AV Education on RHT
The High End Prewire
Written by Jerry Del Colliano
I recently bought a small home in the hills above Los Angeles and have taken on the project of renovating it, a process which includes two complete home theaters, high-speed Internet connectivity throughout the house, some distributed audio, lighting control, and more. The idea of this article is to show you some of what is possible in a whole-home prewire, so that when you build a new house or gut an existing property, you have a good idea of what to ask from a qualified AV installer.
My project is based around renovating a home built in 1959 that is devoid of most, if not all, of the latest AV and communications protocols. Many newer homes come designed for much more technology, but only in rare cases will a house that you buy be properly prewired for everything a Revolution Home Theater reader is going want from his or her residence. Under all circumstances, the best bet is to work with a CEDIA certified installer to help you work through the elements that you need in your system. Here are some of the elements I dealt with on my project ...
In the old days, audiophiles went crazy over interconnects, speaker cable and digital cables. Today as high-end systems are more often than not installed, the tendency is to use standard grade installation wire for all of your AV needs. For a high-performance music or home theater system, this can be a terrible mistake. In the case of my theater, a rack is going to be installed in the back of the room, but my Krell Mcx 350 monoblock amps and Wilson Watch center speaker is located at the front of the room. There was no way that I was going to run some generic cable from great electronics in the rack to killer amps and speakers on the other side of the room. I elected to use 65 feet of Transparent Reference cable for one speaker run, one balanced interconnect (XLR) and one pair of unbalanced interconnects (RCA) for my pair of subwoofers. I have long used Transparent Cable in my system and will show you how I wire up my rack using mostly Transparent Cable in a future How-To article. For in-wall purposes, an important feature that Transparent has that other (more tweaky) high-end cable companies dont have is CL2 rating. This means that they are somewhat fire retardant. You will need this, assuming your inspector takes a close look at the low voltage wiring you are installing for your home theater.
While I have a pretty good idea of where the front and center speakers are going to be located in my main theater room, I am less sure as to where Bob Hodas is going to ultimately place my subwoofers for the best bass performance. I therefore left lots of slack on the RCA interconnects so that I can get the best placement. The cables are concealed in my new drop ceiling that is hung a few inches lower than the original ceiling. Running the cables was a breeze, although special attention was paid to making sure the expensive AV wires were run in an out of the way location. Can you imagine someone hammering a nail into your Transparent Reference interconnect cables? Even worse, can you imagine trying to troubleshoot a hum that was caused by interference on cables in your ceiling? That would be a nightmare I can certainly live without.
I designed the cabinet for my AV software with David Levine, my interior designer, so that it specifically has a floor to ceiling channel designed for running cables from the ceiling on the far corner of the room. I can pop the front section of this cabinet off, thanks to magnets, and access the cables if I ever need them. From there, a custom floor soffit is being built to hide AC outlets, interconnect cables and other AV connectors. The overall design of the room is to be modern minimalist and having messy cables strewn all over the room will be unacceptable. But what was even more unacceptable was to make the investment in a new home that had lesser cables than my old condo. Thanks to the investment I made in these Transparent cables, I was able to prewire for the best of both worlds.
Since I am using Anthony Gallo Acousitcs A'Diva speakers for rear channels I also have some Transparent Ultra speaker cable run to a location on the back walls near the rack and sliding door. In the spirit of not spending too much money on cables, I used a standard Monster Cable 14-4 (14-4 means 14 gauge and four conductor) cable for side channel speakers in the event I want to do 7.1 surround. For now, that is not in my plan, but I have the AV preamp to pull it off and I will also have the speaker wires waiting for me in the walls whenever I want to poke through and hook them up.
A big part of a modern home is automation and my room is going to be able to do some really cool tricks, including automated lighting control, screen control and control of the roll-down blackout drapes. When the system is completely installed, I will purchase a high-performance touch screen remote (Crestron most likely) to make the system jump through all of the hoops. In order to have the Crestron officially pull off all of the feats the programmer is going to ask of it, I need to have inexpensive CAT-5 control wire run to the triggers for things like my Stewart Filmscreen and the roll-down shades. A less complicated wire was used to connect the Lutron Grafix Eye lighting control with the rack. Ultimately, all of these automation elements will be connected to the Crestron controller to make for reliable and convenient use of the remote and its powerful control of the system.
Ethernet Network Phone System
Once the walls were opened, the temptation to start wiring the house for everything became too tempting. While wireless networks for Internet and phone systems are all the rage these days, I decided to wire the house for both a traditional phone system and a hardwired Ethernet Internet connection. The cost vs. potential return on the resale of the house made the decision an easy yes.
Each phone outlet in the house has been changed to offer both a phone connection and an Ethernet jack. While I may just use a wireless solution for my phone and Internet, these connections are far from wasteful, as cutting edge components like TiVos, ReQuest music servers and game machines like Xbox and Playstation II now connect to the Internet. With a new TiVo Generation 2 and a simple USB adapter, I will be able to program my TiVo from my computer at work, instead of from the slow and clunky remote. If I rip a CD to the ReQuest server, the ReQuest can automatically go to an online database and pull liner notes, lyrics, album covers and more automatically, and then store them for future listening sessions. Lastly, I have a vision of someday being able to play against new Audio Revolution reviewer Ben Shyman in NHL 2004 for Xbox or Playstation 2. The trick is that he lives on the West Side of Manhattan and I live in Los Angeles. Thanks to the fact that modern game systems now connect to the Internet, some day we may meet on the ice and my Flyers will prevail over his overpaid and underperforming Rangers in a bloody battle of virtual hockey supremacy.
Satellite and Cable Modem
Despite being in an area populated by over 17,000,000 people, my location is pretty rural, which makes cell phone usage completely futile. DSL is also a long way from being installed in my neighborhood and even if they had it, the connection would likely be really slow, considering how far from the main connection I would be. The local cable provider did upgrade the service where I live to digital cable and the Internet connectivity is actually very fast, so I am going to order their service for the house. Because of the poor selection of channels and lack of HDTV, I will not use them for my TV programming.
I have an entire other How-To feature coming about how I got HDTV signal in the middle of nowhere but for now, I need to get a tri-LNB satellite signal to a number of rooms of my house. Whoever wired the house for cable originally did a pathetic job at it. The connections were rusted and, worse yet, daisy chained from one location to the other. The signal looks like crap and wont support what I want to do with my satellites NTSC and HDTV signal.
With a tri-LNB disc installed on the chimney, I had my satellite installer, John Aryia, use an entire box of RG6 cable in the house running what is known as home run connections to a junction point near my main equipment rack. These home runs allow for the signal to remain its best from the main distribution point to each location. The trick is that if you are doing HDTV and TiVo, you will need multiple feeds of cable to be able to pull off feats like watching a live show on your TiVo while recording another. So, for every location where you think you are going to have HDTV and TiVo, you are well suited to have three unique home runs of RG6 cable. Dont worry, it isnt that expensive, and once the walls are opened, it is about as easy as pulling one wire through. They just tape the entire bundle of cables for each room and pull them through your walls. The expensive part is realizing that you wanted one more run and having to cut your walls up again after the drywall and painter had already finished the job. Not only is that expensive, it is messy.
With my house being so small, I didnt wire too much speaker cable in the walls, but with a multi-zone feature in the Mark Levinson No. 40, I figured I would put a few speaker wires around the pad, including outside, the kitchen and in the garage. I was careful to run them near places where I could also install a volume control.
My distributed audio system is pathetically simple, but it will be effective for my needs. We will cover the topic of a real distributed audio system in a future How-To article. Bigger systems use their own preamps, control pads and multi-channel amps, so that people can use the system for different sources all over the house.
You want to plan your system as carefully as possible before you install it, so that you can wire for as many future technologies as possible. Even if you dont use them, the GenXer who is going to buy your place next will love the fact you thought that far ahead. Tim Duffy at Simply Home Entertainment says he runs cables for everything he can think of for his clients million dollar systems, including fiber optics for communications cables. It seems far-fetched today but who knows in a few years that cable might pipe HDTV DVD to every room in the house.
The rule of thumb with any prewire is to wire your system before the drywall goes up. This is where using a professional installer really helps. Tim at Simply Home Entertainment was responsible for tipping me off to most of the different tricks I built into my place. Hopefully, I have thought of everything, but only time will tell and the drywall guy is coming next week!
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