Home Theater Setup

Getting a home theater set up correctly can be a confusing task, with lots of new technical terminology to learn. This article has been written to give you a breakdown of the main components of a home theater system, so you can plan with confidence. It is helpful to plan your home theater setup in terms of three distinct systems, that can each be broken down into a range of devices. Broadly speaking, the three systems are input, processing, and output, but let’s take a look at these in a little more detail.

Input devices are basically anything that will provide an audio or visual source to be played through your home theater system. Commonly this would include a DVD or Blu-Ray combo player, a TV signal, and an audio source like a CD player and radio. Often these would be combined into a single unit that can play a range of media formats. Input could be from a range of other sources though, like a digital camera, USB, or even a home theater PC.

Processing would typically consist of a device or devices that take signal from the input devices, and amplify or process the signal. An example of this is a home theater receiver. Receivers can combine many functions for convenience, even having some input devices in one combined unit. Home theater receivers switch between a range of incoming signals if you have several devices attached, decode or convert signals to the correct output format, and send the signal to the output devices. Receivers may offer advanced features such as the ability to stream a separate audio signal to another location in the house, and a wireless connection allowing playback from any bluetooth or wireless device. An alternative to a single receiver is to use a surround sound decoder with a dedicated amplifier to boost the signal. This route might be better suited to true audio purists though.

Output devices are the fun part of your home theater system, so make good quality here your priority. While a simple home stereo setup can get away with good quality 2.1 speakers, surround sound speakers immerse you in audio, with a choice between 5.1 or even 7.1 surround speakers for those with the room to install them. Of course, wireless speakers are one solution to the mess of cables required. The other output device, and the most obvious, is a visual display. Flatscreen LCD or plasma TVs are the most common choices, offering an impressive experience for a reasonable price. Each has its advantages, but both offer great quality. For those with space to set up a dedicated home theater room, projectors offer the closest you can get to a movie, at home – but these come at a premium price and have some ongoing costs involved.

Setting it up

Before you really start planning, think about the use of the room you will use. If you are planning a serious home theater room, a 7.1 surround system, large screen and dedicated furniture might be on the cards. If your room doubles as a family lounge area, your system might by necessity be a little more modest. Of course modest doesn’t have to mean low quality, with many manufacturers offering all in one package solutions. Think about the location of power sockets too, as you will need to supply power to all speakers as well as your main system. The services of an electrician might be required in advance if your sockets aren’t positioned well.

This is a simple home theater design, with a 5.1 suround sound speaker setup, and DVD/cable TV fed through a receiver.

When putting a home theater system together, it helps to sketch out how your system will fit together, to get a good understanding of how it all works. Consider all of the features you want in your system and shop around carefully. The beauty of a modular system though is that you can add parts to allow playback of almost anything, at any point. Docks for popular media devices like iPhones or other mp3 players are a popular addition.


There are a range of cable types and technologies used to actually hook your system together. Home theater wiring should be good quality – too often, a great system is let down by cheap cables. HDMI is the new standard for connecting audio and visual signals to your TV, but a range of other cable types may also be found, including DVI, S-Video, Composite or even RCA for cheaper gear. You need to be careful about connecting speakers and other components, or sound quality could suffer. Speaker connections are color coded red and black on the receiver and speakers, and these must be connected like to like. If your cables aren’t color coded to match, look for a stripe on one cable and use this for the black connector throughout.


Once the components are laid out and connected together, your home theater seating is in the ideal spot, and you get to hit that power switch, there’s still more to do. Optimizing your system will require careful tweaking of speaker positions, to find the ‘sweet spot’ in the center of your speakers. Once you find the best spot, individual speakers can be adjusted until the sound levels are just right from every angle. It can be hard to get your speakers sounding just right, so don’t be afraid to have a professional (or knowledgeable friend) help you out.

After all this planning and effort, you can enjoy your new home theater system! Although it sounds complex, don’t be put off – coming up with a system that lets you play all your media collection with ease and great quality can be a very rewarding job – and one that will give you pleasure for years to come.

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