This home theater has a secret feature that hides something god-awful

Show Us Yours: Joe and his wife wanted to replace their unattractive entertainment system with something better. See how they said goodbye to ugly by hiding their wires.

David Carnoy
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
David Carnoy
1 of 50 Joe/CNET

Joe and his wife Marjory live near Portland, Oregon. For 20 years they lived in same house and were always disappointed with the entertainment center in their family room. One day they decided to do something about it.

"We wanted any new setup to have a mixture of high tech and retro flair," Joe says. "To understand our entertainment-center woes, you must understand where we started."

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This was their original system. The issues were many, Joe says. It wasn't aesthetically appealing. It took up a lot of space. There were wires going everywhere that were visible from all angles. And lastly, it was almost impossible to work on because everything was hard to get to.

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They decided to design a custom cabinet and have it built into the wall. They wanted one that would be aesthetically appealing, take up minimal space and allowing easy access to all the components.  The idea was to provide a modern (hidden) wiring solution.

"I'm no carpenter or designer," Joe says, "so I used the closest thing I had to design software (Corel Draw) and hacked together a rudimentary design."

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He wanted to add something into the design to obfuscate most of the components while still highlighting those he wanted to be a focal point. This led to the incorporation of screened doors.

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Lastly, since this design was going to be built into the wall, he needed to decide how to handle the back side of the cabinet, which protruded through into the adjacent room. He decided shelves would be in order for the back.

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Behold: the final result. 

They found a couple local contractors to work on the project. One was a cabinet guy who was confident he could turn Joe's design into a workable cabinet. The other was a carpenter who was responsible for creating the hole in the wall and various other remodeling tasks.

Joe was very pleased with the final product. It contains all the components while only protruding 6 inches into the family room.

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Here is a view with the grilles removed from the speakers.

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Close up it looks even better. The look is equally clean with the grilles on...

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and with the grilles off, exposing the speakers.

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Joe and Marjory wanted the entertainment center to highlight certain components -- the turntable, receiver and speakers -- while hiding the rest.

When they open the doors, which have screens on them, the rest of the components are revealed.

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With the bronze-colored drivers on the Klipsch speakers, removing the grilles produces an even more eye-catching look. Here's a list of all the equipment inside the cabinet:

  • 75-inch Samsung H7150 Series (UN75H7150AF) 2014 LED TV
  • Klipsch RP-280F floor-standing speakers (pair)
  • Klipsch R-100SW subwoofer (pair)
  • Klipsch RP-450C center channel speaker
  • Klipsch RP-250S surround speakers (2 pair)
  • Xbox 360
  • Samsung BD-P1600 3D Blu-ray player
  • Cable box
  • Marantz SR7011 receiver
  • Logitech Harmony Elite remote control with hub & IR blasters
  • Amcrest UltraHD Shield 2K dual-band Wi-Fi video security IP camera
  • Ion TTUSB turntable
  • Steam link
  • WeMo Maker
  • Roku Ultra
  • Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 dual-band Wi-Fi router
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The center and top sections are the focal point of the unit, housing the receiver and center-channel speaker.

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The television is a 75-inch LED with 1080p resolution. 

"We haven't made the jump to 4K, but we have set ourselves up for it," Joe says. "All the components support it. The issue for us is, we like to occasionally watch 3D movies and it is not supported on new TVs, so we'll probably ride this one out for a couple more years before we transition."

The speaker setup is 9.2. However, Joe's ultimate goal is to go full Atmos. The system supports it -- it just requires adding 4 new speakers.

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That center-channel speaker.

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Above it is are a well-hidden Harmony hub and Xbox 360 Kinect controller.

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"The Marantz receiver has a clean and simple face that hides all the modern features contained in this technological powerhouse," Joe says.

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Another shot of the receiver, original labels still intact.

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Tying into the retro styling of the cabinet, they have an Ion turntable featured in the center section.

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The left side of the cabinet houses the floor-standing speaker (recessed into the wall) as well as various components hidden by the screened door (here shown open).

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Joe says they've almost completely cut the cord for television, but where they live they can't get receive a TV signal over the air, which means they still need a cable box for local channels. The components hidden behind the door on the left include this cable box and a Samsung Blu-ray player.

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Close-up of the left subwoofer.

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The lower compartment contains an Xbox 360 "for when we get in the mood for some retro gaming," Joe says. In front of the Xbox is an IR blaster for the components on this side of the cabinet.

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Here's the right compartment on the other side of the system.

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An upper compartment stores the networking brains of the system. Along with a a NAS drive that streams all their music and videos, there's a cable modem. They've run Ethernet to all their components rather than going wireless.

The white device is a WeMo Maker that adds smart-home functionality to the room.

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Joe says they've set up this entire home entertainment system -- and even the fireplace -- to be controlled remotely via smartphone or Alexa.

Joe connected the WeMo Maker in the previous picture to his fireplace on/off switch. Now all Joe has to say is, "Alexa, turn on fireplace" and she fires up the flames, as well as the fireplace fan and an overhead family room fan. Previously, the WeMo was mounted on the wall. Now it's hidden, tucked away inside the cabinet.

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Their Roku video streamer.

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"We're PC gamers," Joe says. "In our previous setup, we had a PC in the entertainment center that was big and had a lot of wires that added to the clutter. It's been moved to another room, and we now use the much more compact and sleeker Steam Link to connect to it (or any of three other PCs in the house) for gaming."

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The right sub in the middle compartment.

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In the bottom section there's a container for stowing all their gaming peripherals and ancillary remotes that have been replaced by the Harmony remote.

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The section with the center-channel speaker houses some fairly well-hidden components, too.

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The Harmony hub provides the connectivity to remotely control all these devices from one remote.

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The Harmony Elite remote.

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The 3D lamps provide a nice aesthetic touch, especially at night.

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The eagle has landed.

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Let's pull out for a look at the surround setup. The room is pretty large, so getting all the surround speakers in a single picture was a challenge, Joe says. The middle surrounds have their grilles on in this shot.

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The middle surrounds without grilles.

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Middle and back surround speakers with grilles.

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Middle surround speakers without grilles.

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Joe says: "The sound quality between these surround speakers and the Marantz that drives them leads to a high level of immersion when viewing movies with Dolby or DTS 9.2, while losing no quality when listening to music."

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Close-up of the Klipsch surround speaker.

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Now let's go into the room behind the entertainment center. As Joe said earlier, this cabinet is built through the wall, so it has a back side to it. As shown in the diagram, this is the bookshelf on the back side.

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But what he didn't mention earlier is that these bookshelves have a hidden secret. They open up.

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They're on roller wheels and so they open easily...

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...to reveal the back sides of all the components and speakers.

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Now Joe has easy access to all their components and wiring.

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They now have power wired directly into the cabinet and a 48-inch power strip plugged in to provide all the outlets. This is all hidden behind a backing plane, so it cannot be seen from the front.

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The receiver is a hub that almost everything comes into or goes out of. Previously this was a jumbled mess. Now it is cleanly tied back and run along the edges of the cabinet to keep it hidden.

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Since all the components are wired to gain maximum throughput, the other major hub on this system is the router. Again, cleanly wired now and hidden from sight.

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All their surround speakers are wired into the walls and those cables terminate in this cabinet.

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One last look at the wire management hidden behind the bookshelves, and then we'll say goodbye.

Thanks to Joe for submitting this showcase! We have plenty more to check out here. And please submit photos of your own home theater if you want it featured on CNET.

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