Holiday Home Theater Survival Tips

It's been more than a decade since I blogged on holiday survival tips. The advice I gave then (in the form of a diablog, amusingly enough) is evergreen: You should save all packaging and boxes, remember how to repack intricately packed products, save store and credit card receipts, keep on top of rebates, start an electronic junk drawer if you don't already have one, label power adapters, file manuals and other product docs, prepare to mentor the receipient, write the serial number on the manual, and be nice to customer support people, should you need one. All that is still good advice. But I missed a few things:

Keep batteries stocked up: Don't wait for your remote controls to die at inopportune moments. Keep supplies of those pesky AA, AAA, nine-volt, button batteries, etc. Because running out would be a drag.

Buy a battery tester: How can you keep track of which remotes and other devices are about to run out of battery power? For this you need a battery tester. Get one of these. It handles AA, AAA, C, D, nine-volt, and button batteries. Trust me, this is a purchase you will never regret.

Replace old batteries: If the home theater system is going to get a workout this holiday season, go through all the remote controls with your new battery tester and weed out batteries that are about to fail. Cheap batteries that came with products bought a few years back are prime candidates for replacement. Don't wait till they start leaking battery acid into your remotes. If you do find an acid-damaged remote, use a cotton swab with isopropyl alcohol to remove the chemical residue and try not to touch it with your fingers.

Clean the remotes: A guest should not pick up a remote control to find herself holding a filthy, disgusting germ magnet caked with with heaven knows what. Use a disinfectant wet wipe to carefully clean remotes. While you're at it, when's the last time you dusted the TV and the rack?

Stock up on microwave popcorn: But beware of transfats and carcinogenic chemicals added to packaging. Here's a relatively healthy list. I haven't researched this in depth, so popcorn epicures are invited to nominate more healthy picks below. It's the one emergency snack you can depend on. (Along with fruitcake. I like fruitcake. Is that a crime?)

Get your Netflix ducks in a row: Don't depend on streaming to keep your guests entertained, especially if your internet connection is dodgy. For holidays you need fail-safe entertainment. Work on your disc queue so that you'll have a few popular items around for the holidays. Ask guests for requests to keep them happy. For the perennials, you might consider replacing old DVDs (and definitely videocassettes) with sparkling new Blu-ray discs.

Audio Editor Mark Fleischmann is the author of Practical Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Audio Systems, available in both print and Kindle editions.