Remote controls have become surprisingly advanced — you can spend thousands of dollars on a voice-activated remote that will dim the lights, start the movie, and fire up the popcorn maker if you simply say "please." But there are also less expensive devices that can cut down on coffee table clutter. (Whichever remote you choose, remember that an illuminated keypad or backlit screen will make it easier to operate in low-light situations.)

Universal remotes. These come pre-programmed to control hundreds of devices from a variety of manufacturers, so little setup is required — just unwrap and zap. They're also useful as replacements for lost remotes. But they become outdated as soon as new gear hits the market ($20 and up).

Learning remotes. More adaptable are learning remotes ($30-$250), which can "acquire" functions from other remotes by reading and recording their infrared signals. Most can operate up to 10 separate devices and have the ability to store "macros" — custom command sequences that trigger several functions at the touch of a button.

Radio frequency/infrared. If you're going to stash your equipment in a closed cabinet, opt for a radio frequency-capable (RF) remote rather than a standard infrared (IR) one. Radio waves travel through doors, walls, even floors, and the remote doesn't have to be pointed in any particular direction. (If the components you need to control aren't RF-equipped, choose a remote system that allows you to retrofit IR equipment with self-adhesive RF receptors.)

Wireless technology isn't yet refined enough to satisfactorily connect hi-fi surround sound equipment, so the last items you'll need to throw into your cart are some wires and cables. The price range here is wider than with any other component — from 15ยข a foot to over $1,000(!) — but don't just assume that fancy gold- or silver-tipped wires are the way to go. The key to a good cable is its ability to insulate the signal it carries from interference, so buy the best-shielded ones you can afford. For video cables, choose those rated at 75 ohms, a necessity for transmitting HDTV signals smoothly; for speaker wire, opt for 99.99 percent oxygen-free copper cabling intended specifically for audio use. If aesthetics are as big a concern as performance, consider flat speaker wire, which is as thin as a credit card, flexible enough to turn corners, and ready to be mounted on walls and ceiling and papered or painted over. (Similarly low-profile interconnects are also being developed.) Regardless of the type of wires you use, when you plug in, make sure that the connections are clean and snug.
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