Future-Proofing Your Home Theater System
No one I know likes to waste money. We do sometimes, but we don’t like it. When making big purchases, we tend to want to make sure we are getting the most for our money. We don’t buy a house or car sight-unseen. We check it out, we take it to a mechanic, we have it inspected. It is important to us to know that what we buy will last. People want the same for their home theater purchases. They want to know that what they buy will still be good in the future. While it isn’t always possible to guarantee how things will shake out over time, there are some things you can do to future-proof your home theater purchases.
No Custom Anything
First things first, don’t buy custom anything. When entertainment systems were all the rage, CRTs were the only size and shape that TVs took. That meant when flat panels were released and they were in 16:9 instead of 4:3 aspect ratio, suddenly, none of the TVs fit in the entertainment systems. You could buy a new flat panel that fit, but it was smaller than the CRT and didn’t look right in the furniture. What was a person to do?
Let’s just say that there were a lot of entertainment systems that were left abandoned on the side of the road for the garbage workers to deal with.
If we’ve learned anything from this period, is that if you want to future-proof your home theater, making anything custom is a recipe for disaster. While we don’t think that TV sizes will change in the near future, we don’t know. Leaving room for larger and differently shaped displays is a good idea. When Dolby released their Atmos surround format, they tried to convince us that they had always recommended that side and back surround speakers were at ear level. That was clearly not the case and there are a lot of home theaters with side and back surrounds built into furniture and walls that are too high based on the current recommendations. If you want to future-proof your home theater, don’t build anything custom because it looks good with your current gear. And yes, that means that in-wall and in-ceiling speakers are probably a bad idea.
As manufacturers increase resolution and other features, the HDMI spec has changed as well. As it changes, the cables that carry those signals have been becoming more and more complex. HDMI cables that were top-of-the-line five years ago won’t work with many of the new HDMI features. While there are a lot of ways to hide wires in your home theater, if you want to truly future-proof your room, you’ll run conduit in the walls. Conduit is similar to PVC pipe in that it can be installed in the wall and you can put your cables inside of it. If HDMI releases a new spec, you can pull your old cable and install your new one.
This runs contrary to our previous (No Custom Anything) advice. We realize that. But your display location isn’t as likely to change as your HDMI cable. If you have open walls, installing conduit is the only thing that makes sense. It doesn’t cost that much more than installing the cable itself, and it makes swapping out cables not only easy, but possible.
Don’t Overbuy Today
It is easy to fall down the rabbit hole when shopping for AV gear. If this one speaker is good, the larger one must be better, right? If a receiver with nine amps is good, one with eleven must be better! While there are real reasons for buying more expensive or fully featured gear, the fact is that it is usually a waste of money. You’ll say you want to have the ability to add Atmos speakers someday, but you probably never will. You’ll claim, under the banner of “future-proofing,” that you’re buying the subwoofer far too large for your room for when you move to a different house, but you know it’s just because you just want the bigger subwoofer.
Spending less today should, in theory, give you more money to spend in the future. If you really want to future-proof your home theater, you’ll buy what you need and will actually use. If you overbuy now, you’ll eventually be stuck with a piece of gear that you don’t want to upgrade because it can technically do what you want but you will totally want to upgrade because it doesn’t do all the new things. Buy what you need now so you can buy what you want later.
Speakers and Amps Are Forever
Displays, sources, and receivers don’t last. You might think they do, but they really don’t. These are the things that change the quickest in the world of home theater. If you want to future-proof your home theater, these are not where you want to look. But there are some devices that last.
Speakers and amplifiers are essentially timeless. The changes in speakers in the last 10 years may have made them more accurate, or smaller, or glossier…but a great ten-year-old speaker is still a great speaker. In the same way, a great subwoofer from a decade ago is still great. No, it won’t have app control or built-in parametric EQ, but you don’t need that. You’ve got room correction in your brand new receiver to do that for you.
Amps are pretty much the same way. While you probably don’t need an amplifier, if you bought one, it wouldn’t go to waste. Amps rarely break and they can be utilized in a number of different systems. So if you have money burning a hole in your pocket, and you want to buy a future-proof new gizmo for your home theater, speakers and amps are your best best.
Battery Backup and Protection
Lastly, if you want to future-proof your home theater, you’ll want to make sure your gear lasts as long as possible. If you are rocking a projector or any device that needs to go through a cooling cycle, you’ll want to invest in a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply). This will, in the event of a power loss, allow your device to cool down properly. This will extend the life of your device so that your purchase actually makes it to the future.
In the same way, you’ll want to make sure you have all your devices properly protected. If you don’t have your devices protected through some sort of surge protector, you’re playing with fire. Maybe literally. Every physical wire that enters your home theater should be projected. That isn’t just the power cables. It includes the cable from your ISP provider, an ethernet that is run from your router (if the router isn’t protected). Surges don’t only come from power cables, they can come from anywhere. Make sure your home theater gear is protected for the future.
Technology is forever evolving. We can’t stop it. But we can plan for the future. While there are some purchases that you can make today that will still be useful twenty years from now, most will grow obsolete. Knowing where to spend your money for the best future-proofing will free up funds for later home theater upgrade purchases. Protect what you have and don’t overbuy. You’ll end up with a great system today and an even better one on the horizon.