Your Guide to High-End Accessories Page 2

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Furniture Because of the exploding popularity of flat-panel TVs, elaborate home theater systems are no longer hidden in a separate room of the house. Instead, they're now put proudly on display in the middle of living rooms, family rooms, dens, and even bedrooms. Given these showcase environments, cinder blocks and shelves or discount-furniture "some assembly required" rack units (can you say "IKEA"?) just won't cut it. A wide variety of furniture makers now offer solid, well-designed cabinets, armoires, stands, corner units, and wall units to comfortably and stylishly display your gear.

But it's not just about good looks anymore. High-end A/V furniture pieces have to be solidly constructed to support the weight of all those (sometimes massive) components. They also have to allow enough space around each of your components for air to circulate freely and keep your gear from overheating. Meanwhile, the furniture should be designed so that you can easily get behind it, or be able to turn components around, for hookup and servicing. The material used to make the cabinet doors should allow signals from your remote control to pass through them freely. And there should be cabling channels or other design tricks to help keep all your wires out of sight. Lastly, your furniture should be able to evolve as your system does.

Construction The strength of the shelves is especially important, since they'll start to bow in the middle over time if they're not made from thick or resilient material. Your TV coupled with a home theater receiver can weigh in at well over 200 pounds. Look for solid-wood construction; avoid particleboard. If you're considering a steel-and-glass unit, check for tempered safety glass, which is engineered to hold up under pressure.

Ventilation This is critical no matter how many components you have in a rack, and it becomes even more important with elaborate systems. The more power-hungry your gear, the more heat it will produce, whether it's placed in a fully enclosed or open-frame design. Having components operate at high temperatures for sustained periods can compromise performance, shorten their lifespan, and, if they're seriously deprived of fresh air, cause them to shut down. Make sure that the shelves are not only wide and high enough but deep enough, since many black boxes can be longer than 20 inches. Ideally, each component should have at least 4 inches of space all the way around to allow for adequate airflow. The A/V cabinet in Sanus's Woodbrook AV Foundations collection has a "chimney" top with a small opening all the way around that lets cooler air in and hotter air out. The Chameleon cabinets from Salamander Designs include a cooling kit that uses thermostatically controlled fans to keep gear comfortable.