Home entertainment has come a long way from the days of box-like TV sets with bad quality screens; it is not just the TVs that have evolved, but the supplementary things like sound systems have come a long way as well.
In fact, the term ‘home theater’ itself is a sign of how far we’ve come.
Setting up a home theater – if you have time, money, and want to never leave your living room again – has never been easier.
You will also be saving a considerable amount of money by doing the setup yourself instead of hiring someone to do it, as well as being able to exercise more control.
Before you begin, it is important to remember that the best home theater systems are designed to fit into every living room, and since all living rooms are not the same, people sometimes end up with unused ports and even faulty connections. Learning how a home theater system fits with your needs is essential.
This article will help you achieve this.
Home Theater Components
The first thing you need to be familiar with is what comprises a home theater system. Generally, this consists of speakers, receivers, a TV, some sort of video input like a DVD player or a console, and the necessary cables and wires.
Knowing the jargon for such setups also helps.
A receiver is also called a surround sound receiver, or an AV. Speakers include loudspeakers and subwoofers. (The number depends on the kind of setup you are going for.)
Tools like a label printer, a wire stripper, and a flashlight will make the setup process a lot easier for you.
The Set-Up Itself
Before you start connecting everything together, it is useful to remember the basic connection path.
The source components are the beginning points for your setup. These include your media streamer, DVD player, or whatever you are using. The endpoints thus become the TV and speakers. The source components send video signals to your TV and audio signals to the speakers.
Getting an actual surround sound system is not required because you can achieve similar results with a few decent speakers, but it is definitely an option if you want to take your setup to the next level.
Follow the steps below to start setting up your own home theater system.
It is always a good idea to take a quick look at the guide that came with the system when you bought it, but if you bought the components separately and don’t have such a guide, do not worry. We will be your guide.
Preparing Your Wires and Cables
First things first, label all your wires and cables so you don’t get all confused and frustrated during the setup process.
Next, decide on the amount of speaker wires you will be needing. This, of course, depends on the number of speakers you have. You can mark the wire path with strings and measure them, or directly use a tape measure; whichever is easier for you.
The kind of wires you use is also important. No one likes a tangled up, spider-like mess of wires poking out from behind the TV or speakers, so you need to use the right kind of wires in order to be able to hide them later. Flat wire is good for hiding under the carpet. Raceways or cable tunnels help conceal wires on the walls.
Banana connectors are especially helpful for speaker connections. You will have to split the connector wires down the center and trim the insulation from the ends to attach these connectors. Get a power protection device as well to ensure there’s no short-circuiting or damage in the long run.
Frequently used cables that you should have include HDMIs for the AV components, RCAs for analog audio connections, and optical cables for digital audio connections.
Setting up The Receiver
You will now be setting up the home theater receiver for both audio and video.
For video, use the HDMI cable to link the TV monitor output on the AV receiver to the video output on your TV. This means you can view videos from any video source device connected to the AV receiver, on your TV. You will have to select the correct source on the AV receiver after you turn it on, and similarly select the correct channel on your TV.
For the audio, you can either simply connect the audio outputs of your TV to the ‘Aux’ input on the AV receiver, or you can use an HDMI-ARC cable if it is compatible with your system. Both options will enable stereo or surround sound audio to play through your home theater system.
Setting Up Your Video Source
Video source connections are more or less the same, with very slight adjustments for the kind of source or sources you have. If your TV programs come directly via antenna or satellite, then simply connect that to your TV. For Smart TVs, ensure an internet connection as well. Cable boxes come with their own connections.
For all of these, you can either connect the output directly to your TV, or you can connect it to your receiver and then route the signal to your TV.
For DVD or other disc players, your receiver will need to have the proper HDMI connections, as well as the ability to access both audio and video through said connections. For some systems, additional optical or analog connections may be needed.
DVD and CD players might need a couple of adjustments; if your DVD player doesn’t work with an HDMI cable then use another output like component video, along with an optical cable, to connect it to the AV receiver. For CD players, the treatment is similar.
However, if you’re using a CD recorder or a DVD recorder, you can use the analog outputs available. For CD recorders, if the option is available, you can loop the input and output connections for Audio Tape Record and Playback.
In this post-cable world, media streamers can turn your computer system or mobile phone into a veritable torrent of endless entertainment.
Knowing which media streamer to choose is an important decision to make, as well as making a distinction between media streamers and media players, which we’ll get out of the way first.
Media players are DLNA-certified, meaning that these players can connect either to online services or your own hard disk to play media you have “ownership” of and access to. DLNA means Digital Living Network Alliance, and the media servers are DLNA-certified as well.
Media streamers, on the other hand, have been created and designed to connect to online services, not to your own saved movies and music. In case of the latter being made possible, it’s usually through the help of an app or some further setup work to make it connectable to a computer or network-attached storage.
For a home theater, people prefer the likes of Google Chromecast, Apple TV, or Roku.
These media streamers can be connected to your home theater’s television or projector either directly through HDMI cables or using the HDMI cables to route the streamer through the home theatre receiver.
Routing the HDMI through the home theatre receiver is said to provide the best combination of A/V quality, owing to the home theater receiver being the provider of most of the source connectivity and switching as well as decoding and processing the audio and audio amplification.
The home theater receiver also provides more options as opposed to everything being channeled by directly plugging in the HDMI cables to the TV.
Connecting the Speakers
Arguably, the most noticeable ‘theater’-ly part of the home theatre experience needs to be the sound design.
Connecting speakers to the AV receiver is not particularly difficult, especially if you make sure to connect the speakers to the correct channel and polarity (positive/negative, red/black). Once this is done, connect the subwoofer via the subwoofer line output.
Most receivers aid your speaker setup by either providing an automatic speaker setup or a room correction system or, at the very least, a built-in test tone generator. In the absence of such a thing, a sound meter (something inexpensive can get the job done, especially for further manual tweaking) will do the trick.
Speaker Placement for Surround Effect
A good idea (and rule of thumb) is to position your loudspeakers away from the walls. (Unless, of course, you’re opting for in-wall speakers).
This allows for optimal sound design in any room with typically ‘room-like’ dimensions (square or rectangle), but the actual distance at which they should be placed away from the wall will vary depending on the relevant acoustical circumstances – namely, whether your speakers are 5.1, 6.1, 7.1, 9.1, or 11.1 channel receivers.
If you want to decide between the two first, the first thing you should consider is that 5.1 and 7.1 channel environments take up less space than the higher-numbered options.
However, keep in mind that most material is mixed for 5.1-channel playback as a standard anyway, whether it’s music or the audio track on a Blu-Ray, meaning that with Dolby/DTS decoding, a 5.1-channel receiver and environment will do just fine – otherwise, even it’s an 11-channel environment, all it will do is post-process the soundtrack encoded for a 5.1 (and such) channel.
For a 5.1-channel speaker placement, you’ll need five speakers and a subwoofer.
The front center channel should be placed – as the name suggests – right in front of the television, either above or below. Place the subwoofer to either side of the television, the main/front left and right speakers equidistant from the center speaker at a 30-degree angle, and finally, the surround speakers above 90 degrees from the center channel on each side, left and right. It’s a good idea to have these just to the sides or elevated above the listening position.
For a 7.1-channel speaker environment, the same rules as in a 5.1-channel setup follow for the subwoofer and main/front left and right speakers. For the left and right surround speakers, placing them at the left and right side viz-a-viz the listening position is ideal, and the rear surround speakers should be about 140 degrees from the front center channel speaker, possibly elevated, behind the listening position.
If done correctly, all this work gives the impression of in-ceiling speakers even if you’re working with a simple 5.1-channel setup.
Most soundtracks are encoded, mixed, and designed with this placement in mind, and this can be considered a standard. However, playing around a little and tweaking this once you have your home theater up and running might help you account for differences in available space, room décor, and how much sound the room ‘absorbs’ or bounces back.
Getting the Most Out of Your Home Theater
Finally, let’s talk about the future of your personal cinema and media center.
While it’s easy to set up a home theater, getting the most out of it can take time and experiments. You’ll be good to go with the help of this article thus far, but don’t leave just yet. Take this advice with you as per your needs:
For each component in your home theater, the owner’s manual is a document that has probably already guessed the nature of your predicament, as well as helped with illustrations and recommended optimal settings.
As mentioned earlier, a label printer helps, especially if you plan to expand your home theater (as you always should). This way all the connection cables – audio, video, speakers, HDMI, external media players, streamers, electricity, extensions – are easy to identify and move around if changes are needed.
The advent of home theaters (as well as a growing trend of people staying in instead of going out) has also lead to home theater tune-up apps as an easy way to make sure all your steps have been followed together.
However, if all else fails, paying a professional for a one-time tune-up or setup can be your last resort!