My stereo's not ready to come out of the closet
September 12, 2005 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Building a media closet in an existing home...

The wife and I will be buying a new house soon, and we know we're going to move a couple of walls around. We are considering building a media closet. I've been reading up on structured wiring panels, multi-room amps, etc, but I'm still unsure what my best options are.

We want to distribute video to the living room and bedroom, and audio to those two rooms plus the office and backyard. Thanks to wifi and multi-extension cordless phones, it's not that important to distribute data or phone. The closet would be attached to the office. The house has stick framing, unfinished attic, and crawl-space underneath. I'm thinking of using a Mac mini as a media center. We want the whole thing out of sight and remote-controllable as much as possible.


1. How hard would it be to do the installation myself? The distribution points will be on existing walls; the hub will be on new framing.
2. All the systems I've read about use coax for video, but this seems to be the lowest-quality option (compared to component/S-video/digital). Is there a more future-proof and high-quality option for video?
3. What's the best way to distribute audio to 4 points?

Any other advice much appreciated.
posted by adamrice to Technology (9 answers total)
I'm not an expert by any means, but I have done some construction work as well as A/V work.

1. Getting wires to your distribution points probably won't be that easy, especially through finished walls. With the unfinished attic, you could fish wires down through walls, or come up from the crawl-space. Both options are possible, but could take quite a bit of trial and error work in getting it down the wall to the point you want it. Getting a professional to come in and run wires isn't cheap either, but may help you get it done right.

2. Coax is cheap and easy, especially compared to the other options you listed. I'm also unsure of what you plan to use as your video source (the Mini? TiVo/DVR?), so your quality concerns may not be something to worry about. I can't speak to future-proof options, but my guess is that the expense will be quite high.

3. Do you want individual audio streams (multiple sources, multiple outputs)? Or one audio stream going to all four rooms? For the multiple sources options, the Nuvo Essentia is a good system, although pricey and best suited for new construction.

That's all I have for the moment, I'll try to add more as I can think of it.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:22 AM on September 12, 2005

Response by poster: shinynewnick

Audio: one source, multiple outputs (don't need anything as fancy as a Zon system).

Video source: I'd actually like to use the Mac as the source for as much audio and video as possible, and may even rig it up as a PVR with a USB tuner. But for those occasions when we need to play retro-media (LP, VHS), we'll probably still have other equipment hooked up.

I have in the past pulled Cat-5 and Romex through the walls/foundation/attic of an old house, so I'm not completely put off by the idea, but this would be a more ambitious project.
posted by adamrice at 9:01 AM on September 12, 2005

As long as you understand the logistics of pulling wires, I'd say do it yourself. My only advice would be to pull more than you need, and that's another benefit of using coax. That way if you have a video source in the living room, you can send it back to the media closet and deal with it accordingly.

Another alternative is pulling Cat-5 and using a system like these. Expensive, but the Svideo distributor also has an IR option through the Cat-5. It would also be a little more future-friendly, as you could change the boxes on each end if the technology changes.

I'll wait for an audiophile to recommend a way to split the signal four ways, I don't know any good methods off the top of my head.
posted by shinynewnick at 9:22 AM on September 12, 2005

There were two products listed on boing-boing in the past coupe days that sound like they might help you out.

Flat ethernet cable.

Flat audio cable
posted by Jack Karaoke at 9:26 AM on September 12, 2005

when i moved into my place five years ago i spent lot of time fishing cat5 cables and coax cables through 3 floors. i am not sure i want to do it again even though all my rooms have cat5 outlets etc. now. This was before wifi became hot. One thing may have been wise is to use a gigabit cable. is that cat5E or cat6 ?. I have been watching DVD content over LAN lately.. seems to work better than spinning DVDs on the local machine actually!

everything is going IP. I would probably just try to set up a whole house gigabit network. But soon you will have better wifi options. so may be you should just wait and plan for now.
posted by flyby22 at 9:27 AM on September 12, 2005

Can you pull flexible conduit? Hmm. Basically, nothing is future-proof except conduit. I will note that there are products that can send HDMI (your future video signal) over a Cat5 pair.

As far as audio, you'll probably be fine for a very long time just running heavy-gauge speaker cable. Home-run it all to your media closet, where you can hook up whatever you want to it.

Coax is sooooo icky. Only good for getting the signal from outside your house to your media closet.
posted by trevyn at 9:39 AM on September 12, 2005

One thing may have been wise is to use a gigabit cable. is that cat5E or cat6 ?

GigE can go over cat5e. When 10GigE is a reality, you'll need cat6 to handle it.
posted by cmonkey at 9:39 AM on September 12, 2005

My home is a combination of a Media Center PC for living room use, Media Center Extenders for Bedroom use and Sonos network digital audio receivers for whole-house audio, with all content stored on a 2TB raid array in the basement, connected to the network via gigabit ethernet.

It hit the sweet spot for us. :)
posted by Merdryn at 9:46 AM on September 12, 2005

lately the HomePlug folks are also making lot of noise about high bandwidth over your powerlines.. so there is something more to check out..
posted by flyby22 at 9:58 AM on September 12, 2005

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