Buying the Extras - Furniture, Racks, and Cables

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The right theater seating, like these loungers from CinemaTech, can make even a Godfather marathon feel like a walk in the park.

There's more to home theater than a big screen and a pile of speakers. The right seating, cables and even mounts can make a world of difference.


Nov. 19, 2007 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Yeah, yeah … all this “other” stuff was lumped into this section because it’s not that important … until it’s really important. Let’s face it: You need some of this stuff. Without it, you may not have a place to sit, a place to store your equipment or a way to hang your gear from a wall or ceiling. Heck, you won’t even be able to hook it up without the right cables.

All this other stuff is vital to your home electronics systems. In fact, no electronic addition is complete without something from this section, so don’t overlook what follows.

Furniture
One of the most important decisions to make is where to store your electronic equipment—and where to seat yourself—when enjoying a home theater or media room. These purchases will go a long way toward your enjoyment of your home electronics.

Stands and cabinets for home electronics have traditionally consisted of racks for audio equipment or stands or bases for TVs. They offer space for all of your audio/video gear and may provide storage for your CDs, DVDs and videotapes. Designs range from contemporary units in various colors to country-style armoires in many stains. 

Several well-known furniture manufacturers provide quality construction with cabinetry made of real hardwoods such as ash, oak, cherry, maple and others. Features include sliding shelves, pocket doors, drawers for tape and disc storage, power strips and enclosures for speakers.

Some companies also offer modern tempered-glass shelving stands with solid steel tubing sturdy enough to hold a TV up to 60 inches. Depending on style, features, glass and woods, prices for electronics cabinetry can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

If you’re hiding your gear in a nearby closet or flush mounting it in a custom cabinet, your electronics dealer may recommend a metal rack that can slide out for convenient servicing.

No matter what kind of audio/video storage you buy, look for wiring channels for a convenient and concealed way to connect components. Many open stands come with channels to hide wires. Also be sure your components are ventilated, as these sensitive electronics heat up. An inch or two around most components is fine, though some amplifiers and projectors often require exhaust fans.

Home theater seating will allow you to rest your tired load, maybe even put your feet up and enjoy a movie or your favorite show. Many types of seating designed for home theater and media rooms are available, from traditional theaterlike chairs to loungers in leather and fabrics and colors of your choice. Many of the lounger-type seats have motorized controls to allow your head to recline and your feet to be raised. Check the loudness of the motors, because you won’t want them whirring away during the movie whenever someone adjusts a seat. Many companies sell massage loungers as well, but again, check the noise level and vibration. And keep in mind that while a headrest can be great for your head, it’s lousy for your enjoyment of surround sound if speakers are on the sides or in the back of you.

Most important, check the build quality and comfort of the seating. Some chairs have wooden frames; others have metal. Don’t opt for the first chair that you can sink into like a cloud: You’re going to be parked in these chairs for a couple of hours at a time, so seek a firm but comfortable cushion that will treat your backside right over time.

View “Home Theater Seating Options” slideshow.

Video Display Mounts
They used to be mundane things, but since more and more people are buying flat-panel TVs, video display mounts have become more popular. There are many different types of these, from wall mounts to ceiling mounts, but by far the most popular today are wall mounts for plasma and LCD TVs. These come in all different shapes and sizes.

First and foremost, you need a mount that will work with your display. Check what mounts your TV or other device is compatible with, and check the weight limits. You can get just a standard mount that will stick out a few inches from the wall or one that allows you to tilt or swivel the TV. These often have articulating arms.

Newer mounting systems can hide the folded arms of a mount in a wall recess, often mounted between wall studs. Some companies even offer full panel recesses. It is important to check for wiring channels, so wires can be hidden. Also check to see how the systems mount onto wall studs or ceiling joists.

View “Products of the Year - Best Furniture & Mounts” slideshow.

Cables & Connections
Audio and video cables connect your components to one another and to your video display or TV. Here are some different types of cables and connectors you will likely encounter. Gold connectors for audio, video and speaker cables offer better connectivity.

Category 5, 5e and 6 cables are high-speed data cables used for broadband Internet connections and home networking, specifically with IP (Internet Protocol)-based home networks. Category 5 (or Cat 5) has a bandwidth of 100 MHz for networks up to 100 Mbps, and Cat 6 has 200 MHz and is recommended for Gigabit Ethernet (1,000 Mbps). Cat 5e is an enhanced version of Category 5. They all require an Ethernet jack (RJ-45).

Component video separates the video signal into distinct streams and is carried via three individual cables, colored red, green and blue and normally bundled together with RCA-type jack connectors. It will provide better color resolution, purity and fidelity than S-Video and composite video signals.

Composite video is a standard video connection that allows for the passage of a video signal with a maximum resolution of 330 lines. It is characterized as a single RCA-type jack with a yellow casing and is often bundled with analog audio cables. You should avoid these and use component video if possible.

Digital audio outputs provide less noise and interference than any other type of connection. It is either a coaxial cable that looks like a single audio cable or a TosLink optical connection that looks like an illuminated phone jack.

DVI (digital visual interface) is a video-only connection that provides a high-bandwidth interface between a video source and a display device. To protect content transmitted over DVI, a high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP) scheme provides a secure digital link between source and display. DVI supports HDTV resolutions of 720p, 1080i and 1080p.

HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) passes both uncompressed digital audio and video signals. HDMI also uses HDCP (high-bandwidth digital copy protection), an antipirating technology. You can find these connections on DVD players, audio/video receivers and HDTVs. Watch for newer HDMI version 1.3, which will provide better bandwidth for features like higher-fidelity Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio.

IEEE1394 (or FireWire or i.LINK) is a flexible digital connection that can pass HDTV signals using MPEG2 video to devices such as high-definition D-VHS recorders. It also supports daisy chaining.

RCA jacks are standard analog jacks that pass both analog audio and video signals. Standard audio cables are color coded white and red.

S-Video will provide up to 400 lines of resolution and will improve your picture clarity beyond the standard composite cables, though it is not as good as component video. An S-Video input uses a nine-pin connector.

Speaker wire recommendations may call for 16-gauge speaker wire or a lower number; the lower the gauge, the higher the conductor inside and the better the wire. Multiroom audio systems where some speakers may be a distance from the amplifier may require 14- or 12-gauge wire. A number of different connector types are available for all types of speaker wiring, from bare wire to plug-in RCA-type cables to “banana plugs” to “spade lugs” that wrap around binding posts. Also look for shielded speaker cables if power cords are nearby.

View “Products of the Year - Best Wire & Cable” slideshow.



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