Don't buy cheap cable
Shielding is what counts when it comes to cable quality. It blocks interference
and keeps the signal clean. Skip the economy cable and go right for
the “quad-shield” product. Quad-shield costs twice
as much as cable labeled “dual” or “double-shield.” But after spending big
bucks on your TV or computer, skimping on coax just doesn't make sense.
Don't kink the cable
The wire at the center of coax cable is molded
inside a foam jacket to keep it away from the
shielding and to block interference. If you kink
the cable or bend it around a sharp corner, you
crush the foam. At that point, the damage is
done and there's no way to undo it. Never bend
cable around a radius smaller than 3 in.
Don't pull too hard
Kinking and crushing aren't the only ways to
damage the foam jacket surrounding the
center wire. Pulling coax cable too hard
tightens the braided wire shielding and compresses
the foam (the way Chinese handcuffs
tighten around your finger). That harms signal
quality. The maximum pulling force for
RG-6 cable is 35 lbs.
Don't run coax too close to electrical wiring
Electrical lines can cause nasty interference in coaxial
cable. So keep coax cables as least 6 in. away from
electrical cable, even if the cables are separated by
wood or other building materials. To reduce any
chance of trouble from phone lines, install “twisted
pair” or shielded phone wiring.
Don't crush the cable
There are a few kinds of staples made for coax, and all of them work wel—as
long as you don't drive them in too far. Forced too tightly over the cable, they'll
crush the foam jacket inside, causing the same trouble as a kink. If you're running
lots of coax, buy a special cable stapler, which won't crush the cable.
They're available at some home centers or online (search for “cable stapler”).
When using a hammer, don't pound too hard. The staple shouldn't bite
into the cable; a loose hold is better than a tight hold.
Don't space staples evenly
When it comes to attaching coaxial cable, neatness is bad. And here's
why: Any type of fastener squashes the cable slightly. When coax cable
is deformed, it reflects portions of the signal toward the source. If the
deformed portions are evenly spaced, the reflections become rhythmic,
causing double imaging. On Internet and satellite cable applications,
these reflections can disrupt service. Uneven spacing between
fasteners eliminates rhythmic reflections. So how far apart should you
place staples? As far as possible. Use only as many staples as needed to
hold the cable in place. Running up the side of a stud, for example,
you typically need just three: one top, one bottom, one in between.
Just make sure that the “between” staple isn't exactly halfway between
the other two.
Don't let the shield show
The best cable-routing job can get fouled
up if you aren't careful when you attach the
end connector. Always fold back the foil and
braided shield carefully before you attach
the connector. A single strand of braid protruding
into the connector area can ruin the
signal. Double-check your work before you
crimp or compress the connector.
Don't nick the center wire
The signal carried by the center wire actually travels along the
outside of the wire, not through the inside. So a tiny nick in the
wire can cause a big obstacle for the signal. That's why a special
coax stripper (sold at home centers) is the only tool you should
use to prepare the ends of the cable for connectors. Never use
standard wire strippers or a knife.
Don't use screw-on connectors
Solid connections at the ends of coax cable provide
a clear path for the signal to follow. Loose connections
weaken the signal. End connectors that screw
on over the outer jacket of cable can loosen up over
time and even fall off. Instead, use crimp-ring style
connectors and a special crimping tool (sold at home
centers), or better yet, compression-style connectors.
Don't just finger-tighten connectors
As with end connectors, the threaded connectors on wall
jacks, computers and TVs must provide a solid path for
the signal. Most people finger-tighten these connections,
but that just isn't good enough. Instead, use a 7/16-in.
wrench to snug up the connection.
Don't use standard electrical boxes
The sides and back on a standard electrical box force you to
bend the cable sharply inside the box. And you already know
why that's bad (see Mistake No. 2). Low-voltage boxes let you
make a gentle bend because they aren't really boxes at all, just
frames that mount on drywall. These boxes are sold
at home centers and can also be used for phone, speaker and
other low-voltage wiring.
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Don't use a cheap splitter
Every time you split a TV signal, it gets weaker. But
you have to split the signal if you want to add a TV.
Still, you can avoid poor picture quality. First, buy a splitter (sold at home centers) that can handle the
bandwidth needed for high-definition television
and high-speed Internet. If you get poor picture
quality after installing a splitter, call your cable
provider for advice (they may increase your signal
strength). You can also install an amplifier to boost
the signal coming from your antenna, satellite or
cable service. Amplifiers sell for as little as $20 at
home centers, electronics stores and online (search
for “TV amplifier”). But plan to spend $50 or
more to get better results. And keep your
receipt so you can return the amplifier if
it doesn't help.