Space Saving: The Entertainment Optimization Experiment

As any urban dweller knows, making the best use of limited space is an ongoing challenge. And when you’ve got five kids in a 1000-foot-square condo, the more usable space you can create, the more real estate you’ll have for kids (and you!) to enjoy.

In the last year we’ve done a few major things to create usable space for the kids – for example, our “IKEA bedroom hack”  which created nifty stacked sleeping spaces and larger play areas. In this article, I’ll tell you how we converted our TV and entertainment space from a crowded, monstrosity-dominated maze to a much more versatile and spacious area.

Before. Cabinet and speakers, your days are numbered.

Cabinet and speakers, your days are numbered.

Our first step was saying goodbye to our massive TV and stereo cabinet and mounting the TV on the wall – and saying hello to ten square feet of floor space!

Next, clearly on a roll, we sold our vintage Sony amp and speakers and replaced them with a small set of high-end powered bookshelf speakers. These little wonders sound infinitely better than our old clunkers, are far more versatile, and can dynamically manage different inputs, the way a stereo receiver does.

After. Look, Dad! No clutter!

Look, Dad! No clutter!

Part of de-cluttering, of course, is cutting unnecessary expenses, so we took a deep breath, cut our cable, and returned the rented (huge, loud, expensive) PVR to the cable company.

But wait – five kids and no TV? Well, sort of – we’re not insane, after all: we took another deep breath, said the word “investment” a couple of times, and bought a Mac Mini, which is now connected to the teeny-tiny speakers.

Billed as an “affordable powerhouse,” the Mac Mini is just that: it lets us store movies and TV shows, stream from any service available, and access media from any computer in our home. As I said, it was a bit of an investment, but there’s nothing our little home theatre setup can’t do now.

Sharing speaker space with the Mac Mini is our trusty old Xbox 360. People often ask me why I haven’t upgraded to the Xbox One, since I’m a videogame consultant. For me, the answer is value: there’s a huge array of cheap, secondhand games available for the Xbox 360, many of which I can pick up for ten dollars or less. I’m in no rush to leap to the Xbox One and pay $80 a game for a limited selection. And most importantly, the kids are more than happy with the X360.

Finally, to replace our big old amp/receiver, we added a little Bluetooth receiver ($50) to the bookshelf speakers: now any wireless device in the house can play music through them. Better yet, friends can come over, connect to our speakers, and play their tracks right on our system. (Yes, even Sarah’s country music, bless her heart… sigh.)

So in the end, after all was said and done, we ditched a whole lot of unwieldy, outdated old furniture and electronics and reclaimed massive amounts of precious floor space. With a small investment of time and cash, our family now has more room to breathe, play, move around, and relax.

On to the next project!

You can almost hear the popcorn popping... or maybe that's just Carrie Underwood.

You can almost hear the popcorn popping… or maybe that’s just Carrie Underwood.

Note: The author receives no payment, products, or services in exchange for mentioning the products listed in this article.

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Adrian Crook is a father of five living in beautiful downtown Vancouver, Canada. When he's not mobbed by his brood, he runs a successful videogame design consulting business.

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  • Nice condo! It must be different change living downtown compared to Port Moody from your childhood. Remember Pleasantside?

    • Thanks! Definitely a change. When I moved out of my childhood house in Port Moody, shortly after I moved downtown (actually the building across from where I live now, coincidentally!) and really loved it. When my ex and I were expected our second kid, we moved into a house in North Van and lived there for three years, but I hated it. North Van is entirely car dependent and just not my style. Everyone spends their time and money renovating their giant houses, whereas we appreciate every square inch of our condo. I remember there being rooms of our old North Van house that we wouldn’t use for days or weeks!

  • It must be nice to walk every where living downtown. I went to Pleasantside with you. That was a long time ago.

  • Hi Denise! Good to hear from you again… you’re right, that was a crazy long time ago. Hope you’re doing great! 🙂

  • garryself

    How is the Mac Mini working out? I have experimented with using computers connected to the TV to stream online content and play my local library, but the problem is that the interfaces are more geared to desktop rather than TV use, so I end up being the only one in the house who uses it. Kodi and Plex should theoretically solve most of these issues, but I’ve found them both to be a bit unreliable

    I’m currently using a Roku 3, which is great at streaming but poor at playing local content and a WDTV Live which is great at local content but poor at streaming.

    • I’ve used all those things too! Roku, WDTV, etc. I use a Mac Mini with Plex (using the Mini itself as the Plex servier and the web Plex interface for all other devices). Netflix and Plex are both pretty usable by others, and the kids know how to use web browsers, fire up Minecraft, etc.

      The Mini is just a far more versatile device that I don’t have to think about file formats and playback abilities with. Sure it’s a bit more complex than Apple TV, but it gives me ultimate freedom to play anything, game or movie.