Home Toys Article
- April 2005 -
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As content delivery over broadband increases, especially with the advent of HDTV, bandwidth demands will skyrocket. Using a wired network will help ensure uninterrupted delivery of your favorite programming.
by Steve Faber, www.1touchmovie.com
We live in great times. You can listen to virtually any music at the touch of a button. Your favorite music can fill your entire home. You can see fantastic video on a screen hanging on the wall. Security, lighting, HVAC, motorized blinds; they're all just a button touch away. In many cases you need not take any action at all. Your home will adjust itself. One system can take action based upon input from another. The security system turns on the lights for example, or a sunlight sensor causes the blinds to lower, protecting your valuable furniture and artwork from UV damage. Your computer in the kitchen prints to your office laser printer and you watch photos stored on your office computer in your media room.
The backbone of all this magic is your home's wiring. If you take the correct steps now, you will be ready for almost anything technology can throw at you in the future. Even if you do not want to, or your budget won't allow you to have every feature, you can just wire for your dream system now. Over time, as your needs and budget evolve, you will have the infrastructure to take advantage of your new requirements.
An additional reason to do a comprehensive pre-wire is resale value. As soon as the wire is buried behind the walls, its value increases by a factor of four. In the future, it will be more difficult to sell a home without a complete wiring package. Even now, homes in many new developments are fitted with a structured wiring system. Structured wiring usually consists of multiple runs of RG-6 coaxial cable and Category-5 unshielded, twisted pair cable, known as CAT-5. CAT-5 is suitable for computer network or telephone applications. CAT-5 is being supplanted by CAT-5E and CAT-6. These are similar to CAT-5 but have greater bandwidth capability.
With a structured wiring system, instead of just a phone or TV cable, all desired locations in the home receive a bundle of multiple cables. These cables run back to a central communications panel. A centralized panel allows easy configuration of which location receives what services. An additional advantage is that this configuration can be easily changed in the future to accommodate changing requirements.
The first thing to do when deciding how to wire your home is develop a plan. What are your needs? What about your wants? This is an area where it can be beneficial to consult a professional. Their experience can help you determine what you may need in certain areas of your home. A good, professional custom installer will give you ideas for things you hadn't thought of while minimizing mistakes in other areas.
A great way to start is to list all the rooms in your home. How will you use each one? Try to envision future uses as well. If you have children now, your needs will change as they grow. If you don't have kids now but are planning to, the same things apply. If your children are older, how will you use the rooms when they leave home? Wiring is relatively inexpensive and planning for the future is essential. A little planning now can save you major headaches and expense in the future.
If a music system is part of your plans, wire any room you may want music in, even if you don't plan on installing speakers yet. You can leave the wires buried in the walls and take advantage of it when the time comes. If you never use it, the wiring will at least increase the resale value of your home.
The current standard for residential structured wiring is to run 2 RG-6 quad shield coaxial cables and 2 CAT-5 cables to each phone, TV or computer location. The CAT-5 cables can be used for either computer network or telephone applications. There is a large variety of adaptors available that will allow various types of audio and video to be carried via CAT-5 as well. These adaptors are usually known as 'Baluns'. The RG-6 quad shield cable is able to support the bandwidths required by modern digital cable and satellite systems.
Make sure you use RG-6 that is tested out to at least 2.2MHz. 2.4MHz is better still. Do not use the basic screw on or crimp on ends you find at your local electronics store. It's amazing how many crimp on ends still show up in installations today. To preserve the bandwidth and minimize video problems, use good compression ends such as those from Digicon or Snap-N-Seal. The tools for these can be fairly expensive but are essential. You can find them here: It is not worth the troubleshooting time a bad end can cause to scrimp on the cable fittings. One poor fitting can cause video problems such as ghosting. See what type of ends your local cable company uses if you have any questions.
Use a good quality CAT-5. CAT-5 is usually rated to 100MHz. It is preferable to use enhanced CAT-5, known as CAT-5E or newer CAT-6. CAT-6 is suitable for Gigabit Ethernet applications. This is 10 times faster than the ubiquitous 100baseT networks found in most homes and offices today. Because you are wiring for the future, it makes sense to use cable rated for the highest bandwidth possible. Soon much of the audio and video content you use may be delivered by your network so bandwidth will be priceless.
CAT-5 must be terminated using approved ends and methods. The ends are easy to install but you should use a telephone punch down tool to ensure a good connection. Be sure to maintain the cable's twist to within ½" of the termination. You can find the tools here: http://www.1touchmovie.com/tools
When pulling CAT-5 it is essential that certain standards be observed. This maintains the integrity of the cable and ensures it is capable of meeting its bandwidth specification. Do not pull it with any more than 25 pounds of tension. Keep away from tight bends that can kink the cable. Do not pull it tightly around sharp corners such as when going through the top plate (the top horizontal member) of a wall.
DO NOT STAPLE your CAT-5 or RG-6 with your electrician's Romex staples. Use nylon ties or a special staple gun specifically for this type of cable. Using a hammer and big metal staple can deform the cable and cause internal reflections. If this occurs, bandwidth and video problems will manifest themselves. These problems will be next to impossible to solve without locating the fault and replacing the cable. This type of troubleshooting in a finished home is quite time consuming and expensive.
Even if you plan on using a wireless network it is still a good idea to run network cabling as well. The next owner of your home may not use a wireless network. In addition, wired networks have an edge in bandwidth, reliability and security over wireless networks.
It is extremely difficult to hack into a wired network. Someone would have to get into your home. They are very secure. A wireless network on the other hand only requires someone sit down the street from your house with a high-gain antenna, laptop, and easily available software. In a few hours they can be into your network, even if you use standard WEP security. The newer WPA protocol is much better. You should at least turn on your wireless network's security features. Many wireless network users do not even bother turning on the security features of their wireless system.
As content delivery over broadband increases, especially with the advent of HDTV, bandwidth demands will skyrocket. Using a wired network will help ensure uninterrupted delivery of your favorite programming. Wireless is affected by other wireless devices in the 2.4GHz spectrum such as microwave ovens and cordless telephones.
To distribute video such as from CCTV cameras or entertainment sources such as DVD players you will need specifically designed cable. Composite video, as is used for CCTV or standard VCRs is usually distributed using a type of coax called RG-59. This is similar to the RG-6 used for RF applications like satellite and cable TV. It is optimized for what is known as baseband video and does not have the shielding required for RF applications. It is usually a good idea to run a CAT-5 along with the RG-59 for power or control applications. For greater power requirements, such as pan and tilt camera mounts, use an 18ga, 2 conductor cable. To distribute component video from DVD players or satellite receivers, you will need multiple runs of RG-59 or, alternatively, you can use CAT-5 combined with a Balun adaptor at each end. These Baluns can be fairly expensive so it usually best to use video cable instead of CAT-5.
Keep in mind that in-wall cabling must be approved for in-wall applications. You cannot just grab that really nice Monster Cable you have laying around and run it in the walls. That is illegal and can be unsafe. Most specialty cable manufacturers such as Belden, Canare, Monster Cable and AudioQuest make high quality, bulk cable designed and approved for in-wall applications. You can get a great selection of custom install video cable here: http://www.1touchmovie.com/tools
For projectors, flat panel displays and other video display devices that require component or RGB video, it is best to run at least 5 RG-59 cables or use one of the special bundled cables made specifically for this purpose. Most of these use 5 mini RG-59 cables encased in a common jacket. These require special ends and yes, another special too. You can get the ends and tools here: http://www.1touchmovie.com/tools
To accommodate DVI, Firewire and HDMI cables, which are very difficult to field terminate, it is a good idea to run a 2" flexible conduit from the media equipment location to the projector. Do not run the other cables inside this conduit. Save the conduit for the digital cables. The other benefit of conduit is the accommodation of future video standards. As DVI begat HDMI there will doubtlessly be some new cable requirement to provide for.
When wiring for flat panels or projectors always run one or more CAT-5 cables for control and possible network applications. Many projectors have network jacks for control. At some point all displays may be network enabled for control and content delivery.
A typical distributed audio system consists of a pair of speakers in each room you would like to have music in. These speakers are all wired back to a central music system. This system can be located in the family room with the family room audio/video equipment or in another location such as the mechanical room or a dedicated A/V closet. There is usually a local control, such as a volume control or keypad, for each room.
The standard method for wiring a distributed music system entails running a 16/4 speaker wire from the equipment location, known as the head-end, to the room's control location. From there, a 16/2 speaker wire is run to each of the room's speakers. 16/2 & 16/4 refers to the gauge (size), and number of wires in each cable. A 16/2 speaker cable has two 16 gauge wires in a single jacket. Since a speaker requires 2 conductors to function, a 2-conductor speaker wire will run 1 speaker and 1 4-conductor wire is required for a pair of speakers.
For maximum flexibility, it is wise to run a CAT-5 from the head end to the control location along with the 16/4 speaker cable. This will allow the use of a keypad or touch screen control if more control is desired than a simple volume control provides. It will also allow for future IP enabled controls with built-in digital amplifiers.
For long runs or when using very high quality speakers, better cable should be used. Premium speaker cable will allow the speakers to perform their best and will keep the amplifier from fighting as much resistance in the cable. Most speaker wire companies make a premium, in-wall speaker cable.
Another option is to localize the amplification. In this type of system, the amplifiers are located in the room where the speakers are. This keeps the speaker cable runs much shorter. The speakers will sound better and less amplifier power can be used. The low level signal used to drive the amplifiers is much more susceptible to noise and interference so it is essential that proper shielding and routing techniques be observed. Twisted pair, shielded cable, made for this application should be used.
In many cases it will be necessary to use balanced line for this type of audio distribution. If the audio equipment does not have balanced inputs and outputs, a balanced line sender / receiver combination will have to be used. This equipment converts the unbalanced line level audio signal common to most consumer electronics equipment to a balanced signal. It is then converted back to an unbalanced signal, if necessary, when it arrives at the amplifier.
The standard RCA style audio inputs & outputs found on consumer electronics equipment is unbalanced. Balanced equipment can be identified by the presence of XLR type connectors for inputs and outputs. XLR connectors are larger than RCA connectors and have 3 pins(male) or holes(female) arranged in a triangle.
NOTE: In many locations the homeowner can do their own work. You may still need a permit. Some locales do not require a permit for low voltage wiring but others do. Check with your local authorities to be sure. If you need a permit and try to do the work without one, the electrical inspector can halt construction until you receive approval or make you remove the cabling. Very messy. Make sure you adhere to your local building codes when running this or any cable. If you are unfamiliar with these, see your local building department or state department of labor and industries. Your local municipality can tell you if they have their own standards or follow the state codes.
Bio: Steve Faber has almost 15 years in the custom installation industry. He is a CEDIA certified designer and Installer 2 with certifications from both the ISF and THX. His experience spans many facets of the industry, from the trenches as an installer and control systems programmer, and system designer, to a business unit director for a specialty importer of high end audio video equipment, a sales rep for a large, regional consumer electronics distributor, and principal of a $1.5M+ custom installation firm. He currently is senior sales engineer at Digital Cinema Design in Redmond, WA. He is on the web at www.1touchmovie.com.