So you want a Home Theatre?
Miles of tangled wires, poorly labeled connectors, more inputs and outputs than hours in a day, and 5 different remotes that all look the same; it can be overwhelming at first. Setting up your home theatre doesn’t have to be though. Whether you already have a modest setup or are installing your first TV today, this guide should help you make sure you get it done right and confusion free so you can get to relaxing faster.
What you’ll need
Assuming you already have a TV and the devices you wish to play content from there are a few things you will still need to set up a home theatre. The most important device you will need to get is an Audio Video Receiver, also known as an A/V Receiver for short. This beefy box connects all of your other equipment including your TV, Blu-ray player, ROKU, and speakers. They also usually come with multiple inputs for your devices, and a quality remote that can be programmed to control all your devices so you do not need several remotes. More on that later.
Buying a Receiver
When buying a receiver, make sure you look for how many channels it supports and what kind of inputs and outputs it has. The number of channels depends on how many speakers you want to have. Generally, A/V receivers come in three varieties: 2.1 channel, 5.1 channels, and 7.1 channels. The .1 is the subwoofer if you didn’t know. Make sure that the number of channels is equal to or greater than the number of speakers you want to install. It is fine to not use all the channels; the receiver will adapt the audio to fit your setup. Finally, check how many channels of the subwoofer are “powered” as this will affect what speakers you can buy. A non-powered port will require a powered speaker which is more expensive and requires its own power outlet.
If you don’t already have speakers, you will need to buy some to go with your receiver. If you aren’t sure how many speakers you want, here are some simple guidelines. If you mostly listen to music or watch television, then 2 speakers are enough for you. Ninety-nine percent of music is mixed for 2 channel stereo and while some TV will support surround sound its few and far between. If you plan to watch movies, then the other two options are for you. Make the decision between 5.1 and 7.1 based on the space you have. A 7.1 speaker setup will have two additional speakers behind the viewer, so this may not be practical if you have a small room.
After deciding how many, make sure you buy the appropriate types for each area. Tall tower speakers are used for the front right and left channels, and a flat speaker is usually what you want for a center channel. For the side and rear speakers, consider if you want them wall mounted or on stands. Generally speaking this will be much smaller than the front three. Finally, you’ll want to buy a subwoofer. Check your receiver to see if it supports a passive subwoofer or requires a powered one. You do not need a very large subwoofer for it to make a difference. In a small to mid-sized room a single 6”-8” subwoofer will do just fine.
Once you have your speakers you will need speaker wire. Speaker wire is rated in American Wire Gauge (AWG). The most common AWG is between 12 and 16 gauge, so stick within this range. There are many aspects to consider when choosing speaker wire, but to keep it simple just follow this simple tip. For large rooms where you will need long wires, go with a thicker gauge, otherwise the thinner gauge is fine.
Setting up your Speakers
Now that you have your speakers and receiver, we can begin setting up. First, choose your locations. The two tower speakers should on either side of the TV stand and should be equidistance from each other and you. The center channel speaker should go under the TV and be centered to where the viewer will be sitting. Do not put the TV on top of the center speaker! The side left and side right speakers should be placed on either side of the sitting area, but not behind. After that, if you went with a 7.1 system, place the rear left and right speakers behind the viewer to the left and right side. Make sure that these are not too close or the volume balance won’t be right. In general, if your speakers are closer than 2-3 feet to your ears they won’t sound right.
Finally place your subwoofer. Subwoofers are non-directional, so they can be put basically anywhere. It produces sound in a radius around it, so while you can’t put it in the center of the room, putting it to the side of where you sit will be best.
First, let me clarify what I mean by signal pathing. Signal pathing just means how the content, whether that is a TV show, movie on Netflix, or game from your Xbox, gets to where it can be viewed by you. If you are just setting up your system for the first time, you have just plugged in whatever you want to use into the back of your TV with an HDMI or RCA cable. This works fine if you only have a few devices and are only using the built in speakers of your TV but when you add an audio receiver, sound bar, and full size speakers it can get to be a confusing mess if you just plug everything directly into the TV.
To help illustrate, let’s assume you have a TV, and Blu-ray player, and an A/V receiver connected to some speakers. The signal starts at the Blu-ray player and we want it to come out of the TV and speakers. The obvious way to do this is to plug the player into the receiver and then the TV with separate cables like this:
This is not the best way to do it though. If you connect multiple devices like this, you need to change the input on the TV and the receiver any time you want to switch devices. It will also require a lot more cables, making it more expensive and messier. The ideal way to do signal pathing is to plug everything into the receiver, and have one cable running from the output of the receiver to the TV. This means that you can leave your TV on one input and never have to change it, and just change the input of the A/V receiver. It also reduces the number of cables. In the previous setup 2 devices would use 4 cables, and 3 devices would use 6 cables. In this setup 2 devices would only need 3 cables, and 3 devices would need only 4.
If you already have all your devices connected to your TV directly, you can also check to see if your TV has a HDMI output. You can connect this to your A/V receiver to achieve a similar result, only this time you change the source on your TV and leave the receiver alone. This is less ideal because some TVs alter the audio signal when they pass it through, making it lower quality or even down mixing it from surround sound to just stereo. Also, it is very likely your TV won’t have the variety or amount of inputs that a receiver will have making adding new devices to your setup easier with a receiver.
The last thing you need to do before your home theatre set-up is ready for use is setting up your universal remote. The remote that comes with your receiver can act as a universal remote, so unless you have a particularly exotic setup you probably do not need to buy a separate remote.
If your receiver is fairly new, it may have codes for common products written in the manual so you do not have to program the remote yourself. However, if you need to, the manual will have instructions on how to manually program the remote. The way this usually works is by holding the remote of the device and the receiver’s remote pointed at it each other. You put the receivers remote in learning mode and then press the button on the other remote, and the universal remote should learn the signal. Having just one remote to keep track of makes enjoying your home theatre much simpler, but keep the other remote around just in case.
Now that you have the basics of a home theatre setup we hope you enjoy it, safe in the knowledge that you did it right. Next time someone laments the complexity of home theatres, just send them here so they too can enjoy their movie watching experience too.