Wiring your Home Theater
Many of the questions I have received were concerned with how to wire their new home theater system. To better understand this important topic I have added this section. First, there are two categories of wiring required. The first is the video wiring, the second is the audio connections.
In the old days, as my daughter calls them, it was simple to connect your TV set. You took the flat 300 ohm wires from your antenna, either the old indoor rabbit ears or from a roof mounted antenna, and you connected to two screws on the back of your TV. With technological advancement comes complexity. Now we have to worry about various video sources, usually to a single TV. The primary source for most people is the cable connection. This is usually a 75 ohm coaxial cable that provides both audio and video signals. This cable can come from a regular cable provider or a satellite dish or provider. There are, of course, differences in quality but as far as connections go we will treat them as the same. In most home theater set ups the cable coax will rarely go directly into the TV. Most will go into a recording device first. This used to be the VCR but now it can also be something like a TiVo box. This is basically a hard drive for your TV that can digitally record programs from your cable system. The cable coax goes into the antenna in jack of the VCR (to simplify matters TiVo and VCR will be called VCR). If you need a cable box the coax comes out of the box into the VCR. If you need a cable box try to get two of them. This will permit you to watch one program while recording another. If you have two VCRs you will need a splitter to allow one coax to go to each of the two VCRs. On VCRs there is a set of three RCA jacks marked output. They are color coded. Red = Right Audio, White = Left Audio and Yellow = Video. Get good quality A/V cables that are also color coded the same way. Connect the output jacks of the VCR to the corresponding input jacks of your TV. Once connected turn everything on and test to make sure you have the picture and sound. Some home theater receivers have A/V jacks on them. This permits you to automatically switch between video sources with the remote control of the receiver. If this is the case for you the receiver jacks will be marked VCR1 out, VCR2 out TV out and Cable in. The coax of the cable goes into the receiver and the sets of three RCA cables go to the appropriate device.
For DVD players you will also have to run a yellow video cable to the TV. This can be done with a VCR 3 jack or through the receiver as described above.
Never hook a DVD player into a VCR. The Macrovision copy protection circuits will degrade the picture and mess with the brightness.
On most systems the audio wiring is a bit more complex. If you just went through the above steps the basic audio connections are already made for your cable system, VCRs and TV. Now we get to the fun part, the DVD player. There are two types of DVD players, those with decoders and those without. A decoder is required for true six channel digital sound. If you have a decoder in your DVD player you will not need an external one. Since the cost is about the same always look for a decoder that can process both Dolby Digital 5.1 (sometimes called AC-3) and DTS. First let's look at the external decoder.
The back of a DVD player requiring an external decoder will have at least two sets of output jacks. One will be the typical and by now familiar red and white RCA jacks near the yellow video output. Even if you are going to use the digital sound features take a moment and hook up the RCA jacks to the TV or receiver. This will give you greater options for the sound with DVDs that are surround, stereo or yes, even mono. These connections will not interfere with the digital connections. Also on the back of the DVD player are one or both types of digital jacks. The first is the coaxial digital output. This looks like a normal coax jack used with your cable system. While a regular coaxial cable will work you really need a coax cable rated for digital use. The second type of digital output is the fiber optical output. This is a little rectangular hole where the optical cable will click into place. In either case the digital cable then goes to the corresponding input jack on the back of the decoder.
Whether you have an external decoder or a built in decoder on your DVD player the next step is the same. There are a set of six RCA output jacks on the back. They will be labeled Front-Right, Front-Left, Rear-Right, Rear-Left, Center, Subwoofer. On the receiver you will find corresponding input jacks marked the same way. Connect the six jacks on the decoder/DVD player to the same input jack on the receiver. Now, all you need to do is hook up the six speakers to the correct speaker terminals on the receiver and you are ready to blow away the neighbors with your new home theater.
It was reported to me that there is a digital RCA audio connector on some DVD players. This apparently looks like a regular RCA cable and connects the DVD player to the decoder. Since I have personally not come across this type of connector I hope that anyone with first hand information about will write so I can include more details on my site. More on this type of connector is in the works so please check back.
It should be noted that some special wiring may be needed for your sub woofer. While this speaker handles only a limited frequency it often has what may seem like an inordinate number of jacks in the back. This is because there are several ways that you may need to set up the sub woofer. There will most likely be a single RCA connector marked INPUT. Near this may be two screw top connectors, one black, the other red. Some receivers have RCA connectors for the sub woofer while others have twister pair wires. The sub woofer should be able to handle either of these cases. Again, as with any installation involving twister pair wire (regular speaker wire) you have to be careful about getting the polarity correct. Good quality speaker wire will have one of the two wires marked in some fashion. This is usually a wire line on the side one wire but not the other. I always, as a rule of thumb, connect the marked wire to the red terminal of the speaker and the receiver. It doesn't matter as long as you are consistent. Sub woofers may also have a left and right input and output. Now this may seem a little strange since the sub woofer is usually independent of the other speakers. Some speaker systems, Bose for example, often have the sub woofer connected to both front speakers. In this case the left and right front speaker wires goes from the receiver to the sub woofer first (using the input terminals) and then from there goes out to the appropriate speaker. This permits the sub woofer to get first chance at the low frequencies and then pass on the rest of the audio channel to the front speakers. This is often seen where the front speakers are not designed to handle the full range of frequencies. Most modern home theater receivers, the task of splitting the sub woofer frequencies out is done at the receiver level and not handled by the sub woofer itself. Wherever the signal is split you will have to set the crossover frequency. This is a little knob either on the sub woofer or the receiver that will allow you to determine the point at which the sub woofer will handle the sound. If set to say 100 Hz then all audio above this point will go to the front speakers, below it the sub woofer will handle it. You really need a good calibration disc to set this for your room's acoustics.
Connecting your DVD Player to a StereoIf you have a stereo amplifier rather than a full blown home theater amp connections will be a little bit easier.
Look at the back of your TV set and locate the A/V output jacks. They should be three RCA jacks color coded; Red (audio right), White (audio left) and Yellow (video). You will be using only the two audio channels, red and white.
Obtain stereo RCA cables from a Radio Shack or other electronics store. They are usually paired together as a one double cable.
There may be two such sets of jacks on your TV. One should be labeled just External while the other will be called Variable Audio Output. The latter will permit you to control the volume from the TV remote while the former requires volume adjustments be made from the stereo remote. I prefer the variable control output.
Run your cable from the output of the TV into one of the inputs of the stereo. See if there is an input designed for TV audio input. If not, look for one for AUX.
Look to see if there is a switch to shut off the internal speakers of the TV. On sets with external audio jacks there is always such a switch.
When you first turn everything on make sure the volume for the TV is set to normal volume and the stereo amp volume is all the way off.
Now, the moment of truth. Turn on the TV and the stereo. Slowly turn up the volume on the stereo until you get a nice, clear sound from the stereo speakers. Note the volume level of the stereo at this point. If you use the stereo for other purposes like CDs or audio be very sure the volume knob is returned to this position before using the TV. This is especially important after listening to a CD since the amplifier is often set very high for CD output. Failure to reset the volume on the stereo amp can result in blowing out your speakers.