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Home Theater Wiring Installation Advice

This home theater wiring installation guide is here to give you some advice on installing your system.

It can be be a confusing business when you are connecting together your home theater system and it is easy to get lost in a tangle of cables and wires. All the different types of cables and connectors can send your head spinning.

However, with some thought and a clear plan it doesn't have to be like that.

If you have a large project, then you may want to consider hiring professional cabling installers to do the tricky stuff for you, but on a smaller scale there is no reason not to have a go yourself.

The first thing you need to do is understand the different types of cables and connectors that you will find, and what they do. You can go to our home theater wiring gallery if you need help to identify the different types of cables - or the guide to home theater connections for advice on choosing the right interface to use.

Once you understand these connection types, there are a few other points to bear in mind when you are faced with a home theater wiring installation, so here is a list of things to think about. These tips are relevant to installing all types of cables -both video and audio interconnects as well as speaker wire.

Home theater wiring installation at the rear of a Blu-ray player

1. Think about the connections before you buy your equipment

You can make your life much easier if you give some thought to this matter before you buy your equipment.

If you understand how you are going to connect your devices together, you can use this as a consideration when you are buying your hardware. This can save you the problem of getting a piece of equipment home and then finding out that it doesn't have the right connection types for your existing devices.

Or it means that you can at least add that special connection cable into your budget and buy everything at the same time.

2. Don't be tempted to pay too much for 'high quality' cables

The price of a cable doesn't necessarily provide a good benchmark to the picture/sound quality you will get.

A good, solid, well-made no-frills cable will perform just as well as most super-expensive cables and interconnects you may see in the shops - especially for shorter cable lengths (let's say up to 3-4 metres). Long cable runs may benefit from spending a bit more - but even then don't go overboard.

Any benefit you may get will be pretty small - and most people won't have the high-quality hardware to benefit from any improvement anyway. Most casual listeners/viewers just won't be able notice any difference in quality between cheap and expensive cables - if there is a difference to be seen or heard.

One improvement you get with more expensive cables is improved shielding to avoid electrical interference in the signal the cable is carrying. In most home environments you don't need this extra shielding and so you will get very little benefit from these types of cable.

Having said that, a really cheap and poorly-made cable could degrade the picture or sound on your system - or more likely will just prove to be unreliable. So just be sensible and use your common-sense.

Composite video and stereo audio connectors

3. Try to keep the cable lengths down to a minimum

Shorter cables can help you to get the best from your equipment and there are a few reasons why you should try to keep the length of your cables down.

Long cables can:

  • degrade the quality of the signal
  • make electrical interference more likely
  • create a tangle of cables behind your system that is difficult to manage and looks unsightly

When you are buying cables, try to estimate the distance you need for each one and buy the appropriate lengths.

For example, if your DVD player is positioned near to your AV receiver, then you won't need a long HDMI or coaxial digital audio cable - one metre may be enough. However, the HDMI cable that is required to run from your AV receiver to the TV is likely to be longer - so you can get a 3 metre cable for this.

Having said that, don't cut it too fine. Give yourself a bit of slack to enable you to pull the device forward from your unit/rack without pulling out all the cables. This will make routine maintenance and cleaning much easier.

If you do need to have a long cable run, then it becomes more important to buy better quality cables (but you still don't need to pay the earth - see point 1). In the case of speaker cable, then thicker cable wire (lower gauge in the US) will be better for long runs as this reduces the resistance, and in theory you will lose less signal.

4. Consider adaptors and converters

In most cases you will have the same connectors on each device to connect between.

For example, you will connect from HDMI to HDMI, or from optical audio to optical audio. This is nice and easy as you just use a standard interconnect for the connection.

However, depending on the equipment you have, you sometimes need to connect devices that have different connections. For instance, one device may have an optical digital audio output, but the other device has a coaxial digital audio input.

Don't despair, there are a wide range of converters and adaptors that you can buy to enable you to connect between different connections - or you may just be able to buy a specially made cable with different connections on each end. It depends on exactly what you need to convert.

For example, if your digital projector has a DVI output and your TV only has an HDMI input, then you can get a DVI-HDMI cable to connect these devices together.

The biggest problem often occurs if you need to connect an analog connection to a digital one - e.g. component video to HDMI. This is more difficult as converting a signal from analog to digital usually requires some sort of electrical device and can prove expensive.

Various home cinema cables

5. Try and keep video and audio cables away from power cables

Power cables produce an electrical and magnetic field which can affect the signal quality in audio and video cables.

In audio cables this may result in an audible 'hum' over the speakers, and with video cables you may get lines across the image.

It is often difficult to keep these cables apart when you are doing your home theater wiring installation, but just try to make sure they don't run alongside each other for long distances. If they need to cross each other, run them at 90 degrees so they have little contact.

If this is a problem in your system, then you may need to buy better quality audio/video cables with greater insulation.

6. Plan your connections

When you are connecting your system together, you can make it easier when you think clearly about what you are trying to achieve and plan what you are going to do.

If you get confused by all these connections and cables, think about the direction of the signals in your system.

There are some connections which are 'outputs', and some which are 'inputs'. Hopefully this will be clearly written on the device, and where it is not, it is often because it is obvious what the connection does i.e. an HDMI port on a TV is obviously an 'input' as it receives the picture for the TV to display.

Therefore, you will always connect the 'output' of the source device to the 'input' of the receiving device. For example, if you are connecting a Blu-ray player to an HDTV and a surround sound amplifier then:

Picture Source

Blu-ray Player

Output

Blu-ray HDMI

Input

HDTV HDMI

Audio Source

Blu-ray Player

Output

Blu-ray Optical Out

Input

Amplifier Optical In

Note: if the surround sound amplifier has HDMI inputs, you will probably connect this differently

If you break down your whole home theater system into individual connections, then you can easily connect a quite complicated setup just by thinking about each connection one at a time.

Home Theater Wiring Installation Summary

While it can be a confusing business, your home theater wiring installation can be easier than you think.

The key is to think about what you are trying to achieve before you jump in and try to connect everything together. A little thought before you proceed can save you time, money and a whole day wasted up to your knees in cables.

It is easy to dismiss this part of the process, but you can save yourself a whole load of problems if you take your time and do it properly from the start.

Also, if you feel that this part of the cabling installation process is beyond you, there is always the option of employing a professional home theater installer or cabling installers.


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