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Future-Proofing Your New Home (28/10/2003)

By Bob Farinelli

(Editor's note: while this article is based on techniques used in the USA, it serves as a good reference for readers from other territories)

The concept of a 'future-proof' home has been kicking around the custom A/V industry for quite a while. Everyone acknowledges it, but what does it really mean?

It is generally accepted that a home built with a structured wiring network is future-proof because it can accommodate new products without rewiring. Indeed, many people think that as long as they have extra telephone sockets in each room, their home is future-proofed. Having built two homes in the last twelve years, I 'Swiss-cheesed' the studs in both homes with miles of wire. But in the end, neither were future-proofed. My biggest mistake was to drywall (plaster - ed.) the ceilings in those basements without any empty conduit runs or smirf tubes, forever sealing in the wire ways and preventing me from adding just one more run without having to patch drywall after the fact.

So, lesson number one. Put a drop ceiling in your basement or interconnect the home office to the media centre to the structured wiring centre with smirf tubes. Then you can always add more wire later. But if you want to take a serious stab at a future-proofed wiring network, read on.

There are two types of signals to consider:

'Externally-generated' signals enter the home at the 'demarcation' or service entrance. This is where your power, cable TV, satellite dish feed and telephone/DSL networks enter the home.

'In-home-generated' signals are either entertainment-oriented A/V signals that originate in the home theatre, or data network signals that originate from a home office.

Pulling all signal wires to the demarcation, the theatre or the home office is not advisable, whereas distributing multisource/multi-zone audio and control from a structured wiring location is as cumbersome as distributing telephone and coax from the back of your entertainment centre! Next you need to consider the various types of wire to be pulled. You cannot go wrong with dual runs of RG-6 Quad Shield from each room back to a structured wiring centre.

Coax
RG-6 has a very high bandwidth and quad shield has great EMI isolation characteristics. These days some people are pulling three runs of coax to each high definition DLP or plasma TV location for component video. Where you locate the HDTV sources should dictate where you pull these RGB coaxial runs from. This may be different to the RF distribution centre's location, and if so, pull the standard dual coax run from that room back to the distribution centre as well. Some people also pull coax to front and back door or patio locations for future camera applications (Cat5 is used for this application as well).

Cat5
Again, dual runs should be home run from convenience outlets in each room back to a structured wiring centre. An additional Cat5 should be run from a 'control' j-box located adjacent to the light switch in each room to the media centre or home theatre, and then looped down to the structured wiring centre. Doing so will provide the opportunity to add in room keypads that will connect to a multisource multizone switcher located in the theatre, or to amplified volume controls powered from a whole-house audio distribution hub located in the structured wiring centre.

If you are considering door speakers in the future, then run Cat5 from each door speaker location, back to the theatre location and then down to the structured wiring centre. The incoming telephone line should also be looped up to the theatre, the home office and then back down to the structured wiring centre for set top box, DSL or telephone controller applications.

16-4
While there is a lot of hype these days over Cat5 audio distribution, not pulling some good old fashion 16-4 dual twisted pair speaker wire limits your ability to provide 'high quality seamless integration' of distributed audio in your home. Cat5 audio distribution has its place in certain applications, and pulling Cat5 as described above will ensure that you can upgrade your home for either line-level or digital audio distribution to in-room amplifiers.

I use the term 'seamless integration' from an interior decorator's point of view. Black box digital decoders/power amplifiers plugged into RJ-45 outlets connected to free-standing speakers are not exactly seamlessly integrated into the room. You might as well buy a $400 combo A/V package and save on the wire cost and not be tethered to any single wall plate location. J-box audio amplifiers connected to in-wall or in-ceiling speakers do provide seamless integration of distributed audio. However, they are generally powered via Cat5 and are limited to about 10 watts per channel - I'm sorry, that's just not enough power for me (too many rock concerts as a kid). Centrally-located multichannel amplifiers provide more dynamic headroom and music power to each room via 16-4 twisted pair wire.

In each room for which you are considering distributed audio, you should pull 16-4 from the left speaker location to the right speaker location, (wall- or ceiling-mount) down to that 'control' j-box by the light switch, down to the theatre location and then down to the structured wiring location. This run essentially parallels the Cat5 run described above from the J-Box down. Now you have the maximum flexibility to configure a distributed audio system for many years to come.

It takes a lot of wire to future-proof a home. Some say dual runs of fibre optic cable provide the ultimate future proofing, but hey, if investment in 'dark fibre' nearly bankrupted portions of the telecommunications industry, why make a similar speculative investment in your home? Others say structured wiring will be rendered obsolete by wireless solutions, but wireless standards come and go every year, and wireless networks are inherently insecure and susceptible to interference. The bandwidth, security and noise immunity benefits of a professionally installed coax, Cat5 and 16-4 network will stand the test of time.

Bob Farinelli is the President and Chief Technology Officer of ELAN Home Systems. ELAN Home Systems is a manufacturer of innovative, award-winning distributed audio/video and home automation systems.

This article appears courtesy of ELAN Home Systems.

www.elanhomesystems.com


 
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