Monday, July 28, 2008

Long time, no blog... New TV setup

Apologies for not having blogged in such a long time, I know Scrappy was about to remove me from her list of friends because of it, lol. Hold on Scrappy!

Anyhow, I thought I'd share some recent tribulation regarding setting up a flat panel television in your house (in my case, over the mantel of the fireplace.) Now, I wanted to have the "nothing to see here but the TV" kind of approach so that none of the components (Xbox 360, comcast HD DVR, VCR/DVR-R) would be visible as they were to reside in a cabinet built into the family room wall. This looks simple, sounds simple, but for me it was in reality a real pain in the a**. ;)

I'll avoid describing the annoying pain I went through learning how to run cable, what types of cable to run, what wall plates to get, the agonizing groan when I remembered that my remote(s) are IR and not RF and therefore do not penetrate wood cabinet doors (I know, I'm an idiot...) I'll simply put the steps I would take NOW to do this. I presume that you already have your components themselves. I also presume that you already have an electrical outlet above your mantle otherwise you'll need to hire an electrician to put one in for you Remember, if you don't feel competent performing these actions, don't blame me if you screw up your drywall/sheetrock/electrocute yourself, et cetera. America has become a land of litigation and I take no responsibility for your actions.

(1)Purchase TV, I recommend measuring the width of the area you wish to place it, in my case a Samsung PN58A550 (which fit perfectly between two areas of molding over the mantle.)

(2)Purchase installer service - you do NOT want to be doing this yourself unless your a professional handyman merely for the liability issues involved in a 120 pound television tearing out of the studs of your wall when there could be children near. I highly recommend searching your local area for home theater personnel to do this and skipping using services like Firedog (although I hear they're actually excellent) due to the expense. Companies like Firedog have package deals and won't simply "hang the mount and TV" because they'll charge you for wiring and everything else regardless of whether you have them wire it or not. BTW, they also charge an extra fee if the TV goes over a fireplace (which they don't mention but a friend mentioned this to me.) Anyhow, $400+ to properly bolt a TV mount to a wall and then hang the TV on it is just a little too much. The choice is yours.

(3)Go to radio shack or some other store which carries wall plates and buy two or 4 bull nose wall plates (depending upon how many cables you are going to run. I ran two HDMI and a set of component video and audio through a single bull nose and it barely fit - 7 cables in total.) Get an equal number of simple junction boxes as well.

(4)Depending upon the distance between your components and your TV you can use light HDMI cables (higher AWG means slimmer more flexible cables) instead of heavy ones and if the distance is short (15 feet or less) you can simply run the HDMI directly from the back of the component into the back of the TV - if longer I recommend getting two Beldin twisted pair HDMI cables (get all of your cables at by the way - the best quality and prices by far) and run those cables inside your walls and have them connecting to HDMI wall plates at either end. Then simply connect your component to the wall plate with a 1 foot flexible HDMI cable and connect your TV to the other wall plate via another 1 foot flexible HDMI cable. Don't try to connect your component directly to the TV with the heavier gage cables as this will affect your TV's tilt ability and possibly damage the inputs on the rear of the TV.

(5)Get an IR extender, I highly recommend the relatively inexpensive Hot Link Pro ( I was a little worried about it at first, but once I received it and installed it, it works great. No problems with plasma IR interference with the Samsung either (apparently this was an issue with earlier plasma televisions.) I highly recommend getting the extension cable for the IR 'eye' as well (there's a cheap one available on Amazon iirc) so that you can run that cable through the wall as well in order to put the IR extender's 'eye' just at the base of the TV itself so you only ever point your remote at the TV (not the TV and over to where the component rack/closet and 'eye' are) - the default cable that comes with the hot link pro is about 6 feet long.

(6)Beg/borrow/steal a wire guide/fishing tape. This is what you will use to run the cables through your walls. You can hack one of these together (like I did) but it's extremely unfun and it's always better to "use the right tool for the job" believe me.

(7)Beg/borrow/steal a drywall saw.

(8)Optional - Buy a Logitech Harmony One universal remote. OMG it was easy to setup, very nice, IS RECHARGABLE, and works very well (at least so far, hehe...)

Now, I would do the following once I'd accumulated all these things:

(1)If possible, test EACH cable you plan to run, I can imagine no greater disappointment than busting your butt running cables and then finding out that one or more of them don't work. This is highly unlikely to occur, but hey, running cables is not fun for me.

(2)Run your cables. Find a likely spot in your component cabinet that shares a common wall with the mantle/fireplace. Use a pencil and outline the junction box against where you'd like to place it. Use the drywall saw to cut this out. Do the same above the mantle in a spot that will be reasonably close to where the inputs on your TV will be when the TV is hung. Don't put in the junction boxes yet. Get a friend and a flashlight and start feeding your wire guide as close as you can toward the other hole in the drywall. Your friend should be looking through his/her drywall hold trying to catch a glimpse of your wire. Once they see it, they use the fishing tape to retrieve it. This is the hairiest part of the whole deal for me. Once you gotten a hold of that wire, it's all just regular old work. Once you do so, I HIGHLY recommend running some strong fishing line through with the wire guide. Use enough fishing line so that the line comes out the far drywall hole and can then be taped/tied to the other end of itself to make a circle. You want to do this so that you can attach your cables (a cable or two/three at a time) to it and simply pull on the fishing line to run these cables through the wall. I cannot stress enough the need to use strong fishing line, to securely attach your cables to it when running them, and to inspect the line every time you pull a cable, looking for abrasions and/or damage of any kind. If you see any damage, use it to run another line through before it breaks. Once you've run all the cables you want (make sure there's enough slack on each side of the drying holes), put in your junction boxes. You could do this before, but when I did I found that they interfered a bit with running the cables until I removed them again. Then put in your wall plates. You should know have a nice looking connection in your component cabinet with loose cables dangling out, and a similar connection above your mantle. I HIGHLY recommend that when you're done running cable you untie the fishing line from itself, tape one end of it securely on the mantle (where it will be covered by the TV) and roll up the slack and tape it under the top of your component cabinet so that you can run cable again in the future if you wish without having to fish for the wire guide (which seems like it would be tough if cables are already running through there.)

(3)Now you can have the installers come put up the TV mount (make sure you have purchased the correct mount for the type and size of your television, I used the x-large tilt mount.) Make sure the installers place the mount at the correct height you desire or your wife may yell at you (luckily mine expressed her displeasure before they permanently mounted it.)

(4)If the installers didn't connect the inputs, go ahead and do so now. Test the TV, get everything working from each component before moving on.

(5)Setup your universal remote (if you're going to use one), get everything working before moving on.

(6)Setup your IR extender. In my case this meant using the line I'd luckily kept to run my late arriving extension cable so that I could attach the IR extender's eye to the bottom of the TV behind a grill where you can't see it, then attaching little IR flashers to the IR sensitive spots on my components.

(7)Open a beer, sit down, and enjoy your new TV.