long roll that the screen is wrapped around. There's an electronics board on the end. There's a motor, somewhere, although I don't easily spot it (I think it's a cleverly designed motor to not be bulky). And, the weird stuff. Weird stuff #1: there's a foam block in the tube, loose, and inaccessible to me (ie, I can't reach it to remove it. And, even if I could remove it, it's bigger than the hole that I could remove it through (pictures will be up soon). Wuh. Weird stuff #2: the control board. I remove the board so I can inspect it closer. The fuse is fine, but there's a plastic block with a sticker on it. The block is at an angle to the control board. I look at it more carefully. It appears to be a cover over a transformer. And, that would make sense -- there's 110VAC from the wall current, something's got to make that lower. But, transformers are mounted on cleats, and although the cleat was still in place, the transformer was attached to only one half of the cleat. Badness. So, I'm pretty sure this control board is entirely nuked.

Fine. We wrap up the screen raising part of the party and move on to the Portal and RFTG expansion rules testing phase. Before I turn in for the evening I write to Visual Apex, where I bought the screen, and lay out the situation. I'll talk to them Monday.

Okay, to summarize this week. Monday: I speak with someone from VA and they say Elite will send me a new screen. Sweat! But, at this point, all I would really want is a new control board, because I think that's all that's wrong with the screen. Tuesday: no word from Elite on what they want from me for the RMA. VA said they'll probably want all the small bits and a swatch of the screen (vandalize a brand new screen?!). Wednesday: I call VA to find out the status and ask to change the shipping to my apartment (the box is bigger than my car, Tessa's car, or Doug's car, as I learned today). No go on changing the shipping address; they've already shipped me a new one and it's due to arrive Thursday. Thursday: screen #2 arrives ("Google shipping? It's Corey again. Remember that big box I picked up last week? Yeah, well, I'm expecting another one today."). Doug helps me schlep it home (Doug's car is smaller than Tessa's car, if anyone's curious). And that's where we are now: I have these bits in my apartment, and I plan for screen raising #2 either this weekend, or possibly this evening when Melinda gets home. We'll see.

Oh, and what does Elite want for the RMA? The entire old screen. Yep, not just the bits that'll fit in a small box, they want the whole 9-and-a-half-foot package back. They'll pay for shipping from my house, so that's good. And, to be frank, this saves me from finding some other way to dispose of the broken bits.

So, in getting ready for swapping the screens, I took some pictures of the brokenness. I'll post them soon, but, in doing so, I found weirdness #3: the motor on the roll in the tube isn't even attached to anything. In fact, the whole roll is just loose in the tube, not attached to the end mounting brackets at all. Wuh? I'd noticed that the power cable seemed to be pinched up against the tube metal, but guessed that it was just cheap manufacturing or something. Now, I've realized that it was something much more deeply wrong. This also probably explains why the screen was out at a slightly non-parallel angle as we were mounting it on the ceiling. I can't accurately guess what may have caused this condition. Maybe the screen was dropped? Maybe, but only if it was dropped a couple of hundred feet -- the end caps are otherwise pretty tight. My best guess: manufacturing defects, or, a known-broken product that was sent out accidentally. Too many things on this screen were just way broken for this to be a small incidental error. But, this also makes me eager to look inside the box for screen #2. I'll report on what's in that box soon.

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