How to Install and Set Up a Home Theater Receiver

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

What to Know

  • Unpack the receiver > find the right location in your home > label the cables and wires.
  • Next, connect antennas that came with the receiver > connect speakers > connect subwoofer > connect to TV.
  • You can also connect the receiver to components like game consoles and media streamers.

This article explains how to install and set up a home theater receiver, which is the central hub of any home theater system. Additional information covers how to connect source components like a gaming console and how to set speaker levels. Instructions apply to home theater receivers from a variety of manufacturers, including Anthem, Denon, Harman Kardon, Marantz, NAD, Onkyo/Integra, Pioneer, Sony, and Yamaha.

How to Install a Home Theater Receiver

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

  1. Unpack the home theater receiver and take note of what it comes with. This can 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

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

  2. Find a spot for your receiver. Consider the following points:

    • Home theater receivers generate heat, especially if they house several amplifiers that draw a lot of power. Place the receiver where air can circulate freely so that it maintains an acceptable operating temperature.
    • Even if the receiver has a fan, allow two or three inches of space on the sides of the device (check any guidelines in the user manual) and at least six inches behind 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 you can't access the back of the receiver after it is put into place, attach the cables and speaker wire 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.

  3. Label cables and wires.

    This helps you keep track of what is connected to each speaker terminal, input, or output on the receiver. Label both ends of the speaker wire and cables so that the connection route is easily identified. The most efficient way to create labels is with a label printer.

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

    If you're able to access the connection panel of the receiver from the rear, one extra foot should be fine. If you only 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 additional feet of length for each wire and cable.

How to Set Up a Home Theater Receiver

  1. Connect any antennas that came with the receiver (AM/FM, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi).

    If the home theater receiver doesn't have built-in Wi-Fi, 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
  2. Connect your speakers by matching the speaker terminals on the receiver to the speakers. Connect the center speaker to the center channel speaker terminals, the left-front to the main left, the 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.

    Speaker Connections and Setup Diagram
    Speaker Connections and Setup Diagram.

    Images via Yamaha and Harman Kardon


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

  3. 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.

  4. Connect 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
  5. 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 the 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 on-screen 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.

How to Connect Source Components to a Home Theater Receiver

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.

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

  • 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, or HDR) and receiver, you may have to connect the video signal directly to the TV and the audio signal to the 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.
  • 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.
Integra DRX-3.2 Home Theater Receiver Source Inputs.
Onkyo / Integra

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

How to Set the Speaker Levels

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

Another option is the use the automatic setup function. Receivers come with a microphone if this feature is supported. When activated, the receiver automatically sends 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 the doors and windows. After the setup procedure is completed, check the results (accessible via the on-screen 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 2dB 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 and model. For example, it's called AccuEQ if you have an Onkyo receiver setup.

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