Help me, AV nerds. You're my... well not really but I'd appreciate it.
October 15, 2012 9:35 AM   Subscribe

What AV cables should I pull through my wall while I have the chance?

I've got one of those TV-over-the-fireplace situations. It's not ideal, but there's no better place in the room for a TV, so it's staying. We keep the associated electronic doodads like the cable box, Roku, home server, etc. in an adjacent built-in cabinet on the same wall. The wall surface is solid redwood paneling, which is near-impossible to disassemble without breaking or to patch inconspicuously after drilling holes through it. So, the problem with keeping said doodads in said cabinet is that there's no easy way to get the necessary cables inside the wall behind them.

Except for right now. I am doing some other work around the fireplace, and have a rare opportunity to easily pull some wires through the wall. What do I need to put in place in order to get sound and video signals from the cabinet to the TV, assuming current and foreseeable technology? Is a single HDMI cable sufficient? Any reason to pull a set of RCA cables through? Something else?
posted by jon1270 to Technology (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would do a few HDMI cables, an optical Toslink cable, and a component+audio set of RCA cables.

The toslink will let you get your audio back from the TV (I use mine to pass the audio from my Wii back to my home theatre receiver)
posted by spydee at 9:38 AM on October 15, 2012

Why not put in conduit, and make all future pulls easier?
posted by Alterscape at 9:44 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah, a conduit and a couple of pieces of rope or twine to facilitate future pulls.
posted by XMLicious at 9:46 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Considered the conduit, but there's not much space for one. The paneling is hung on 2x4 nailers laid flat, so I've only got an inch and a half to work with. I will have to drill through a couple of nailers, and I'd rather not drill such large holes that the nailers are effectively cut in two.
posted by jon1270 at 9:47 AM on October 15, 2012

If you can't use conduit then put some wire pulls in there that you can use in the future to drag new cables in, you just can't know what cables you will need/want in the future.
posted by Cosine at 9:49 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding conduit, but if that's impossible... yeah, seems like a single HDMI should do it. You don't do any switching/TV tuning at the TV, right? Your cable box, etc, are plugged into an upconverting receiver in the cabinet? All that needs to go to your display is video (and audio if you want to use the TV's speakers)-- a single modern HDMI is sufficient.

Of course, if the HDMI protocol changes to accommodate increased resolution, frame rate, etc, and you get a new TV, it's conceivable that you'll have to run an updated cable.
posted by supercres at 9:50 AM on October 15, 2012

Response by poster: Your cable box, etc, are plugged into an upconverting receiver in the cabinet?

I don't know what an "upconverting receiver" is, but that sounds like it might be what we intend. Currently we almost never use the cable box, so it's disconnected most of the time. When we do connect it, it's been by running a length of coax from cabinet to TV. The only thing that's consistently connected to the TV is the Roku, which we'd like to keep in the cabinet but currently sits on the mantel below the TV.

That reminds me... we watch so little TV that we don't get the digital upgrade to our cable service, so the box that Comcast gave us doesn't even have an HDMI port. Maybe a length of coax would be a good idea, too.
posted by jon1270 at 9:57 AM on October 15, 2012

Best answer: You might want to consider Cat6 if your TV supports it. Many new TVs can be plugged into the net directly, accessing Netflix and such natively. I've never regretting putting in network drops.
posted by bonehead at 10:04 AM on October 15, 2012

Best answer: An upconverting receiver will take any and all incoming signals, convert them to digital at whatever resolution you like, and put them onto one HDMI cable, with sound, and send it to your TV. It means you never have to touch the "input" button on your TV nor run anything more than a single HDMI. It's a great convenience, if it fits in your budget.
posted by ftm at 10:08 AM on October 15, 2012

Response by poster: Ah, thanks for the explanation, ftm. I'm browsing an Amazon search for "HDMI upconverting receiver" and am a little overwhelmed. What's the entry-level price point for a really basic unit?
posted by jon1270 at 10:16 AM on October 15, 2012

Amazon's a bit of a mess for this kind of thing! Some sites will have this as a clickable search parameter. Here's one, with no implied recommendation for the particular site.

You will see in the search parameters that you can even get ones that will upconvert from S-video and composite video, although depending on your Super Nintendo collection, that might not be necessary.
posted by ftm at 10:30 AM on October 15, 2012

Response by poster: depending on your Super Nintendo collection, that might not be necessary.

No game consoles whatsoever to worry about. Our use is really basic - mostly Roku, some DVDs, and only occasionally a bit of old-fashioned TV.

So, The CAT6 suggestion sounds like a good idea, though our current TV doesn't seem to support it. Definitely the HDMI. Maybe coax, depending on whether we go with the receiver solution. Is that making sense?
posted by jon1270 at 10:36 AM on October 15, 2012

I would without hesitation run a cat-6 ethernet cable.
posted by bensherman at 10:40 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Definitely do Cat6. It takes up hardly any space, and you can get converters to put on either end to run pretty much anything through it should you ever change your mind about what you want.
posted by echo target at 10:43 AM on October 15, 2012

Response by poster: Just discovered there are wall plate systems with snap-in ports of various types, so I could combine HDMI, CAT6 and coax in a single neat plate on each end.

I think I have a plan. Thanks, everyone!
posted by jon1270 at 10:52 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just discovered there are wall plate systems with snap-in ports of various types, so I could combine HDMI, CAT6 and coax in a single neat plate on each end.

Yep. Just keep in mind that these wall plates can protrude from the wall a bit (especially the coax and other non-flush connectors), which might pose an issue if your TV can mount really flush to the wall. You'll need enough space between the TV and the wall for both the connector and the cable, ideally without a crazy sharp bend that will ruin the cable, though a few 90ยบ angle adapters can help in some installs. Some TV wall-mount brackets leave a fair bit of clearance, but others leave a tight fit. You might want/need to recess the wall plate to give you enough room.
posted by zachlipton at 11:23 AM on October 15, 2012

What about power? This is an opportunity to hide your TV power cable, if that matters to you (and if there's room for an outlet).
posted by irrelephant at 11:23 AM on October 15, 2012

Response by poster: The TV (which came with the house, and is a couple of years old) is mounted with a decent amount of space between it and the wall. I may have to use a clock outlet if I add power back there (which I probably will), but I think there's enough space for the signal cables. The coax might be tight without a right angle adapter.
posted by jon1270 at 11:37 AM on October 15, 2012

CAT6. Everything runs over it, including HDMI. So instead of spending all this money on an HDMI cable that is guaranteed to go obsolete go with CAT6 which will more than likely have converters for everything for a long time. I'd do 2 runs of CAT6 per outlet. One for video and another for phone/networking if need be.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:59 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: CAT6. Everything runs over it, including HDMI.

Neat, I had no idea.
posted by jon1270 at 12:09 PM on October 15, 2012

Nthing conduit.
Also - pull a couple of runs of pull cord so that when the new fangled mystery cable we are unaware of becomes the standard you'll have a chance to attach it to the pull cord at one end and (hopefully) gently pull it through.
posted by BrooksCooper at 12:40 PM on October 15, 2012

Nthing Cat6 Ethernet cable. Run whatever else you want to use right away, but definitely sneak an Ethernet cable into there for the future.
posted by intermod at 5:30 PM on October 15, 2012

Be sure to spring for a category 2 HDMI cable. It will still be cheap as long as you don't purchase it in a brick-and-mortar store.
posted by jsturgill at 8:42 PM on October 15, 2012

... or maybe I should have said make sure it's a version 1.4 cable.

Haven't looked into it in forever, and don't really know what I'm talking about. Sorry.
posted by jsturgill at 8:45 PM on October 15, 2012

Response by poster: For now I'm going with 2 HDMI cables, because the existing TV has 2 HDMI inputs and that saves us from having to get the upconverting receiver mentioned above, plus CAT6 and coax, all terminating at each end in a keystone wall plate. Hopefully when our needs change I'll be able to use the wires themselves to pull other wires through; I'll arrange them in the wall to make that as easy as possible. Conduit still looks improbable, though I'd absolutely do it if I could.

I ordered all the cables and keystone pieces through Amazon and eBay; the big box prices on that stuff are ridiculous.
posted by jon1270 at 3:42 AM on October 16, 2012

Response by poster: And for posterity: I did end up putting in a conduit, of thinwall PVC, because without it there were just too many places for a cord to get irretrievably snagged inside the wall. I tried bending it with a heat gun, but that didn't go so well and I don't have time for the learning curve right now. So I used glue-on fittings, two 45-degree elbows for each 90-degree turn, so that the corners would be less abrupt. Also discovered that a vacuum cleaner sucking at one end of the conduit is a great help to threading a rope through.
posted by jon1270 at 6:26 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: One more bit of advice for anyone thinking of running HDMI cables inside a wall: test all the components first, before you go to the trouble of pulling them through difficult spaces. It's been 3 months since I started this project, and I *still* don't have it working properly, because a ridiculously large fraction of the cheap cables and connectors I bought have been defective. I only need 2 HDMI cables in the wall. I have purchased six. Only one was both functional and as long as the label said it was. Two were functional but too short. The other three were defective right out of the bag. The crap QC is bad enough, but it's exponentially more frustrating to only discover the problem after you've spent time pulling it through a difficult length of conduit.
posted by jon1270 at 9:11 AM on January 29, 2013

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