How to Set Up a Home Theater System With Separate Components

Klipsch 7.1 Channel Speaker Setup Diagram Example
Klipsch 7.1 Channel Speaker Setup Diagram Example. Image provided by the Klipsch Group

Home Theater has definitely made an impact with consumers. It provides not only a way to duplicate the movie theater going experience at home, it is a great way to get the family together to enjoy a shared entertainment experience.

However, for many, the idea of setting up a home theater system seems quite daunting, but it doesn't have to be. In fact, the setup process is actually a great project that can be performed alone, or with the entire family.

The following is an example of what you need, and the steps required to get your own home theater system up and running.

What You Need To Set Up Your Home Theater System

  • Home Theater Receiver (aka AV or Surround Sound Receiver)
  • TV or Video Projector with screen
  • Antenna, Cable, or Satellite Box (optional)
  • Blu-ray/DVD/CD Disc Player and/or DVD/CD Player
  • Media Streamer (optional)
  • DVD Recorder, DVD Recorder/VCR combo, or VCR (optional)
  • Loudspeakers (number depends on speaker layout)
  • Subwoofer
  • All Needed connection cables and speaker wire
  • Wire Stripper (for speaker wire)
  • Label printer (optional)
  • A Sound Meter (optional - but advisable)

The Home Theater Connection Path

Think of source components, such as a satellite/cable box, media streamer, Blu-ray Disc or DVD player, as the beginning point, and your TV and loudspeakers as your end point. You have to get the video signal from your source component to your TV, video display, or projector, and the audio signal to your loudspeakers.

To familiarize yourself with the connectors and connections you will be using to set up your home theater, check out our Home Theater Connector/Connections Gallery.

A Home Theater Setup Example

In a basic setup that includes a TV, AV receiver, a Blu-ray Disc or DVD player, media streaming, and possibly a VCR (or DVD recorder), below is an example of one approach.

However, keep in mind that this example is only one of several possibilities. Specific setup variations are dictated by the capabilities and connections available on the specific components being used.

Let's get started!

  • Home Theater Receiver - The centerpiece of a home theater setup is usually a home theater receiver. This device provides most of the source connectivity and switching, as well as all of the audio decoding, processing, and amplification to power your speakers. The rest of your audio and video components are usually connected to your home theater receiver.
  • TV - If you receive your TV programs via antenna, connect that antenna directly to your TV. If you have a Smart TV, make sure it is connected to the internet. If you receive your programming via a cable or satellite box, connect the incoming cable to the box. However, you have two options to connect your cable/satellite box to the rest of your home theater system. One option is to connect the audio/video output of your box directly to your TV. The other option is to connect the box to your home theater receiver, which can also route the signal to your TV. If you are planning on using a video projector in your setup, instead of a TV, check out some additional factors to take into consideration.
  • DVD Player - If you have a DVD player, connect one of the video outputs of your DVD player to the DVD player video input on your AV Receiver. If your DVD player has an HDMI output, connect it to your home theater receiver, the same way you would a Blu-ray Disc player. However, if your DVD player does not have an HDMI output, you will need to use one of the other available video outputs (such as component video) in combination with either digital optical or digital coaxial audio connection from player to your AV receiver. In order to access digital surround sound, you must make use of the DVD player's HDMI or digital audio connections.
  • CD Player - For connecting a CD-only player or changer to your AV receiver, you can use either the CD player's analog or digital audio outputs to the AV Receiver. If you have a CD-Recorder, connect it to your AV receiver through the Audio Tape Record/Playback input/output loop connections, as it functions much the same as a standard audio cassette deck.
  • Media Streamer - If you have a media streamer, such as a Roku or Amazon Fire TV stick or box, or Google Chromecast, first you need to make sure it is connected to the internet via Ethernet or WiFi. To access streaming programming from these devices on your TV you have the option of connecting it your TV directly or connecting it to the home theater receiver - using HDMI in both cases. However, it might be best to go through the home theater receiver for the best combination of video and audio quality.
  • Video From Home Theater Receiver to TV - Connect the TV monitor output (preferably HDMI) of the AV receiver to one of the video inputs (preferably HDMI) on your TV. This allows you to view the video image from all the video source devices connected your home theater receiver on your TV. NOTE: Remember, your AV receiver needs to be on and the correct source input selected, with your TV switched to the video input (not channel 3 or another channel) in order to view the video feed from your home theater receiver.
  • Audio From TV to Home Theater Receiver - Connect the audio outputs of your TV (if it has them) to the TV or Aux audio inputs on your AV receiver. This allows watching any sources connected directly to the TV and hear stereo or surround sound audio from programs that have it, through your home theater system.

Special Notes For VCR and DVD Recorder Owners

Although production of VCRs has been discontinued and both DVD recorder/VCR combos and DVD recorders are now very rare, there are still a lot of consumers that still own and use them. If you are one that does, here are some additional tips on how to integrate those devices into your home theater setup.

  • Connect the audio and video outputs of your VCR or DVD Recorder to your home theater receiver's VCR video inputs (if you have both a VCR and DVD recorder, use the AV receiver's VCR1 connections for the VCR and VCR2 connections for the DVD recorder).
  • If your home theater does not have inputs specially labeled for a VCR or DVD recorder, any set of analog video inputs will do, and if your DVD recorder has an HDMI output, use that option to connect your DVD recorder to your home theater receiver.
  • You also have the option of connecting either your VCR or DVD recorder directly to your TV and then let the TV pass the audio to your home theater receiver.

For additional tips on using a VCR and/or DVD recorder with your TV, also check out our companion articles:

Connecting and Placing Your Loudspeakers and Subwoofer

To complete your home theater setup, you need to make sure you have the speakers you need, connect them properly, and place them correctly. Here are some general tips to get you started.

  • Connect your speakers up to the AV receiver. Pay attention to the correct polarity (positive and negative - red and black) and, make sure the speakers are connected to the correct channel.
  • Connect the subwoofer line output of the AV receiver to your subwoofer.
  • Position your loudspeakers.

The following examples are provided for a typical square or slightly rectangular room, you may need to adjust your placement for other room shapes and additional acoustical factors.

To further aid in your speaker setup, take advantage of either the built-in test tone generator and/or automatic speaker setup, or room correction system, that is provided in many Home Theater Receivers to set your sound levels - all Speakers should be able to output at the same volume level. An inexpensive sound meter can also help with this task. Even if your receiver has an automatic speaker setup or room correction system, having a sound meter on hand to allow further manual tweaking of your speaker levels is a good idea.

5.1 Channel Speaker Placement

A home theater setup utilizing 5.1 channels is the most commonly used. For this setup, you need 5 speakers (Left, Center, Right, Left Surround, Right Surround) plus a subwoofer. Here is how the speakers and subwoofer should be placed.

  • Front Center Channel - Place directly in front, either above or below the television.
  • Subwoofer - Place to the left or right of the television.
  • Left and Right Main/Front speakers - Place equidistant from the center speaker, about a 30-degree angle from the center channel.
  • Surround speakers -- Place to the left and right side, just to the side or slightly behind the listening position - about 90-110 degrees from the center channel. These speakers can be elevated above the listener.

7.1 Channel Speaker Placement

  • The Front Center and Left/Right Main speakers and Subwoofer are the same as a 5.1 channel setup.
  • Left/Right Surround speakers - Place to the left and right side of the listening position.
  • Rear/Back Surround speakers - Behind the listening position—slightly to the left and right (may be elevated above listener)—place at about 140-150 degrees from the Front Center channel speaker. Rear/Back channel surround speakers can be elevated above the listening position.

For more speaker setup and placement options, also check out our companion article: How Do I Position Loudspeakers For My Home Theater System?

The Bottom Line

The above setup descriptions are basic illustrations on what to expect when hooking up your home theater system. The extent, combinations, and types of connections vary depending on how many and what types of components you have, as well as your room size, shape, and acoustical properties.

Also, here are some additional tips that can make your setup task easier:

  • Make sure you read the owner's manual and illustrations for all your components that outline your connection options and how to set up your home theater receiver.
  • Make sure you have the correct audio, video, and loudspeaker connection cables, at the right lengths, to connect everything up. If you overlook something, don't panic, you just might need to make an extra trip to Best Buy or Fry's; it happens to all of us at some point during the setup procedure. It is also a good idea, as you go through the connection process, to use a label printer so that your cables and wires can be easily identified later if you need to make connection changes.
  • Don't hesitate to contact customer support for your product or your cable TV provider for further setup tips. For some additional, advanced, tips on setting up speakers that can be adapted to a home theater system setup, check out the following articles: Five Ways To Get Best Performance From Your Stereo System, Bi-Wiring and Bi-Amplifying Stereo Speakers, Improve The Sound Quality of Your Listening Room.
  • Do not place your loudspeakers flush against walls, they should be set away from the wall, the amount of optimum distance away from the wall surface may vary from speaker type to speaker type.
  • If the task becomes overwhelming and nothing seems to be "right", there are some initial troubleshooting tips you can take advantage of. However, if that fails to solve the problem(s), don't hesitate to pay someone (such as an installer that subcontracts with your local dealer) to do it for you. You will get a system that is set up quickly (in most cases, within an hour) and working properly. This can be money well spent if the person you hire knows their job.
Was this page helpful?