When it comes to getting a basic home theater setup that will entertain your family and keep everyone happy, people need three basic ingredients:
- A DVD player
- A TV set
- Speakers and an audio/video (A/V) receiver
Putting those items together properly generally requires a little guidance. After all, if a proper home theater setup was really that simple, anybody could do it without guidance. But getting something working isn’t as difficult as you might fear or think, either.
Basic Home Theater Setup
1. Choose your video sources.
This will usually include a DVD player as well as one or more sources for TV signals, which come in three primary forms:
- Over the air (OTA): You use an antenna to pick up TV signals broadcast from local stations, which may be either analog standard television (SDTV) or digital high-definition television (HDTV). If you put up an antenna on your roof, you can connect one or more TV sets to the same antenna; though many people connect one or two individual small antennas inside the house to each TV (you need a different one for HDTV than for SDTV).
- Cable TV: You use a set-top box for analog or digital TV signals, one for each TV set on which you want to watch cable TV.
- Satellite TV: You’ve got a dish and one satellite receiver for each TV set on which you want to watch satellite TV.
Properly set up, any single TV can handle an antenna, a cable box and a satellite receiver (or any combination of those options).
2. Choose your cables and connectors.
In order of preference and possibility, this means that you should use the following interfaces starting from the top and working your way down. You’ll use the cables that go with each of the following interfaces to interlink two pieces of equipment, which may mean your DVD player to your A/V receiver, and then your A/V receiver to your TV, or perhaps your DVD player straight to your TV (do likewise for set-top boxes, VHS recorders, and other video sources):
- HDMI: The high-definition multimedia interface is an all-digital, compact connection that lets you use a single cable to run high-definition digital video and multi-channel surround sound from one device to another with minimum muss and fuss. This is the only real A/V connection that moves sound and picture together. All the other elements in this list, if used, also require an audio hookup as well (covered in the next item in this checklist).
- Component video: This is a three strand cable with color coded blue, red, and green connectors that routes the primary colors for video over their own independent wires. From a video-only standpoint, it’s the best way to move video from one device to another if you don’t have HDMI.
- S-Video: This is a multi-strand cable with four active pins on the sending and receiving end. It’s not quite as good as component video, but is entirely adequate for SDTV and works reasonably well for HDTV. If you have neither HDMI nor component video, use an S-Video cable to interlink video devices.
- Composite video: This is a single strand cable that runs all the video signals between point A and point B. The connector is usually colored yellow, as are the inner edges of the matching RCA jacks. Composite video is convenient, but delivers the worst video quality. It is suitable for SDTV but not recommended for HDTV.
3. Pick your speakers.
If you’ve got an A/V receiver, you also have speakers to go with it. That usually means stereo (2 speakers), 5.1 multi-channel surround sound (right, center, and left front speakers, plus two rear channel surround sound speakers, and a special, self-powered sub-woofer for low-frequency sounds, also known as low-frequency effects, or LFE). It can also mean 7.1 multi-channel surround sound, which adds right surround and left surround to the 5.1 set up. That directs ambient sounds into your left and right ears, in addition to putting ambient sounds behind you in the rear surround channels. If you don’t have any speaker setup, think about hooking up some kind of simple speaker rig instead of messing with six (5.1) or eight (7.1) individual speakers. Bose makes a nice three-speaker rig called the Companion 5 multimedia speaker system, and Philips makes a wonderful DVD player combined with a whole set of speakers called the HTS 8100 SoundBar that sits right in front of your television set. Both of those deliver truly remarkable multi-channel surround sound without requiring to the wiring of rear surround channels for 5.1, or right and left surround channels for 7.1 sound schemes.
With the right combination of hardware and determination, you can bring all the pieces of a home theater setup together and create a great viewing or listening experience for the whole family. Done right, you’ll be amazed at how good your movies and music will sound, and begin to understand why the term “home theater” isn’t the pure hype you may have thought it was. Enjoy!