How To Hide Your Home Theater Components, but Still Control Them

A decade ago, step into any "big screen TV" owner's family room and you'd likely find a big, two-foot deep TV wedged between two wooden towers and bridge going across the top, otherwise known as the "big screen entertainment center." While I could argue why this was probably the worst way to make a TV blend into a family room, it was believed that the only way to make a giant black box feel at home in a living room is to stuff it inside an even larger piece of furniture. 

Thankfully, flat display televisions have allowed the masses to reclaim the living room while still not sacrificing TV size. Users dream about mounting a super-thin LCD or Plasma TV on the wall, then pairing it with tiny speakers with big sound that disappear into the room. Big picture and big sound, but without taking up any floor space...

... and then reality sets in.

For whatever reason, users drop thousands of dollars on nice flat TVs, only to set them on top of a giant stand. Some stands give the appearance of a mounted display, but no matter what way you try to look at it, the concept of an entertainment center simply won't die.

Believe it or not, there's a really good reason why people can't shed the furniture... it's all the other stuff that goes with it! The TV is rarely the only piece of equipment you need. Whether you use a dedicated cable box or satellite box to get pay TV service, a video game system, DVD and Blu-Ray players, media boxes like Roku, surround sound receivers, VCRs (for those old enough to know what that is), and whatever digital goods you have connected up to entertain you.

All that stuff has to go somewhere. One of the biggest challenges of designing a home theater system for your home is determining the location of the home theater components. Usually, folks just buy some kind of stand and put it underneath the TV. It's the most convenient solution, mostly because it's easier to hook things up to the TV. Many people also assume the components must be in view in order to control them, because most remote controls operate with IR signals that don't penetrate walls.

Fortunately, getting your components out of view (or even out of the room) is way easier today than it used to be...

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How To to Get Your Components Out of View

If you want to continue using your existing device remote controls or universal remote, setting up an infrared (IR) repeater system will enable you to keep home theater components out of plain view. IR repeater systems work by exposing a tiny device (called an IR receiver) somewhere near the TV or at least within view of the remotes. The receiver converts and routest the signal through wires (or wirelessly in some cases) to the appropriate component(s) via another device called an IR emitter. Thus, only one small device (the receiver) is exposed, instead of every device you own.

Wired IR repeater systems consist of 4 parts: 

  • IR receiver - An IR receiver's primary function is to receive the infrared signals sent out by remote controls, and transform them into electrical signals. IR receivers are available in many shapes and sizes to allow placement in any application. The different options include a small box that sits on top of a TV, a bullet sized device that can be flush mounted into a wall, or a small lighter sized shape that can be attached to the bottom of a flat panel TV. If locating the receiver near the terminator, opt for the model with the 1/8" mini-plug connector. Otherwise, choose the CAT-5 model for longer runs.
  • IR emitters - IR emitters are very small devices that stick over the infrared receiver of home theater devices. Their function is to convert the electrical signals sent by the IR receiver back into infrared signals, and emit the IR commands into the device's infrared receiver.
  • Terminator - The terminator is the device that ties the IR receiver and the emitters together. The terminator is roughly the same size as a cigarette pack, and can be easily hidden out of view near the components. Most terminators have about four IR ports, which can accommodate up to eight IR emitters. They also have the ability tie other terminators together in a large IR repeating systems.
  • Power Supply Every IR repeater system requires power to operate. The power supply plugs into an electrical outlet and into the terminator to supply power to the system.

When all of these devices are put together, the IR repeater system can allow any IR remote control to communicate with associated devices in closets, cabinets, and even other rooms. Connecting all of the parts is usually a breeze; so don't expect the setup time to be greater than 30 minutes.

IR repeater systems can be wired or wireless, depending on the situation. Wireless solutions typically involve two parts, a receiver and an emitter. However, unlike wired systems, wireless systems generally contain one emitter that blasts relayed information from a distance. Wired systems generally more reliable than wireless systems, and really the only solution if mounting components in a closed off space.

IR systems are a 'set and forget' project. Once they work, they rarely ever need to be bothered with again. If additional components are added to the system, connecting an additional IR emitter from the terminator to the new device takes about 45 seconds (just keep the terminator in an easy to reach location).

Another thing to remember is if all the components are tucked away inside of cabinet or other small space, adding a fan to blow cool air over the components will help them from overheating, especially if they are enclosed during use.

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How To Get the Components Out of the Room, and the Wires Out of View

Back when components used analog connections, moving home theater gear into a closet or other room was often impractical based on the sheer number of cables required (not to mention the cost). Digital connections, namely HDMI, has changed things a bit.

If you can run a cable down a wall and to somewhere else, getting your gear and wires completely out of view is pretty easy. In fact, many users will find themselves needing to run as few as one or two cables from the gear stack to the display, depending on on the gear in question.

Choose a location within 50 to 100 meters from your TV, that's about the max range for HDMI cables.

Assuming you have more than one HDMI device, you'll need to have a modern home theater receiver capable of switching HDMI sources, or a dedicated (remotely controllable box) dedicated to that purpose.  Plug in your Blu-Ray player and other devices into your receiver, then output a single HDMI cable to your TV. That will handle all your audio and video. If you don't use a set-top box for receiving TV and instead use your TV's digital tuner for over the air broadcasts, you'll also need to run a RF cable through the wall up to your set.

Video game consoles with wireless controllers can also sometimes be relocated, but the gear will need to be within range of your remotes; that's about 20 to 30 feet from your playing position (not the TV) for the PS3 and XBOX 360. However, I recommend gamers find a place near the TV to house the consoles, and run them to the TV. Use the TVs digital audio out to return audio to the receiver if using an external sound system.

Finally, your TV on the wall will need power, and there's two ways to do it. You can either mount an electrical outlet higher on the wall behind the TV, or run a power cord through the wall and out near the bottom of the wall, then over to an outlet. Mounting a new outlet is the most elegant solution, but if you don't have experience working with AC electrical systems I recommend you have a qualified electrician do the job.

Wrapping it up

With a bit of effort (and relatively little cost in materials), you can completely hide your components and wires from view, and get that "TV hanging on a wall like a picture frame' look you've always dreamed of.


Is there an elegant solution to be able to view the status of your components when they are tucked away in a cabinet 100+ feet away?

For example if I have a black screen, how can I easily tell if it's the receiver that's off, or maybe the cable box, or an input is incorrect, etc.

My only thought was a cheap IP camera and having an iPad handy to view inside the cabinet at all times.

For those who want to keep it affordable and easy, there is a new product in Europe called It's an adjustable accessory bracket that fit's the vesa mount on the back of your tv and it can hold your sat box and mediaplayer...


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