Online copy

(online catalog copy for RedEnvelope, a gift company)

~ Fleece dog bed ~

He’ll never even think about getting on the couch once he’s settled into this very comfy fleece bed. He deserves it, considering all that unconditional love he’s sent your way. This will be his very own place for dozing, and it’s designed in the shape of a dog, so feline passersby will be clear on just whose pad this is. Made of 100% poly fiber pillow filling with man-made fleece on top, plus a cotton outer cover for added durability. Perfect for dreaming about soupbones.

~ Freeplay hand-crank radio ~

Great for talk-radio aficionados, news junkies, and sports fans who really, really need access to the latest scores, but also perfect for emergency power outages. Batteries aren’t included, because you don’t need any. Just wind the crank for about 30 seconds and the radio will run for hours, powered by energy from the coil spring and mini-generator inside. The radio will also run on solar power if there’s a bit of daylight out there. When you’re at home, just plug in the AC adapter and use it like a regular radio. More earth-friendly than using batteries, so go right ahead and crank up those tunes.

~ Healthybox ~

You’ll probably want to give That Favorite Person something they’ll really like, but sometimes it’s tough to know exactly what gift to get. Dilemma? Nope. The healthybox has great potential for appropriateness because everything in it is tasty and good for you. The box includes naturally sweet dried fruits, almonds, California Crunch, plus breadsticks with gourmet mustard. “But are there cookies?” you ask. Yup….lemon poppyseed biscotti. It’s indulgence without guilt, and a quarter-mile away from generic.


(headlines for a Kraft low-fat cottage cheese and fruit product)

Your search for a high-protein breakfast needn’t be fruitless.

Good nutrition. No waist.


(headlines for a Boulder car repair shop)

We won’t sell you a whatchimacallit if all you need is a whoozit.

Neglecting your car’s alignment is like wearing your shoes sideways.


Packaging copy


(packaging copy for a car racing game from Mindscape)

(box front headline)

Twelve circuits of vicious intensity, with competitors who’d rather you were lying on the infield in pieces.

(back of box headline)

Your tires are wearing thin. The fog is getting thicker, the competition more vicious. Better slow to 150.

(body text)

You start alone, circling the track, feeling out the car, jabbing at the turns, watching your tach flirt with its redline, mastering the machine. All seems smooth, so you switch to Competition Mode. Here you measure yourself against 10 reactive adversaries — cars that respond intelligently to your driving style as you move with raging speed around 12 different circuits, one after another. It’s beginning to rain. Fog obscures the critical curves. Maybe you should toggle to a lower level of difficulty. No. Not this time. You employ the “SAVE” function and switch instead to Arcade Mode, racing against the clock on a single circuit with competitors who’d just as soon see your front end planted in a barricade. You’re about to discover the car’s top end, but you spot rubble on the road ahead. You swerve, the rear wheels break loose, and the car begins to skid. You back off the accelerator. Today is not a good day to die.


Website copy to promote an e-book

[On a landing page linking to the purchase pages on Amazon and Apple]

This is the website for an e-book titled Turning a cargo van into a road trip adventure vehicle. The book contains the details you need to create a tiny, comfortable rolling home – at reasonable cost – and equip it for travel.

I think of road trips as my personal fight to make life more of an adventure, and this book will show you how to get your adventure at a decent price. You don’t really need a giant RV or trailer… you can happily explore, sleep, eat, and stay squeaky clean in a vancamper, customized using the suggestions in this book. And you won’t have to wade through fluff to get to the good stuff… This is a one-hour read, and it isn’t theory or “seems like a good idea” kind of stuff. It’s concise, real-world information based on experience. All meat and potatoes, very little parsley.

The book also includes a bunch of useful links that I’ve accumulated over several years of vancamping, including virtually all of the best websites you can use to find free camping spots. At the end of the book there’s a link to a downloadable pdf with pictures of details of my van’s equipment. What the photos aren’t able to reveal is the happiness created by self-reliance and the (almost but not quite) omnipotent feeling that comes from being totally self-contained on the road.

Get your adventure on…


A children’s story

[Used as part of a promotion for a printer’s services]

Icicle Creek

“Please,” said Blacky Bear’s mom, “Don’t step on the wildflowers!”

We hadn’t ever thought much about flowers before. Having fun was the most important thing to us, and it seemed like there were lots of flowers around. We didn’t think anyone would miss a few if we stepped on them by accident.

Blacky’s mom was the first one who ever told us about things like that. We were wading in the creek on a really hot day, up in the mountains where we live, next to Icicle Creek.

My friends were all there that day – Blacky Bear, Liz Lizard, and me. I’m Pete Possum.

Blacky’s mom had come up to our fort to check on her cub, and she noticed that somebody had walked over some pretty purple flowers by mistake.

Those flowers are alive, just like you are,“ she said. ”This whole place is covered with living things – in the woods, the creek, and out in the field.”

“If you were a flower,” she said, “your job would be to look pretty, and you wouldn’t be able to do that if you were squished flat on the ground.”

“Blacky’s mom always smiled when she talked to us, and we liked her. She knew about a lot of things, too.

“A long time ago,” she said, “before we lived up here in Icicle Creek, we used to live in the valley down below, and we loved it. There were lots of berry bushes and fruit trees and our friends the bees brought us honey almost every week.”

“But one day something happened,” she said. “Some people came to the valley, and they did things we didn’t understand.”

“They left a mess behind,” she explained. “They’d eat food and leave plates on the ground. They’d drink pop and throw the bottles in the water. They didn’t seem to care about the place where we lived.”

“People are a little different than forest creatures,” she explained. “People sometimes leave things unfinished.”

I hadn’t ever seen Blacky’s mom with such a serious look on her face. She always moved her paws when she talked, and this time her paws were zipping around like gnats on a warm day.

She told us that the animals in the valley began to get angry about what was happening to their home, especially Gus Grizzly. Gus could be mean when he got mad.

Gus said he was going to do something about those messy people that very night, and late that night, way after it got dark and the people were asleep, Gus headed over to their camp.

“Gus went running from tent to tent,” said Blacky Bear’s mom, “growling and roaring and slapping their supplies all over the valley floor.”

The people ran in every direction, and they didn’t come back for a long time.

“After that happened, I had a feeling that we’d better leave the valley or there would be more trouble ahead,” Blacky’s mom told us.

So all the animals talked about it and decided to leave the valley they loved.

“But that was a long time ago,” she said. “We really like our new home up here in Icicle Creek, and I hope we’ll get to stay here forever.”

I thought about Blacky’s mom’s story, and I felt differently about the ground under my feet.

She headed home to start dinner, and my friends and I decided to take a little walk downstream before it started getting dark. As we rounded the turn of the trail by the weeping willow, we all stopped dead in our tracks.

There on the ground, right next to Icicle Creek, were three paper plates and an empty can.


Humorous web content

[for a website directed at male readers who work in sales]

It’s 8 pm And You Just Found Out It’s Her Birthday

You come home from a tough day, looking forward to that glass of Pinot Grigio, and it happens. She gives you a look that doesn’t include any sort of smile, and you know something’s up and your mind races around trying to figure out where you screwed up.

She’s not saying much, and what she does say sounds a tiny bit hostile. When it finally comes out, you realize one of the primary differences between men and women: To you, forgetting a birthday is just a little oversight. To her, it’s etched-in-granite proof that love has begun to evaporate.

At this point there are two ways you can go: a) tell the truth, or b) don’t.

The truth, in this case, isn’t really a viable option. Anyone who’s ever admitted to their wife or girlfriend that they actually forgot her birthday knows that this is a lose/lose situation. From her point of view, it’s proof that you care more about your next muffler replacement than you do about her.

So….how can you avoid an ugly situation like this? Let’s consider that old standby: lying. Something along the lines of “I didn’t forget. I wanted to take you out to dinner and I wanted it to be a surprise.”

Then, quickly go outside with the cell phone and make some frantic calls to get reservations. Another option here would be to make up a spectacular story that proves you were so incredibly distracted you couldn’t reasonably have been expected to think about things like birthdays. Maybe something like: “The sales manager’s wife has this pet wolverine in the back yard. You knew that, right? Well, it was cute when it was little, but now it’s big, and it went nuts this morning.“ Adding a little detail helps with believability: ”It clawed its way up the cedar siding and was spitting at people from the roof. The mailman was grateful that all he got was puncture wounds.”

The thing about lying (you knew this) is that if you get caught you might end up in worse shape than you were before.

Here’s a better solution: Buy an emergency present way in advance. Start looking now for something she’d like, then buy it and put in some easily accessible secret place. The next time she says, “Do you realize what today is?” you’re covered. You can just say, “Of course I do,” and then run upstairs, get the pre-wrapped gift, and descend those stairs like a hero.


Magazine feature

[legacy article written in 2000 for Media Inc., a regional trade magazine in Seattle]

Is Print Going Away?

Designer Mark Lewis has created web sites for both chocolates and Lear Jets, and in each case the results were a little surprising. As part of his design package for Fran’s Chocolates, Lewis brought in an expensive consultant to project potential internet revenues. The consultant said the chocolate company should expect 2 or 3 percent of the people who visited the site to buy something during the upcoming Christmas season. In fact, 14% of them bought something. The client was both pleased and shocked by the revenue that could be generated by a website.

Lewis — who just downsized to a 1-person operation so he could get back to design — also recently developed a site for a company that sells various brands of twenty-million-dollar jets. The one order they’ve received so far — from a sheik somewhere in the Middle East — surely justifies the web design investment.

It’s not news that graphic designers have moved en masse into web design, but the web work doesn’t seem to be taking anything away from their flow of print projects. It wasn’t long ago that a lot of web design was done by programmers whose interest often lay more in code than in color and composition. Now, according to Lewis, “Pretty much every design firm in town is so solidly booked with work that they’re bursting at the seams – because of the internet and because print design hasn’t slowed down much at all.”

Some have wondered when electronic marketing — less wasteful in terms of resources — will overtake paper in terms of marketers’ spending habits. Lewis doesn’t think that will happen anytime soon: “The client still believes, and I think they will for a long time, that there’s a certain value in ”touchy-feely,” in the physical material. Right now the printing industry is thriving. Ever since the internet started getting big — maybe 5 years ago — the printing industry has been growing by leaps and bounds, along with the paper industry. I wouldn’t be fast to predict that we’re moving right into a paperless society.”

Methodologie’s Bob Grindeland was an earlier internet adopter among graphic design firms: “For a long time [our web-related projects] hovered around 10 or 15%, then they bumped up to 30% and stayed there for awhile. Now about 50% of our billing is web-related. And the nice thing is, the web work generates print work.” The firm has an interactive department with a web development section and an e-commerce section. “Almost every job we get now has a web component,” says Grindeland.

Hornall Anderson Partner/Designer John Anicker describes his experience: “About 3 1/2 years ago we were dabbling in the web space. Really it grew out of client request — we were doing their overall branding, or print materials, or identity — and they asked us to give their website a look and feel. At first we partnered with another company to do the technical build, and we art directed it. Then we realized that to deliver the best product we really needed to make it a concerted effort, so we founded an online group and have taken on the technical components as well. There’s hardly a project that comes in the door now — particularly if it involves creating a brand, or reinventing somebody’s brand, or creating something from scratch for, say, a dot com start-up — that doesn’t have an online component. “About 25 to 30% of HA’s recent work is web-related, and that figure is increasing.

The Leonhardt Group’s Ted Leonhardt sees great design potential in the internet. “The web is incredibly unbranded,” says Leonhardt, “incredibly ‘me-too.’ We do many brand audits, and what we often find is that the way clients are presenting their offering on the web is so similar to their competition that they become a commodity. The role that design and creative services plays is to help the client organization amplify their differences, so they’re an option….so they don’t commoditize themselves. “In some ways,” says Leonhardt, “the web is the most sophisticated medium we have, because it’s so wonderfully immediate. Feedback from the reaction with customers is immediate. The whole area of media accountability on the web is awesome.”

By now we all know the rule of thumb in direct marketing: a percent and a half is a terrific return. “That’s awful,” says Leonhardt. “Just think of all the paper and waste, just to get a lousy 1 1/2 percent return and consider that respectable. On the web, the return can be much bigger because the only people you’re targeting are the people who are actually interested.”

So what’s Leonhardt’s take on the eventual disappearance of print? Will we all get our dose of advertising electronically? “Traditionally,” says Leonhardt, “new mediums have redefined the role of old mediums. Every time a new invention comes along that redefines the previous inventions, it doesn’t mean they go away.

Probably the oldest example of that is money. Money first existed as physical items that we carried around — heavy objects, like big coins. Then it moved to heavy objects and paper, then to all kinds of notes and documents that represented money, then to credit cards and electronic transfers. The instruments that we use to represent money now are extremely varied. Each new medium redefines the old one.”

“But,” says Leonhardt, “there’s still a few coins in your pocket and a few coins in mine: it’s the oldest form. We’ll see ‘category wars,’ as we’ve seen in the videotape area, where the new category kills the old, but that’s just one purpose that’s being redefined by a new technology that’s really the same, just more efficient. I suspect that the web is simply going to redefine the way marketers think about their options. It definitely won’t eliminate printing.”

So, with both print and web projects cascading in, things are looking good for graphic designers. But there are always challenges, and one of those challenges is staffing, which can be problematic for design firms in the new e-commerce world order. Though the principles of design remain the same, implementation is different for print and web, and not every designer is fluent in both.

Portland’s Creative Media Development has taken a segmented approach. Each designer on their 130-person staff is a specialist, either in print, web, multimedia, or film. Don New, Executive VP, talked about the challenge: “It’s been difficult to recruit,” says New. “Everything that’s going on in NASDAQ and the stock market is probably going to work for us, but in the past, companies that were running on venture capital and were able to give away stock options [made it more difficult for design firms]. We’re a privately held company, and we have an aggressive bonus program and base wages that are close to the dot com’s, but we’ve been competing with folks who aren’t as concerned with making money. We have to make a little bit of money. Those other guys can bleed millions of dollars and then do an IPO and score, but that’s only maybe 5%. Four or five months ago it was very difficult to hire at the level we wanted to hire at. Our last 4 or 5 hires have been people coming from dot com start-ups who are just burned out. They have worthless stock options, and their companies have either run out of money and closed down, or they’re about to. I think it’s going to radically change the employer’s marketplace. Design firms that have aligned with a lot of dot com’s which aren’t going to make their IPO are going to be left holding the bag.”

And how are design schools dealing with all these web-related changes that require so many new types of expertise? The Art Institute of Seattle has a Multimedia/Web Design division, but in the more general Visual Communications/Graphic Design area students can choose only basic options like Fundamentals of Web Scripting, Advanced Web Scripting, and Interface Design.

AIS’s Associate Dean of Education for the School of Design, Jan Rogan, explains their approach: “We’re not really training people [in the Visual Communications division] to be webmasters,” says Rogan. “We’re training them to speak to web designers in design firms when they go to work there. After saying that, there are a few people who graduate from here who have an incredible working knowledge just because that’s the way their mind works.”

“The transition between print and the internet,” says Rogan, “is not graceful. It’s still very experimental, and in a learning institution you don’t want to change your whole curriculum to match something that isn’t like a blue chip stock.”

So what’s the prognosis? Now that so many companies have put up websites, what’s the new transition for web design?

“Companies are changing the focus of their sites,” says John Anicker, “from simply being online and telling who they are, to actually doing something in terms of ROI, or serving their customers better in some way. It might be the introduction of interactivity tools or doing a better job of prospecting, rather than the site simply being an online brochure, which is where everything started.”

Anicker says that when companies first adopted the internet, it was something that grew out of the IT department. Later it was controlled by marketing. “Now we’re starting to see a transition from the website being a marketing function. Now it’s also an operational function.”

“We’ve done work with Airborne Express for several years,” says Anicker. “About 2 years ago we redesigned their site, and it was really a brand alignment exercise. It had to do with consistency in terms of how they presented themselves in different media. Now we’re in the process of helping their enabling functions as well: things like initiating package shipments and tracking package status. While we’re not responsible for the backend programming [AE’s own Information Services Group does the technical implementation] we’re seeing that transition in their website. It’s going away from being just a marketing tool and becoming a tool to serve their customers.”


Creative for Microsoft

[written for a product called “Dangerous Creatures”]

“Helplessly, the sea lion watches the huge shark swim around her in ever-smaller circles. The Great White is examining her scent and the electrical currents generated by her muscles. At once the killer turns toward her, buries its mouth into her soft flesh, and then retreats, allowing the sea lion to bleed and weaken. Finally the shark returns, seizes the doomed animal, shakes off a last chunk, then swims off into the black.”

“As the herd of zebras wanders over the crest of an African hill, they focus less on the buzzing flies and more on the lioness charging toward them. Eyes wild with fear, the zebras turn and run, but they run directly toward the jaws of other lions who are partners in a deadly deception. The waiting lions break cover and attack at maximum speed, knocking the slowest zebra off its feet and seizing it by the throat.”


Home theater technical glossary

[an online resource for an electronics retailer]

  • 5.1 Channel: Some DVD movie soundtracks have 6 separate channels of audio information that allow a multi-speaker home theater system to create high-quality sound directionality. The dialogue, the music, and the explosions all seem to come from different parts of your room.
  • A Dolby Digital 5.1 channel system directs various portions of the sound to the correct speaker: the best systems include left and right front speakers, a center speaker, and left and right surround (rear) speakers, plus a subwoofer for low frequency effects (low bass), which is the “.1” in 5.1. If a receiver isn’t 5.1 capable, the source information is typically downmixed into 2 channels. Currently Dolby Digital 5.1 is available in both AV receivers and as a separate component.
  • A/B Speaker Outputs: Two sets of jacks for speakers (located on the back of a receiver) that allow the user to power two sets of speakers (speaker pair “A” and speaker pair “B”) in different parts of the house, or in the house and out on the patio. Switches on the front of the receiver permit either or both sets of speakers to play at the same time.
  • Amplifier: A section of the receiver that increases (“amplifies”) the electrical signal from a source so it can power the speakers at impactful listening levels. Most receivers send an equal amount of power to the 3 front channels, and some send equal power to all.
  • Auto-Input Selector: A circuit in a receiver that automatically senses and selects the correct signal processing format such as Dolby Digital, DTS(Digital Theater Systems), or analog.
  • Banana Plug: A type of plug and jack (receptacle) combination that fastens a wire to a component. A banana plug is fatter in the middle than at the ends, hence the name.
  • Bandwidth: A measurement of the range of frequencies that an AV receiver is capable of producing. A “full bandwidth” receiver supplies sound that encompasses the entire range of human hearing: 20 to 20,000 Hz.
  • BBE: A sound processing circuit that attempts to recreate the sound of a live performance by augmenting both the high treble and the low bass sounds, as well as adjusting the phase relationships of various groups of frequencies
  • Binding Post (speaker outputs): Simple “nut-and-bolt style” speaker connection posts that employ a knurled plastic knob which, when turned, tightens down the speaker wire.
  • Channel: Movie soundtracks contain spoken dialogue, sound effects, and music. Each type of sound (plus the left and right stereo effects) can be recorded on a different part of a DVD, resulting in separate pathways (“channels”) of sound that are then sent by the receiver to individual speakers which produce the surround sound effect.
  • Coaxial Digital Input: A set of receiver jacks that allows the component to receive a flawless digital signal through a coaxial digital cable.
  • Component Video: Some AV receivers have component video inputs, jacks which allow the video signal to be sent to the TV in a more pure state by transporting the elements that make up the signal separately (in 3 separate cables) rather than mixed together. The result: a better picture on your TV.
  • Component Video Input: A method of interconnecting individual pieces of AV equipment, “component video inputs” permit the different parts of the video information to travel separately from one component to another, producing a higher quality picture than either composite video inputs or S-Video inputs.
  • Composite Video: The most basic method of transferring a video signal from one component to another, “composite video” is another name for standard patch cords with RCA-type plugs, which mix together all the color video information and synchronization signals as they travel through a cable rather than separating them like both S-Video and Component Video connections do. The latter typically result in a higher quality picture.
  • Damping Factor: A measurement of a speaker’s success at eliminating excess movement of the loudspeaker cones; the movement is a result of the cone’s own inertia after the signal stops. Calculated by dividing the loudspeaker impedance by the output impedance of the receiver.
  • Digital Coaxial: A component interconnect method that permits the use of coaxial digital cables, which provide a flawless transfer of signal information.
  • Digital Signal Processing (DSP): A group of techniques that employ very fast computer chips to speed up signal processing. Used in AV receivers to create higher quality surround effects.
  • Digital Synthesized Tuner: A tuner that uses digital technology to land precisely on the correct frequency of individual radio stations, eliminating the need to regularly “adjust” an analog dial to recapture individual stations that have drifted.
  • Distortion: A measurement of the inaccuracy with which a component reproduces thecharacteristics of the signal fed into it.
  • Dolby Digital: This signal processing format (also known as “Dolby Digital 5.1”) is found on many new receivers or separate decoders and is the current state-of-the-art in surround sound. It decodes the audio portion of newer DVD movies and feeds the different types of sound into 5 separate surround speakers plus a subwoofer (see “5.1 Channel”). More advanced than Dolby Pro-Logic in terms of clarity, bass response, and “placement” of individual sounds in your listening room.
  • Dolby Digital Compatible: A DVD player that’s “Dolby Digital Compatible” has the appropriate decoder to send a Dolby Digital signal to a receiver. If the DVD player has Dolby Digital, it’s not necessary that the receiver have it.
  • Dolby Digital Decoder: The processor inside an AV receiver — or a separate processor component — that translates the audio information (on a DVD, for example) into data that’s usable by your home theater system.
  • Dolby Pro-Logic: A basic form of surround sound that’s included in virtually all AV receivers for use by sound sources that aren’t Dolby Digitalcapable. Typically, TV shows, commercials, and VHS videos are encoded in Dolby Pro Logic, which synthesizes four channels of sound using two channels as raw material. The “leakage” between channels, and the fact that some channels are mono rather than stereo, results in a sound that’s not quite as impressive as Dolby Digital, which is now the standard in home theater components.
  • Dolby Pro-Logic/Digital Ready: Components that are “Digital Ready” don’t include a Dolby Digital decoder inside the component, but do include the Dolby Pro-Logic circuitry (see those respective glossary items for more information).
  • Dolby Surround: This most basic surround sound option (primarily found on older, low-end AV receivers) is somewhat limited in terms of producing clean separation between channels.
  • DTS (Digital Theater Systems): A system similar to (and created to compete with) Dolby Digital, but used primarily in movie theaters. DTS provides 5.1 sound that’s said to be superior to Dolby Digital on many disks, and although few DVD’s are currently available with DTS encoding, the number is increasing.
  • DTS Decoder: The circuitry in a AV receiver that translates the DTS encoding into information that your system understands.
  • FM Sensitivity: A number that represents the receiver’s ability to pull in weak, distant radio stations. The numerical value (lower numbers are better) allows you to compare one receiver against another, meaningful if you’re in an area that’s some distance from your favorite FM station.
  • Graphic User Interface: Like Windows on a PC , the Graphic User Interface (GUI) makes a numeric or verbal display on the front of an AV Receiver a bit more visually interesting, intuitive, and easy-to-use.
  • Ground Terminal: A connector on the back of the receiver that’s intended to be routed to the earth via a ground wire. Often found next to a phono input and used to eliminate hum from a turntable.
  • High Current Power: Some high-end receivers produce “high current power” by employing special transistors, allowing the unit to drive even the largest, least efficient speakers to impactful listening levels.
  • Home Theater: Available in many different quality levels, home theater attempts to reproduce the intensity of the movie theater experience at home, leaving you in complete control of the schedule and the snacks.
  • Impedance: A circuit’s resistance to the flow of current, measured in ohms.
  • Inter Modulation Distortion: A measurement of the unwanted signal energy resulting from interaction between two or more simultaneously reproduced tones, causing a smearing of the sound.
  • Jog Dial: A multi-purpose control on some AV receivers that lets the user control virtually all tape functions (play, fast forward, stop, and so on) with one dial.
  • Matrix Surround: An older technology producing simulated surround sound that’s lower in quality than the sound produced by either Dolby Digital or Dolby Pro-Logic.
  • Monitor Outputs: The jacks (receptacles) on a receiver that send the video signal to a TV.
  • Multi-Way Binding Posts: Speaker connection terminals that accept both bare wire and several different types of plugs such as spade lugs and banana plugs.
  • Multizone/Multiroom Capability: Allows the AV receiver to play two different media (such as a tape and a CD) at the same time in two different parts of the house.
  • Ohm: A unit of measurement for a circuit’s electrical resistance.
  • On-screen Display: Lets you change various system options by way of the display on your TV screen, rather than having to squint at tiny buttons and numbers on the front of your receiver.
  • Optical Digital Input: A component interconnect method that permits the use of fiber-optic digital cables for a flawless transfer of signal information.
  • Output Impedance: The impedance presented by a power supply to the load, arising from the combined effects of ohmic resistance and reactance.
  • Output Power: A measurement (expressed in “watts per channel”) of the strength of the signal produced by a receiver within specified distortion limits. More power is usually better, even if the system isn’t played at high volume levels, because more power provides a reserve for momentary power demands such as loud movie sound effects.
  • Peak Power: A measurement of the maximum amount of power that a receiver is capable of mustering for very brief demands like loud effects or musical crescendos. Less important than RMS power.
  • Phono Input: A jack on the back of the receiver that permits you to plug in a turntable to play vinyl records.
  • Pink Noise: Natural sounds that one would find on planet earth, like the patter of raindrops, the surf, or the sound of wind blowing through a tree’s branches.
  • Pink Noise Generator: A device capable of creating pink noise, which is used for audio testing to find anomalies in speaker systems or in room acoustics.
  • Power Amplifier: You can buy an all-in-one AV receiver, or you can buy separate components, one of which would be a “power amplifier,” which increases the strength of the DVD’s (or VCR’s) audio signal so it can supply power to multiple speakers at higher volume levels.
  • Preamp Outputs: A set of jacks on a AV receiver which permits the output of the preamplifier section to be sent to another component.
  • Preamplifier: The “preamp” section of a receiver provides the means to switch between components and adjust sound characteristics such as treble and bass. It also boosts the signal to the level required for input into the power amp. Preamplifiers are also available as separate components.
  • Rear Surround Power: A measure of the power delivered by the receiver to your rear surround speakers. Ideally, it should be about the same as the power that goes to your front speakers. If your rear surround speakers are smaller than the front speakers, however, the surrounds will probably require less power.
  • Receiver: An all-in-one component that combines a multichannel amp, preamp/processor and tuner. The receiver accepts the electrical information from a source like a DVD or VCR, amplifies and decodes and adjusts the sound, breaks it up into different parts (channels), then distributes it to the speakers. Some home theater systems employ separate components (rather than one receiver) that handle all these tasks individually, and each component can be upgraded individually.
  • RMS Power: It has traditionally been difficult to compare different receivers, in terms of their ability to supply a loud, clear signal resulting in great sounding music, because manufacturers used different measurement standards. This numerical value (“RMS power”) standardized the procedure for measuring the continuous power output of receivers, so results are comparable between manufacturers. The unit of measurement for RMS power is watts.
  • Signal Switcher: A group of switches in a receiver that permits the user to route the signal between various sources and destinations.
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: One of several measurements used to compare the relative quality of A/V receivers. The S/N ratio indicates how much noise (hiss, etc.) is present in a given amount of signal from the outputs of an A/V component. Higher numbers are better.
  • Stereo Power: A measurement of receiver power that — in theory — indicates how loudly and clearly the receiver will be able to power your speakers. As it turns out, different manufacturers have sometimes used different criteria for determining this number. [See RMS Power.
  • Subwoofer Output: The jack on a receiver that send the appropriate signal to a subwoofer.
  • Surround Sound Decoder: A device that takes the dialogue, effects, and music from a movie soundtrack, and sends each type of sound to the correct amplification channel. Among the different types of decoders currently in use are Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS, and Dolby Pro-Logic.
  • S-Video: A component connection cable — and its special plugs and jacks — that allows the different elements of the video signal (like color and brightness) to move along separate wires as they travel from one component to another. The result is a cleaner, less distorted transfer of information when compared to common patch cords with phono plugs (called “composite video input”).
  • Switchable Power: Enables a component to run on more than one type of power source, such as 120 volt power and 220 volt (European) power.
  • Tape Monitor Loop: Found on better receivers, the tape monitor loop permits the user to connect other components to the receiver, such as an equalizer or external signal processor.
  • THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): A way to measure the noise — originating inside the component — which disrupts the clean signal that would be produced in a perfect world with perfectly engineered components. THD represents the degree to which the perfect signal, video or audio, has been distorted.
  • THX (Tomlinson Holman’s Experiment): A set of equipment quality standards originally developed by moviemaker George Lucas to improve the sound quality in movie theaters. The company doesn’t sell products; it specifies how your aural experience should be by allowing theaters and manufacturers who meet the THXstandard to display its logo. THX is also available in home theater equipment, helping to assure that your movie experience will be closer to the way the film maker intended it to be, both in terms of sound purity and impact.
  • THX Select: A new, slightly less stringent set of standards from Lucasfilm that allows manufacturers to sell slightly lower-priced components which carry the “THX Select” certification. Intended for smaller rooms like the home theater environment.
  • THX Surround EX: A collaboration between Lucasfilm and Dolby, this signal processing system (introduced in theaters with the movie Star Wars-Episode 1: The Phantom Menace) is said to provide more realistic reproduction of 5.1-encoded multi-channel movie soundtracks. Recently became available in home AV receivers.
  • THX Ultra: The current name for the original (and unchanged) standards developed by Lucasfilm THX for movie theaters, but now also available in home theater systems. The “THX Ultra” designation is used to distinguish between the original standards and the new, slightly less rigorous “THX Select” standards. Few receivers are THX Ultra-capable.
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: A measurement of the inaccuracy of the signal produced by a piece of AV equipment. Higher quality equipment produces a less distorted sound that contains fewer unwanted frequencies.
  • Tuner: Available as a separate component in a component system or built into an AV receiver, the tuner brings in music from FM and AM radio stations.
  • Watts Per Channel: A power rating for a receiver’s amplifier section, the watts-per-channel rating lets you compare competitive units in terms of how loudly and cleanly they will pump sound into your speakers. The rating should be one of several considerations (another being the signal-to-noise ratio that accompanies the power) in deciding which receiver to buy.
  • Wire Clips (speaker outputs): Receptacles for the wires running to or from the speakers. Wire clips permit the installer to simply hold a lever, push in a bare wire tip and release, resulting in a secure connection.