Home theater wiring, more or less

October 11, 2004

One of the questions I’m most often asked is, “how should I wire my home theater, before the sheetrock goes up?” to which I usually answer, hire my company to do it of course! Seriously though I love helping out do it yourselfer’s, so the inevitable questions and answers begin, what about 6.1, 7.1 component or DVI? The choices are almost as many as makes of equipment, but a few fundamentals do exist.

Rule #1, it’s cheaper and easier before the sheetrock goes up regardless of what you’re putting in. Yes that $175.00 DVI cable does seem expensive right now, but wait until later when its still 150-200 dollars and you’ve got to figure out how to snake it through the ceiling or conduit you ran. Rule #2, sure you can use that inexpensive thin bulk speaker cable, but later on when you upgrade amps and speakers, and get that annoying feeling you aren’t hearing every little detail, you’ll kick your self for not popping for at least “mid-grade” cable. Rule #3, no matter how silly or un-useful you think DVI/HDMI/ or whatever else comes down the pike in the next few months is, about 3 months after your theater is complete you’ll wish you’d gone ahead and pulled it.

What I’m getting at is this, a home theater is an investment not only in dollars but in time. Unless your hiring a professional to do it (which is still a great option) taking the extra time to plan for and wire it right the first time, is typically worth more than doubling the budget of the wiring job itself. Over-wire now and it’s unlikely you’ll regret it later, under wire and it’s a crapshoot as to whether your frugalness will pay off.

Some basics to keep in mind, use 14awg or better if possible, many of today’s high current amplifiers and multi driver speakers will appreciate it. The 16 gauge might work, but we’re not aiming for “good enough” here, you want to immerse yourself in the movie experience and not have a nagging voice in the back of your head saying, you know that roll of blue cable was only 14 cents a foot more… Also, home theaters as we know them are evolving. It used to be that we had tape or discs, cable or satellite as sources. Those days are drawing to a close, you need look no further than HTPC to see this, and the bevy of upcoming high definition sources in the wings are another round of potential sources to reinforce the need for adequate wiring.

With this in mind, think outside the box a little now and you won’t be sorry later. A cat5 at the front and back of the theater for example could be used for a RF gateway or feeding a control system. A network jack under or near the seating could be used for bass shakers later, when you decide their not quite as cheesy as you first thought. The possibilities are as endless as the movies you’ll enjoy for years to come. By the way, don’t forget to label all of those wires you’ve pulled!

Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Home Theater How-to