Your TV may be the centerpiece of your living room, but a 50-inch plasma sitting on an upside-down milk crate doesn’t make a home theater. Face it: You’re going to need a few accessories before popping the popcorn. The nuances of selecting the perfect speakers and receiver could fill volumes (we’ve done it) but for all the goodies that don’t have anything to do with home audio, you’ll find them here. Buying a new TV this weekend? Make sure you’re set with these essential home theater accessories, unless you want to spend the rest of the afternoon running back and forth to Best Buy instead of watching Avatar on your new big screen.
If you don’t subscribe to cable or satellite TV service, then you’ll need an HDTV antenna to pull in your local HDTV stations. HDTV antennae can be as simple as a souped up pair of “rabbit ears,” or as advanced as an amplified roof-top rig. What you need to pull in all of your local stations will depend on factors like your proximity to local transmitter towers and the topography of the land in your area (hills, tall buildings etc.). For some help determining what kind of antenna you need, visit AntennaWeb, a website sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Association of Broadcasters.
You don’t have to live in Tornado Alley to need a surge protector. Power spikes, brownouts and failures can happen anywhere and anytime. Your new TV needs to be protected from these dangerous events by a quality surge protector. Go beyond the everyday, $20 power strips and look for surge protectors that offer insurance for the devices that are connected to them. This is generally a good indicator of a high-quality surge protector. Do you need a $1,000 surge protector? Probably not, but the more expensive your gear, the better the surge protector should be (the better the insurance). You can buy piece of mind right?
You’ll want to make sure that you have all the cables you need to connect your various devices to your new TV. You also need to make sure the cables are of good quality and the right length for your installation plans.
This is where a little research will come in handy: First, determine what the best available connection is for each of your devices — we’re providing a list of the most common connection types below. Then measure the distance from each device to your TV. If you’ll be wall mounting your TV, you may want to take into consideration the additional length needed to pull the cable through the wall. This process can be simplified if you will be using an A/V receiver as the control center for your entertainment system.
HDMI: HDMI is a single cable solution for digital audio and video. Modern cable/satellite boxes, DVD players, Blu-ray disc players and game consoles support this connection, thus it is the most commonly used. If your HDMI cables will need to be longer than 20 feet, plan on purchasing a higher gauge cable to prevent signal drop-out. Also look for version 1.4a.
Component video: Component video connections can be identified by red, blue and green RCA connections on the back of a device. If HDMI isn’t available, component video is the next best thing. This connection doesn’t support audio, though. So a pair of stereo audio cables needs to be included with each component video connection. Or an optical digital audio connection.
Composite video: Composite video connections are identified by a single yellow RCA connection, usually along with red and white stereo audio connections. This is the least ideal of the three video connections we’ve mentioned, but sometimes the only option for older devices like VCRs. S-video (identified by a round connector with a number of small holes for pins) offers a slight step up, but isn’t as common.
Optical digital audio: Many TVs provide a digital audio output for connection to an A/V receiver or soundbar. If you need to send your TV’s audio signal to another device, make sure to get an optical digital audio cable to make that connection.
Wireless video, audio and Internet
Don’t feel like dealing with running so many wires? There are some great wireless HDMI solutions available that can simplify your setup and keep it clean without punching any holes in the wall.
Setting your TV up with wireless Internet access can be as simple as a USB stick, and some even have Wi-Fi built right in. These solutions make for convenient and inexpensive alternatives to running Ethernet cable across the house. For instance, the recently reviewed Samsung PN51D800, Philips 40PLF4706/F7 and Sony KDL-55NX720 all offer wireless Internet connectivity built right in.
TV stands, wall mounts and entertainment furniture
Adding a new TV stand to your entertainment system will not only help showcase your beautiful new TV, but it can help store and organize all the components and cables in your system. Some TV stands even offer motorized mounts that will store your TV out of sight when not in use. Before choosing a new TV stand, make sure it will support your TV’s size and weight and will place the TV at a comfortable viewing height. Also ensure that the stand offers enough storage space and ventilation for your other components.
Wall mounting your TV not only gives you that cool “floating picture” look, but can help save valuable floor space as well. Make sure the wall mount you choose can support the weight and size of your TV and will work with your wall type. Many wall mounts allow the TV to be angled up, down, left and right to increase viewing location options or improve picture quality when mounted well above eye level.
If you plan on wall mounting your TV, you may need some entertainment furniture to store all of your electronics and media. Entertainment furniture can be as stylish as it is functional. Just be sure it has enough storage space for all of your gear while allowing adequate ventilation.
A universal remote could be one of the most convenient entertainment accessories you ever buy. As your system grows, so will your collection of remotes. A quality universal remote will help make controlling your gear simple and intuitive. You’ll also save a few bucks in batteries each year. Check out our remote control reviews and learn how to program a remote control.
Dust and dirt are the nemesis of electronics. Not only will a dirty TV look bad, but dust build-up can cause some electronics to overheat and, possibly, fail. Screen cleaners and alcohol-free electronics wipes are ideal for keeping your gear looking and performing their absolute best
What do you think of our list of the essential home theater accessories? Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments below.