From Cluttered to Clean: Here Are A Few Pro Tips for Better Cable Management For Your Home Theater Setup
By Michael Bizzaco,2023-01-29
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No one likes a rat’s nest of wires behind their TV stand , but after hooking up all your game systems, 4K Blu-ray player , cable box and streaming devices , you’ll inevitably be dealing with a bit of clutter behind your furniture. But not to worry, because there are numerous products and methods you can use for better cable management to organize your A/V wires and devices.
In this guide to less wire clutter, we’ll go over a few different ways to get the job done, including good, better, and best choices to match every budget and household. And do be sure to check out our HDMI tips at the end!
One Good Option: Zip Ties Go A Long Way
Conveniently, zip-ties can be purchased in multiple lengths, colors, and designs. I also really like that if your zip-tie is too short, you can simply loop it through and lock it to another zip-tie to extend the length.
If your TV is sitting on top of a stand, there’s a good chance that your LED or OLED’s pedestal or feet have some kind of built-in wire management, too — like plastic clips that you can lock and unlock, or integrated wire passthroughs. One way to achieve a nice, clean finish to your A/V setup is to first run as many cables as you can through these built-in wire managers. Then, grab all the wires in a tight grip and put a zip-tie right where the wiring meets the edge of your TV stand, then one or two more about every four to six inches.
This method helps to lasso all of the cables together for less entanglement, while leaving enough slack for the wires to connect to all your devices without straining the connections. It’s simple and quite effective, while also offering significantly better cable management for your home theater setup.
There are also some pretty handy velcro cable-tie products that work similarly to zip-ties, often come in multiple color options, and sometimes include labels that you can easily secure to the velcro to identify important A/V cables.
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Another Good Choice: Cord Covers To Match Your Wall
You’ve probably seen wire management kits at all your favorite brick-and-mortar stores. A great product for keeping cables organized and hidden when wall-mounting a TV, these handy organization tools are often sold in kits with multiple pieces and connectors, and use either double-sided tape or sheetrock-friendly screws to fasten to the walls in your home. And once attached, all you have to do is pull the channeling open, stick your wires in, and squeeze the cover shut.
Cord covers are also sold in different sizes for all A/V jobs, so whether you’re running a bunch of speaker-wire throughout a single room, or need a wider channel for keeping all your HDMI and power wires grouped together, you’ll be able to buy a kit that best matches your home theater needs.
Best of all: in most cases, cord covers are also paintable. So if you’ve got a little extra Sherwin Williams left over, you can go ahead and match your covering color to that of your media room’s wall color. Not only will you have better wire management over your cables, but painting cord covers will make for a more seamless look and feel.
Yecaye 125-inch Cable Concealer
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A Better Bet: In-Wall Power Kits To For Better Cable Management
In-wall power kits are all the rage these days, and for good reason. Unlike on-wall cord cover kits, an in-wall kit is designed to allow you to run all your necessary A/V cables up and down a single stud-bay — totally hiding the wires from sight.
A godsend when mounting a TV, in-wall power kits will often eliminate the need for an electrician-installed AC outlet behind your wall-mounted TV altogether. This is because power kits are built using Romex, the same type of residential wiring that the pros use to create new outlets in your home. So like a glorified extension cord, a power kit will plug into an existing AC outlet close to the floor, sending power through the Romex and to the AC outlet part of the kit that gets installed near or behind your TV.
Traditionally, a power kit will come with a stencil for tracing out the drywall cut-outs you’ll need to make, both behind your TV and at the bottom of the stud-bay (I like to match the top of the bottom-stencil to the tops of the other floor-height AC outlets), along with a drywall saw or drill-bit for the actual cutting.
But before you go ahead and start slicing away at your walls, you’ll first want to decide what side of the TV you’d like the wires to run down. For this step, it’s usually a good idea to place the in-wall kit on the side of the TV where the A/V ports are located — that way you won’t have to worry as much about cable-length from the TV to your components.
Once you’ve decided on general placement, you’ll want to locate at least one stud in the area where you plan on installing the kit. Ideally, it’s best to find two studs so that you can mark each of them off. This is so you’ll know the exact cutting area you have to play with. But if you can only find one, grab a tape measure and measure from the center of the stud (left or right) to the 16-inch mark on your tape, and make another mark (most residential framework is 16 inches on-center).
After marking up your wall, trace and cut using the power kit’s stencils for both the top and bottom sections of the stud-bay, run your A/V wires and Romex, then pull all your connections through and install whatever boxes and covers your kit comes with for a finished look.
ECHOGEAR in-Wall Cable Management Kit
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Best-Case Scenario: Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind
One of the best-looking home theater setups is a wall-mounted TV or projector-screen combo with no visible A/V components or wires whatsoever. Similar to LG’s OLED TV M3 that we saw in-person at CES 2023 since it doesn’t have the mess of wires on the back. Typically, this minimalist aesthetic is achieved rather simply, although some residential walls and ceilings will put up more of a fight than others.
So when there’s no wiring or hardware to be seen, where exactly are these components tucked away? In most cases, the answer is above (next floor up or in an attic), below (next floor down or in a basement), or somewhere else (another room on the same floor as the TV/projector). And in terms of labor and expertise, this may be a job you’ll want to hire an A/V professional or electrician for — especially if the area where you want to hide your components doesn’t have readily-accessible AC power.
Here’s the basic idea though: Your TV or projector will be placed in one room with a single HDMI connection to the display tech. The other end of that HDMI will lead back to the area you choose to place your components. Ideally, you’ll want to use an A/V receiver for this kind of setup because you’ll be able to wire all of your hidden devices directly to the receiver using shorter HDMI cables, with just one HDMI lead delegated to linking your receiver to the TV or projector.
Outside of getting electricity supplied to the area where your components will be, another reason to hire A/V specialists for this kind of installation is that the job will likely involve drilling up or down into the stud-bays of your home to run wires. You’re also going to need an AC power outlet installed wherever you plan on placing your TV or projector (an in-wall power kit will also suffice), and depending on how far away your components are going to be, you may also want to invest in a universal remote that uses an RF (radio-frequency) system for controls.
Even though you’ll spend a little more upfront, most RF remotes will allow you to program and control each and every A/V component you own, eliminating the need to use more than one remote at a time. And some remotes even come with convenient features like hub-based Wi-Fi controls, allowing you to download an app to your phone or tablet to control your A/V system without the need for a physical remote.
SofaBaton Universal Remote with Hub
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One More Thing: The Mythology of HDMI
When it comes to an A/V system, the synaptic bread and butter for all your picture and sound needs are going to be HDMI cables . And whether you’re running two or three of these wires or plan on running a 100-footer from one end of the house to the other, I’d like to shed some light on a few HDMI footnotes that often go unmentioned.
Not All HDMI Cables Are The Same
Whether you’re using a store-brand 10-foot HDMI or some kind of award-winning 50-foot wire with gold-plated tips and distortion-reducing technology, every HDMI cable passes picture and sound information through an exchange of ones and zeroes. So does it really even matter what kind of HDMI cables you buy for your devices? It sure does.
Many variables go into the design and optimization of HDMI wires, with some cables rated to perform certain feats better than others.
For starters, if you want to make sure your HDMI cables will be compatible with any future hardware you may purchase for your A/V system, it’s a good idea to invest in cable(s) that are outfitted for the latest HDMI standard. These days, going with an HDMI 2.1-rated wire is your best bet, which is a specification you should be able to find on the packaging of the wire or online.
For longer wire-runs, you’ll also want to make sure you invest in HDMI cables that are engineered to safely hang out in the stud-bays, attic, and basement spaces of your home. In these cases, look for cables that are equipped with tough but bendable outer-jacketing.
Then there’s signal speed and overall bandwidth to consider. When shopping for an HDMI, you’ll see phrases like “18Gbps (gigabytes per second)” and “4K/60Hz” on packaging and webpage descriptions. The former is the HDMI’s cable overall bandwidth, and the latter describes the maximum resolution and refresh rate the wire can send to your TV or projector.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: for households looking to be as future-proofed as possible, it’s best to stick with Premium High Speed and Ultra High Speed HDMI cables (you’ll probably see this branding on the packaging or online). These wires are typically designed to deliver the best speed, and bandwidth capabilities, the best resolution and refresh rate support, and are often optimized for the latest HDMI standards (especially Ultra High Speed wires).
Component-wise, lower bandwidth and lesser resolution support may not be a big deal if you’re only hooking up a TV and a cable box. Still, to successfully decode a Dolby Atmos surround-sound mix, or experience a full 8K/120Hz picture on your new Samsung QLED, if you’re not going with a 48Gbps wire, you’re selling yourself short.
Amazon Basics High-Speed HDMI (18Gbps – 4K/60Hz) 6-Foot Cable
HDMI Baluns: Cat6 To The Tescue
Generally speaking, HDMI cables of any kind tend to perform most optimally when the cable length is at or around 35 feet. Now, this isn’t to say that a 50-foot or longer HDMI isn’t going to work at all, but you may notice a few abnormalities once your wire reaches these greater lengths.
What kind of unusual behavior? Maybe your TV displays picture but no sound (or vice versa). You may also experience the cutting in and out of your source signal. And while most HDMI cables are designed to pass a 4K signal with ease, a longer wire may fail to deliver UHD or 8K resolution, with the result being no picture at all or some kind of “no signal” alert on your TV.
That being said, the reality is that some home theater setups simply require at least one long HDMI run, but how do you go over 50 feet without relying on hopes and prayers that your cable will work? Enter the HDMI balun .
This lifesaver of a device is typically sold as a two-piece kit with both a transmitting and receiving module. The transmitter will be equipped with an HDMI input and a Cat5 or Cat6 Ethernet port, while the receiving end will have an HDMI output and another Ethernet port. In most cases, both nodes will also require AC power.
How exactly does an HDMI balun work? Without diving too deep into the finer points of A/V signal tech, an HDMI balun receives a source signal from a component like an A/V receiver or Blu-ray player (on the transmitting end) through a short HDMI connection. Then, that A/V signal is passed from the transmitter to the receiver using a Cat5 or Cat6 (depending on the kit you purchase) Ethernet wire. And to complete the A to B link, you’ll connect the other end of your Ethernet cable to the kit’s receiving node, along with one shorter HDMI cable to go from the module to your TV or projector.
The benefit is that Cat5 and Cat6 wiring is far more stable over longer distances than a traditional HDMI cable, with many baluns capable of 200 feet of coverage or more.
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What About Wireless HDMI Kits?
Have you ever heard of wireless HDMI kits ? These handy gadgets are made by various companies (with some brands being better than others). Still, on paper, they all do the same thing: send a wireless A/V signal from a transmitter node to a receiving unit that’s plugged into your TV using HDMI.
Do they work? Well, to quote Brian Fantana from Anchorman : “60 percent of the time, they work every time.”
The upside of wireless HDMI kits is that they eliminate the need for long wire-runs, which is especially convenient in setups where your A/V components are located in one room. Your TV or projector is located somewhere else. But the downside is that when they don’t work, they really don’t work. Trust me, as a home theater installer; I’ve had more than my fair share of negative experiences with wireless HDMI kits — even ones that are made by trusted brands.
That being said, if you absolutely need to get an A/V signal from point A to point B, and a long HDMI cable (or several) is simply out of the question, a wireless HDMI kit may work out. If you end up going with one of these bundles though, I recommend keeping them somewhat accessible, just in case you have to reset the modules from time to time physically.
GUSSLM Wireless HDMI Transmitter and Receiver
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