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Hooking it All Up: Connecting a Home Theater Receiver

Now that you've familiarized yourself with common connections, let's plug it all together.

This part of the receiver How-To is going to guide you through hooking a 5.1 surround sound system (5 speakers and a subwoofer) with a high-definition TV, a high-definition cable or satellite box, a DVD player, and a 5.1 receiver.

Your TV & Components

Where you put your TV is dependent on how large it is, how large your room is, and where you will be sitting. If its 50 inches, don't sit more than 10-15 feet away, but no less, either. A 60" set is perfect for 12-20 feet. If you have a 32 inch set, try to sit no farther than 8-12 feet away. Your receiver, DVD player, cable box, and other components should obviously be close together, but don't place them physically on top of each other. They all get hot, especially your receiver. If you have no other choice, slide a thin piece of plywood inbetween the components to help dispense the heat.

Layout of Speakers

The first step is to layout your setup. Different rooms call for different locations for your speakers and subwoofer. If your room is a typical rectangle, go ahead and place your two front left and right speakers somewhere flush with the television on that side of the room. Your left speaker goes toward the left corner, right speaker toward the right corner. Don't bother with speaker wire yet (unless your speakers come with speaker wire attached already; in that case, just let them dangle for now). Note that which speaker is left or right is solely dependent on how you connect them to your receiver. Your speakers aren't actually designated "left" or "right".

Depending on how you acquired your speakers, your front speakers could be larger than your rear speakers. That's how you know they're for the front. Otherwise, all your speakers are the same shape and size, and you can use each for any purpose.

One exception: the center channel. Usually, a center channel is much shorter and wider than your other speakers. It should only be used for the center channel. Sometimes, all 5 of your speakers could be the same, usually on a very inexpensive setup. You can use any of these speakers for any purpose.

Your center channel should always go either directly on top or under your television set. However you have to do this, get it done! It's not called the center channel for nothing, you know. Any movie will pump out almost 90% of the voices you hear and a majority of the rest of the sounds through the center channel. It is a vitally important component to your surround sound setup.

Your subwoofer should always be on the floor. If it is impossible to place it on the floor, get it as close to the floor as possible. Placing it behind objections or in closets will diminish its effects. In a perfect setup, the subwoofer would be on the floor close to the TV (perhaps off to the left or right) in your line of sight. Nothing should block the side of the subwoofer that air will come out of (usually covered by a grill protecting the subwoofer speaker itself).

When it comes to finding a good spot for your speakers, you might want to mount them. You can usually buy compatible speaker mounts online or in stores. You can also use existing shelving, buy some shelving, or place them on tables or other objects. No matter how you do it, try to keep the speakers as close to ear level as possible. A speaker mounted at the ceiling of your room isn't going to give you the optimal aural experience.

Note>> The last thing to keep in mind about layout is speaker wire. You'll probably need at least 100ft of speaker wire, but you'll often find yourself using much more if you try running wire through your ceiling, under carpeting, up through the basement, or around objects to conceal it. Take measurements and buy at least 10% more wire than you think you need. You'll probably use it!


You need to know the different kind of speaker wire available to you before setting up your home theatre. If you bought an HTIB (home theater in a box), it probably came with 100ft of horribly cheap speaker wire. You don't want that! Do yourself a favor: buy some high-quality, 14-guage speaker wire. Anything higher than 14-guage is just to thin and will be susceptible to interence, quality loss, and poor quality over longer distances. Fourteen guage is a good thickness and suitable for most home theatres. Make sure its also not too thick - some speaker wire simply will not fit in to the speaker wire jacks on some receivers.

Note>> Some receivers use proprietary speaker inputs. Sony is one example. Many Sony receivers have special connectors for speaker wire and will not accept a standard speaker wire. You'll need to use either the Sony-provided speaker wire, take the ends off of Sony speaker wire and put it on your own, or buy some of these special connectors from Sony directly to place on your speaker wire. My recommendation? Avoid any receivers with non-standard speaker wire posts. Look for bind posts or other jacks that allow you to slide in and clamp down on a typical speaker wire.

Once you've got your speaker wire sorted out, you'll have to do some cutting and stripping if you opted to purchase your own. This is way easier than it sounds, so don't worry!

Measure out each length one at a time, cutting the speaker wire with either really great scissors or a sharp blade. Now you need to strip the ends of the wire. Use either a stripping tool or plain old scissors. You can place the scissors on the cable and gently apply some pressure as you twist the scissors around the cable, carefully slicing into the plastic coating. Eventually, it'll get weak enough that you can just slide it off by tugging on it with your fingers. You need at least 1/4" of exposed wire.

Now you can connect your speakers. Note on your speaker wire the difference between the two ends. You'll need to use one as your positive and one as your negative. Sometimes the coating is a different color between the two or there is text on one and not on the other. Keep track of this - whichever side you use for positive on your speaker, use it for positive on your receiver. Crossing the two can cause damage, either immediately or sometime in the future. It might work this way but you don't want it to!

Connecting the speakers is easy enough. Front left to front left on your receiver, center speaker to center on your receiver, etc... Your rear speakers may be referred to as "Surround" or "Rear Surround" instead of just "Rear", but keep in mind, if you have a 7.1 or 8.1 channel receiver, "Surround" may indicate side surround speakers, not rear speakers.


Your subwoofer is going to be a little more complicated. There are a few different ways to do it and many variations of inputs/ouputs on the back side of subwoofers. I'm going to go with the most standard and efficient method first.

You will need a subwoofer cable for connecting your sub. If you don't have one or don't want to buy one, you can substitute it for a standard red or white RCA cable (or a pair, since they are usually connected; just let the other cable dangle). It will work, but its really not the best way to do it. You'll also need whats called a Y adapter. On the back of your sub, there should be a left/right input (red and white). You plug the Y adapter in to these connections and then your subwoofer cable (or RCA cable) in the other end of the Y (note: if you don't have a Y adapter, just choose the left or right input to plug into). Now, take the other end of your cable and plug it into your receiver's subwoofer preout. Hopefully you have a powered sub, meaning it gets plugged into an AC power outlet. All you need to do now is plug that in and your subwoofer is good to.

If you don't have RCA jacks on your subwoofer, or it only has speaker wire jacks (and its most likely not powered), you'll need to connect it the old fashioned way. Your front left and right speakers will plug into your subwoofer's ouput jacks instead of your receiver. You'll then run speaker wire from the left and right inputs on the subwoofer to your left and right speaker outputs on your receiver. This way, the subwoofer is powered by the receiver and will not work as well as a powered sub. You also take some power away from your front speakers with this method. A good idea is to buy a new, powered subwoofer with line in RCA jacks.

Connecting the Dots

You've got the hard stuff out of the way. Now finish it up by connecting your TV, DVD, and cable/satellite box. Always try using the best options first. If your DVD has HDMI and so does your receiver, use it. If your DVD only has composite, s-video, and component, use component video cable. When it comes to audio, you absolutely need to use digital coaxial (jacks are usually orange) or fiber optic (usually the jack is recessed into the unit and has a door on it; when the door is open, a red light is visible). If you do not use either of these two, you won't get true surround sound! When all else fails, resort to composite (red and white) audio connectors.

Note>> Look closely at the connections on your receiver. Everything is labeled, like the first set of red, green, and blue component video inputs might be labeled "Comp 1". If you're using composite audio cables for your sound, you'll need to plug them into the jacks that coordinate with "Comp 1". This might not be clear by looking at the receiver, so refer to your receiver's manual to figure out which video inputs use which audio inputs. Most often, you'll be able to configure them from the receiver's internal menu using the remote control. On some receivers, all the component video inputs, for example, are linked to a single composite audio input (usually "DVD"), so if you connect more than one of the component inputs, you will be competing for sound when more than one device is active. This is why you'd want to configure the component inputs to use different audio inputs. Your manual is the only way to figure out how to go about it. Composite video will usually match up to composite audio inputs with naming conventions like Video 1 -> Video 1, Video 2 -> Video 2, etc., but cables like component and DVI may not. You should also configure digital audio inputs to match up with the video inputs you're planning on using. For example, if you're using a digital coaxial input (possibly "Digital 1"), and you use component video, you'll want to match "Digital 1" with "Comp 1". Again, refer to your users manual for how to do this.

Digital coaxial and fiber optic cables can be plugged in to any available digial coax or fiber optic ports on your receiver. They are configured digitally, unlike component, composite, and s-video. That means that you'll have to use the receiver's remote to configure what video input your digital coax or fiber optic ports should be paired with. For instance, if you connect component video and fiber optic cable from your DVD player to your receiver, your component cable would be in component 1 and fiber optic in fiber optic 1. Now you need to tell the receiver that digital audio (1) (or fiber optic 1, however your receiver displays it) is using component input 1 (sometimes referred to as Video 4, Video 5, or component 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5).

This process may seem complex but by using your receiver's manual and ensuring the correct setup of the receiver you'll be up and running in no time. Now if you had a DVD player with full support for HDMI and a receiver with full support for HDMI, you could use just one HDMI cable and be done!

TV, Cable/Satellite Box, and the Rest

You would need to determine the best available connections for the rest of your components, like your TV, maybe a CD player, cable or satellite box, DVD or high definition DVD player, such as HD DVD or BluRay. Save the best connections for DVD or high-definition DVD components (like HDMI, DVI, digital coaxial, and fiber optic). Your TV will plug into your cable box using component, DVI, or HDMI. It isn't necessary to plug anything but an audio cable into your receiver from your cable box (this way you can listen to TV in surround sound). If you'd like, you can run a standard composite cable (red & white) from the cable box to your TV for basic TV speaker functionality. I'd make sure to turn the TV volume all the way down when using your surround sound.

Note>> I cannot stress enough the importance of hooking up your DVD player correctly. If your receiver and DVD player both support either fiber optic or digital coaxial, you must use one of them to get 5.1 surround sound. If you do not, you will get either stereo sound, stereo surround (front speakers pumped through rear speakers as well), or simulated surround sound (using software on the receiver to disguise it as surround, even though its not). If you do not use a digital audio connection, you will not be able to fully appreciate your surround sound!

Didn't understand some of the terms used above?
Check our our Home Theater Glossary to lookup some of the words you haven't seen before or don't fully understand. Its a great way to familiarize yourself with home theater connections and will help you make better buying and configuring decisions.
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