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Five tips to keep your TV clean and free of messy cables

Is your television drowning in cable clutter? Here's five tips to help organize and maintain your home theater system.

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Whether you've had a TV for a while or just bought a new shiny flat-screen, there's a lot you can do to both improve its performance and enhance its appearance. And it doesn't need to cost very much money.

Here are the five best tips for keeping your TV and home theater equipment in tip-top shape listed in order of cost: from "free" to "several hundred dollars."

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 your TV screen.

If the television has grease spots from fingerprints, use a mild solution of soap and water -- you don't need a specialized screen cleaner -- and a damp but not wet cloth. Wipe it dry.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The next step is to remove dust around the TV and any associated equipment like an AV receiver 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 can of compressed air 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 no one likes looking at them. Hiding them away not only reduces clutter but also prevents potential trip hazards.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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 that aren't adjustable -- instead get velcro or even wire-based twist ties (but again be careful not to short anything).

When running cables together try to keep AV and electrical cables separate to prevent electrical interference, which can 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, use cable channels that attach to the wall and can be painted to suit your decor. Even better, buy white HDMI and power cables, which will also provide a cleaner look.

If the system includes surround speakers or Ethernet, the cables can go under rugs, along skirting boards, or inside specialized rubber duct covers that run across your floor. Mounting clips can be used to fix cables to the wall so they don't wander off.

Buy a 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.

Reliable surge protectors with 10 to 12 outlets -- and space for large power packs -- are available from about $30. CNET's Geoff Morrison covers the things to look for when buying a surge protector here.

About those lightning strikes

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. Some models offer connected devices warranties that may offer some comfort, but one CNET reader found it was like trying to get blood from a stone when they tried to make a claim.

Wall-mount the TV

Sarah Tew/CNET

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. Here's everything you need to know about mounting a TV.

Get a new TV stand

Sarah Tew/CNET

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. Ikea is usually the default, but also consider products from specialist companies such as Omnimount, Bell'O, Sanus and Salamander. 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 investigate mounting bookshelf speakers on the unit itself and wall-mounting the TV.

Have kids? Tether those cabinets

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