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A La Carte Cable and Net Neutrality

You may not know it, but your cable provider has a stranglehold on what you're watching. And they're using some nefarious means to keep you on their hook. Their methods are at the heart of the "net neutrality" war that just saw a small victory for the consumer side.

US Senator Jay Rockefeller recently introduced legislation that will encourage the growth of inline video platforms and limit the practices of "anti-competitive" behavior by the cable companies. It's called the "Consumer Choice in Online Video Act." Keep an eye on it.

Here are a couple things the bill would do:

1. Bar cable, satellite broadband and large media companies from engaging in anti-competitive practices against online distributors. Basically, the big media companies could no longer force networks to sign contracts that prevent them from distributing their content to other video platforms.

2. Limit the ability of broadband providers to degrade online video service. Are you a Comcast internet subscriber who likes to stream movies through Netflix? Guess what: there's a good chance Comcast is purposefully degrading the stream, since you are choosing to watch content via Netflix and not Comcast cable. The bill would aim to limit this practice.

Expect some push back by the rather robust cable lobby on this one.

Ahrrrr, dim the lights and pass the popcorn, matey!

$2.5 Million Pirate-Themed Home Theater

What do you do when you love pirates and you have a spare $2.5 million laying around? Build a pirate ship deck in your home, of course. Oh, and you don't stop there. You install a movie screen, killer lighting, surround sound and a few rows of chairs that put the local Regal Cinema to shame.

Built by Elite Home Theater Seating, this Florida homeowner's personal home theater could have doubled as a set for that latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Which was obviously the idea.

It's nice to see that not everyone is hurting in these tough economic times. And in case you were wondering, this luxury, highly customized and very expensive home theater was not made for the homeowner's kids. According Bobby Bala, President and CEO of Elite Home Theater Seating, the company wanted the client to "feel like a kid again and escape into the fantasy world of their favorite films."

Fantasy world, indeed.

While I appreciate the attention to detail that went into this project, I do have one real issue. It may be a great setting to watch the Pirates of the Caribbean series, or Peter Pan, or maybe even Master and Commander, but there are going to be some serious incongruities when you try to watch The Proposal or Sex and the City in that room. It's just not going to feel right.

Unless you have a jug of rum in hand.

All that said, it's an amazing home theater room. If the company ever goes belly up they could probably get work in Hollywood.

Who said fences make good neighbors?

Product Review: "Our House Party" Wii Game

Charged with reviewing the Wii game "Our House Party,", I determined that the best way to effectively evaluate the game would be to do as the game suggests -- that is, have a house party.

Game (and living room) loaded, my friends and I took to our Wii remotes (and nunchucks, which are necessary) and began the virtual home improvement journey that is Our House Party. Like many Wii games, there is a learning curve. Unlike many Wii games, Our House Party incorporates numerous and varied game-playing facets, which challenged the user. It wasn't just about mastering one movement through repetition.

In Our House Party, participants moved quickly from shopping for tools at Home Depot -- which required one set of skills -- to any one of nearly 20 home improvement projects around the home, each of which required a different coordination of remote, nunchuck and button-pressing manipulation in order to be successful. Swing the remote like a hammer to demolish a kitchen for remodeling preparation in one, grab, twist and place tiles according to the backsplash pattern in another. In every project, you are racing the clock AND competing against other users (or the computer). Players are ranked after each project (or phase of each project) and awarded screws (points) according to rank. Oh, and your home value goes up with each successful project.

The best projects were those that actually pit player against player. One outdoor project tasked participants with digging a hole in their yard. (Yeah, I know. It's digging a hole. That's punishment in some countries). To slow other players' progress, you can fling your shovel-full of dirt over your fence and into your neighbor's hole. And they do the same for you. In another deck-building project, you get to pry the nails from your opponent's newly-laid deck boards even as you build your own. It's spiteful, vengeful fun.

Game play gets slowed down as the game moves from project to evaluation/appraisal, and really the Home Depot shopping part of the game serves little purpose other than to appease that sponsor. My living room full of friends was less than impressed with the game overall, but most only gave it one go around. It's a game that definitely demands a little patience. The helpful tutorials that precede project phases are only helpful if you take a moment to watch them. In a room full of impatient spectators, participants were goaded into advancing to game play before learning what the object of the next project was. Had we taken time to watch the tutorial, we would have done a better job repairing the plumbing under the kitchen sink and painting the living room.

All in all, it's a fun game to play, particularly when you have two or more players. I see it as a great family-time game, which seems to be in line with the whole Wii mission statement. Like home improvement itself, Our House Party is a worthy investment.

Final rating: 3.5 screws out of 5.

Star Trek DVD is OUT: Is your home prepared or OVER-prepared?

We have blogged about Star Trek it in the past. Twice in fact. Once for a complete Star Trek remodel and then again when the Star Trek apartment sold in 2007. I am a fan of the series and I plan on buying the Star Trek DVD, but this Star Trek themed apartment was a bit over the top.

You will not find my wife and I ever living in a Star Trek-themed abode, unless of course we are frozen until the 24th century. By then I'm sure everyone will be saying "Captain at the helm" when they sit down for breakfast at the kitchen island.

Still, I am eager to watch the DVD in my home theater. Nothing will beat the sound of an oncoming Klingon Bird of Prey zooming across 5.1 speakers.

Is your home theater up to the task?

More Energy-Star TVs for Sale under New Ratings System

The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its new rating system for energy-efficient televisions on November 1st, deeming 229 models Energy Star-compliant. New guidelines address the "phantom load," or energy drain when switched "off." According to The Daily Green, "275 million TVs in American account for a staggering 4 percent of electricity consumed" and "some models can consume as much as a refrigerator, traditionally the most electricity-hungry appliance in the home. That means that not only is the price tag of the television you buy important, but its ongoing energy costs." Before you buy a new TV, visit the Energy Star Web site for a list of compliant televisions, which are more than 30 percent more efficient than non-compliant sets.

Make a list. Check it twice. Or thrice. Or four times or six. 'Till you get it right.

"American Idol" Is My Nemesis

Sitting in front of "American Idol" with your kids and thinking...I really need to change the color of this room. Or, the TV stand certainly is in need of an overhaul. Or, the carpet in here sure is dreary. Or, what would this room look like with crown molding.

Or, if you are really into "Idol"...this would sound so much better with a built-in surround sound system.

If you are like me, and let's face it most of you are, thinking of projects and actually starting them (much less completing them) can be worlds apart. But that doesn't mean they won't happen. What my wife and I have started doing is creating a list of the projects we have in mind. Then, we sort them by ease of completion, cost and time required. Then we re-sort them into "definitely," "maybe" and "no way." And that is where we are with our TV room. Our next step is for my wife to go to Lowe's to pick up the materials. If she does not do the buying then she lacks "buy in" to the project and will not pressure me into completing it. Once we have the materials then the real work will begin.

The point of this blog is organization and communication. Get your ideas on paper and talk with your spouse and your home improvement projects can get done even during "Idol" season. And if you are thinking of completing a project with your spouse, be sure to check out our article, Surviving Your Remodel, which includes helpful tips on reducing stress to ensure your marriage not only survives but thrives during your remodel.

Recycle Your Television

As you may have figured out by now, we here at Renovate Your World are big fans of recycling. So here's an offer I can get behind. Sharp is celebrating Earth Day by making it into Earth Month. For the month of April, Sharp will take away and recycle customers' old televisions for free when they purchase a new LCD TV with a screen size over 37 inches from their online retail site Sharp Direct. Good idea, TVs typically contain several pounds of lead, a toxic substance, which is released into the environment when placed in a landfill or incinerator. The only stipulation to this deal is the newly purchased TV must be equal to or larger than the existing television so no dumping your 103 inch monster TV allowed. This deal also includes free in-home delivery.

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