Home : Home Theater Introduction

Home Theater

A Home Theater consists of your TV for visual display, a sound system, loudspeakers and source components such as a DVD player. Except for the TV, you can buy a complete package called a Home Theater in a box. These are usually less expensive but also lower quality than buying your components individually. However, you do not have to undertake the task of matching components. But for those who demand the highest level of quality in their video and audio performance, you're better off buying individual top of the line gear such as Audio/Video Receiver, DVD player, loudspeakers and of course TV.

THE RECEIVER

The Audio/Video receiver is the central hub of a home theater system. It provides AM and FM tuners, amplifiers, surround sound, and switching capabilities for all of the components which connect to it. Most of the devices in a home-entertainment system can connect to it, including audio components such as loudspeakers, CD player, cassette deck, and turntable, as well as video sources such as a TV, DVD player, VCR, and cable and satellite TV boxes. 

Sony, Denon, JVC, Kenwood, Onkyo, Panasonic, Pioneer, and Yamaha are the top brands. Most models now are digital, designed for the six-channel (5.1) surround-sound formats encoded on most DVDs and some TV programs, such as high-definition (HD) programming. 

Basic receivers accept the analog stereo signals from a tape deck, CD player, or turntable. They provide two channels that power a pair of stereo speakers. Power typically runs 50 to 100 watts per channel.

Dolby Pro Logic, Pro Logic II, and Pro Logic IIx are the analog home-theater surround-sound standard. Receivers that support it can take a Dolby-encoded two-channel stereo source from your TV, DVD player, or hi-fi VCR and output them to four to six speakers--three in front, and one to three in back. Power for Dolby Pro Logic models is typically 60 to 150 watts per channel.

Dolby Digital is currently the prevailing digital surround-sound standard, a Dolby Digital 5.1 receiver has a built-in decoder for six-channel audio capability--front left and right, front center, two rear, and a powered subwoofer for low-frequency effects (LFE), or bass (that’s where the “.1” comes in). Dolby Digital is the sound format for most DVDs, HDTV, digital cable TV, and some satellite-TV broadcasts. Newer versions of Dolby Digital, 6.1 and 7.1, add one or two rear channels for a total of seven-channel and eight-channel sound, respectively. 

A rival to Dolby Digital 5.1, Digital Theater Systems or DTS also offers six channels. It’s a less common form of digital surround sound that is used in some movie tracks. Both DTS and Dolby Digital are often found on the same receivers. Power for DTS models is typically 75 to 150 watts per channel.

THX-certified. The high-end receivers that meet this quality standard include full support for Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital, and DTS. THX Select is the standard for components designed for small and average-sized rooms; THX Ultra is for larger rooms. Power for THX models is typically 100 to 170 watts per channel.

FEATURES

Controls: Look for a front panel with displays and controls clearly labeled and grouped by function. Onscreen display lets you control the receiver via a TV screen, an alternative to using the receiver’s LED or LCD display. Switched AC outlets (expect one or two) let you plug in other components and turn the whole system on and off with one button.

Remote controls are most useful when they have clear labels and buttons that light up for use in dim rooms. It’s best if the buttons are color-coded and grouped by function. A learning remote can receive programming data for other devices via their remotes’ infrared signal.

Input/output jacks are more important on a receiver than on perhaps any other component of your home theater. Clear labeling, color-coding, and logical groupings of the many jacks on the rear panel can help avoid problems during setup such as reversed speaker polarities and mixed-up inputs and outputs. Input jacks situated on the front panel make for easy connections to camcorders, MP3 players, digital cameras, and MiniDisc players.

S-video and component-video jacks allow you to route signals from DVD players and other high-quality video sources through the receiver to the TV. 

Digital receivers also have analog audio 5.1 inputs. These accept input from a DVD player with its own built-in Dolby Digital decoder, an outboard decoder, or other components with multichannel analog signals, such as a DVD-Audio or SACD player. This enables the receiver to convey up to six channels of sound or music to your speakers. Dolby Digital and DTS receivers have the most complete array of audio and video inputs, often with several of a given type to accommodate multiple components.

Tone controls adjust bass and treble, allowing you to correct room acoustics and satisfy your personal preferences. A graphic equalizer breaks the sound spectrum into three or more sections, giving you slightly more control over the full audio spectrum. Instead of tone controls, some receivers come with tone styles such as Jazz, Classical, or Rock, each accentuating a different frequency pattern.

DSP (digital signal processor) modes use a computer chip to duplicate the sound characteristics of a concert hall and other listening environments. A bass-boost switch amplifies the deepest sounds, and midnight mode reduces loud sounds and amplifies quiet ones in music or soundtracks.

Sometimes called “one touch,” a settings memory lets you store settings for each source to minimize differences in volume, tone, and other settings when switching between sources. A similar feature, loudness memory, is limited to volume settings alone.

Tape monitor lets you either listen to one source as you record a second on a tape deck or listen to the recording as it’s being made. Automatic radio tuning includes such features as seek (automatic searching for the next in-range station) and 20 to 40 presets to call up your favorite stations.

Direct tuning of frequencies lets you tune a radio station by entering its frequency on a keypad.

Even low-end receivers generally have enough video and audio inputs for a CD or DVD player, a VCR, and a cable box or satellite receiver. Mid and high-priced models usually have more inputs, so you can connect additional devices, such as a camcorder, a personal video recorder, or a game system.

The number of inputs isn’t the only issue; the type also matters. Composite-video inputs, the most basic type, can be used with everything from an older VCR to a new DVD player. S-video and component-video inputs are used mostly by digital devices such as DVD players and satellite receivers. If you have such digital devices or may add them, get a receiver with a few S-video and/or component-video inputs.

All these video inputs require a companion audio input. The basic left/right audio inputs can be used with almost any device to provide stereo sound. A turntable requires a phono input, which is available on fewer models than in years past.

To get multichannel sound from DVD players, digital-cable boxes, and satellite receivers, you generally use a digital-audio input. With this input, encoded multichannel sound is relayed on one cable to the receiver, which decodes it into separate channels. The input on the receiver must be the same type--either optical, the more common type, or coaxial--as the output on the other device. You usually must buy cables, about $10 and up, for digital-audio, S-video, and component-video connections.

All new digital receivers support Dolby Digital and DTS, the surround-sound formats used on most DVD movies. Both provide 5.1 channels. Most receivers also support Dolby Pro Logic, Pro Logic II, and Pro Logic IIx. If you want the latest type of surround sound, look for a receiver that supports Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES. These offer 6.1 or 7.1 channels.

Any receiver can reproduce stereo from regular CDs. Most models have digital signal processing (DSP) modes that process a CD’s two channels to simulate a sound environment such as a concert hall. DSP modes feed a stereo signal through all the speakers to simulate surround. 

For multichannel music from SACD or DVD-Audio discs, get a receiver with 5.1 analog inputs. These inputs are different from the digital audio input. The analog 5.1 inputs require separate RCA type cables for each channel.

Make sure a receiver has at least 50 watts per channel in a typical 12-by-20-foot living room, or 85 watts for a 15-by-25-foot space. A huge room, or a noisy setting all call for more power.

Make sure your receiver is compatible with your speakers. Most receivers are rated for 6-ohm and 8-ohm speakers. If used with 4-ohm speakers, such a receiver could overheat and shut down.

Most receivers have legible displays and well-labeled function buttons. Some add an onscreen menu, which displays settings on your TV screen. An auto-calibration feature adjusts sound levels and balance to improve the surround effect. Models with a test-tone function for setting speaker levels help you balance the sound yourself.

When deciding where to place your receiver, allow 4 inches or so of space behind it for cables and at least 2 inches on top for venting to prevent overheating. If setting up a home theater is more than you want to tackle, consider calling in a professional installer. Retailers often offer an installation service or can refer you to one.

Home theater receivers have many duties to perform as the central hub of your home theater system.  Once properly connected with the rest of your audio/video home theater components and surround sound speakers, an A/V receiver switches between your audio and video sources at the push of a button or turn of a knob.  Buttons and knobs are the pre-amplifier controls that allow you to adjust settings to your specific tastes or situation.  A volume knob and tone controls are examples.  A remote control allows you to adjust your home theater's audio/video settings without leaving your couch.



The basic elements to create a home theater are:
 
(1) display for video
(2) source for audio/video content
(3) audio electronics
(4) speakers

The Display

Most experts recommend at least a 27" display, and the larger the screen, the more convincing the “theatrical” experience. It is important to purchase a monitor/television with S-video, component video, and DVI/HDMI inputs. These inputs offer a more accurate rendition of high-resolution digital sources. For more information about current display technologies, see TV displays.

The Source

The source is whatever material you are using for video and audio content. In newer home theater set-ups, this is most often a DVD player, but can also include VCRs, Laser Discs, and cable/satellite TV signals. 

DVD players are currently the most popular home theater format, and provide good image and audio quality. DVDs hold considerably more information than VHS, so watching a movie takes on new dimensions. Many DVDs contain full-length commentaries, multiple languages, different camera angles, outtakes, deleted scenes, and many other extras that are fun to watch and enhance the movie viewing experience.

The best DVD players have progressive-scan – this technology delivers a sharper, cleaner picture. Progressive-scan DVD players only work with digital TVs, but they are cheap enough now that it may be worth buying one before you upgrade your display. There are also DVD based high-resolution audio formats to consider: DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD (SACD). These are multi-channel music formats that can only be played back in a compatible DVD player. Universal players are available which can play DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, DVD-R, DVD-RW, MP3 and JPEG discs. 

DVD-Audio and SACD multi-channel audio discs are decoded by the DVD player and sent to the A/V receiver by way of multiple analog RCA type line-level cables. Therefore make sure your receiver has the proper inputs for all these analog cables. 



Digital audio output on a single cable (coax or optical) from the DVD player to the receiver will not be available from SACD or DVD-Audio content, in the case of 5.1 surround sound, due to copyright restrictions. A/V receivers do however have the decoders built-in for DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. Therefore you can use the digital audio output from the DVD player to the receiver for DVD-Video discs with 5.1 surround sound. 

Audio Electronics

Good sound enhances the home theater experience, and the hub of any home theater sound system is the receiver. A home theater receiver (commonly called an Audio/Video, or A/V receiver) is usually the best place to start building a home theater system. An A/V receiver has four important sections: 

(1) pre-amp, 
(2) signal processing, 
(3) amplifier and 
(4) tuner


The pre-amp (before amplification) section of an A/V receiver allows you to switch between input sources such as a DVD player or CD player or cable TV box. This is where all your cable connections come into and go out of the A/V receiver. When you are buying a receiver, it is important to make sure that you have enough inputs and outputs for all your sources and that they are the proper type. If your DVD player and your TV have component video connections, make sure your receiver does as well. 

It is also important to consider your future needs, so make sure you are not using all the available inputs. Separate pre-amps and amplifiers are also available, instead of the combined receiver. While these provide a better quality of audio reproduction, they are much more expensive, and are only recommended if you want to seriously invest in your home theater system.


The most important part of the receiver when creating the theater ambiance is the signal processing section. DVDs come with surround sound encoding in a variety of flavors, and decoding circuitry in the receiver is what separates it into the individual channels to drive each speaker. Dolby Digital and DTS are available on most current receivers. Always look for at least one of these, preferably both.
The amplifier section of the receiver is what drives the speakers. Unlike stereo receivers, which have only left and right channels of amplification, the A/V receiver must drive a full complement of speakers to create a surround sound atmosphere. You need at least five different channels of amplification, and some A/V receivers include up to six or seven. 

The amount of amplifier power you need depends on the type of speakers you are using, the size of the room, and how loud you like to listen to your movies and music. When buying a receiver, however, a good rule of thumb is to buy as much amplifier power as you can afford. Having the amplifier rated higher than your speakers is better then not having enough power.

DVD-Audio and SACD are surround sound formats that are decoded at the DVD player, not the receiver. Because of this, these signals are sent to the receiver as six separate audio channels. If you are interested in exploring these formats, make sure that your receiver has a six-channel input, or you will not be able to hear them properly. Many receivers are also marked “THX Certified” – THX is not a surround format, but an indication that the component meets a set of superb standards in accurate sound reproduction. 

The tuner section is an AM/FM tuner so you can listen to AM radio stations for news/sports/weather and FM stereo broadcasts for music and news.

Speakers

Remember the good old days of stereo, when two speakers were enough? For today's home theater experience, you need at least six, and some formats are in development that use up to 11 speakers! Generally, however, six is the place to start, which includes five full-range speakers and one subwoofer. 

The five speakers reproduce the right and left channels (just like your old stereo), a center channel, and right and left surround sound. While you can use your old stereo speakers, and add on additional ones, it’s usually better to purchase a complete system of voice-matched speakers, or at least a set of speakers made by the same manufacturer. Having matching speakers ensures that the sound is similarly reproduced from every channel.

In surround sound, centered elements are not shared by the right and left speakers (like stereo), but come from the center channel. The center channel speaker ends up handling the reproduction of the majority of dialog, music, and sound effects. It is best positioned immediately in front of the TV, either above or below. Make sure that your center channel speaker is video shielded, otherwise the magnets in the speaker may interfere with the television image. Depending on how close you place your right and left speakers to the display, you should probably make sure they are shielded too.

Surround speakers come in two different styles, point source and bipolar. A large part of which type to buy depends upon how you are setting them up in your home. If you are placing the surround sound speakers behind the listening position, a point source speaker is the better choice. If your couch is against the wall, however, it is difficult to position speakers behind you. In this orientation, bipolar speakers are better. Bipolar speakers radiate sound forward and backward, and produce a more diffuse sound field. These speakers are best mounted on the walls, at about ear level height (when you’re standing, directly to the sides of the listening position.

The last speaker you need is a subwoofer. Most subwoofers today are powered, meaning that the subwoofer itself contains an amplifier to drive it. Most A/V receivers do not have a separate amplifier for the subwoofer, but only a line level output. Subwoofers are designed to handle only the very low frequency sounds, and the LFE or low frequency effects track.

A good subwoofer is important to provide the impact for your speaker setup. Speakers can be had for as little as $300 for a full 5.1 setup, but a good set of speakers will probably range from $800 to $1,000.

Other Extras

Speakers may need stands or wall mounting hardware. Sound systems need shelves to support multiple heavy components. All of these components and speakers are going to need cables to connect them. The expense of cabling alone can run about 10-15 percent of the cost of the entire system. Look for good cables, well-shielded, and appropriate to their function. Speaker cables should be at least 14-gauge, and try to use oxygen-free copper. It is not necessary to buy $500 interconnects and $30/foot speaker cable, but you should definitely upgrade from the included cables that come with most components. Consider a power management component also, particularly a surge suppressor.

Set-up

Movie theaters have low traffic, dim lighting and soundproofing to reduce ambient noise. Try to design an area of your home to be apart from too many distractions, plan ahead where you will be placing your speakers (do this before you buy them) and make sure you have sufficient electrical outlets. Speaker placement is extremely important,  – read the manuals that come with the speakers, and ask questions when you are out shopping. When everything is right, the system should draw you in, transform your environment, and envelop you within the experience, so you can get lost in the movie. This is the enjoyment of home theater.

How to Buy

Listen before you buy. Find some source material you are familiar with, and bring it with you to demonstrate on systems you are considering. Bring some different styles of music or a movie to test the system under different conditions. If you are going to build a system as you have available funds, try to make each piece the best you can afford. If you are buying your system all at once, set a realistic budget, and break it down into reasonable assumptions for the cost of each component. After you’ve had the opportunity to listen to a few systems and you find what you like, don’t just buy it, shop around and find the best price for what you have decided upon. 

Major Brands: Home Theater Buying Guide

  Audio / Video Receivers

Yamaha Sony
Harman Kardon Panasonic
JVC Onkyo
Kenwood Denon
Marantz Pioneer

Yamaha Electronics Corp.

Tactile Transducers

A tactile transducer is a device that utilizes a compact compression driver to translate audio signals into tactile vibrations. Simply put, you can now feel the sound. Transducers are mounted under your seating (or floor), and are powered by a separate amplifier. The effect is incredible and may change your movie viewing habits forever. Scenes that once just rumbled now shake you. It increases the apparent volume and you feel much more immersed in the scene. Transducers do not replace your subwoofer, but complement it, providing you with a fuller listening experience. Transducers are available starting from $250.

Home Theater Glossary

5.1 Channel Discrete Input - DTS (Digital Theater Sound) 5.1 surround sound format delivers 5 discrete channels of 20-bit audio plus a subwoofer output for low frequency audio, creating a theatre-quality sound experience. Some audiophiles claim that because this format uses less compression than Dolby Digital, the sound is of a purer quality. A discrete channel system means the system sends sound to a particular speaker from separate recorded spaces on the source, like a DTS-encoded DVD.

The other option is matrixed channels, which use a mathematical formula to calculate the sound for a channel from other channels. Because the DTS format takes up more room on a disc, DTS DVDs usually have fewer special features, but if you are searching for arguably the best audio experience, you may want to consider a home theatre system capable of DTS playback.

6 Ohm Capable - An Ohm is a measure of the resistance a speaker has when it receives an audio signal. The lowest Ohm rating this receiver is capable of providing is listed here. Less resistance may theoretically provide a purer sound through the speakers, however, it is generally thought that an Ohm rating of 6 or 8 is best for the receiver as it can be damaged when made to deliver too much current. All speakers in your system should have the same Ohm rating, and your receiver should be able to provide this rating.

6.1 Channel Discrete Input - DTS (Digital Theater Sound) 6.1 surround sound format delivers six distinct audio channels plus a subwoofer output for low frequency audio. The additional channel occurs in the center rear of the surround system. To take advantage of this feature on your receiver, the source material, such as a DVD, must be DTS 6.1 encoded. (See also 5.1 Channel Discrete Input)

7.1 Channel Discrete Input - An advanced version of DTS surround sound that delivers seven distinct audio channels plus a subwoofer for low frequency audio, giving you a top of the line audio experience. The sixth and seventh channels are two rear surround speakers. To take full advantage of this ability on your receiver, you must be playing a DTS 7.1 encoded DVD. (See also 5.1 Channel Discrete Input)

A/V Inputs/Outputs The number of connections this receiver has for receiving audio and video signals. This is where you can connect devices like your CD, turntable, or MP3 player (audio components), and DVD television and VCR (video components). Make sure your new receiver has enough connections for all the your components.

Banana Plug Speaker Terminals - This type of speaker connector is quick and easy to hook up, and the plug design ensures good contact, meaning less chance of sound distortion or short circuits over bare wire.

Component Video Input/Output - The next step beyond S-Video input/output, providing an excellent picture with very high resolution, better color accuracy, and less color bleeding. Component Video transmits the video signal in three parts: the luminance (Y), the blue chrominance (Pb), and the red chrominance (Pr). Ensure your TV and/or receiver has these input/output connections to take advantage of this increased quality.

Component Video Switching - Models with this feature allow you to connect multiple component video inputs to a single component video channel and easily switch between inputs by pressing a button on the front of the receiver or the receiver remote control.

Composite Video Input/Output - The most common and basic video format, composite video is found in most home video equipment and provides good quality signals.

Digital Inputs - How many and what type of digital cables can be attached to the receiver to receive signals. A digital coaxial cable has the commonly-used "RCA" style connectors, but the cable itself is designed to provide high quality digital transfer. Digital optical is a high quality method of transferring data in your home audio system. The connector component of the cable uses fiber-optic technology to improve the signal transfer, ensuring there is the minimum distortion between the source and the recorder. You can send signals out from your DVD or CD player, or HDD to your receiver ensuring optimal quality transfer.

Digital Outputs - How many and what type of digital cables can be attached to the receiver to send out signals. Digital coaxial cables have the commonly-used "RCA" style connectors, but the cable itself is designed to provide high quality digital transfer. digital optical is a high quality method of transferring data in your home audio system. The connector component of the cable uses fiber-optic technology to improve the signal transfer, ensuring there is the minimum distortion between the source and the recorder.

Dolby Digital EX - Dolby Digital EX and THX EX (Lucasfilm) formats are a collaboration between Dolby and THX labs to produce a better quality surround sound by adding one or two back speakers to the 5.1 surround system. These sound channels are matrixed from the existing sound channels. Many new DVDs are designed for Dolby Digital EX and THX EX, but these systems can also approximate the extra channels from DVDs designed for 5.1 surround sound.

Dolby Digital Surround Sound - A surround sound format that offers five discrete channels of full-range sound and a subwoofer for low frequency effects. This is the most popular and widely available format for surround sound, and will provide you with a high quality output.

Dolby Pro Logic - A form of surround sound that converts specially encoded 2-channel stereo signals into four distinct channels - left, center, right and low frequency sound. This is the basic and original form of surround sound.

Dolby Pro Logic II - An advancement from Dolby Pro Logic, this format can take input from a stereo or Pro Logic source and convert it to 5.1 channel output. You can enjoy your old audio and VCR collection with improved quality if your system has this feature.

DSP Modes - DSP (Digital Sound Processing) Modes simulate the acoustic conditions of special environments such as a stadium or a concert hall. By using this feature you can customize the sound format for what you are playing; for example, 'concert hall' when you are listening to a live classical music recording, or 'sports' when watching the game.

DTS - DTS (Digital Theater Sound) is a surround sound format that delivers 5.1 channels of 20-bit audio, creating a theater-quality sound experience. Some audiophiles claim that because this format uses less compression than Dolby Digital, the sound is of a purer quality. Because the DTS format takes up more room on a disc, DTS DVDs usually have less special features, but if you are searching for the arguably best audio experience, you may want to consider a home theater system capable of DTS playback.

DTS ES - The DTS ES further enhances your audio experience by adding a sixth channel of full bandwidth back surround sound that can be played through one or two speakers. This is delivered in a discrete format, rather than matrixed like Dolby THX, and thought by some to produce a better quality playback. To take full advantage of this format, the DVD you are playing must be recorded in the DTS ES - look for it on DVD packaging, it is becoming more and more widely available.

Front AV Jacks - A/V jacks allow you to connect other components to your receiver. The advantage to front jacks is quick and easy connection of temporary elements, such as a video game console, MP3 player or camcorder.

Graphic EQ - The Equalizer (EQ) lets you adjust the bass, midrange, and treble in the music, resulting in a customized sound. You can select from a variety of presets, customize to compensate for a poor recording, or turn off the EQ to hear the music exactly as it was recorded.

High Current - The current flow from the receiver to the coils in the speakers creates sound. Sound effects in movies and music can often create short bursts of high current transfer. A high current receiver is specially designed to handle these short, high power bursts and may yield a better quality sound over a non high current model of the same wattage.

Multiroom Capability - Enjoy your home theater system in multiple rooms with multi-room capability. This function allows you to attach multiple speaker systems and play through all speakers, or select which speaker system you want to use with a switch.

On Screen Display - Sometimes it's hard to see the display on your system from across the room, or the abbreviations are difficult to figure out. Systems with on-screen display show you all the options on your television screen, allowing to make adjustments quickly and easily.

Phono Inputs - Short for phonograph, a type of connection that allows you to connect a turntable (record player) directly to the receiver.

Preamp Outputs - Delivers unamplified, low voltage line level signals that allow you to connect the system to a powered subwoofer or external amplifier.

Remote Control Type - The type of remote control that comes with the receiver. Standard remotes control the receiver only. Universal remotes control not only your receiver, but other components - such as your TV and DVD player - as well. Multifunction remotes allow you to operate components of various brands in your home theater/audio system through the one device. A learning remote is able to learn functions from other remotes of various brands, and can often be programmed for custom functions you frequently use.

S-Video Input/Output - S-Video breaks the video signal into two separate parts - chrominance (color) and luminance (brightness). This makes for a more precise, detailed picture as opposed to the standard RF or composite video output found in some devices such as VCRs.

S-Video Switching - The capability for the receiver to direct S-Video signal to the TV. Some older models don't have video switching, meaning they must be connected directly (eg, the VCR must connect directly to the TV, rather than the receiver acting as a "hub"). Others are limited to composite video, a lower quality signal. S- Video is the mid-range signal quality, see also Composite Video Switching.

Watts Per Channel - this is a measurement of the intensity of the sound signal being delivered to each channel in a home theater/home audio setup. The greater the power output, the greater the strength of the signal, and the greater the capacity for loud and clear sound. This feature is useful for comparing different models, however, the rating of the speakers themselves also affects output.

THX Select - THX Select certified products are the mid-priced technology offered by a variety of manufacturers, providing an audio experience true to the original movie soundtrack in your 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 surround sound system.

THX Ultra II - The Ultra II format is THX's ultimate technology standard for movies and music. THX strives to provide the truest reproduction of movie soundtracks in the home theater environment. THX Ultra II certified devices are also designed for all the latest advances in music recording technology, allowing the best multi-channel music playback. Ultra II takes full advantage of 7.1 surround systems, smart technology automatically detects the sound format and optimizes playback over the surround system, whether movies or music.



See also:
PC stereo hookup
Windows Sound Recorder
VCR Recording


Got a question? Audio Video Forum
 

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Home Theater in a box - user guide




Understanding Audio Video Receivers

A receiver is the control center of most home theater systems. It enables you to switch easily between sources of music (CD player, cassette tape deck, MiniDisc player, DAT deck, etc.) and allows you to control volume, and bass and treble as well. It does all of this by combining, into one piece of gear, three separate components: a preamplifier, amplifier and tuner. 

Most people choose to buy a receiver rather than the three separate components because receivers are more affordable and are simpler to set up and operate. This doesn't mean that receivers are for everyone. Lots of folks choose to go the separates route because they like the flexibility that comes with being able to mix and match the strengths of various amps and preamps with their particular speakers and source components.

The Pre-Amp

The preamplifier performs a couple of major functions: it routes the signals from your source components (these signals are called line-level signals) to your amp and it serves as a volume controller.

So when you choose to listen to a compact disc, for example, the CD player sends a line-level signal to your preamp, which then controls the system's playback volume according to your specifications before passing the signal on to your amplifier.

Some receiver models have preamplifier outputs. These are connectors that feed a line-level signal to a subwoofer, or a separate power amp. Preamp outputs are a great feature for those looking to add bass to their sounds with a sub or for those who'd like to add a separate, more powerful amp to their system.

The Amp

The amplifier is the heart of the receiver; it pumps out the powerful signals that drive the loudspeakers. The amplifier receives from the preamp, signals which originated from your source components, which it then boosts before sending them on their way to your speakers.

The power ratings for the amplifier section of the receiver are what most consumers pay attention to when making a purchase.

A typical power rating for a typical receiver at a typical electronics store looks like this: 

100W RMS x 2 into 8 ohms (40Hz-20kHz) at 0.5% THD.

First, "100W RMS x 2 into 8 ohms" means this receiver delivers 100W of continuous power into both channels, with an 8-ohm speaker load. (Ohms are a measure of resistance to the flow of electricity.) Next -- "(40Hz-20kHz)" -- indicates the range of sound available when the receiver is putting out its maximum power. (Humans can typically hear from 20Hz-20kHz, so the receiver described by this power rating isn't giving you some of the very low-end signals.) And, finally, "at 0.5% THD" describes the total harmonic distortion (THD) this receiver adds to the signal generated by your source component. The lower this number, the less the receiver will distort your music.

Ways in which power ratings are manipulated: A simple way to manipulate power ratings is to list them without the "RMS" (Root Mean Square -- a mathematical calculation which describes the average power output) designation. The "RMS" designation lets you know that the ratings are for continuous power, not peak-power capability (you want continuous power).

Also, sometimes manufacturers will leave off the part of the specification that tells you that the rating refers to the power of the receiver with both of its channels driven. If a rating doesn't say "x 2" (or "x 5," for the five channels of an A/V receiver), then you can assume that it's for one channel driven. A receiver appears most powerful when driving only one channel.

The Tuner

This is the part of the receiver that does the receiving -- in this case, it's AM or FM radio signals which are then fed into the preamp.

Other features

DSP modes: These digital signal processing (DSP) modes are touted as enabling your receiver to make your music sound as if it was recorded in a concert hall, cathedral, nightclub, etc. Some people enjoy the big, boomy distortions that DSP modes offer, but remember, your music collection was recorded in recording studios, and you'll probably enjoy the music most if it sounds as much like it did to the musicians in the studios as possible.

Input/output jacks

These are the jacks on the back of the receiver where you plug in your source components and speakers. It's always a good idea to count up all of your source components and check to see that the receiver you're considering for purchase has at least that many inputs. Also, it can be convenient to have one or more input jacks on the front of the receiver in case you ever want to quickly hook-up your portable player, recorder, etc.

Tape monitor: This lets you listen to one source as you record a second source on a tape deck, or you can listen to a recording as it's being made.

Bass boost switch: This amplifies the bass.

Tuner presets: This function allows you to choose which radio stations you'd like to have available with the push of a button.

Treble and bass controls: These allow you to increase or decrease the levels of bass and treble in your music.

Balance controls: These allow you to shift emphasis from one channel to the other or to maintain equal levels between the left and right channels. 

A/B speaker selection: Allows selection of a main set of speakers, a second set of speakers (usually in another room), or both.

There are affordable A/V receivers that do superb jobs of playing back music in stereo. Plus, A/V receivers are multichannel, allowing you to play the five, six, seven (and more) channels available in the Dolby Digital and DTS formats. This means that you'll need five, six, seven (or more) speakers in order to hear the soundtracks of those DVDs as they were intended to be heard. It also means that you're going to have to make choices about which type of sound-processing format you want (Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS are two examples) and if you want to be able to listen to DVD-Audio or SACD formats for recorded music.

A home theater receiver has a built-in multi-channel digital surround sound processor whose job it is to decode your DVDs and HDTV signal and send out clean, high-quality, non-distorted audio signal to as many as 7 or more speakers. 

Lastly, a receiver includes an AM/FM radio tuner, usually with radio station presets. Some are even XM satellite radio ready.  Other source components that will most likely be connected to the inputs on your home theater receiver include your DVD player, your HDTV receiver, your VCR, CD player, or even your audio cassette deck or phonograph.  (Word of warning:  Many A/V receivers today DON'T have a phono input on the back.)  You may also want to look for a receiver with an Ethernet connection to allow you to access your home computer network, too.

The video signal will be sent out to your television so you have a picture (and sometimes on-screen menu display) and your audio surround sound signal will be sent to your speakers and your subwoofer so you can hear sound that rivals that in your local movie theater. The quality and proper placement of your home theater speakers will make or break the overall sound performance of your home theater surround sound system.

Many new home builders will also want to build a whole house audio system right into their building plans and integrate it with their home theater system.  Your favorite music pumped through in-wall speakers and ceiling speakers throughout your home (and even to outdoor speakers outside) is something that will make your everyday living more enjoyable.



Receivers still connect to audio gear such as a CD player, but tape monitors and phono inputs are less common. You can still find receivers with these audio hook-ups, but - if you want to play vinyl records or cassette tapes - don't assume your new purchase will accommodate you. A/V receivers can take signals from an astounding number of audio and video sources. These can include broadcast television, cable TV, DVD and VCR players, satellite dishes, CD players, cassette tape decks and phonograph players. They also can accept external antennas to receive transmissions from AM and FM radio stations as well as satellite radio. ( Note that A/V receivers do not have TV tuners in them. You'll need to have a TV tuner in your TV or use a cable TV box or satellite TV tuner box. The video outputs from these devices are then connected to the video inputs on the A/V receiver for routing to your TV display or you can connect the cable or satellite box video outputs directly to your TV display.)

In addition to an AM/FM radio tuner, virtually all A/V receivers include an amplifier. These amplifiers can power as many as eight speakers. Depending on the make and model, receivers can deliver anywhere from 50 to 110 (and up) watts per channel.

Total harmonic distortion (THD) is one specification that lets you gauge overall quality. This spec measures the distortion or noise that the receiver's amp adds to the audio signal.

The most expensive models may boast a THD of 0.07 percent. This is definitely worth bragging about, but not exactly relevant, since the human ear cannot hear anything under two percent.
 

Receiver Features


Direct AM/FM Tuning
Tune in a station, directly, just by entering its frequency into the control panel or remote.

DSP
Most receivers use digital-signal processing (DSP) to let you adjust acoustic quality. Depending on make and model, you can adjust tone controls to evoke the acoustics of a concert hall, stadium, nightclub or other venue.

Front-panel Inputs and Outputs
Including inputs and outputs on the front panel makes it easy to hook up camcorders and video game systems.

Onscreen Display
A display on your television, guides you through operation of your receiver.

Sleep Timer
Set the sleep timer to program the receiver to shut off after a specified amount of time.

THX Select and THX Ultra

This proprietary surround sound technology - created by Lucasfilm to deliver enhanced audio in movie-theatres - is now available on high-end home theater components. Look for the THX logo on receivers and speakers.

THX Select delivers optimal performance in rooms of less than 57 cubic meters. For larger rooms, choose THX Ultra.

Universal Remote

When your A/V receiver comes with a universal remote, you can use the remote to operate several other components, even when they are from other manufacturers. You can program the universal remote that comes with your Panasonic receiver, say, to operate your Sony DVD player and your RCA HDTV.

XM-Ready

Starting in April 2005, A/V Receivers, as well as other home entertainment devices, can be equipped with the capability to receive XM satellite radio programming. A manufacturer can make their product "XM Ready" by including XM's "Connect-and-Play" chip and data-port, a mini-serial bus connector. If a home entertainment product is labeled as XM Ready, it means that product has everything you need to play XM radio once you connect the XM Connect and Play antenna and subscribe to the service from XM radio (currently $12.95 per month). No other accessories are needed. For about $50, the consumer purchases and plugs the XM Connect-and-Play home antenna into an XM-Ready receiver to get 150-plus digital channels. The Connect-and-Play antenna is a fully integrated XM receiver and antenna combination and is the only component needed to provide the XM experience through any XM Ready home audio system. Simply look for the XM Ready logo. With this technology consumers simply plug an XM Connect-and-Play home antenna into an XM-Ready audio product and activate the service to receive XM's 150-plus digital radio channels. The Connect-and-Play antenna receives the XM signal, processes it and delivers digital audio to the system to which it is connected. You simply plug the single cable connection into an XM Ready audio system and activate the service.


XM Antenna and receiver with 25 ft. cable
Specifications: 1.15" H x 3.03" W x 3.60" D. Weight: 10 Oz.

Auto Listening Room Tuning

A few manufacturers of A/V receivers provide the ability to fine-tune your audio to the particular room you are listening in based upon feedback from a microphone at the exact spot you are located in the room. YPAO (Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer) which uses an optimizer microphone at the listening position to pick up test tones from your speakers, which the system then analyzes to let you know the best audio parameters. The system will even automatically equalize the sound according to the readings it takes.

Some Pioneer receivers provide a "multi-channel acoustic calibration" system (MCACC) for optimum accuracy in multi-channel sound reproduction.  The calibration system works by measuring the acoustic characteristics of the listening area and neutralizing the ambient characteristics that can “color” the original source material. First the MCACC uses the microphone provided to check and test ambient noise levels, the microphone, and speaker levels.  Once the initial set-up calibration is complete, the system automatically confirms size of the speakers that are hooked up to the receiver and distance to the listener, then performs a surround analysis. Finally, MCACC checks the channel delay and channel level, before performing the acoustic calibration. During the acoustic calibration process, the speakers will emit a series of noise and timing pulses that are received by the microphone and sent to a digital equalizer for final calibration of up to seven channels.

Advanced Room Tuning

Advanced  MCACC features include:

  • Professional Acoustic Calibration Setup takes into consideration the reverberant qualities of the listening area and uses this information to adjust the frequency response more accurately for human ears. It distinguishes the difference between the direct sound from each speaker and the reflected sound off of the walls.
  • Auto Pro This feature enables the receiver to output test tones, and automatically adjusts the frequency balance for each speaker in accordance with the reverberation characteristics in the listening room.  
  • Manual Pro This allows the receiver to measure the room acoustics with reverberation and displays this information on the television connected to the receiver. Once the reverberation characteristic in each frequency band is measured, the user can select which timing frequency to use for manual calibration.
  • MCACC also has the ability to send data to a PC through the RS232C port for a detailed and precise display of the measured reverberation frequency response in the listening room.



Considerations


Will you have the necessary space for your new receiver? Check the specs, then make sure there are about 4 to 5 extra inches in the back to accommodate wiring. Also, add at least 2 inches on top for  venting and air flow to dissipate heat.

Installing Your A/V Receiver

The Receiver's amplifier section may produce quite a bit of heat and therefore needs adequate ventilation. Place the receiver on a shelf with at least two inches (preferably more) above its vents. If it has a fan, whether on the back or on the side, be sure not to block it. Otherwise, it will overheat and might shut down or be damaged. Your receiver is the hub of your home theater system. Accordingly, it must be in a central location where it can be reached by interconnecting cables from other components and by speaker cables. If possible, place it so that the back panel–where most of the jacks are located–is easily accessible. At the top of your equipment stack is a good spot.

Connectivity

First, hook up the speaker cables, because that affects the physical layout of your system. Then do the interconnects to other electronic components, such as your DVD player. Save the AC cable for last, but don't plug it in till you've hooked up all the speakers. Never hook up speakers with the amplifier turned on. If you cross the speaker leads, you probably will blow at least one channel–possibly more. Let's look at some more specific connectivity issues.

Speaker Cables

The receiver amplifies the audio from the source and sends the signals to the loudspeakers for you to hear. You need a connection path from the receiver to the speakers and this is accomplished by using speaker wire or cable, a metal (usually multi-strand) wire used to connect the speaker outputs on an amplifier to the binding posts on a loudspeaker. The most basic speaker wire, also know as zip cord, is a thin, light gauge wire.

Speaker wire is often made of copper, a good quality conductor. The  metal wire is encased in some form of plastic coating that insulates the wire while still allowing the wire to be easily bent and turned. Most high-quality speaker wire is fairly thick with a gauge around 12.

Quality wires are usually terminated with a metal connector. The most commonly used of these connectors are spade lugs, banana connectors, and pin connectors. Bare wire without a connector may also be used.

Speaker cables should be heavy gauges with gold-plated spade lug or banana connectors for good signal transfer between amplifiers and speakers. Lengths of speaker cable should be kept to a minimum. Long runs of speaker wire should be heavy gauge to ensure enough power is transferred and the amplifier is not presented with too great an impedance or resistance. Speaker wire has its own impedance or resistance to the flow of electric current with heavier gauge cables having lower resistance ratings allowing the efficient flow of power from the amplifier to the speakers.

Your receiver will have at least one or two sets of relatively large terminals that are designed to accept speaker wire. Some models use only wire clips, which accept bare wire or pin connectors. Better models usually have binding posts for at least the front left and right speakers. Binding posts normally accept bare wire, pins, banana plugs, and spade lugs, though some omit support for one or the other of the last two. Bare wire and spade lugs provide the most secure  connections, because they have the large contact areas and can be clamped down tightly. Snugly fitted banana plugs are almost as secure, and much more convenient when you need to disconnect and reconnect for any reason.

Although there is a thriving market in premium speaker cable, there is no real technical or sonic imperative for using wire of premium construction or exorbitant price. Ordinary stranded copper wire (lamp or zip cord) is perfectly satisfactory provided that it is not too skinny.

The thicker the wire, which corresponds to a lower gauge number (AWG), the less its resistance to the passage of electricity. The thinnest wire you should possibly consider using is 18-gauge, but since 16-gauge costs only slightly more, it is recommended. For long runs of more than 15 or 20 feet, you might consider moving up to thicker 14- or even thicker 12-gauge cable. If you do, just make sure whatever you buy is reasonably flexible; such thick cable can be too stiff to handle easily if it isn’t braided to maximize flexibility. 

WIRE GAUGE DIAMETER TABLE
American Wire Gauge (AWG) Wire Diameter (in.)
18 (smaller) 0.040303

16 0.0508214
14 0.064084
12 0.08080810
10 0.10189
8 (larger) 0.128496


AWG gauge Diameter Inches Diameter mm Ohms per 1000 ft Maximum amps for power transmission
1 0.2893 7.34822 0.1239 119
2 0.2576 6.54304 0.1563 94
3 0.2294 5.82676 0.197 75
4 0.2043 5.18922 0.2485 60
5 0.1819 4.62026 0.3133 47
6 0.162 4.1148 0.3951 37
7 0.1443 3.66522 0.4982 30
8 0.1285 3.2639 0.6282 24
9 0.1144 2.90576 0.7921 19
10 0.1019 2.58826 0.9989 15
11 0.0907 2.30378 1.26 12
12 0.0808 2.05232 1.588 9.3
13 0.072 1.8288 2.003 7.4
14 0.0641 1.62814 2.525 5.9
15 0.0571 1.45034 3.184 4.7
16 0.0508 1.29032 4.016 3.7
17 0.0453 1.15062 5.064 2.9
18 0.0403 1.02362 6.385 2.3
19 0.0359 0.91186 8.051 1.8
20 0.032 0.8128 10.15 1.5
21 0.0285 0.7239 12.8 1.2
22 0.0254 0.64516 16.14 0.92
23 0.0226 0.57404 20.36 0.729
24 0.0201 0.51054 25.67 0.577

Speaker wire: What gauge do you need?

The thickness of a wire's copper bundle is identified by its "American Wire Gauge" (AWG) number. The lower the gauge, the thicker the wire, and the better its capacity to pass the amplified audio signal. Most speaker wire today ranges in thickness from 12 to 16 gauge. 

When choosing speaker wire, keep in mind the distance between your receiver (or amp) and your speakers — long wire runs can cause significant power losses, and thus require thicker cable. In situations where you can't avoid long wire runs to your speakers,  thicker wire reduces the overall resistance, lightening the load on your receiver or amplifier. 

If you're buying a modestly priced system, or if your speakers are located relatively close to your receiver, standard 16-gauge wire may be all you need. 

You can use the following chart as a general guideline:

Distance from amplifier to speaker Gauge
Less than 60 feet 16
60 to 180 feet 14
More than 180 feet 12


How much speaker wire do I need?

Determining how much speaker wire to buy is a simple process. One method is to run a string from your receiver location to each of the  locations of your speakers. Pull a string along any doorframes, corners, etc. in the wire path. Now measure the string length from receiver to speaker. Repeat the process for each speaker. Add a couple of feet to each just to be on the safe side.

How do I connect my speakers?

Speaker wire consists of two leads, typically encased and bundled in plastic insulation, one for the positive signal, and one for the negative. Your speaker wire will probably be marked in some fashion like (+) and (-) or if not, you can look for colors or wire types to help you distinguish the two leads. Low cost speaker wire has a copper color wire and a silver color wire (actually just tinned copper) to help you connect it correctly. 

The two wires connect to the two terminals on the back of the speaker and then to the positive and negative posts on the back of the receiver. Do this for each speaker in your system, connecting the proper speaker (center, left front, right front etc.) to the correct place on the back of the receiver. Remember to connect positive (speaker) to positive (receiver) and negative (speaker) to negative (receiver). Positive terminals are typically red and negative terminals are typically black.




A/V Receiver's speaker connections on back panel
click image for larger view



Speaker Terminals

Speaker wire connectors help safeguard against short circuits. When loose strands from a bare wire's positive and negative leads accidentally touch, your receiver can shut down, or even suffer serious damage. Also, speaker wire connectors maintain more of a corrosion-free contact with the terminals and speakers, unlike bare copper wire, which may corrode.

Make sure your speakers have compatible terminals for the intended speaker wire connectors. See speaker wire connectors.


Unsightly speaker wires annoy you?
Hiding your speaker wire inside your walls, under floors, or in the ceiling is an option. You could try doing this yourself but calling in a professional installer is always a second choice.

Speaker Cables
The Speaker Cable is used to connect a powered output of an amplifier to the speaker. 
 

PREMIUM ELECTRICAL CONDUCTORS RANKED 
1 Silver
2 Copper
3 Gold
4 Aluminum
5 Platinum
6 Lead
#1 BEING THE BEST CONDUCTOR

 



Bare copper stranded, twisted pair conductors each individually jacketed with an overall round jacket added for durability. Available in 18 gauge, 16 gauge, 14 gauge and 12 gauge.

 
WHY HAVE COLORS?

* Color coding Subwoofers, Lows, Mids and Highs

* Color code different lengths for easy identification. ie: (25' = Blue) (30' = Red), etc.

 

ZIP SPEAKER CABLE

Uses two parallel connectors, one tinned, the other bare copper for ease of identification. Uses rugged PVC jacketing material and standard nickel plated 1/4" connectors, Zip Speaker Cable is the best value in the industry. Available in 18 gauge, 16 gauge and 14 gauge.
50 feet costs only $5 to $8 in 16 gauge while 12 gauge costs $11. 



  • Speaker cable.
  • Unshielded.
  • Conductors: 2 
  • Gauge Size (AWG): 16
  • Conductor/Strands: 19/.0117
  • Jacket: PVC
  • Temperature Range: -20°C to +75°C
Conductors

(1) Bare Copper

(1) Tinned Annealed Copper

Stranding

16/30 Awg (18 Gauge)

26/30 Awg (16 Gauge)

41/30 Awg (14 Gauge)

Jacket - PVC

Voltage - 300 Volts Maximum DC/AC RMS



If you are making bare-wire connections or adding your own terminations (banana plugs, spade lugs, etc.), go to the hardware store and invest in a wire cutter/stripper. It will resemble a pair of pliers with notches for cables of varying thickness. 

Be sure that your receiver is compatible with the speakers you attach to it. Primarily, this means ensuring that their impedance is not lower than the receiver is designed to handle. Just about any decent receiver–including those that indicate you must use speakers of 8-ohm or higher impedance–will work fine with speakers with impedance ratings of 6 ohms or greater. In the event your speakers are rated at 4 ohms, however, you should check with the receiver’s manufacturer if there is any question. (Unfortunately, the warning labels on the receivers themselves are often excessively conservative, to meet UL requirements.) Otherwise, you may find that your system will not play as loud as you would like or that the receiver overheats sometimes and shuts itself down; in extreme cases, it may even be damaged.

Video Interconnects

You’ll find that three different types of video connections are in common use today: component video, S-video, and composite. Component-video connections offer high picture quality. Only quality A/V receivers support this type of connection, along with some DVD players, DTV receivers, and TV sets. Use them if you have a digital television set or a high-end analog set with component inputs as well as source components with component-video outputs.

Component-video connections are made with a trio of RCA phono jacks, color-coded red, green, and blue. You can buy pre-bundled component-video cables, but three ordinary 75-ohm video cables (often color-coded yellow) will work. Don't use audio cables, however, since they do not have the correct impedance. 

S-video is a small step down from component in quality and a fairly large one up in convenience. Connections are made with a single multipin plug and socket. Look at the plug carefully to find the notch and plastic pins that orient correctly in the socket. Then push gently and firmly–but only when you're sure it's going in straight. 

Almost all A/V receivers now support S-video switching for at least one or two inputs. The only VCRs that consistently have S-video connections are S-VHS models, but you can expect almost all other common video sources, including DVD players and satellite TV receivers, to have S-video outputs. 

Composite (not to be confused with component) is the lowest-common-denominator video connection. It is the easiest to make, requiring only a single 75-ohm coaxial cable terminated with RCA plugs, usually yellow colored. See cable connections.



Audio Interconnects

Generally speaking, every selectable input on your receiver will have an associated stereo pair of analog audio inputs, which will be ordinary RCA jacks. Be sure to connect these for any analog source components, such as VCRs, cassette decks, and so forth. You may or may not want to connect them for digital sources, such as CD and DVD players and satellite TV receivers. If you have enough digital inputs, you will probably find it more convenient to use them instead. 

In the case of components that deliver Dolby Digital signals, such as DVD players, you will have to use a digital connection to get discrete multichannel surround sound. If you want to make analog recordings from a digital source, such as from a CD player to a cassette deck, you will normally need to make the analog connections even if you intend to use a digital link for normal listening. This may also be necessary for recording to digital recorders through the receiver, if the receiver does not supply a digital recording output for this purpose. 

One important thing to note is that turntables (used to play vinyl phonograph records) must be connected to a special set of analog inputs labeled "phono." If you connect it to one of the other (line-level) inputs, the sound from the turntable will be bass-shy and very low in level. All of the other analog inputs are the same in terms of their electrical characteristics, and you should use those for connecting analog sources other than turntables. 

Connect your CD player to the input labeled "CD," and so forth. Recording devices, such as cassette decks, should be connected to inputs labeled for recorders or "Tape." These will usually have an associated set of outputs to feed signals from other sources to the recorder. Most receivers also have one or two inputs labeled "Aux" or "Auxiliary" to handle miscellaneous analog sources. 

Gold-plated connectors offer superior corrosion resistance if both jack and plug are so finished. To the extent possible, try to match gold plugs to gold sockets and nickel plugs to nickel sockets, as this will yield the most reliable long-term connections. 

Digital audio connections come in two different types: coaxial and Toslink optical. It doesn’t matter which type you use, so long as it’s the same at the source and receiver ends. That is, coaxial outputs mate only with coaxial inputs and optical only with optical. Coaxial digital connections should be made with 75-ohm cable, which normally will be labeled for video or digital audio use; do not use ordinary analog audio cables. Optical connections are made with  fiber-optic cables. The digital inputs on most receivers will automatically detect what kind of signal is coming into them and respond appropriately. Some, however, may have only one or two digital inputs that can accept Dolby Digital signals. In that case, make sure to attach Dolby Digital sources, such as DVD players, to digital inputs labeled for Dolby Digital (often with the double-D Dolby logo). 

If your receiver does not have enough digital inputs for all your digital audio sources, you may plug the digital output from your CD player directly into the digital input of your CD-R recorder, the CD-R's analog output into your receiver, and monitor or play recordings that way. 

A/V receivers normally have a line-level output generally labeled "subwoofer output" designed to feed the input of a powered subwoofer. If you have a powered subwoofer in your system, connect it to this output. You may need to buy a long interconnect cable for this purpose. Even if the sub has two line inputs, one connection will usually do. Finally, a good rule of thumb: Connect outputs to inputs and inputs to outputs. Never connect an output to another output!


Many A/V receivers have six-channel analog inputs designed to accept the output from an external 5.1-channel surround decoder or from multichannel music sources, such as DVD-Audio or Super Audio CD (SACD). Simply match the output jacks on the decoder or player to the multichannel input jacks on the receivers and run ordinary audio interconnects between them. 

Some receivers have preamp outputs that enable you to feed a system in another room or to upgrade by using more powerful external amplifiers in place of the amps built into the receiver. If these are connected to the internal amplifiers by jumpers, you will have to remove the jumpers before proceeding. Again, simply match outputs to inputs–in this case, preamp outputs to amplifier inputs.

Special Connections

To get Dolby Digital out of a laserdisc player, you will need either an AC-3 RF input on your receiver (a rare feature) or an external AC-3 RF demodulator to go between the laserdisc player’s AC-3 output and one of your receiver’s standard digital inputs. Plug the LD player's AC-3 RF output into the matching input on the receiver or external RF demodulator. Note that on laserdisc players the AC-3 output is separate from the standard digital outputs. If you have a turntable, its delicate low-voltage signal should go only into the receiver's phono input, which typically will accept moving-magnet phono cartridges (a few receivers switch between this and the moving-coil type of cartridge). The turntable's ground wire should go into the receiver's ground terminal to prevent hum. 

Hook up the AM and FM antenna supplied with your receiver (the AM antenna may be built in) into the appropriately labeled terminals. The receiver's FM input may be either 75-ohm (which typically accepts an "F-type" RF connector) or 300 ohms (accepting bare wire or spade connectors). An adapter, if needed, will likely be supplied with the receiver. Consult the manual. 

Operation

Testing your home theater:

When you first power on the receiver, select the FM tuner to see if you can get any sound from the speakers. This is a good place to start because the speaker connection is less prone to errors. Even FM static will verify your speakers are working. The next step is to turn on each signal source (DVD, VCR, CD, etc.) and make sure its picture or sound output goes through the receiver to the TV and the speakers. Also make sure recording devices (VCR, cassette, etc.) are able to get signals from the receiver. 

Many A/V receivers incorporate what is known as bass management. That is, they allow you to apportion where the bass in the various channels go according to the capabilities of the speakers. This is possible because we tend to localize sound sources based on middle and high frequencies more than low frequencies. 

Next you should go into the setup menu and adjust the bass management. Normally this will consist of indicating whether or not there is a subwoofer in the system (subwoofer on or off) and what the bass capabilities of the front left/right, center, and surround speakers are. (Assuming the system has center and surround speakers. If not, these should be set to "Off" or "None" in the menu.) 

If a speaker has limited low-frequency output capability, you should designate it as "Small." Almost all center and surround speakers fall into this category. Speakers with good bass capability may be designated as "Large," but if you have a good subwoofer in the system, you may find that you get best results with all the main speakers set to Small. If there is no subwoofer in the system, you should make sure that at least the front left and right speakers can handle a decent amount of bass and be set to "Large". If you plan to use your receiver's surround capability, you'll need to adjust the channel balance among the speakers. Using the remote, activate the receiver's internal test signal. Adjust the center and surround channels so that they are the same level as the front left and right speakers. A sound-level meter (such as the Radio Shack model, catalog number 33-2-50) can be a helpful and inexpensive way to guarantee the accuracy of your settings, which are critical to good surround performance. Set the meter to C-weighting, slow response and hold it so the microphone is at seated ear height at the listening position, pointed toward the ceiling. Then change the level settings on the receiver until the outputs from the speakers in the system are as close to the same as you can get them. Some receivers (including all THX models) include a test signal for calibrating the level of the subwoofer. 

Finally, you will need to adjust the delays to the surround speakers and possibly to the center speaker. Your receiver’s manual will have explicit instructions on how to do this.

The above is a very general guide to receiver installation and setup. Every model has its own feature complement and idiosyncrasies. So make sure you consult your receiver’s manual before and during this process.

 





 
The image above shows a relatively simple home theater receiver back panel.
This is where all the cables are connected to/from components.
On the left, the digital audio inputs are marked optical and coaxial.
Below are the analog audio left/right connections for CD, tape, VCR.
You also have the inputs for a DVD player. On the right are the
speaker connections for front, center and surround speakers.

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