Question: How Do I Hook Up My Home Theater?
Answer: The actual task of hooking up a home theater may take a little time, especially if you are doing a custom installation with lots of separate components, but follows the basic principle of input and output.
The following overview is intended to provide general guidelines on how to approach home theater connectivity. However, there may be additional variations based on the specific brand and model of the components you have to work with.
The Home Theater Connection Path
Think of source components, such as a Blu-ray or DVD player, as the beginning point, your home theater receiver as providing the central connection and control depot of your system, and your television and loudspeakers as your end point. You have to get the video signal from your source component to your television or video display, and the audio signal to your loudspeakers.
Start with Your Quick Setup Guide and/or User Manual
The first step in hooking everything up in your home theater system is to take stock of what you plan to include in your setup and then check the connection illustrations provided in each component's Quick Setup Guide and/or User Manual. Don't assume that you will not be able to understand the User Manual. However, it is true that some are easier to understand than others.
If you are going with a all-in-one home theater-in-a-box system, the illustrations in your guick setup guide or owner's manual are usually easy to read and understand. Almost all the cables you need are already provided and the connections are even color coded to guide you through the setup process.
Home Theater Set-up Using Separate Components
On the other hand, if you are assembling a collection of independent components, the task may seem a little more complicated, but actually follows the same general outline as a prepackaged system. For a basic setup that includes an TV, Home Theater Receiver, a Blu-ray or DVD player, and a VCR (or DVD recorder), here is a general example of how to connect several commonly used components together in a home theater system setup. Actual setup options will vary depending on the types and number of connections available on your components, home theater receiver, and TV.
Accessing TV Programs from Antenna, Cable/Satellite
Connect the RF cable (either push-on or screw type) from your satellite/cable box, or antenna, to the Ant/Cable input on 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.
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.
Connecting a VCR or DVD Recorder to a Home Theater Receiver
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). It is important to not that not all home theater receivers (especially newer ones) do not have both VCR1 and VCR2 inputs.
Connect the Home Theater Receiver's VCR or DVD recorder audio and video outputs to the audio and video inputs of your VCR. This will allow your VCR or DVD recorder to record video signals that come through the AV receiver or to play back tapes or DVDs for viewing on your television.
In the case where you have both a VCR and DVD recorder connected to the Home Theater Receiver, you can dub non-copyprotected video tapes and DVDs between the two units via the Home Theater Receiver. If you your does not have provisions for connecting both a VCR and DVD recorder, then you will have to connect the VCR and DVD recorder together directly for cross-dubbing purposes.
Connecting a DVD or Blu-ray Disc Player to a Home Theater Receiver
Connect one of the video outputs of your Blu-ray Disc or DVD player to the DVD video input on your Home Theater Receiver. NOTE: It is preferable to use Component or HDMI connections if your DVD player and AV receiver has either of these options available. If you have a Blu-ray or HD-DVD player, HDMI is definitely preferable.
For accessing audio from a DVD player, 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 connection options (digital optical, digital coaxial).
However, if your Home Theater Receiver has the ability to extract audio via HDMI, and your DVD player has this connection option, this is preferable to either digital optical or digital coaxial as it can eliminate the need to connect that extra cable. Also, in the case of a Blu-ray or HD-DVD player, the HDMI connection option is definitely preferable. For a look at the different ways to make audio connections from a Blu-ray Disc player to a home theater receiver, refer to my illustrated article: Five Ways to Access Audio from A Blu-ray Disc Player.
Connecting a Network Media Player or Media Streamer to a Home Theater Receiver or TV
Another component you may have in your "collection" is a Network Media Player or Media Streamer (devices such as a Roku Box, Apple TV, WD TV). These devices enable you to access streaming audio and video content from the internet. On the input side, your unit may offer Ethernet and/or Wifi.
On the output side, depending on the specific brand/model number, the device may include only an HDMI output, or provide additional video and audio output options. Just as with a Blu-ray Disc player, HDMI is the preferred connection from a Network Media Player/Media Streamer to your TV or home theater receiver, the check the user guide for additional options if you need them.
Also, some media streamers, such as the Google Chromecast and Roku Streaming Stick, connect directly to a TV, Home Theater Receiver, Video Projector, or Blu-ray Disc player via a compatible HDMI port only.
Connecting a CD Player to a Home Theater Receiver
For connecting a CD-only player or changer to your Home Theater Receiver, you can use either the CD player's analog stereo or digital audio outputs (coaxial/optical) to the AV Receiver. If you have a CD-Recorder, connect it to your Home Theater through the Audio Tape Record/Playback input/output loop connections, as it functions much the same as a standard audio cassette deck.
Connecting a Home Theater Receiver to your TV
Connect the TV monitor output (HDMI for HDTVs, component video, S-video, or composite video for standard definition or analog TVs) of the Home Theater 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 Home Theater Receiver.
NOTE: Your Home Theater Receiver needs to be on and either the VCR or DVD player selected, with your TV switched to the appropriate video input (HDMI, Component, Video - not channel 3 or another channel) in order to view the video feed from a Home Theater Receiver.
Getting Audio from a TV to a Home Theater Receiver.
Connect either the digital or analog audio outputs of your TV (if it has them) to the TV or Aux audio inputs on your AV receiver. This allows watching standard television programs going directly to your TV via antenna, cable, or satellite, and to be able to hear stereo or surround sound audio from programs that have it, through your home theater system.
Also, another connection option available on many HDTVs and Home Theater Receivers made after 2010 involves a feature called Audio Return Channel, which allows an HDMI (ver 1.4)connection that already supplies the video signal from the Home Theater Receiver to the TV to also send an audio signal back from the TV to the Home Theater Receiver.
Connecting Loudspeakers and Subwoofer to a Home Theater Receiver
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). For more details on connecting and placing your speakers, check out my reference article: How Do I Position My Loudspeakers and Subwoofer?, as well as a Home Theater Setup instructional video.
Connect the subwoofer line output of the AV receiver to your subwoofer. For more on connecting subwoofers, refer to my article: Passive vs Powered Subwoofers.
If you are considering either assembling a home theater that includes the 3D viewing option, or adding 3D to your current setup, there are some additional equipment and connection issues to be aware of. For more details on what you need to know on how to get the best 3D home theater viewing experience, refer to my Complete Guide to Watching 3D at Home.
As stated at the beginning of this article, above home theater setup descriptions are intended to provide a general outline as to 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 and TV you have. There are many possible connection options that can be used.
To get you started, check out a brief video on how to set-up a basic 5.1 channel home theater system and a Blu-ray disc player.
To further aid in your home theater setup tasks, make use of all of the available resources provided with your components, such as Quick Start Guides and User Manual.
1. Make sure you read the owner's manual and illustrations for all your components that outline your connection options. Also refer to my Home Theater Photo Connection Gallery for additional illustrations and explanations. For some additional component wiring diagrams, check out a useful AV Wiring Guide for About.com TV/Video.
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.
4. 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. Even at $50 - 100 an hour, 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.
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