How to Set up a Basic Home Theater System With Separate Components

How to set up at 7.1 speaker system
Klipsch's diagram of how to set up a 7.1 speaker system. Klipsch

The Home Theater Connection Path

Think of source components, such as a Blu-ray Disc or DVD player, as the beginning point, and your television 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 my Home Theater Connector/Connections Gallery.

Home Theater Setup Example

In a basic setup that includes a television, AV receiver, a Blu-ray Disc or DVD player and a VCR (or DVD recorder), below is an example of one approach. However, keep in mind the example below is only one of several possibilities. Specific setup variations are dictated by the capabilities and connections available on the specific components being used. The setup should take approximately 1.5 hours. Here's how:

  1. Connect your satellite, cable or antenna to your VCR (or DVD recorder) and then to the television. This will allow both your television and your VCR (or DVD recorder) to be able to receive broadcast, cable or satellite signals, depending on what service you have. NOTE: If you have both a VCR and DVD recorder, you should have the incoming cable, satellite, or antenna signal split and connected to them separately, not from one to the other.
  2. Connect the audio and video outputs of your VCR or DVD recorder to your AV 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 the VCR2 connections for the DVD recorder).
  1. In turn, if your AV receiver has a set of audio and video outputs associated with inputs labeled "VCR" (also referred to as a VCR connection loop), connect those outputs to the audio and video inputs of your VCR or DVD recorder. This will allow your VCR or DVD recorder to record video signals that come through the AV receiver. ​NOTE: Where you have both a VCR and DVD recorder connected to the AV receiver, you can dub non-copyprotected video tapes and DVDs between the two units via the AV receiver.
  1. Connect one of the video outputs of your DVD player to the DVD player video input on your AV Receiver. In addition, also connect the digital optical or digital coaxial audio connection to your AV receiver. In order to access digital surround sound, you must make use of the DVD player's digital audio connections.
  2. 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.
  3. Connect the TV monitor output of the AV receiver to one of the video inputs on your television. This allows you to view the video image from your VCR or DVD player on your television after it goes through the AV receiver. NOTE: Remember, your AV receiver needs to be on and either the VCR or DVD player selected, with your TV switched to the video input (not channel 3 or another channel) in order to view the video feed from your AV receiver.
  4. Connect the audio outputs of your television (if it has them) to the TV or Aux audio inputs on your AV receiver. This allows watching standard television programs through your broadcast, cable, or satellite connection and to be able to hear stereo or surround sound audio from programs that have it, through your home theater system.  
  1. If you have a Blu-ray or HD-DVD player, the connection setup will depend on whether your Home Theater Receiver has HDMI connections, and whether your receiver can access both the audio and video signals going through the HDMI connections. If the latter, then all you have to do is connect the HDMI output from the player to the receiver and from the receiver to your HDTV.
  2. If your receiver only offers HDMI pass-through, then you will have to make an additional Digital Audio (optical or coaxial), or 5.1 channel analog audio connection between the player and the receiver in order to access audio from the player.
  1. For tips on incorporating a Blu-ray Disc player into your home theater setup, check out the following additional references: Configuring Blu-ray Disc Player Video and Audio Outputs With Your Home Theater, Five Ways to Access Audio from a Blu-ray Disc Player and Connecting a 3D Blu-ray Disc Player to a Non-3D Compatible Home Theater Receiver.
  2. 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 (center, front left, front right, rear left, rear right on a five channel system).
  3. Connect the subwoofer line output of the AV receiver to your subwoofer.
  4. 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 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

  • 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.

For more, watch our Video Quick Tip: Proper Speaker Placement for a 5.1 Home Theater.

6.1 Channel Speaker Placement

  • The Front Center and Left/Right Main speakers and Subwoofer are the same as in a 5.1 Channel setup.
  • Surround speakers -- To the left and right side in line with or slightly behind the listening position - about 90-110 degrees from the center. These speakers can be elevated above the listener.
  • Rear Center Channel Speaker - Directly behind the listening position, in line with the Front Center speaker - May be elevated.

For more, watch our Video Quick Tip: Proper Speaker Placement for a 6.1 Home Theater.

7.1 Channel Speaker Placement

  • The Front Center and Left/Right Main speakers and Subwoofer are the same as a 5.1 or 6.1 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, watch our Video Quick Tip: Proper Speaker Placement for a 7.1 Home Theater.

NOTE: The above setup description is a basic illustration 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. For some additional speaker setup tips, check out our two Home Theater Setup Videos: Home Theater Setup Tips and How to Connect a Home Theater Receiver, Speakers, and Blu-ray Disc Player.

More Tips

  1. Make sure you read the owner's manual and illustrations for all your components that outline your connection options.
  2. 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 Radio Shack; it happens to all of us at some point during the setup procedure.
  3. 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, Your Listening Room.

  4. 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.
  5. If the task becomes overwhelming and nothing seems to be "right", 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.

What You Need

  • Home Theater Receiver
  • Television or Video Projector (and screen)
  • Blu-ray/DVD/CD Disc Player and/or DVD/CD Player
  • Network Media Player or Media Streamer (optional)
  • DVD Recorder or DVD Recorder/VCR combo or VCR (optional)
  • Loudspeakers (number depends on speaker layout)
  • Subwoofer
  • All Needed connection cables and speaker wire
  • Label printer (optional)
  • Wire Stripper (if needed)
  • A Sound Meter (optional - but advisable)