What is the right home theater system for me, that will work with my pre-wired apartment?
May 27, 2012 6:11 PM   Subscribe

[Home theater filter] Our newly-purchased apartment's living room is pre-wired for speakers but after doing plenty of research I'm totally overwhelmed with options, and not sure what exactly these wires are. Help me figure out what we should buy to take advantage of the hookups? Pictures and details inside.

In general we'll want to use the system to watch downloaded movies (Netflix, iTunes, etc...), and stream music from an Apple device (either our home Mac or an iPhone/iPad). The TV (60" and about 5-6 years old) is already mounted to the wall, and under the TV is a small door with two of these coming out of it, one labeled "left" and one labeled "right".

Here's what's coming out of the room's front left and right corners near the ceiling.

And the back left and right corners near the ceiling.

I did some research and looked at previous questions, and think what we need is a receiver like the Onkyo TX-NR414 and speakers like the Definitive Technology ProCinema 600 system. Is that right? Will what I have hook up properly to that? And are those what people recommend, maybe with an Apple TV?
posted by unionsquarepark to Technology (3 answers total)
Best answer: Yes, the receiver and speakers you mentioned are compatible with one another and with the wiring in your apartment. This is true for just about any other 5.1 receiver and speaker setup you care to choose (there's also nothing stopping you from picking a receiver capable of doing 7.1 and just not using that capability for now, if it has other features you like or if you think you might want to do 7.1 later.)

Those are pretty standard speaker wires, but someone seems to have made the layout more complicated than it needs to be by using 4-conductor speaker cable. What you actually need are 2 wires coming from the receiver and going to each speaker, and to be sure the positive and negative terminals on the speaker are connected to corresponding positive and negative terminals on the receiver. It's hard to say from your pictures exactly how things were wired there, but it should fairly easy to identify the wire pairs using a mulitimeter or continuity tester (this would do) like so: First, at the TV cabinet location, check each wire against each of the wires in its 4-conductor cable to see if anything is shorted together. Nothing should be. Next go to one of the speaker locations on the appropriate side and twist together two of the wires, creating a short, and test again. Once you find the short, tape those wires together and label them e.g. "Front L." Depending on how the wiring was installed, you may need to splice together two sets of two wires at each of the front locations to feed the corresponding rear speaker (your second pic makes it look as though this may have already been done.)

If it were my house, I would not use the front pair; you'll be much happier with the sound if your left, right and center speakers are aligned horizontally, and all placed at approximately ear level. (This also true to a lesser extent with the surround speakers, but it makes less of a difference and it's usually impractical in a normal house.

For the equipment I would say the Onkyo receiver is a good pick, but I don't know those speakers and can't comment on their suitability. Here's a set from Energy that would probably work well.

An Apple TV is great for streaming music via AirPlay and for watching video from Netflix and iTunes, but is a little iTunes-centric for video options. Keep in mind that you can always use a refurbished Airport Extreme (configured by someone savvy to act as just an AirPlay target and not a WAP) for the AirPlay music streaming and then add the streaming video device(s) of your choice (Roku, Popcorn Hour, fancy Blu-ray player, etc.) Tech of the Hub is a great blog with up-to-date video streaming options.
posted by contraption at 7:13 PM on May 27, 2012

You could easily extend the wires coming from the front corners using some speaker wire (e.g.) and a couple of wire connectors. That way you could put your Front left and Front right speakers at whatever height you desire. (A neater way would be to use Keystone wall plates with banana jacks)

In the photo of the front, the red and white wires are connected together. At the back, the black and green wires are cut. Presumably the previous owner used red/white for the rear speakers, and green/black for the front ones.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:19 PM on May 27, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks to both of you for the responses!
posted by unionsquarepark at 9:59 PM on May 29, 2012

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