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. In addition to providing power to the speakers, they handle all video source switching, audio decoding, video processing, and connectivity features. The exact steps for how to set up an AV receiver differ slightly depending on brand and model, but the overall process is basically the same.

This information applies to home theater receivers from a variety of manufacturers including Anthem, Denon, Harman Kardon, Marantz, NAD, Onkyo/Integra, Pioneer, Sony, and Yamaha.

Unpack the Home Theater Receiver

When unpacking a home theater receiver, take note of what it comes with. This may include:

  • A remote control (and batteries)
  • A user guide
  • An AC power cord (it may be attached to the rear of the receiver)
  • FM and/or AM radio antennas
  • Wi-Fi/Bluetooth antennas (they may be attached to the receiver)
  • A microphone to aid in speaker setup
Yamaha RX-V681 Home Theater Receiver with Remote and Speaker Setup Mic
Yamaha

Read the user manual before going further. Missing a crucial step can cause problems later.

Find a Place for the Home Theater Receiver

Before picking a spot for your receiver, 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 that it maintains an acceptable internal running temperature.
  • Even if the receiver has a fan, allow at least two-to-three inches on each side (check any guidelines in the user manual) and at least six inches beyond the rear to leave room for 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 four-to-six 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.

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

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 that the connection route is easily identified. The most efficient way to create labels is with a label printer such as the Dymo Rhino 4200, Epson LW-400, and Epson LW-600P.

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. 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.

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 two or three extra feet of length for each wire/cable.

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 ports
Onkyo

Connect Your Speakers

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

In addition to connecting each speaker to the correct speaker channel, make sure the connection polarity is correct: red is positive (+) and 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.

Diagram for how to hook up Yamaha receivers to speakers
Yamaha

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

Connect the Subwoofer

Instead of connecting to terminals used for the rest of the speakers, the subwoofer connects to an RCA-type connection (usually labeled subwoofer, subwoofer preamp, or L/LFE). This type of connection is used because most subwoofers have a built-in amplifier, so the receiver doesn't need to supply power to the subwoofer. You can use any durable RCA audio cable to make this connection.

Jamo J12 Subwoofer Line Inputs
Jamo

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

Connect the Source Components

Source components can include Ultra HD Blu-ray/Blu-ray players, cable/satellite boxes, game consoles, and media streamers. Many home theater receivers made since 2013 have eliminated analog video connections (composite and component). If you have an old VCR or DVD player that doesn't have an HDMI output, 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 connect the audio using digital optical or digital coaxial connections.

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

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

Connect all source components to the receiver, as the receiver has an on-screen menu system that aids in setup and feature access.

Turn It On and 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 the batteries into the remote control and turn off the receiver, and then turn it back on to make sure it works. 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 that you can proceed through the onscreen menu's setup functions. The steps may vary, but you will most likely be asked to select a language, set up an internet connection, and download any firmware updates.

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

Set the Speaker Levels

Most home theater receivers provide two options for setting speaker levels. This first is to utilize the built-in test tone generator to manually balance the speaker level of each channel. A sound meter will provide numerical decibel readings that you can write down for reference.

Another option is the use the automatic setup function. Your receiver will come with a microphone if this feature is supported. When activated, the receiver automatically sends out test tones from each channel that are picked up by the microphone and sent back to the receiver. Using that information, the receiver calculates the optimum speaker levels and crossover point between the speakers and the subwoofer.

When using an automatic system, you need a room with complete silence for best results, so close any doors and windows. Once the setup procedure is completed, check the results (accessible via the onscreen menu), and confirm that the speaker distance and speaker channels are correct. A common issue is that the center channel may be too soft. Sometimes raising the center channel level 2 or 3dB and lowering the subwoofer by the same amount might be necessary.

Automatic speaker setup/room correction systems go by different names depending on the brand/model. For example, it's called AccuEQ if you have an Onkyo receiver setup.

Test Your Source Components

Turn on your sources. <ake 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.

Some receivers have advanced features that have their own setup procedures. Consult the user manual or visit the manufacturer's website for further instructions on completing the process.

If you are having trouble after setting up your home theater receiver, there are some home theater troubleshooting steps you can try to solve the problem.