I Can’t HEAR You! Hooking Up Audio/Video Part 3

Wiring your Home Theater System:

Now that the TV is hooked up, we’ll hook up  your stereo or home theater system. Turn the power off and start with the speakers. For movie theater-like sound, you’ll want to hook up all six speakers if your system supports Dolbytm 5.1. There are some general rules for speaker placement; feel free to experiment and bend these rules as your situation requires. It is your ears that have to be pleased, after all. You have two front speakers, which should be on either side of the TV, at about ear level for the viewer, and about as far apart as the viewer is from the TV. The center channel speaker should go as close to the TV as you can manage; the best place is usually on top or directly underneath the TV. The two rear speakers, as the name implies, should be spaced about the same as the front speakers, about the same height, and placed behind the viewing area. This raises a major problem for homes that aren’t prewired for home theater; it’s almost impossible to run wires to the back without spending a ton of money, or having them show on the walls or ceiling. There are wireless rear speaker setups available, they aren’t easy to find as yet, but there should be more availability in the near future. They’ll cost you some money, but they are very easy to set up.

Finally, there is the Subwoofer. There is only one of these – it’s the “.1” in Dolbytm 5.1. Unlike all the other speakers, it is not a full range speaker. It supplements the other five speakers by producing the very low-pitched sounds common in movies. This requires a lot of power, so subwoofers are usually powered speakers. You can place it anywhere in the room as long as it’s at least a foot or so from walls. Remember that you must have a place to plug the power cord into the wall and a way to run the cable from the home theater receiver sub out jack to the unit.

When you wire up the speakers, observe two precautions: Always make sure the red connector on the stereo goes to the red connector on the speaker. Speaker wire has a marking on one side to facilitate this. If you make a habit of using the marked wire for the red connectors, you’ll always get it right. The speakers won’t be damaged if you hook them up backwards, but they won’t sound as good.

The second precaution, if not followed, can blow your receiver, costing you several hundred dollars to repair or replace. When inserting the speaker wires into the connectors, twist the strands together tightly and neatly, and make absolutely sure that all the strands go into the connector. Loose strands can cause a short between the speaker terminals that can destroy the amplifier. If you can, crimp pin or spade connectors (depending on the type of speaker terminals you have) onto the speaker wires to avoid the possibility of this happening. Applying a small amount of solder to the tightly twisted wires also works fine and saves the expense of terminals.

If it’s a better home theater system, it might have video inputs and outputs. The inputs are only there for convenience; If you hook up your video gear to the home theater system’s inputs, you won’t have to switch your TV’s inputs around. Instead, you’ll do all the switching at the home theater system. The downside of this is that you will have to turn on the home theater system whenever you want to watch the TV. Personal preference will dictate how you do this. The video output on the home theater system may or may not be necessary depending on whether you need a TV to display the setup menu, and of course it’ll be necessary if the home theater system has a built-in DVD player.

Many video components, such as DVD players and cable boxes, have two sets of audio outputs. You can, if you choose, run one audio cable to the TV and another to your stereo, giving you more speakers and more options. This way, you can watch TV without having to fire up the home theater system all the time. Use the digital connection if available; it’s the only way to get 6-channel sound from DVDs and HDTV.

CD players and other audio components are simple. Just run the audio cable from the output of the component to an input on the stereo or home theater system, preferably one with the name of the component. If you have something that you don’t have a labeled input for, use the auxiliary (or aux for short) inputs. With the phono input being the sole exception, you can plug any component into any input.

If you still have a turntable, and there is no phono input on the stereo, the turntable must be equipped with a preamplifier, more commonly just called a preamp. If you don’t know whether your turntable has one, check your owner’s manual, or try plugging it into an aux jack on the stereo and see what happens. If the sound is too low to hear, either you don’t have a preamp or it is turned off. Check carefully for a small switch, including underneath the rubber mat on the turntable. If you don’t have one, you can get a separate preamp for about 30 dollars, although they can be hard to find.

This post has been adapted from my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now! Click here to read all about it.

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