When you begin your home theater installation, expect some false starts. Even if you plan on concealing your cables and components, make sure everything is working before you start dealing with the cosmetic issues. Don't rush the installation, either. Think of it as a process. Even an easy install will involve a number of steps. These tips will help you stay sane long enough to enjoy your first full length feature:
- Do some prep - Take an inventory of your supplies before you begin work. If you're in the middle of an install, it's irritating to discover that you're short an HDMI cable or need batteries for one of the remotes. Gather together the installation and operating manuals for all the components you'll be installing, and review them thoroughly before you begin.
- Make notes - As you build your setup, if the number and variety of cables and cords gets out of hand, label them. It's the easiest way to revisit your installation later to perform a quick fix. Build a diagram as you go, and if you hit a snag, make a quick note of the troubleshooting efforts you've taken, like the settings you've already tried, so you don't waste time repeating your efforts. After the install, finalize your diagram and save your notes for next time.
- Corral cords - Avoid installing cords under carpeting or bisecting an entry or aisle way. Run cables along baseboards if you can. If you do have to run cable across the room, protect it (and your family) with a low profile cable cover.
- Confirm as you go - Test each component after you add it. That way it'll be easier to troubleshoot any problems that crop up late in the installation.
- Set up the system first - Get all of the electronic components up and running before you deal with niceties like furnishings. If you're working on hardwood floors, cover them to avoid scratches, and consider putting down carpet for better sound quality and sound control.
- Keep your design flexible - Don't expect to get your installation perfect the first time -- and even if it's a thing of beauty, in six months, the next must-have component you add could require resources you haven't anticipated. Make sure you have the space, electrical service and easy access necessary to add to your setup without a complete overhaul.
- Strive for like quality throughout - Your home theater system will be as solid and robust as its weakest link. It can be tempting to splurge on one spectacular component that'll put a big dent in your budget, forcing you to compromise on other parts of your design. Curb your enthusiasm, and strike a budgeting balance that allows you to buy the same (good) quality components throughout.
- Consider the future - Before you spend valuable resources changing a bedroom into a home theater, consider the problems a big structural retrofit will cause when you go to sell your home in a few years. If you don't relish having to undo everything you're paying to install now, keep your upgrades sensible and generic enough to work for you and others later.
- Watch your budget - Whether you go with a home theater in a box (HTIB), an integrated system that can include everything but the flat screen (or whatever viewing device you choose), or decide to use a build-your-own approach, it's easy to indulge in a few extras that will bust your budget before you know it. Items like wireless speakers and a carousel disc changer may be on your short list of essential home theater features, but if they're not, then knowing what you can and can't live without should help you stay within your budget. Make a list, and stick to it. Think of it as insurance against excess.