Home Theater Cable Guide
AV Cables Connection Tips
10 Home Theater Cabling Tips
help you get the best out of your system
Many do not just stop at talking about premium quality AV cables; they even spend a good portion of their home theater budget on expensive—often exotic—cables to ensure they get the best results.
But then these same individuals often fail to follow the very basics when it comes to proper cabling of their system components. The result is degraded system performance, one that would not allow them to enjoy the full potential their expensive gear is capable of.
Unfortunately, few realize that cabling is an integral part of every AV setup; it is better to go relatively on the cheap but ensure you have a well managed cabling system in place then exotic cables running in total mess.
It does not take much for correct AV cabling; the following basic cable connection tips should help you get on the right track.
AV Cable Connection Tips
1. Avoid long cable runs
Plan for the shortest cable run. The shorter the home theater cable is the better. Keep in mind that a single cable of the correct length connected directly to the equipment represents the best solution.
2. But... make sure your cables are long enough
Unnecessary cable length should be avoided, yet keep in mind that if in case of shelved system components the rear panels are not easily accessible, you should allow enough cable slack to let you pull your system components forward and reach the rear panel. In case, you end up with excessive cable length, do not loop but arrange this in an 'S' shape or a figure-of-eight instead as this can help minimize electromagnetic interference. In the unlikely event your cable runs exceed the distance supported by the interconnect standard (check our article here for the relevant details), use appropriate repeater amplifiers.
3. Use an HDMI cable when available
Always opt for HDMI over other AV interconnects when available on your system components. Apart from delivering the best HDTV picture, HDMI also helps simply your AV cabling as it carries both audio and video over the same interconnect.
4. Purchase certified HDMI cables
Purchase only HDMI (and DVI) cables that have been tested at the maximum bit rate supported by the HDMI standard over the respective cable length.
5. HDCP compliance and multiple High-Definition video sources
When connecting multiple HD sources, always use a quality HDMI switch that is HDCP compliant. Keep in mind that all active system components should be HDCP compliant if you want to enjoy protected high definition video. A non-compliant HDCP source will force the recipient HDMI device e.g. an HDTV, to downgrade high definition video stream to standard resolution.
6. Purchase only quality home theater cables
...and only from a source that allows you enough time to try them out in your application. Ideally, in the case of a new system installation, you should test the cables with the source and display prior to installing them behind a wall or in conduit.
7. Keep power cords away from AV interconnects
Keep your home theater cables and related gear away from sources of interference, e.g. electric motors, light dimmers and other triac operated equipment, etc.
Isolate power cords all the way from the wall outlet to the equipment in the AV rack itself. This applies even in the case of power line conditioners and surge suppressors installed in your equipment rack.
This is both a safety requirement and a performance issue. Power cords can introduce a significant level of interference into signal interconnects; this is especially true with low power line home theater cables. In case you absolutely need to cross power cords over AV cables, do so at a 90-degree angle to minimize induced interference and isolate the two with a piece of thick rubber insulation.
8. Use Proper Cable Management ...and go for a neat installation!
The minimum requirement here is to use two separate trunks, one for power and the other for all your AV interconnects, speaker wires, data/home network lines if any, and TV antenna. A better option would be to pass speaker wires in a third trunk since this is carrying power audio. In a professional set-up, the ideal would be to have different types of interconnects passing through separate trunks.
If you are making you of built-in metal trunks in equipment racks to partially manage your cables, check that there are no sharp or pointed metal burrs that may damage your cables.
Finally, keeping your cables neat is part of proper cable management; there are various options that may help here; these range from Velcro straps to self-adhesive cable clips, colored nylon cable ties—including reusable cable ties—and spiral cable wraps. When working with cable ties, do not pull them too tight around your cables but only enough to hold your cables in place.
9. Avoid kinking and excessive bending of home theater cables
Always handle cables properly during installation. Do not exercise excessive pull strength when running cables, nor try to pull a cable to make it reach. Pulling cables can put stress on the cable connectors as well as cause potential damage to both your gear and home theater cables. In particular, never pull optical interconnects; their optical fiber core may be easily damaged and distorted when pulled. If necessary buy longer cables!
Cables should always be installed in a relaxed position, with no kinks or sharp bends; instead, allow only for gentle bends at both ends of the AV interconnect for optimal stress relief between the cable and the respective system component.
10. Ensure proper cable hook-up
Check that the cable impedance matches your applications. And if a home theater cable comes with arrows printed on its jacket, hook it up so that the arrows point away from the signal source and toward the destination. In other words, the direction of the arrow should follow the signal flow from source to load.
Equally important, ensure that your cables come with good quality connectors that provide a good fit; poor quality connectors may have a worse effect on system performance than the quality of the cable itself.
A Final Word of Advice
Plan carefully and take your time: Proper cable laying relies more on common sense than anything else. Therefore, spend time carefully planning your home theater cabling; and do not rush through a cable laying project.
Working in this manner will allow you to avoid costly mistakes while ensuring you achieve maximum system performance and long-term problem-free operation.