Weighing Local vs. Distributed A/V Installation
Is it better to centrally rack your components or keep them near the TV?
December 28, 2009 by Lisa Montgomery

I’ve been in plenty of homes where there’s not a piece of equipment in sight.

A big, beautiful screen is all you see, with all the receivers, amplifiers and players packed away in an equipment closet. It’s a great design, particularly for homes where space is tight and aesthetics are important. The arrangement precludes the need for entertainment cabinets, thereby maintaining a clean, clutter-free room environment.

There are other benefits as well. But there are also some disadvantages. The following list of pros and cons should help you decide whether you want a completely stealthy system.

PRO Components can be shared. Video from one DVD player, media server, satellite/cable receiver or computer can be transmitted to multiple TVs. This saves you the expense of having to outfit each display with its own suite of players.
CON Sharing requires compromise (and lots of wire). Since DVD players can spin only one movie at a time, that one show is the only one that can be distributed to the TVs in your house. (A media server solves this problem by enabling multiple video streams to be distributed simultaneously to different areas.) Regardless of whether you invest in a media server, though, your house will need to be rewired, which could be an expensive endeavor.

PRO Everything is in one spot. If there’s one way to keep your content organized, it’s by keeping it in one area.
CON Loading discs is a hassle. Depending on where that area is (like the basement), you may find it too inconvenient to go to the equipment area every time you want to pop a new disc into a server.

PRO Easy to service. It’s easier to service components stored in a utility room rack than those tucked into heavy entertainment cabinets. It’s also easier to hook up new components when they’re all located in one central location.
CON Difficult to troubleshoot. It’s easy to identify problems when each TV has its own player. Not so when it could be any one of the dozen-or-so components racked together in your basement. 

PRO Wired for the future. When your home is wired for a distributed audio/video system, it will be able to support any new component you add to the system … sort of. 
CON Questionable performance. The only way that 1080p signal from a Blu-ray player will stay high-res when it reaches 1080p TVs on your network is if the signal travels over HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) cabling, or in HDMI over Category 5e or 6 high-speed cabling. That’s not a bad thing, but don’t expect perfection, says custom electronics professional Rick Ho of London Audio in London, Ontario. “Centrally distributed HDMI signals can be very unpredictable and problematic. The high-def signals can be out of sync and may not even get to the TVs.”

Option A (above): Stow your A/V gear by the TV, and be able to load discs conveniently into your Blu-ray player. Option B (below): Hide your gear in a utility room and you’ll have a clean, uncluttered family room.

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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

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