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CES 2009: Cables? What Cables?


CES 2009: Cables? What Cables?

When you've been coming to CES for as many years as I have it takes something really special to catch my eye on the show floor, but that's exactly what happened today. While walking through the central hall I noticed a small stand from a company called Flatwire, and discovered what I believe to be the future of home cinema installations.

If you have ever attempted to install a home cinema system yourself, you'll know that getting all your cables routed is the hardest part. Unless you want to go the whole hog and chisel channels out of your walls to route cables, you're generally left with unsightly cabling running all around your room, fixed to your skirting or ceiling using cable clips - hardly the most aesthetically pleasing solution.

And then there's the issue of wall mounted TVs. Most of us like the concept of a wall mounted flat screen TV, but then how do you get all your AV and power cables to the TV? Again, unless you go to the trouble of chiselling a channel up the wall and stuffing loads of cables into it, you'll be stuck with an unsightly result, which kind of defeats the purpose of wall mounting the TV in the first place.

But fear not, because Flatwire solves all those problems by using, as the company name suggests, flat wire. Flatwire has a plethora of cabling options that are, quite literally paper thin! The idea is that you can simply glue the cables to your wall and then paint over them - as I said, I'm not easily impressed, but this literally blew me away.

Even railings and skirtings aren't a problem with Flatwire.

The most obvious use for Flatwire is speaker cabling, where you can literally run cable from one end of your room to the other without leaving any unsightly wires and clips on show. As if that wasn't enough, Flatwire can also be used for connections like component video, S-Video, audio and Enternet. The flat cabling terminates at custom made connection boxes that are mounted on the wall - preferably hidden by the device you're connecting to.

But what about that wall mounted TV problem? Well Flatwire can even carry AC power! The 120v cable has already been approved for use in the US, and the company informed me that it is already working on a 240v version for use in Europe. Add to this the fact that Flatwire was also showing off its newly developed HDMI cable, and you really have got all the bases covered.

The Flatwire HDMI cable is the last piece in the puzzle.

At present Flatwire is only selling its revolutionary products in the US, addressing the needs of both custom installers and end users. However, I was informed that there are definite plans to start distribution in Europe. Although no timescale was given for a European entry, I would imagine that it may tie in with the launch of the 240v power cable.

Traditionally the biggest factor stopping consumers from installing a proper surround sound setup in their living room is cabling, especially since carpet has fallen from grace in favour of hard floors, making it harder to hide those surround speaker cables. Flatwire has solved this dilemma with a solution that's as elegant as it is brilliant.

The Mighty Ben

January 10, 2009, 12:40 am

That is an amazing idea, I bet all the chiselers out there are biting their lips! I wonder though, is there a problem with interference without the usual sheath around the cables? I have difficulty imagining how this works with speakers that have to be wired, be interesting to see a usage video. Loving the CES coverage btw guys - keep it up!


January 10, 2009, 12:57 am

also love the frantic spelling mistakes, too :D

i'd gladly love to have these cables exposed and running patterns all along my walls


January 10, 2009, 1:33 am

any pictures of these going round corners? I imagine the current wouldn't like being folded in those flatwires so there must be some way of "bending" the cable in some way...


January 10, 2009, 5:19 am

paint over them?

i'd show them off! they look well cool!


January 10, 2009, 6:11 am

Absolutely ingenious in principle, but how about isolation? Isn't that the reason cables are cylindrical in the first place?


January 10, 2009, 8:06 am

Actually the reason cables are traditionally thick and cylindrical is because of resitance. The thinner a wire, the higher the resistance and the more power lost as heat. It appears that the flatwire guys have found a way to get round this resitance problem - possibly by increasing the lateral thickness to compensate?.

As for isolation, I think you're referring to EM shielding, where the wire itself acts like an antenna and any surrounding EM sources, like TVs, computer hardware, microwaves and mobile phones (duh duduh duh duduh duh duduh duh!) causing intereference of hissing on speaker wires especially, with this usually being remedied by having a grounded wire shield around the signal wire to deliberately pick up this noise and "dispose" of it. It's not clear what Flatwire has done to solve this, but they must have done something or they simply wouldn't be able to market it! maybe it's in the lamination, maybe it's why the last picture shows wiggly cables instead of straight? It's also worth bearing in mind that high end speaker wire is just that - wire with a plastic sheath, no shielding... It's RCA jacks that have the shielding and they're also the ones depicted in the last photo with wiggly wires...


January 10, 2009, 12:19 pm

Actually there is no problem at all bending the cables around corners. In fact you can fold the cables completely flat on themselves in order to change direction by 90 degrees.

The power cable is particularly interesting, since it's actually made up of five layers. The two outer layers are ground wires, the next two are neutral, and the live is a single central wire. That does make the power cable slightly thicker, but you'd still barely notice it.

@The Mighty Ben - when you say "speakers that have to be wired", I assume you're asking how do you connect the flat cable to the speaker terminals. The answer is that there are custom banana plugs that attach to the flat cable, and then connect to your speakers.


January 12, 2009, 6:01 pm

Speaker wire carries an amplified signal, so is actually quite resilient to interference, hence why speaker cables generally don't have any form of shielding. The cables that are much more susceptible are (a) line-level analogue audio and video, and (b) high-bandwidth digital connections (e.g. ethernet). These have to be designed to minimise interference in order to preserve the signal, which is why ethernet uses twisted pairs and AV cables are commonly coaxial. Earthed sheaths can also help.

So, the flat speaker cables won't need interference shielding - they just need to be able to carry a reasonably large current without introducing undesirable resistance or (worse still) reactance into the equation. I presume the squiggly cables are a form of twisted pair.

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