Designing entertainment centers

Important considerations when designing and building multimedia centers. August 25, 2003

Even though I've been building entertainment centers for years, I really don't know what the important criteria are in designing them. Any help in designing multimedia centers?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
In the Knowledge Base, under Cabinet making; Cabinet design, you'll find this thread highlighting one contributor's stuff:

TV Cabinets

Does anyone know of a resource that gives dimensional information on audio/visual equipment? It would be nice to just look up a make and model number instead of pulling out a potential client's equipment and measuring it.

I have spoken with a client's audio/video/sound person, and he was very informative. I would contact someone local that does A/V and wide screen TVs. Around here they seem to know a lot about their equipment.

I just got the final design worked out for the new basketball coach at FSU. This will be where the game films are studied. His interior designer is in Kentucky. This was a lengthy process, and time consuming. We also had the stereo sound pro involved - faxes, conference calls - whew!

Most of the units around my market are sold by a pro and I'll wind up working out the design with the client and the pro together.

From contributor M:
I've been working with different A/V people and homeowners and so far no two situations are very similar. However, there are common things to watch for.

Adequate ventilation is critical. I combine wiring paths with ventilation holes as much as the customer can tolerate. Once everything is installed, most of it is invisible. Remember to get some final exit holes up high if possible.

As far as a common source for equipment sizes, I don't know of one and I wouldn't trust it if I found one. I got burnt by Dimension Express a couple of times with kitchen appliances and I don't want to go through that again. The equipment is very specific and changing all the time. I oversize for the components below (19" width will accommodate everything I've run into except a 100 disc CD changer). The TV I physically measure at the very least, or get the specs from the manufacturer online. Do not trust a salesperson's measurements.

Line of site controls need to be considered for the equipment, also. Some components will work on radio frequency, others line of site infrared. I am currently designing a piece that will incorporate a dime sized sensor on the kick of the cabinet that ties in to the interior equipment. I am in the early stages of this research and would love to hear from others that have experience with this stuff. However, if I get as much technical feedback as I got on my three phase motor thread, my head will implode.

Wire management is a huge and often neglected aspect of these cabinets. This is important for satisfactory visuals, customer satisfaction, and installer friendliness; most importantly the latter. In my situation the equipment is being installed by pros and these are the guys I want touting my product. In fixed cabinets, I install one or two full extension pullouts below so that everything can be wired to each other while sitting outside the cabinet and then slid in. I install either eyehooks or plastic tie holders to give the installer a place to gather the excess cables. In free standing cabinets, I recess the back in 4" and install 6 1-3/4" grommets. I put the eyehooks or hangers in this recess and after install, you never see a pile of wires dangling behind. On both types of cabinets I provide a specialty "monster" power strip/surge protector, voltage regulator. It costs $75 and I just add it in to the cost of the cabinet. Customers and installers love it.

One other valuable resource is a techno-nerd; in my case my son. He and his friends know everything about plasma, DVD and progressive scanning capability, surround sound, line of site and RF, etc. Some builders don't touch the equipment, but my clientele is looking for a little more hand holding. When I find out they are dropping 15K to watch TV, I don't have a problem slipping in an extra thou for setup assistance.

This is a huge and profitable market and I find that the more you can white glove the process, the higher you climb on the food chain. I never try to compete with the $1900 unit from the furniture store.

Contributor M hit all the essentials for designing these cabinets. Lots of cord/cable space, through-access between compartments, ventilation and access to backs of components via pull-outs. Probably the main reason for having us build these cabinets is wire-management - and there are lots of wires.

Some manufacturers' web sites have dimensional info and weight noted for their TV sets (Hitachi has the best I've seen).

From contributor D:
I'd like to say a few words about why I don't have anything to do with components.

I have developed a fantastic relationship with an AV company - we work completely together on a project. They are all young, have 6 trucks and about a dozen or so guys. They do a bunch of "hand-holding" with the customer for hours, before in the design phase and after at installation.

This company is my best salesman - I get probably 75% of my sales from them and I pay 10% commission on the entertainment center and 5% on anything else ordered at the same time.

There is no way I could possibly justify the hours of time and incredible experience necessary to properly help a customer with their setup. I have found it is an incredibly complex and personal thing as to what expensive equipment they order and install.

With my business goal being to make more money now and in the future, it is a logical decision for me to not have anything to do with the AV equipment.

When I made that decision about six years ago, two of us tried to carefully mark out about 60 connections at install of a unit. When we turned it on, I blew a $5000 amp. It, very fortunately, was warranteed and they honored it.

There is such freedom to not have anything to do with AV - I sure recommend it.

I think the other aspect of this thread is the time it will take. I have been charging for this and had some customers fall over and gasp for breath at the cost estimate. Entertainment centers don't get priced out at the same cost as kitchen cabinets because of the design time. I tell most customers that the cost starts at about $5,000. At that point I can tell if they are looking for something for nothing. I know that fancy ones will cost more and a small simple one will cost less, but it is a place to start.

From contributor M:
I come in separate from the A/V guy and I assist my client in the coordination and selection of details and equipment. I don't pretend to be an electronic technician, but find that often the customer has not been fully served or informed by the salesperson. This service adds to my credibility and value. So far, I have landed four of the last four centers I bid, and I'm not bidding cheap.

Check In the November/December 2002 (#159) issue of Fine Woodworking for a great article by Brooks Tanner. It addresses the needs of the modern entertainment center.

What is everyone using for pullout hardware? A TV pullout that rotates is clearly overkill for AV components. Drawer slides typically mount to the vertical side of a drawer. It seems that a drawer slide that could mount to the edge of a ply board would be ideal.

From contributor D:
Contributor M, if you are getting 4 out of 5 you bid, it can mean:
-your price is too low

-your price is nice and high and you are a great salesman!
I am sincerely trusting it is the second.

I used to get 80-90% of the jobs I bid till I realized I don't want to be low bidder. I then regularly raised my prices till I was getting around 30-40% of my bids and was staying plenty busy. I am much more comfortable now and make much more than I ever have.

My centers go from around $5-10,000.

I'm only just talking here and not disagreeing with anything others have said! Great discussion.

I rarely use pullout hardware but the components are almost always stacked by AV people. If the customer asks me to use pull-outs, I always use KV-8405's, as they are nice slides and un-handed - i.e. I can put them together blindfolded.

Always have the customer or audio supplier sign off on the audio/TV sizes. I got burned when someone wrote the dimensions reversed. Luckily, the TV fit with some modifications, yet everyone blamed me until I showed them the fax document of audio dimensions.

I now will not build until the customer signs a form with all the specs. Ventilation is something to consider; all those components behind a closed door create excessive heat and could damage one or more of these units.

From contributor J:
I did an A/V center last year and the customer specified a pull-out wire management device that is apparently common in the networking industry. It looks like an extension slide with a hinge at the end. You attach one side to the back of the cabinet, and the other side to the back of the pull-out. The wires ride on top of the device and are contained with Velcro strips. The object is that when you pull the shelf/drawer out, the wires come out smoothly with it and return as well without tangling. I don't know the name of this item, but found it on the web.

When you talk about cord cable space, is this a false back that can be opened to allow cords to be hidden on built-in units?

From contributor J:
In some cases that would be the case. The trick is to design a system that allows you to pull out the equipment trays (shelf) in a manner that gives free play to the cables so they don't kink up on you when you close the tray. This usually involves some kind of weight or spring on the cables to keep them from bunching up.

You can design this almost any way you want. All of this means you need to know how many cables, etc. you can expect to be dealing with and the amount of pull-out the trays will need to clear the back of the equipment, so as to provide access to the cables.

I have been building my audio cabinets with a special pullout unit. It's simple to make and the A/V guys love it. I make two pullout trays with full extension slides. One tray goes at the top and the other at the bottom and in between is the rack, which holds the equipment, mounted on lazy susans. This allows the A/V guy to pull out the unit with all the components on it, then spin it around and make the connections between the various pieces, then slide it back into the cabinet. You'll need to be careful to allow enough clearance for this rack to clear the door (125* hinge, 22'' slide 18' 'deep rack).

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
If you check out the manufacturers websites they usually have cut sheets or spec sheets for their equipment. I have designed numerous corporate boardrooms and A/V millwork for a local A/V company and find that the websites and even most of the dealers can get you specs on most gear.<--KEYWORDSBEGIN-->