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Setting Up Your Home Theater System - Basics

by September 03, 2004
Image courtesy of Kef

Image courtesy of Kef

You got all your brand new Home Theater gear home and you're unpacking boxes and wires and about to embark on hooking everything up. Here are some basic tips:

Use the Manual. Everyone knows real men don't use manuals, but a lot of real men don't even realize they have incorrectly configured wiring and compromised performance. Use wiring diagrams and take the recommendations in your manuals seriously. The manufacturer can tell you how to obtain the best performance from their products.

Power. Get into the habit of powering down components before making connections. Sudden loads on live amplifiers connected to speakers are especially damaging. When connecting audio and video cables you should power down the components involved in the connection first.

Cables. Don't get suckered into luxury priced cables and wires that claim exotic materials will unlock performance. But don't buy the cheapest, flimsy cables either. [Editor: See our Connecting Your System section for more on cables] When hooking up your system it's important to use interconnects that have ends you can grip securely, some of the connections might be tight and often you'll need to pull them out or reconnect them from obstructed vantage points and in poor lighting. It's important your finger tips can grab the plugs on the end of your interconnects so you're not pulling on the cable.

Space. You're going to need room behind your equipment to put it all together. If everything is going in front of a wall give yourself some space to see behind the gear. Plan ahead of time how your components are to be stacked and then ensure the wires you have will reach before you begin. There is nothing worse than having to disconnect everything from your receiver to move it because one component's wiring can't reach.

Stacking. Avoid enclosed cabinets if possible, open shelves look modern and are becoming a popular way to display your equipment while giving you easy access and allowing your equipment to breathe. If you must stack components be sure not to obstruct any vents. Damage from overheating constitutes abuse and could void a warranty. Check components for heat from time to time after you've set everything up and begin watching your first movie. If components seem to run hot, consider putting in a fan to circulate the air. Common sense can go a long way in component placement; consider the weight of any component before putting it on top of another. A $30 DVD player probably shouldn't be used to support the weight of a 7-channel power amp.

Lighting. Since your Home Theater area might not have a lot of lighting, be sure to have a portable flashlight handy so you can read labeled connections easily. Reaching behind components and making connections you can only feel can lead to incorrect configuration and, at worst, can damage components.

Speaker Wire: Longer runs of wire require higher gauge wire. This is the basic minimum outline:

  • 16 gauge for less than 50 feet.
  • 14 gauge from 50 to 100 feet
  • 12 gauge for greater than 100 feet.

Cabling Theory: Remember, the basic theory behind wiring your system is simple. If it seems complicated, it's probably wrong. It may be confusing with all the buzzwords, names, standards and formats but it's not complicated once you've sorted them out. You're going to connect components together for a logical flow of signals. Left always connects to left, right always to right, positive always to positive and negative to negative. Inputs are always connected to an output.

The task you're about to embark upon might just make you the neighborhood Home Theater Expert , there's nothing like the experience of doing it yourself. Always be willing to share what you've learned.

Special Thanks to Home Theater Focus

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About the author:

Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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