How to Set Up a Home Theater System With Separate Components

How to get started setting up your home theater system

A home theater brings the movie-going experience home. However, for many, the idea of setting up a home theater system is daunting. Still, with the right set of guidelines, it can be fairly stress-free.

This guide provides some basic guidelines for setting up a home theater system. The extent, combinations, and connection options vary depending on how many and what types of components you have, as well as the room size, shape, lighting, and acoustic properties.

What You Need to Set Up a Home Theater System

The first step is knowing what components you'll need for your home theater. Below is a list of common components to consider.

The Home Theater Connection Path

It helps to think of home theater equipment connections in terms of roads or channels that deliver goods from a producer to a distributor. Source components—such as cable boxes, media streamers, and Blu-ray players—are the beginning points, and the TV and loudspeakers are the endpoints.

Your task is to get the audio and video signals from the source components to the sound system and video display, respectively.

Onkyo TX-SR383 Jamo S 803 HCS Speakers J10 Sub

Onkyo and Jamo

Connecting Home Theater Components

A basic setup may include a TV, AV receiver, Blu-ray or DVD player, and a media streamer. You will also need at least five speakers and a subwoofer for 5.1 surround sound.

Below is a general outline of how to connect these different components.

Pioneer VSX-933 Dolby Atmos Home Theater Receiver
Pioneer Electronics

The Home Theater Receiver

The home theater receiver provides most source connectivity and switching and audio decoding, processing, and amplification to power the speakers. Most audio and video components run through the home theater receiver.

  • Sending video from the home theater receiver to the TV: Connect the AV receiver's TV monitor output to one of the video inputs on the TV. (Ideally, this connection will be HDMI, the simplest and most effective connection for most systems.) This allows you to view the video image from all the video source devices connected to your home theater receiver on your TV screen. The AV receiver needs to be on and the correct source input selected on your television display.
  • Sending audio from the TV to the home theater receiver: One way to get sound from a TV to a home theater is to connect the TV's audio outputs (if it has them) to the TV or Aux audio inputs on the AV receiver. Another way is to use Audio Return Channel (HDMI-ARC) if the TV and receiver have this feature. Either method allows you to watch sources connected to the TV and hear stereo or surround sound audio through your home theater system.

TV or Video Projector

If you receive TV programs via antenna, connect the antenna directly to your TV. If you have a smart TV, make sure it is also connected to the internet.

LG G7 Series OLED TV and LG HF80JA Projector

LG

If you receive programming via a cable or satellite box, connect the incoming cable to the box. You then have two options to connect your cable or satellite box to the TV and the rest of your home theater system:

  1. Connect the audio/video output of the box directly to the TV.
  2. Connect the box to your home theater receiver, and route the signal to your TV.

If you have a video projector instead of a TV, the setup procedure is different.

As for the TV or projector screen size, that's a personal choice. Even small mini-projectors can produce big pictures. In our opinion, the bigger the screen, the better in a home theater!

Blu-ray Disc, DVD, CD, and Record Players

For a Blu-ray or Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player, the connection setup depends on whether your home theater receiver has HDMI connections and whether the receiver can access both audio and video signals through those connections. If so, connect the HDMI output from the player to the receiver and from the receiver to the TV.

Two Blu-ray Disc Player Connection Examples. Pre and Post-2013 Models

If your home theater receiver only offers HDMI pass-through, you may need to make additional analog or digital audio (optical or coaxial) connections between the player and the receiver. There are additional connection options to consider if you have a 3D Blu-ray Disc player or 3D TV.

If you have a streaming Blu-ray Disc player, connect it to the internet via Ethernet or Wi-Fi.

For a DVD player, connect one of the player's video outputs to the DVD video input on the AV receiver. If your DVD player has an HDMI output, use that option. If your DVD player doesn't have an HDMI output, use another available video output (such as component video) combined with a digital optical/coaxial cable from the player to the AV receiver.

To access digital surround sound, an HDMI or digital optical/coaxial connection is required.

To connect either a CD or record player to an AV receiver, use the player's analog or digital audio outputs. If you have a CD recorder, connect it to the AV receiver through the Audio Tape Record/Playback input/output loop connections (if that option is available).

Media Streamer

If you have a media streamer, such as a Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, or Apple TV, make sure it is connected to the internet. To view streaming content from these devices on your TV, connect the streamer to your TV in two ways, both using HDMI:

  • Connect directly to the TV.
  • Connect directly to the home theater receiver, which is then routed to the TV.
Roku Express (top) - Roku Ultra (bottom) Media Streamers (not to scale)

Roku

Routing a media streamer through a home theater receiver en route to the TV provides the best combination of video and audio quality.

Notes For VCR and DVD Recorder Owners

Although VCR production has been discontinued, and DVD recorder/VCR combos and DVD recorders are rare, many people still use them. Here are some tips on how to integrate those devices into a home theater setup:

  • Connect the audio/video outputs of the VCR or DVD recorder to the 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 doesn't have inputs specifically labeled for a VCR or DVD recorder, any set of analog video inputs will do. If your DVD recorder has an HDMI output, use that option to connect the DVD recorder to the home theater receiver.
  • You also have the option of connecting a VCR or DVD recorder directly to the TV and then letting the TV pass audio to the home theater receiver.
Funai DVD Recorder VHS VCR Combo
Amazon

Connecting and Placing Your Speakers and Subwoofer

To complete your home theater setup, place and connect the speakers and subwoofer.

Speaker Connections and Setup Diagram

Yamaha and Harman Kardon

  1. Position the speakers and subwoofer, but be careful not to place them flush against any walls. Use your ears or follow this guide to find the optimal location for all the speakers, including the subwoofer.

  2. Connect the speakers 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.

  3. Connect the subwoofer line output of the AV receiver to the subwoofer.

To further optimize your speaker setup, use the built-in test tone generator, room correction, or automatic speaker setup systems that may be included with the receiver. 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 for manual tweaking can't hurt.

Speaker Setup Examples

The following speaker setup examples are typical for a square or slightly rectangular room. You may need to adjust the placement for other room shapes and additional acoustical factors.

5.1 Channel Speaker Placement

A home theater utilizing 5.1 channels is the most commonly used setup. You need five speakers (left, right, center, left surround, and right surround) plus a subwoofer. Here is how they 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 to 110 degrees from the center channel. These speakers can be elevated above the listener.

7.1 Channel Speaker Placement

Here's how to set up a 7.1 channel speaker system:

  • 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.
  • Left/right surround speakers: Place to the left and right sides of the listening position.
  • Rear/back surround speakers: Place behind the listening position to the left and right. Place these at about 140 to 150 degrees from the front center channel speaker. The speakers for the surround channels can be elevated above the listening position.

The Bottom Line

Here are some additional tips that can make your setup easier:

  • Read the owner's manual and illustrations for your components, paying close attention to the connection and setting options.
  • Have the correct audio, video, and speaker cables with the proper lengths. As you go through the connection process, consider using a label printer to identify the cables and wires if you need to make changes.
  • The THX Home Theater Tune-Up App provides an easy way to check your initial TV or video projector picture settings and make sure the speakers are connected correctly.
  • If the setup task becomes overwhelming and nothing seems to be "right," here are some troubleshooting tips. If that fails to solve the problem, don't hesitate to pay someone (such as an installer that subcontracts with your local dealer) to do it for you. Depending on your situation, it may be money well spent.
Home Theater Surround Sound Setup

adventtr / Getty Images

Was this page helpful?