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 Home Theater Accessories and Cabling

Now that you have the basics of your home theater you may wan to consider some of the accessories that can expand your system.

Remote Controls

Since we live in the couch potato society remotes have become a vital part of our lives. Most of the equipment you buy for your home theater system will it's own remote control. The problem is that remotes seem to multiply faster than rabbits. By the time you have the TV, sound system, one or two VCRs and DVD hooked up you have a formidable number of remotes by your side. One poplar answer to this is the universal remote.

There are two main types of universal remotes. The growing in  popularity is the learning remote. With this type of universal you place the remote in 'learn' mode and aim the remotes from your system into it's infra red (IR) sensor. You then press the function buttons and the universal learns how to emulate the functions. There are now many types sold in electronic stores and they are currently the best way to go.

The other and more popular type of universal remote comes with a rather thick booklet that contains codes. Even if you can't find your make and model in the list try others from the same manufacturers. Often a manufacturer will use the same IR frequencies in most of their devices. The main draw back to this type of universal is the list becomes out of date pretty fast. Ask the manufacturer if updates to the list are available or buy the universal after most if not all the rest of the system is complete.

I prefer a learning remote were the signals for many remotes can be learned by the universal remote. For a review of the one I bought check out My System.

Cables

One thing than many people, new to home theater, overlook is the importance of cables. With more and more devices being added to our home entertainment shelves, we have to hook together more things using a tangle of wires that look like a group of octopi having a gang fight. Many tend to overlook the importance of the cables used to connect their components. This is a big mistake. It is not uncommon for a person to spend thousands on top of the line components and then use cables that they either pulled out of a draw or spent a few bucks at the local hardware store. Many components provide cables. This is often a cheap marketing device to look good. They are rarely the quality you want.  

First, not all cables are created equally. You might see two cables sitting side by side on a shelf, one costing three dollars while the other costs twenty. They may look the same but there is actually a reason for the difference in price. To understand the difference you don't need a degree in electrical engineering but you do need to understand some of the basic principles behind the requirements for connecting audio-visual equipment.  Rule one: longer is NOT better. The shorter the cable the better the transmission of the signal. most of your equipment will be next to or on top of each other. Arrange your equipment so there is a simple path or flow from one piece to the next. For example, don't put your DVD decoder off to one side and the VHS between the DVD player and the receiver. The signal has to flow from the DVD player to the decoder then to the receiver so place the DVD player above the decoder and the decoder above the receiver. This will minimize the distance between the input jack and the corresponding output jack. 

Actually measure the distance. Do not buy a 12 foot cable when there is only is only 18 inches of distance between the jacks. Allow some give in the cable. You do not want them so tight that there is stress on the cables. Label the cables. Get some small labels, one inch by three inches, and write one them something meaningful. You will not remember elaborate codes later on. For example, the cable that connects the right front output from the decoder to the right front input of the receiver should be labeled something like this:  Decoder: RF: Out  and on the other end of the cable: Receiver: RF: In. Remember to use permanent ink not pencil. A small point that will be appreciated later down the road. Most cables are color coded at the ends. Red for right, white for left and yellow for video. Use the colors, they will almost always match the color of the jacks they go into.

Next, the quality of the cable should be considered. Here, thicker is better. The cable with the largest cross section will transmit more signal with less loss. This holds true if a low resistance material is used for the cable. Choosing the right cable in this case is a bit easier since there is a brand name of cables that are certified as being among the best around. Whenever possible go for the higher end cables available in most electronic stores. Many store clerks will try to push a name brand like Monster on you. The same quality can be found at a fraction of the cost with the gold tipped line at Radio Shack. They are thicker, made of better material and have corrosion resistant gold tipped plugs. They are a bit more in price than the bargain, generic cables but you are getting a much greater transmission for the added cost. Again, what use is having a $3,000 TV, $1,000 worth of sound equipment etc. if you are using two dollar cables that degrade the signal and lessen the quality of the picture and sound. You worked hard to afford your system, don't try to go cheap on the cabling.   

It is also important to use cables that are certified for the function you are using them for. I came across this personally when I upgraded my DVD player. My old player had an optical bitstream connector. The new one had a digital coax. There was a delay in shipping the digital coax cable so I used a spare Monster audio cable. The sound came through and it sounded okay, but when I got the digitally certified cable and installed it, the difference was incredible. The signal was clearer, the separation much better and the overall quality was greatly improved. The other worked but the right cable for the right function made a startling difference.

Now that you have the basics of your home theater you may wan to consider some of the accessories that can expand your system.

For information specific to DVD audio and video cables use the link to the left for details.

 

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