How to Set Up a Home Theater System With Separate Components

How to get started setting up your home theater system.

Home Theater brings the movie-going experience home, but for many, the idea of setting up a home theater system is daunting, to say the least. But, with the right set of guidelines, it can be fairly stress-free. Here are some points to consider before you get started.

What You Need To Set Up A Home Theater System

The Home Theater Connection Path

It helps to think of the connections of home theater equipment 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 their source components to your sound system and video display, respectively.

Onkyo TX-SR383 Jamo S 803 HCS Speakers J10 Sub
Images via 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. In addition, you will need at least five speakers and a subwoofer for 5.1 surround sound.

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

The Home Theater Receiver

Pioneer VSX-933 Dolby Atmos Home Theater Receiver
Pioneer Electronics

The home theater receiver provides most of the source connectivity and switching, as well as all audio decoding, processing, and amplification to power your speakers. Most audio and video components will be run through the home theater receiver.

  • Sending Video from the Home Theater Receiver to the TV: Connect the TV monitor output of the AV receiver to one of the video inputs on your TV. (Ideally, this connection will be HDMI, which is the simplest and more effective connection for most systems.) This allows you to view the video image from all the video source devices connected 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 audio outputs of the TV (if it has them) to the TV or Aux audio inputs on your AV receiver. Another way is to use Audio Return Channel (HDMI-ARC), if both your TV and receiver have this feature. Either method will allow you to watch sources connected directly to the TV and hear stereo or surround sound audio through your home theater system.

TV or Video Projector

LG G7 Series OLED TV and LG HF80JA Projector
Images via LG

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.

If you receive your 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 your box directly to your 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.

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

Two Blu-ray Disc Player Connection Examples. Pre and Post-2013 Models
  • For a Blu-ray or Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player, the connection setup will depend 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.
  • If your home theater receiver only offers HDMI pass-through, then you may have to make additional analog or digital audio (optical or coaxial) connections between the player and the receiver. If you have a 3D Blu-ray disc player or 3D TV, there are additional connection options to consider.

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 video outputs of the player 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) in combination with a digital optical/coaxial cable from the player to your 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 your AV receiver, use the player's analog or digital audio outputs. If you have a CD-Recorder, connect it to your AV receiver through the Audio Tape Record/Playback input/output loop connections (if that option is available).

Media Streamer

Roku Express (top) - Roku Ultra (bottom) Media Streamers (not to scale)
Images provided by Roku

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 you can 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.

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

Funai DVD Recorder VHS VCR Combo
Amazon

Although VCR production has been discontinued and both DVD recorder/VCR combos and DVD recorders are now very rare, there are still a lot of people who 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 your DVD recorder to your 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 your home theater receiver.

Connecting and Placing Your Speakers and Subwoofer

Speaker Connections and Setup Diagram
Speaker Connections and Setup Diagram. Images via Yamaha and Harman Kardon

To complete your home theater setup, you need to place and connect the speakers and 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 your 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.

The following speaker setup examples are typical for a square or slightly rectangular room. You may need to adjust your 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. For this, you need 5 speakers (left, right, center, left surround, 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 90-110 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 in a 5.1 channel setup.
  • Left/Right Surround speakers are placed to the left and right side of the listening position.
  • Rear/Back Surround speakers are placed behind the listening position to the left and right. Place these at about 140-150 degrees from the Front Center channel speaker. The speakers for the surround channels can be elevated above the listening position.

The Bottom Line

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 your room size, shape, lighting, and acoustical properties.

Home Theater Surround Sound Setup
Home Theater Surround Sound Setup. Getty Images - adventtr

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

  • Read the owner's manual and illustrations for all your components, paying close attention to connection and setting options.
  • Have the correct audio, video, and speaker cables with the right lengths. As you go through the connection process, consider using a label printer so that your cables and wires can be easily identified 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 "right," here are some troubleshooting tips to consult. 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.