There’s no two ways about it: Retrofitting the wiring in existing construction is a royal pain in the caboose. Pulling Cat5 cable through walls is bad enough, but rigging your home for a ceiling-mounted video projector is even more difficult—especially if you’re using component cables for the video and S/PDIF for the audio. The innovative RapidRun system from CablesToGo makes this a piece of cake.
The RapidRun system bundles all the wires you need for a variety of applications into a single cable with a bullet-shaped cap at each end. The cap has a screw-on cap with a split ring that can be attached to a fish wire for pulling the cable through walls or conduit. Once you’ve pulled the cable to where you need it, you simply remove the cap and replace it with a stub cable equipped with whatever leads you need—or you can attach the cable to a wall jack that has whatever plugs you need. If you ever need to reconfigure your wiring, you simply change the ends of the cables—which beats the heck out of having to remove and reinstall it.
There are three broad categories of RapidRun cables: PC/Video, Home Theater, and Digital. The PC/Video cable houses all the wires needed to carry analog audio and video and digital video (single- and dual-link DVI). The Home Theater cable houses all the wires needed to carry analog video, analog stereo, or digital audio.
The Digital cable houses all the wires needed to transmit a DVI or an HDMI signal. All the gear is color coded, so you know what’s compatible with what: PC/Video is yellow, Home Theater is Blue, and Digital is Red. There’s also a set of green cable stubs and wall plates that can be connected to either PC/Video or the Home Theater cables (blue and yellow makes green, get it?)
There’s very little reason for a homeowner to install the PC/Video cable, unless you’re still using CRT displays. If you’re using digital monitors, go with the Digital cable, which gives you the option of streaming both digital video via DVI or digital video and audio via HDMI. The Home Theater cable is useful if your video gear is of the analog variety: It will accommodate composite, component, BNC, or S-video connections, and either analog stereo or digital audio (via a coaxial connection).
Unfortunately, you can’t install Home Theater cable now, and then switch the cable ends to upgrade to digital video connection down the road; likewise, the Digital cable can’t carry analog signals.
One RapidRun cable can serve several different functions, eliminating the need to pull cable more than once.
Each of the wires inside these cables are individually wrapped; the whole collection is then shielded with both mylar foil and tinned copper braid and finally wrapped inside a heavy vinyl jacket. The cable is CL-2 rated for in-wall installation (there are plenum-rated versions, too, but they’re crazy expensive and totally unnecessary for the typical residential installation).
RapidRun cables are heavily shielded to minimize interference.
The maximum practical distance you can run an HDMI cable is about 35 feet, but CablesToGo offers an HDMI wall plate that includes a built-in signal amplifier. Install this at the source end and you can extend the cable length to 100 feet. The advantage of having the amplifier at the source end, as opposed to using an amplified coupler in between two shorter cables, is that the latter solution might also amplify any unwanted noise that has infiltrated the first half of the cable.
Be prepared for a bit of sticker shock, however; the active wall plate has a street price of about $135 (the passive HDMI wall plate you’ll need at the other end sells for $50). Street prices for the analog wall plates range from $15 to $20.
The digital cable, on the other hand, is priced about the same as the more typical digital cable: We found the 35-foot CL-2-rated Digital cable selling online for $110. The 100-foot CL-2 rated Home Theater cable was going for $86 online.
I'm hoping I won't need to retrofit Maximum PC Lab North any time soon. I installed a HDMI cable in my ceiling so that I could deploy a video projector down the road, but I haven't actually tested it yet. If it gives me any problems, I'll pull it out and replace it with a RapidRun system.