Best ways to upgrade your TV and home theater

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to go with it, you may have found that it’s not performing at its best. This could be for a number of different reasons, for example, you may have noticed the TV isn’t as clear as it used to be, or that dialog has become mumbly. Over time you may have also noticed that there are dust bunnies or other horrors lurking around. Taking care of these issues is easy, and doesn’t need to cost very much money, in fact several of the tips are free. 

Here are seven tips to keep your TV and equipment in tip-top shape, ranging from simply picking up a to buying yourself some new gear.

Calibrate picture and sound settings

Likewise, getting better sound out of your sound system can be improved with a couple of simple tweaks. If you have a soundbar with a separate subwoofer, for example, could make it sound a lot better. But if you have something a little more involved, like a receiver and speakers, then there’s a few more tricks available up your sleeve. Firstly you can always dig out the calibration microphone and run it through its setup process. However, if you’ve lost the mic you can always do it by hand, . I prefer this latter method as I find it gives better results, especially when it comes to setting the level of the subwoofer.

Keep it clean

Home theaters are literal dust magnets with the amount of static electricity flying around — especially on TVs. Cleaning your system can not only help it look better, but many AV components will work better after a little maintenance: the most obvious being .

If the television has grease spots from fingerprints, use a damp but not wet cloth, or for really stubborn stains use a mild solution of soap and water — you don’t need a specialized screen cleaner. Then wipe it dry with a lint-free cloth. If you’re especially short on time you could always breathe on the smudges and use the resulting condensation to polish them off.

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The next step is to remove dust around the TV and any associated equipment like an or cable box. While manufacturers do make specialized wipes, a duster or the same lint-free cloth will also work.

If you have devices with cooling fans, these can collect a lot of gunk over time — cleaning them will help them run better. Buy a to clean these fans efficiently from the outside — don’t open it up — but make sure to unplug the device first. The “air” can have a lot of moisture in it, and you don’t want to risk shorting your equipment.

Hide your cables

Cables are the lifeblood of any home theater or TV system, but . Hiding them away not only reduces clutter but also prevents potential tripping hazards.

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Cable ties are a cost-effective way to organize the cables leading from the TV to other parts of an AV system. But don’t buy single-use plastic ties — instead get or even wire-based twist ties from bread bags, as these are adjustable.

When running cables together, try to keep AV interconnects and electrical cables separate. That prevents electrical interference, which could result in a degraded audio or video signal. Use the ties to fix the cables along the natural boundaries of AV furniture and walls.

When wall-mounting a TV, you probably don’t want a power and HDMI cable dangling down from the bottom. If you don’t want to drill holes in your wall,  that attach to the wall and can be painted to suit your decor. Even better, buy and power cables, which will also provide a cleaner look.

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Don’t throw the cables on yourself, get them organized.

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If the system includes surround speakers or Ethernet, the cables can go under rugs, along skirting boards, or inside specialized that run across your floor. can be used to fix cables to the wall so they don’t wander off. As one reader suggests, don’t run power cables underfoot.

Buy a surge protector

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 Belkin 8-Outlet Pivot-Plug Surge Protector

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Consider buying a dedicated surge protector that has enough outlets for all of the system’s components. While power conditioners can run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars, you don’t necessarily need these.

Plenty of  are available from about $30. Look for ones with . The pictured above has “only” 8, but it also offers space for large “wall wart” power packs, which is another key selling point. CNET’s Geoff Morrison covers the .

Be aware that these devices can’t really protect equipment from direct lightning strikes: A small wire fuse can do little to hold back the unrelenting power of Mother Nature. For the same reason, don’t worry too much about plugging USB, Ethernet, or coaxial cables into your surge protector to protect from lightning. That said, some models do offer connected devices warranties and may offer some comfort, but it was like trying to get blood from a stone when they tried to make a claim.

Wall-mount the TV

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Mounting a TV on the wall is one of the easiest ways to reclaim space in a living room, and not only does it look great, but it’s really simple to do. (The harder part is hiding the wires, but that’s what the aforementioned cable channels are for.) Here’s  is a good starting point when shopping.

Get a new TV stand

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If you’re using a table or even the floor(!) to house the TV and associated components, it might be time to invest in a dedicated TV stand. is usually the default, but also consider products from specialist companies such as , and . If you’re especially passionate about the look, you could enlist a local cabinet maker to build something custom.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Plenty of ventilation
  • Integrated cable management
  • Shelves with line of sight for remote controls without having to leave doors open
  • Enough room for all of the cable boxes, consoles and video streamers

Most TV stands are grouped according to the size of your screen, which helps keep things looking neat, but be aware that if you’re using discrete speakers, a really wide AV unit might mean the speakers are too far apart for a convincing stereo effect. In this case, you could mount bookshelf speakers on the unit itself and wall mount the TV.

If you have small children, or particularly boisterous friends, it’s a good idea to tether the AV cabinet to the wall as well. Some units come with , but if not, these kits are available from places like Amazon or Home Depot for very little money.

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