How to Install and Set up a Home Theater Receiver

The right way to get your home theater receiver up and running

Home theater receivers are the central hub of a home theater system, providing the connectivity, audio decoding and processing, power for speakers, video source switching, and, in many cases, video processing features.

Depending on brand and model, features and connections on a specific home theater receiver may vary, but there are common basic steps to get it installed and running.

This information applies to home theater receivers from a variety of manufacturers including, but not limited to, Anthem, Denon, Harman Kardon, Marantz, NAD, Onkyo/Integra, Pioneer, Sony, and Yamaha.

One: Unpack the Home Theater Receiver

When unpacking a home theater receiver, take note of what it comes with.

  • Remote control (and batteries), FM and/or AM radio antennas.
  • Quick-start and/or user guide.
  • AC power cord that may be attached to the rear of the receiver, or a separate cord that plugs into a receptacle on the back of the receiver.

Don't plug a home theater receiver into AC power until the entire connection process is completed.

  • If the receiver has Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth, it may have fold-up/down antennas attached, or the antennas may be packed separately, which can be screwed on to provided terminal(s).
  • A microphone is often provided to aid in speaker setup for most mid-range and high-end home theater receivers. More on this later.

Read the Quick Start Guide and/or User Manual before going further. Missing a step because of wrong assumptions can cause problems later.

Yamaha RX-V681 Home Theater Receiver with Remote and Speaker Setup Mic
Images provided by Yamaha Electronics Corporation

Two: Find a Place for the Home Theater Receiver

Find a place for the receiver. Before sliding it into the spot you want, take the following into consideration.

  • Home theater receivers generate heat, especially if they house a lot of amplifiers that pump out a lot of power. The receiver needs to be placed where air can circulate freely so it maintains an acceptable internal running temperature.
  • Even if the receiver has a fan, still allow at least 3 to 4 inches on each side (check any guidelines in the user manual) and at least 6 inches beyond the rear. This not only allows air to circulate around the entire unit but the 6 inches behind the rear leaves room for needed connection cables.
  • If the receiver has a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth antenna, make sure there is room to rotate or extend it vertically. This may require 4 to 6 inches of space above the rear of the unit.
  • If the rear of the receiver can't be accessed after it's slid into place, then the cables and speaker wire need to be attached before the receiver is placed in its permanent position.
Klipsch Speakers with Home Theater Receiver, TV, Blu-ray Disc Player Setup
Image provided by Klipsch

Three: Label Cables and Wires

Make labels that can be taped or glued to your cables and speaker wire. This helps to keep track of what is connected to each speaker terminal, input, or output on the receiver. Both ends of the speaker wire and cables should be labeled so the connection route is easily identified.

The most efficient way to create labels is with a label printer which can be found at hobby and office supply stores, or online. Examples of label printers include the Dymo Rhino 4200, Epson LW-400, and Epson LW-600P.

DYMO Rhino 4200 Label Printer
DYMO Rhino 4200 Label Printer. Image provided by Amazon.com

Before labeling cables, make sure they are the optimum length. Although it's desirable to have the shortest length from the speakers and components to the home theater receiver, you may have to move the receiver to access the rear panel periodically to add, disconnect, or re-connect a wire or cable.

  • If you're able to access the connection panel of the receiver from the rear, then one extra foot should be fine.
  • If you just need to angle the receiver to perform these tasks, 18-inches of extra length should work.
  • If you need to pull the receiver forward to access the rear connection panel, consider 2 or 3 extra feet of length for each wire/cable.

You don't want the cables, or connection terminals, on your receiver to get damaged because everything is too tight when you have to move it.

Once wires and cables are labeled connect them according to your preference. The following sections outline one approach.

Four: Connect Antennas and Ethernet

Connect any antennas that came with the receiver (AM/FM/Bluetooth/Wi-Fi). If the home theater receiver doesn't have built-in WiFi, or you don't want to use it, you may have the option of connecting an ethernet cable directly to the receiver's Ethernet/LAN port.

Home Theater Receiver Ethernet/Antennas - WiFi, Bluetooth, AM/FM
Home Theater Receiver Ethernet/Antennas - WiFi, Bluetooth, AM/FM. Images provided by Onkyo

Five: Connect Speakers

Match the speaker terminals on the receiver to your speaker placement. Connect the center speaker to center channel speaker terminals, left front to main left, right front to the main right, surround left to surround left, surround right to surround right, and so on.

If you have more channels or are using a different speaker setup (such as for Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro 3D Audio, or a powered 2nd Zone), refer to illustrations in the user manual to find out what terminals to use.

In addition to connecting each speaker to the correct speaker channel, make sure the connection polarity (+ -) is correct: Red is Positive (+), Black is Negative (-). If the polarity is reversed, the speakers will be out-of-phase, resulting in an inaccurate soundstage and poor low-end frequency reproduction.

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

Six: Connect the Subwoofer

Another type of speaker you need to connect to a home theater receiver is the subwoofer. Instead of connecting to terminals used for the rest of the speakers, the subwoofer connects to an RCA-type connection labeled: Subwoofer, Subwoofer Preamp, or LFE (Low-Frequency Effects) output.

The reason this type of connection is used is subwoofers have a built-in amplifier, so the receiver doesn't need to supply power to the subwoofer, but merely the audio signal. You can use any durable RCA-style audio cable to make this connection.

Jamo J12 Subwoofer Line Inputs
Jamo

Seven: Connect the Home Theater Receiver to a TV

Home theater receivers are now equipped with HDMI connections. If you have an HD or 4K Ultra HD TV, connect the HDMI output of the receiver to one of the HDMI inputs on the TV (preferably the one labeled HDMI-ARC if available).

Home Theater Receiver HDMI Connections Example
Onkyo USA

Eight: Connect the Source Components

Connect source components, such as an Ultra HD Blu-ray/Blu-ray/DVD player, Cable/Satellite Box, Game Console, Media Streamer, and/or old VCR if you still have one.

For an old VCR or DVD player that may not have an HDMI output, many home theater receivers made since 2013 have decreased the number of analog video connections (composite, component), or have eliminated them. Make sure the receiver you purchase has the connections you need.

Home theater receivers generally provide analog and digital audio connection options. If you have a CD player, connect it to the receiver using the analog stereo connection option. If you have a DVD player that doesn't have HDMI outputs, connect the video signal to the receiver using component video cables, and the audio using digital optical or digital coaxial connections.

Depending on the specific TV (3D, 4K, HDR) and receiver, you may have to connect the video signal to the TV directly and the audio signal to your home theater receiver, such as when using a 3D TV and 3D Blu-ray disc player with a non-3D compatible receiver.

Regardless of the capabilities of your TV and home theater receiver, you may opt to not pass video signals through the receiver.

If you don't connect video from source components to the receiver, still connect the HDMI or other video output of the receiver to the TV, as the receiver has an on-screen menu system that aids in setup and feature access.

Consult your user guide(s) or check out our close-up look at home theater receiver connections, for more details on the options for connecting AV components to a home theater receiver.

Integra DRX-3.2 Home Theater Receiver Source Inputs.
Onkyo / Integra

Nine: Plug It in, Turn It on, Make Sure the Remote Control Works

Once initial connections are completed, slide the receiver into position and plug it into AC power.

Turn on the receiver using the front panel power button and see if the status display lights up. If it does, you can proceed with the rest of the setup.

Place batteries into the remote control. Using the remote control, turn the receiver off, and then back on to make sure the remote is working.

Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver - Remote Control

As mentioned previously, most receivers have a user interface that appears on your TV screen. With the TV turned on, set it to the input that the receiver is connected to, so you can proceed through the onscreen menu's Quick Setup functions.

The quick setup steps may vary in order, but most likely, you will be asked to:

  • Select the menu language (English, Spanish, French for North American Receivers),
  • Perform the network/internet setup via ethernet or Wi-Fi (if the receiver provides these options).
  • Check for, and download any firmware updates.
  • You may also be prompted to check input source confirmation and labeling, and Automatic Speaker Setup (if this option is provided — more in the next section).

Some manufacturers provide access to an iOS/Android app that allows you to perform basic setup and other control functions from your smartphone.

Ten: Set Speaker Levels

Onkyo TX-NR555 Home Theater Receiver - Speaker Setup Menu
Onkyo TX-NR555 Home Theater Receiver - Speaker Setup Menu. Lifewire / Robert Silva

Most home theater receivers provide two options for setting speaker levels.

Option 1: Utilize the built-in test tone generator in the receiver and use your ear or a sound meter to balance the speaker level of each channel, and the subwoofer, so that they balance with each over. A sound meter will provide numerical decibel readings that you can write down for reference.

Option 2: If provided, use the Automatic Speaker/Room Correction/Setup system. These are built-in programs that use a provided microphone that plugs into the front of the receiver. The microphone is placed in the primary seating position. When activated (you are usually prompted via the onscreen menu), the receiver automatically sends out test tones from each channel that are picked up by the microphone and sent back to the receiver.

At the conclusion of this process, the receiver determines how many speakers there are, the distance of each speaker from the listening position, and the size of each speaker (small or large). Using that information, the receiver calculates the "optimum" speaker level relationship between the speakers (and subwoofer), and the best crossover point between the speakers and the subwoofer.

There are some important things to keep in mind about using an automatic speaker setup/room correction system.

  • You need a room with complete silence for the best results. Close doors and windows, and make sure everything else is quiet around the house. If you can hear it, so can the microphone. This could result in inaccurate adjustments. The system may prompt you that there is background noise detected and the receiver can't move forward with the process.
  • As quick and easy as automatic systems are, the results may not be totally accurate. Once the setup procedure is completed, check the results (accessible via the onscreen menu), and confirm that speaker distance and speaker channels are correct. Also, use the test tone manually to confirm that each channel level is balanced with the rest of the speakers. A common issue is the center channel may be too soft and the subwoofer may be too loud. Most receivers allow you to make changes to the results manually. Sometimes raising the center channel level 2 or 3dB and lowering the subwoofer by the same amount might be in order.
  • There are some variations within each brand of automatic speaker setup programs. Versions included on high-end receivers sometimes take in more variables than versions included on a mid-range or budget-priced home theater receiver. Consult the user manual for details.

Depending on the brand/model of your receiver, automatic speaker setup/room correction systems go by different names, such as Anthem Room Correction (Anthem AV), Audyssey (Denon/Marantz), AccuEQ (Onkyo), Dirac Live (NAD), MCACC (Pioneer), DCAC (Sony), and YPAO (Yamaha).

Eleven: You're Set to Go!

Turn on your sources, and make sure that the video is displayed on your TV, the audio is coming through your receiver, and that you are able to receive radio through the tuner.

The Encore

As you get comfortable using operating the basic features, there are advanced features on many home theater receivers of you may be able to take advantage of. Additional features have their own setup procedures, which are illustrated in the user manual, or other documentation packaged with the receiver or accessible via online download from the manufacturer's official product page.

For a rundown on basic and advanced features that may be available on a home theater receiver, refer to our article: Before You Buy A Home Theater Receiver.

If you are having trouble after setting it your home theater receiver, take a look at some basic troubleshooting tasks that may solve the problem. If not, you may need to enlist the aid of a professional.