Until the world goes wireless — AC power cords and all — media rooms, home theaters and many whole-house music systems will continue to rely on cables to shuttle audio and video signals to and fro.
Even as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other wireless technologies become more pervasive in everyday life, hard wiring remains the most secure and reliable way to move signals between AV components and from room to room.
But with wiring comes challenges. For one, when it's time to repair or replace an AV component or bring a new one into the mix, few of us have the courage to face what often turns out to be a tangled mess of cables in the back of an AV cabinet or behind an AV rack. The mere sight of all that clutter is enough to make you scream.
Custom integrators use many tricks to organize and conceal wiring — some are straightforward and some are involved. Here's a few common scenarios and solutions.
In a typical home theater setup, the speaker wiring alone can easily add up to 50-60 feet in a small room; in big rooms you can double that and then some.
You have to run wire from the main AV receiver or amplifier to six speakers in even the most basic "surround-sound" setup. Up front, you have a center speaker above or below the TV, which is flanked by left and right speakers. Then there's the subwoofer and two rear speakers, which are typically placed to the sides or behind the main seating area. That's a lot of wire.
Concealing speaker wiring is most challenging with freestanding speakers. If the AV rack or cabinet is in the front of the room and not too far from the front speakers and subwoofer, cables can often be routed through channels in speaker stands and run neatly across the floor and along (or behind) molding to the component area. If the room is carpeted, flat speaker wire can be used to conceal cabling under the carpet.
When it comes to those rear speakers, the same tactics can be used, or the wires can be snaked through the walls or a basement/crawlspace to the back of the room. The latter approach, which requires skill and special tools, is commonly used by professional installers because wires can be neatly terminated in wall plates (similar to those used for cable TV) near the speakers. It then becomes a simple matter of running a couple of short cables.
In many professional media rooms and home theater installations, speakers are mounted in the walls and ceilings for a stealth look. It's a popular option because the speakers blend into the room's décor, and wiring is concealed in the walls and ceilings. "Invisible" speakers fill the room with sound, and you don't have to worry about unsightly wires and tripping hazards.
All systems have a central component area, which could be an AV rack, cabinet, or closet in the room or in a utility area in another part of the house (basements are a popular choice). Keeping the wiring tidy is a top priority for the pros because, whether they're installing a system or servicing one, they don't want to deal with a rat's nest of cable.
Racks come in a variety of styles, and most good ones — whether designed to be out in the open or tucked away in a closet — have wire-concealment systems. The pros also use tie-wraps and sleeves to neatly bundle cables, along with color coding or stickers to make it easy to identify what's what.
The art of wire concealment really struts its stuff when it comes to wall-mounted TVs. Here, the pros pull out all stops and use in-wall junction boxes behind the TV to make AV and power connections. If the installation is done right, the only thing you'll see is the TV on the wall.
To learn more about AV wire concealment and home theater options in general, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professional companies in your area.