Help me reduce the footprint of my home theater components.
September 17, 2010 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Help me reduce the footprint of my home theater components. Any and all options welcome.

We have the perfect piece of furniture to hold our 42” flat panel TV in the corner of our living room, but unfortunately it’s not designed to hold components. It’s 100 years old, it has solid wood doors, a 4” strip of wood running down the middle, and it would be a total pain in the ass, if not impossible, to fit standard-size components inside. I thought about having a custom cabinet made, but I think that’ll be too expensive.

I currently have the TV on the corner cabinet with all the components on a side table next to it. It looks like crap and I want to get rid of the side table and have a nice clean look to the TV, speakers and corner cabinet.

The goal: Configure and/or replace things until I can fit everything into the cabinet and keep the doors closed except when putting in a DVD.

My components:
  • Samsung 42” TV 720p: Not a problem. Sits nicely on top of the cabinet.
  • Giant Okyno receiver: Big, heavy, hot. Will not fit into the cabinet. I’d like to eliminate this if I can.
  • HD TiVo: Probably will not fit into the cabinet. I could hide it under the cabinet. HDMI
  • DVD player: Standard size. I would like to replace this with a smaller size player. I have seen a small Sony player. Component, would prefer HDMI
  • Old school. Apple TV: Small. Will fit into the cabinet. Might run hot. Would consider replacing with the new Apple TV. HDMI Squeezebox player. Small. Can fit in the cabinet or on a shelf. Needs to be hooked up to some sort of amp and speakers
  • Wii. Small. Will fit in the cabinet. HDMI
  • 5.1 surround speakers. I’m not currently using the satellite speakers until I come up with a permanent solution. I could do without surround if I had to.
  • Harmony remote to control everything.
Questions/problems I need to solve:

Eliminating the receiver: This might be the tricky part. My TV doesn’t have enough HDMI inputs for everything. What are your experiences with HDMI switches? What other options are there? How can I get 5.1 without a receiver?

Audio: Audio-out from the TV is stereo-only, it seems. Another problem if I go with 5.1.

DVD player: Experience with small-footprint players? I don’t want to use the Wii to watch DVDs (if that’s even an option) because I don’t want to deal with another layer of menus and my Harmony won’t control the Wii.

Speakers: I’d like to have 5.1, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. The corner configuration (at an angle to the couch) might make it sound like crap. I’ve been looking into soundbars as an option for both the speakers and to eliminate the receivers. I’m not an audiophile and the TV is close enough where these might be an option. Thoughts? Sony makes one where the subwoofer is basically an HD receiver but I think that’ll just be a mess of cables and look like crap. Others have wireless subwoofers. Thoughts? Recommendations?

Remote: If the doors were closed I’d need a remote extender to control the components. Recommendations? I’d rather not pay a fortune.

Tivo: This holds my cablecards. I can hide this but I do like to see the two LEDs that let me know it’s recording stuff.

I can cut holes in the back of the cabinet for cables. Yes, I know it’s an antique and I shouldn’t do this, but it’s a corner cabinet and we’re going to keep it forever and ever.

What options haven’t I thought of?

I know there are entire forums devoted to A/V stuff but those places kind of overwhelm me.
posted by bondcliff to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hrm. Maybe you could build a media center PC?

Every time I read about recording HD TV with a Windows media center PC I start to get a headache. Cable cards and this and that and the other - this article I found to be extremely helpful.

Anyway, you could configure it to replace your Tivo and record TV with it. You could also put a DVD player in it and use it to play DVDs (or Blu Rays!). It could also replace the Apple TV.

I don't know if it's possible, but I think you could also get a high-end sound card for it that does 5.1 and have it act as your receiver, too?

It would be quite a project, but if all that worked as advertised that would be replacing 4 devices with 1, which would be a pretty good sell.
posted by trinkatot at 8:33 AM on September 17, 2010

Response by poster: I knew I forgot to include something.

It's a good suggestion, but I really don't want to go the HTPC / XBMC route, even if that might technically be the "best" solution. I want to simplify things, not add complexity. I have enough trouble with my slim server breaking every time the wind blows the wrong way.

I also think the Tivo is pretty much a perfect device and I want to keep it.

(adding this early in the thread to hopefully avoid a whole bunch of "+1 for HTPC" posts)
posted by bondcliff at 8:42 AM on September 17, 2010

The Wii doesn't do HDMI nor does the Squeezebox (let alone output video). That leaves you with 2 HDMI and 2 Component which your TV should have.

With the video switching handled, you could add a HTIB (home theater in a box) which would forgo the receiver and leave a fairly small footprint.
posted by wongcorgi at 8:50 AM on September 17, 2010

I think your setup is fine, component-wise.

If no option was too out-there, I would suggest sticking all the components in a not-too-far-away closet and running a single HDMI cable to the TV. (If you want 5.1, you'd have to run speaker cables from the closet as well.) You'll need to run a remote extender, of course, and I unfortunately don't have any suggestions there, but then everything will be out of sight and you can worry less about ventilating a much larger space. Plus, it's pretty much the pinnacle of clean A/V design.

Oh, it just occurs to me that you might have an issue with the Wii and its IR bar and remotes. Stick that below the TV, but everything else can be remote with no issues (other than opening the closet door to insert a DVD).
posted by supercres at 8:50 AM on September 17, 2010

Logitech also makes a Harmony remote extender.
posted by wongcorgi at 8:52 AM on September 17, 2010

I should add-- you don't actually have to run HDMI the whole length (those cables get expensive). Instead, you can get a CAT5 HDMI extender; something like this if you want to run cables through your walls.
posted by supercres at 8:55 AM on September 17, 2010

I make furniture. You may have already dismissed the idea of a custom cabinet, but I just popped in to say that your (and people's in general) concepts about the costs of custom cabinets (not furniture, but cabinets) is generally inaccurate. It's understandable, because they don't get much help from the cabinet maker in creating an affordable design. Think about's the design that makes that stuff cheap. The way it goes together, the simplicity of the components, etc. That they choose crappy materials is a separate issue, but not one people need to choose for themselves. The cost of the materials in custom work (and by that I mean the cost difference between good and bad materials) is the smallest part of the price.

Anyway, you can get an affordable, nearly perfect cabinet made for yourself if it is designed correctly. There are many people out there that can help you with this (like me) who are in your area (not like me). The trick is being a good client...being exceedingly clear about your needs and "not-to-exceed budget". You don't mention your budget (not relevant to my point), but I can tell you that you are miles ahead with the information/specifications most clients walk in with.

Just thought I would put it out there. (If you have already dismissed this potion, my answer might be helpful to future visitors to this question.) I apologize if this has been both long-winded and non-useful.
posted by nickjadlowe at 9:38 AM on September 17, 2010

Response by poster: No apologies necessary, nickjadlowe. I'm not sure if you read my previous thread but I didn't get too many results from it. The paths I did find lead me to think anything that could work would be too much (we're talking $5K for something that worked) and while I haven't yet fully ruled out a custom cabinet, I did want to explore this other path, which might be better in the long run.

Also, the cabinet we do have is really the perfect size and shape for the area, and it clears the heating return nicely. It's perfect, but it's not a media cabinet. It's a very unique type of design from an area in Quebec where her family has had a cottage for almost 100 years and it means a lot to us. If we move it from the corner where it is we don't really have another good place to put it, and we don't want to get rid of it or hide it in the basement. So that's another reason to go this route.

Re: Hiding stuff in a closet. I thought about this, but every now and then I have to troubleshoot something and I don't want to have to run to the closet when that happens. Also, the DVD player and Wii need to be accessible so I'd need to run a bunch of cables through the walls and floor. It's an option to explore though.

Re: HTIB: Most of these are based around a DVD/Blueray player that has the same standard A/V footprint that won't fit in my cabinet.

Attention component manufacturers: Very few people own turntables these days. There is no need to keep making your components turntable-size.
posted by bondcliff at 9:55 AM on September 17, 2010

Regarding competent size; a nice standard 17 inches makes stacking components easy. Otherwise you end up with unstackable things like this and this. I look down on components intended for AV stacks that are not 17 inches wide.

There are certainly small 5.1 receivers. This Bose Lifestyle 48 is just one example. I've seen similar systems at Fry's and Best Buy (Samsung is the only brand I can recall now). My personal opinion of such products is that they are overpriced and/or under performing. If you value form over function and can perhaps give up quality and pay the premium they are usable choices.

Unless you go with tiny speakers mounted on walls, 5.1 will indeed sound not great projecting from a corner. sound bars are hip these days and sound pretty good. Not sure what a corner would do to the magic reflections they use to make their fake surround sound.

Small speakers and sound bars usually require subwoofers to be able to get decent bass. Subwoofers can be annoying to hide.

My recommendation is to buy decent components and hide them in a properly ventilated closet or basement. There will be some extra upfront costs (running some wire and an IR repeater system for sure), but it's totally worth it in my opinion.
posted by fief at 11:50 AM on September 17, 2010

Response by poster: Follow up: I ended up buying the Sony soundbar. This allowed me to do all the HDMI switching outside of the cabinet and eliminated the need for a large receiver inside. I bought a small-footprint Sony DVD player and managed to fit the TIVO inside the cabinet, breaking the HDMI socket in the process, but I managed to fix it.

I plug the Wii directly into the TV's component input. I had thought it had HDMI but it doesn't.

I'll live without 5.1, which is fine.

So now everything fits inside. The cables going to the subwoofer are a bit cluttered but I think I can clean them up a bit and it still looks a lot better than what I had before.

I'm a little concerned with heat buildup, especially from the Apple TV, but I could always replace that with the newer model once I'm sure performance is comparable.

Now I just need to get the IR extender so I can keep the cabinet doors closed.
posted by bondcliff at 6:33 AM on October 18, 2010

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