Home Theater Receiver Connections Explained

What are the connections on a home theater, AV, and surround sound receiver?

Are you confused by the connections on the back of your home theater, AV, or surround sound receiver? We have the solution.

The following guide provides close-up images with explanations for each connection. Follow this guide to get comfortable with the different types of inputs and outputs before you set up your home theater receiver.

The type, number, and placement of connections may vary from brand to brand and model to model.

HDMI

Onkyo TX-NR787 Home Theater Receiver – HDMI Connections
Onkyo

HDMI is the most important connection on modern home theater receivers (aka AV receivers or surround sound receivers). It is where you connect HD and 4K source devices, including Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players, cable and satellite boxes, media streamers, and game consoles.

Home theater receivers usually have four or more HDMI inputs and a least one output that connects to a TV or video projector. However, some home theater receivers may have two or three HDMI outputs, similar to the example shown above.

Multiple HDMI outputs allow you to connect a receiver to more than one TV or video projector. Depending on the brand and model of the receiver, you may be able to watch the same or different sources on more than one TV or video projector.

HDMI inputs and outputs pass both audio and video and enable additional capabilities, such as HDMI-CEC and HDMI-ARC (Audio Return Channel).

Digital Audio Connections

Onkyo TX-NR787 Home Theater Receiver – Digital Audio Connections
Onkyo

Home theater receivers include two types of digital audio-only connections: optical and coaxial. Use these to connect audio from most DVD players, Blu-ray Disc players, and HD and 4K Ultra HD TVs. Some CD players also provide one or both of these output options.

These connections access two-channel stereo and standard Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound signals. These connections cannot pass enhanced surround formats, such as Dolby Digital Plus, TrueHD, Atmos, and DTS-HD Master Audio or DTS:X. Those are only accessible from an HDMI connection.

Analog Audio Input Connections

Onkyo TX-NR787 Home Theater Receiver – Analog Audio Inputs Connections
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Most audio is available digitally. Still, many devices either use analog exclusively (such as vinyl record turntables, audio cassette decks, and VCRs) or provide it as an alternate audio connection option (using RCA style jacks and cables) on devices such as TVs, cable and satellite boxes, and DVD and Blu-ray Disc players.

AM/FM Radio Antenna Connections

Onkyo TX-NR787 Home Theater Receiver – AM/FM Radio Antenna Connections
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Another audio source included in home theater receivers is radio reception. Most home theater receivers provide connections for AM and FM antennas. However, some home theater receivers only provide FM antenna connections as these receivers may not include an AM tuner.

Speaker Connections

Onkyo TX-NR787 Home Theater Receiver – Speaker Connections
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You can't hear the sound from a home theater receiver unless you connect some speakers.

When connecting speakers, match the speaker terminals with the speaker placement. This means connecting the center speaker to the center channel speaker terminals, the left front to the main left, the right front to the main right, the surround left to the surround left, and the surround right to the surround right.

Some speaker terminals may provide more than one channel option (not at the same time, though). For example, if you want to accommodate a different type of speaker setup—such as for Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro 3D Audio, or a powered 2nd Zone—refer to the added illustrations in the user manual to find out which terminals to use and how to assign each correctly.

In addition to connecting the correct speaker channel, make sure the polarity (+ -) is correct. Red is positive (+), and black is negative (-). If the polarity is reversed, the speakers will be out-of-phase, resulting in inaccurate surround sound and poor low-frequency reproduction.

Zone 2 Speaker Connections and Analog Audio Outputs

Zone 2 Speaker and Line-Out Connections

Onkyo

On home theater receivers that offer it, the Zone 2 feature allows a second source signal to be sent to speakers or a separate audio system in another room through a wired or cable connection.

Zone 2 functionality allows you to watch a Blu-ray Disc or DVD movie with surround sound in the main room while someone else listens to a CD player, AM/FM radio, or a two-channel source in another room at the same time. The source components are connected to the receiver and are accessed and controlled separately with the receiver's remote.

Subwoofer Preamp Outputs

Onkyo TX-NR787 Dual Subwoofer Output
Onkyo USA

Another type of speaker that needs to be connected to a home theater receiver is a subwoofer. The subwoofer doesn't connect to the terminals provided for the other speakers. Instead, the subwoofer connects to an RCA-type connection that is labeled as Subwoofer, Subwoofer Preamp, or LFE (Low-Frequency Effects) output.

This type of connection is used because subwoofers have built-in amplifiers, so the receiver doesn't power the subwoofer. It only supplies the audio signal. RCA-style audio cables are used for this connection.

Home theater receivers provide at least one subwoofer output. Still, many provide two, as shown in the above example. This provides added setup flexibility.

Multi-Channel Analog Audio Inputs and Outputs

Example of Multi-Channel Analog Audio Inputs and Outputs

Yamaha

Higher-end home theater receivers offer an additional analog audio connection option, referred to as a multi-channel analog audio connection.

A separate connection for each channel of audio is provided. This means that just as there are left-channel and right-channel analog audio connections for stereo, for surround sound, it is possible to include separate analog audio connections for the center, left surround, right surround, and, in some cases, left surround back and right surround back. The connections use RCA jacks and cables.

Multi-Channel Analog Outputs

The most common multi-channel analog connection options, which are found mostly in mid- and high-end home theater receivers, are multi-channel analog audio outputs.

These outputs connect a home theater receiver to external amplifiers. However, when multi-channel analog preamp outputs are used, these outputs disable the home theater receiver's internal amplifiers that are designated for the corresponding channels. You can't combine the power output of an internal amplifier with an external amplifier for the same channel.

Multi-Channel Analog Inputs

Some home theater receivers provide multi-channel analog audio inputs, but these are rare in newer models.

If a home theater receiver has this option, it provides the flexibility to connect some DVD and Blu-ray Disc players or another source component that may offer this as an output connection option.

Analog Video Inputs

Onkyo TX-NR787 Home Theater Receiver – Analog Video Inputs
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There are three types of analog video input.

Component Video

This analog video connection option separates luminance (Y) and color (Pb, Pr or Cb, Cr) into three channels. It requires three cables (colored red, green, and blue) to transfer video from a source device to a receiver or a TV.

Component video cables can transfer both standard and high-definition (up to 1080p) video signals. However, most sources restrict signals from passing through component video cables to standard definition due to copy-protection issues.

Composite Video

Composite video uses a single RCA connection (usually yellow, as illustrated in the photo example) to send the color, B/W, and luminance portions of an analog video signal from a source device to a TV or home theater receiver. Composite video signals are standard definition resolution analog signals.

S-Video

S-Video is another type of video connection you might find if you have or purchase an older used home theater receiver.

The S-Video cable sends the B/W and color parts of the video signal through separate pins within a single cable connector. This provides better color consistency and edge quality than the composite video option. It has been superseded by both component and HDMI video connections.

S-Video Connection and Cable Example

USB and Ethernet

Onkyo TX-NR787 Home Theater Receiver – USB and Ethernet Connections
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A USB port is provided on many home theater receivers. This allows you to play music stored on flash drives or other compatible USB devices and, in some cases, power your smartphone or another compatible USB device.

A growing number of home theater receivers also provide network and internet connectivity. This can be provided by connecting an Ethernet cable to the receiver using a provided Ethernet/LAN port.

However, a growing number of home theater receivers provide both Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity, which provides added flexibility as to where you place the receiver in relation to a broadband router.

RS232, IR Sensor Cable, and 12V Trigger

Onkyo TX-NR787 Home Theater Receiver – RS232, IR Sensor Cable, 12V Trigger Connections
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On high-end home theater receivers, you may find this trio of connections:

RS232

Provides a physical connection to a PC or custom home theater controller.

IR Sensor Cable Input

If this is an input, you can connect an IR blaster cable so that the home theater receiver doesn't have to be in direct line-of-sight for your remote control.

If this is an output, it allows the home theater receiver to blast an IR signal to control another receiver.

12V Trigger

This connector allows the receiver to turn other compatible devices on or off or to start some functions, such as lowering or raising a video projection screen.

Power Cord Inlet

Onkyo TX-NR787 Home Theater Receiver – Power Cord Inlet
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You'll need to power your home theater receiver. For convenience, most receivers provide a power cord that plugs directly into an AC inlet or socket.

Front Panel Inputs and Headphone Jack

Onkyo TX-NR787 Home Theater Receiver – Front Panel Inputs and Headphone Jack
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In addition to the connections on the rear panel, many home theater receivers have connections on the front panel. On some home theater receivers, these may be hidden by a flip-down door.

The connections may include one or more of the following:

HDMI Input

This comes in handy when connecting temporary devices, such as digital cameras and smartphones. It is more convenient than having to reach an HDMI input on the back of the receiver.

3.5 mm or RCA Analog Audio Inputs

As shown in the photo.

Mic Jack

Most home theater receivers include an automatic speaker setup feature that uses self-generated test tones. The mic jack is where you connect the mic to receive the tones that the receiver can then analyze and adjust your speaker levels in relation to your room size and acoustic properties.

Headphone Jack

This is usually a 1/4-inch type. You can use an adapter if your headphones use 1/8-inch connectors. When headphones are plugged in, usually, the speakers are disabled.

USB Port

Although not shown in the photo example, some home theater receivers may provide a USB port on the front panel for playing music stored on flash drives or for connecting with an iPod or iPhone.

Composite Video Input

Not shown in the image. Some receivers include a composite video input on the front panel.

Wireless Connections

Sony STR-DN1080 Network Home Theater Receiver

Sony

In addition to the physical connections, most home theater receivers include some level of wireless connectivity, which may include one or more of the following:

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