How To Build A Kid Friendly In Wall Entertainment Media Center
Finally a Man Project! While I’ll admit I have been wanting to get rid of my glass entertainment center for awhile now, I realize that very soon I will have a little one running around pulling on cords and knocking into things, so I had better take care of this while I have the time, resources, and energy to handle it. As you can see in the picture, the previous entertainment tower was beautiful and expensive (thanks James), it just wasn’t really working out. It was horribly inefficient in regards to useable space and tended to just be a collector for pet hair, dust, and all sorts of miscellaneous junk while passing by it. As it turns out, this wasn’t that bad of a project once I figured it all out.
So began the planning process! I knew I wanted to have two shelves, and I didn’t want cables showing. Well I could have done a few things and actually considered other options before starting on this endeavor. At first I had some older, used, faux wood grain shelves that are put up by tracks, but I decided I didn’t want the tracks showing either. In addition, this did nothing for my cable problem. One day the wife and I were actually in Ikea looking for ideas, and we found two shelves that seemed to fit the bill. They are black wood grain and the end braces are independent without a track system. Not to mention the brackets are industrial looking metal so I thought it would be a nice fit. Since I had no idea what the measurements of my components actually were, I took gamble seeing as the closest Ikea is about an hour away from my house.
As you can see, the old entertainment center really was a disaster. While I did have the ginormous (latin for freaking huge) TV already mounted to the wall (Thanks Pat and James for helping me with that awhile back); the entertainment center I had really stuck out, and was a negative focal point for the room. Not to mention that when our friend’s little ones come over, it is the least kid friendly thing we own. The glass shelves are tempered, but it could topple over and cause some serious damage. In addition, there was a huge thick bundle of cables that actually ran up and down the wall for all the connections, and the center speaker to my surround sound was jammed underneath from a misguided vacuuming accident. A friend of mine recently setup shelves on the top and bottom of his TV to hold his components and thought it would also be a good fit for our living room. While I’m usually the typical utilitarian man, I knew if the shelves didn’t look good the Mrs. would veto the entire project, so I had to find a good balance of looks and functionality.
Ok so my precious TV was now off the wall, and I am ready to start drilling.. Not so fast! I still had the cabling problem to work out. I knew that the shelves were way to narrow and to hold my computer and surround sound system. I decided to place the stereo above the TV on the plant shelf above the TV, as there is no real reason to access it. I have a remote control for the volume, and audio inputs etc, so it was a logical choice. Unfortunately that was not an option for the computer. We use it primarily for HULU plus, so we can watch everything, not just the HULU programs marked for TV or DVD players. Not to mention, I use XMBC for other media resources.. (I’ll probably do an article on that later). In addition, if the power goes out, I need to physically press the button on the top in order to turn the computer on. Turning it off isn’t a big deal, but if someone shuts down windows, I didn’t want to have to get the ladder out every time someone wanted to watch TV. The solution I devised was to actually place the TV in my master bedroom closet which is literally right behind the TV on the other side of the wall. It took a bit of buy in for the Mrs. to agree to allow me to use the closet for this, but in the long run I think she was pretty satisfied with the result. The BluRay, Wii, and Center channel speaker were to be placed on the top shelf, and the keyboard and mouse were going on the bottom shelf.
I was so excited to get the shelves home, but quickly realized that since the shelves were long, and the brackets were only on the ends, I would need some serious anchors to keep them up on the wall. Unfortunately in order to center them on the wall there is no way that I could screw them into the studs. Unlike the TV mounting bracket, with lag bolts that seemed to not only go through the wall and into the next door neighbors house, these shelves included zero mounting hardware. In fact there was a nice little nordic logo for “No Screws Included” in the manual. Ok no biggie, I get to go to Home Depot again! Rather than drilling and sawing into my wall with the TV in place, my brother in law actually came over and helped me pull the TV down so I wouldn’t cause any damage to my LG brand baby. I also measured to see how far below the TV mount the TV actually extended down so I knew where to mount the first shelf. IMPORTANT NOTE: DO NOT LAY YOUR TV FACE DOWN WHEN YOU STORE IT! I did this and now I have “light spots” which I believe were from pressure when the TV was stored on the couch for a few days while completing the project. Yes this project took more time than I thought.
Now that I knew where everything was going, I still had a power problem. There was a single electrical outlet at floor level below the TV and the cable outlet was down there as well. In addition, there was no electrical outlet in the closet for the PC and how in the world would I power the stereo? Being the man that I am, I figured I would just add more outlets! As crazy as this sounds it actually was the easiest part of the project. I decided I wanted an outlet for each shelf, wanted a double outlet behind the TV, and a single outlet in the closet. Sounds like hundreds of dollars worth of electrical work right? Wrong! Although I’ll admit I was put to work early as a child with my dad who is an electrician, I don’t have much practice planning out my own projects. I figured that all of this electronic stuff was already running off of one outlet with power strips out the wazoo, so I’m not really adding any additional drain on the electrical system, just distributing it it a bit. I did actually make a call to my dad to see if this would work and he gave me the OK with the same logic I had, but did admit that it technically wasn’t up to code. Apparently the NEC (National Electrical Code) states you can only have 6 outlets per breaker or something… But all that electrical code crap is for wussies right? Since I decided to saw into my walls, I also decided to place nice cable channels so all the other stuff would be concealed as well. They were only a few bucks each, and I have 4 total. One for each shelf, one for the PC in the closet, and one behind the TV.
Let the demolition errrr… construction begin! When I went to Home Depot, I got “old work" boxes for the electrical stuff, which is basically a little blue box that once placed into the wall, has tabs much like little toggle bolts that hold it securely to the wall for support. (FYI “new work” boxes have nails on them that get pounded directly into the studs, not something you can actually do if the drywall has already been put up.) The cable conduit ports didn’t need a box as the whole unit slips into the wall and also have little toggle type tabs to lock them into place. So at this point I traced out all the holes I wanted in the wall and went to town with a spiral saw! If you don’t have one, you can easily use a Dremel tool with a spiral bit to do the job. All you do is turn it on, jab it into the wall like a drill bit and trace out your box. pretty simple. I also did the same for the closet. You could also just buy the spiral saw bit and jam it int your cordless drill too, it's just a bit harder to handle.
Now would be a good time to discuss TV cabling I suppose. I decided to pickup a few new cables side I was moving things around. I bought a long VGA cable to go from my PC in the closet to the TV. As an added bonus, the VGA cable also had the small audio cable so it was an all in one cable for the PC. Since my TV has an Optical Audio out port I picked up up a TOSLink cable to go from the TV to the surround sound. My TV will actually pass through any audio signal through the TOSLink, so anything that goes into the TV will also go out through the optical audio port. This is very handy since my Wii uses component cables, my BluRay uses HDMI, and PC uses the analog audio. Not to mention the audio from the TV tuner is pushed out of the TV via this method as well. Not all TV’s support this so be sure to check this out before you go moving stuff around or you may have lots more cables to run. I also purchased a longer HDMI cable since it was now taking the scenic route up to the back of the TV. Remember how I said my TV cable outlet was down below also? I actually ran new COAX from the bottom up to the back of the TV through the wall so I wouldn’t have that dangling. You can use the pre made stuff, but I happened to have a COAX crimp set, so actually cut it to length. While I was at it, I also ran an RCA cable for my subwoofer. This was an afterthought, but I was glad I did it. I plan on permanently relocating the sub when I mount the rest of the surround sound stuff, but was a nice temporary fix. Last but not least, I have a few USB extension cables and even an MP3 Player hookup cable as well with the wiring system.
Next I fished electrical wires from hole to hole. Sounds simple right? Actually it wasn’t too bad. I worked my way down from the top hole, leaving enough wire to work with at each outlet. If you go this route, be sure to actually make sure your walls are hollow, that you have the room for wires, and that you use approved electrical cable. I used ROMEX which is insulated. Never use extension cords or try to make up your own electrical wiring. You can always ask the Home Depot guy for what type of wire to use and remember, you need a few feet extra to work with. When I finally got to the bottom outlet, I actually turned off the breaker for the living room and connected my new string of “christmas light like outlets” to the main outlet on the bottom. (Yes Dad, I know again turning off the power is for wussies, but I’m not immune to electrical shocks like you are with 25 years in the business.) Since I had already connected all the other outlets without being connected to actual electricity, this also minimized the amount of time I had to work via a flashlight. HINT: When fishing wire work your way down from the top, then use a fish tape to go from the existing outlet to your lowest new outlet.
Now I had what seemed like miles of cables to run through the wall. I actually used a little trick that my dad taught me years ago when running cables, I ran string first, then just tied to the cables to the bring and pulled them through. It can be a bit of a riddle sometimes, but it sure beats needing to guide each cable from hole to hole. I also thought ahead and ran a few extras. We use a media center remote control which had a long USB cable, so that sensor resides comfortably on the top of the stereo. Since I have a wireless keyboard and mouse, the sensor for that is also on top with a USB extension cable leading to the PC. I also ran an MP3 Player connection down to the bottom shelf so we can easily plug in an MP3 Player directly to the stereo. In addition, I ran a spare USB extension cable with it so if I have a thumb drive or any other device that needs to connect to the PC it’s right there. I’m a bit crazy about the cables, but I just tuck them behind the right hand speaker and keep them out of site. For the PC internet connection and the blue ray player, I previously used wireless connectors, but wasn’t happy with the speed, or the fact that they stuck out of the back of the devices, adding to the width required, so I actually used a power line network adapter I previously used when we lived in an apartment with a small hub to split between the PC and BluRay. I just ran simple Cat5 cable and terminated the ends. If you don’t have the equipment or patience to do this, just buy the pre-made cables in the required length.
Next I actually mounted the shelves. This proved to be interesting, as the first set of “Self Anchoring” drywall screws were an epic failure. In fact it lost structural integrity… That’s man code for they fell right off the wall. I then switched to much stronger toggle bolts. This added more stability, but beware if you are right next to a stud, be sure to pop the toggle bolt in the right way or your buddy who is helping you will never let you live it down. He now takes full credit for mounting my shelves, but that’s ok. There is more than enough man-project to go around. Mounting the shelves was actually the easiest part of the project. Before you go placing expensive electronic equipment on the new shelves make sure they will actually hold up the proper amount of weight.
Overall, I think that the project was a great success! I realize that I will need to move the sub, as we have already had little ones deposit presents for us in the huge hole in the front, but that’s not too bad. The Wii tower will also need to be moved, but since all it holds now is games and controllers it can pretty much be put anywhere. I think that in general we’re now kid proof until he/she is about 2 years old or so. So long as the little one doesn’t decide to do chin-ups from the bottom shelf we should be golden! In all we spent around $125 for the shelves, hardware, cables, and electrical stuff. Not too bad considering it is cheaper then actually buying a new entertainment center. I definitely think my first man-project was a great learning experience and encourage others to try it as well!