I’ve been to plenty of homes where people have fancy TVs and home theatre setups. But you know what? Half of them have no clue how to set up a home theatre system properly. I’ve seen setups that are so haphazard that it would make an audiophile cry tears of rage. Now, you don’t want that to happen, do you?

A nice, clean looking setup. Image courtesy Thecondobar.com

A nice, clean looking setup. Image courtesy Thecondobar.com

When you’re setting up a home theatre system, you have two choices – you can hire someone to do this for you, or you can be a little adventurous and attempt it yourself. The latter is obviously no piece of cake, especially if you don’t have much technical knowledge. So here’s a little something that’ll help.

  • The first step is to dilute your ego and read the manual. It’s there for a reason, and not just to add a little extra weight to the box your home theatre system came in. Follow the instructions, as the manufacturers know what they’re talking about (well, most of the time anyway).
  • If you want the sound from your DVD or Blu-ray to be reproduced well, you have to make sure that your speakers are correctly positioned. I’ve seen people who have randomly placed their surround speakers, and it really irritates me! The front speakers need to be placed evenly across the room and the surround speakers usually go a little higher and directly behind the listener.
  • You may need to get stands made for your speakers, especially the rear ones, as fitting them to the ceiling is not something everyone wants to do.
  • A lot of people make the common mistake of placing the subwoofer in the corner. Although this makes it louder (every side of the corner adds 3 decibels of sound), the sound will be muffled.
  • Make sure that there’s nothing coming between you and the speakers, as sound is easily dispersed, as it travels in waves.  Additionally, you may need to angle your front left and right speakers for optimal sound so that the sound comes directly to your ears. But do not ignore the centre speaker, as most of the dialogues come from here.
  • Here’s what THX has to say about positioning speakers:
  • Place front left and right speakers at ear height, producing a 45° angle as viewed from the main seat.
  • Place the center channel speaker either above or below the display, then aim the speaker either up or down to point directly at the listener
  • Surround left  & surround right speakers between 90° to 110° to each side and 2 feet or higher above the listener
  • Surround back left  & surround back right speakers should be the direct firing type and placed together on the back wall.
  • If you have four subs, place one in the middle of each wall. If you have two, put them in the middle of opposing walls. If you have one, place it in the middle of the front wall.

  • A 5.1 setup, THX style

    A 5.1 setup, THX style

    • Setting the levels of your speakers is also very important. Do not set the subwoofer to max and turn down the rest, as this will definitely not give you the best listening experience.
    • You need to calculate the amount of space you’re going to use according to how big your setup is and how many components you will use. It’s also a good idea to get appropriate furniture to house your setup. It often happens that you find out that you need more space after you’ve almost finished setting up. You will then have to go through the rigmarole of unplugging and re-plugging just because the cables don’t reach one component.
    • Speaking of furniture, make sure you get the right kind; the kind that lets your setup breathe a little. And speaking of breath, avoid stacking up your components, as this will just cause them to overheat. If you do need to stack them, make sure the vents aren’t obstructed.
    • Make sure that you power down all your components before making connections. If you don’t, you may end up blowing something important, say an amp or a speaker.
    • If your setup is a custom made one, you may need to get extra cables. Whatever you do, don’t get stingy and buy the cheap ones, as they will not give you the best performance.
      The rear of a typical AV reciever. Image Couresy Hometheater.about.com

      The rear of a typical AV reciever. Image Couresy Hometheater.about.com

    • Wiring your speakers the right way is very important. Be sure that you’re connecting them right. For instance, red should always be connected to red, and black to black, centre to centre, left surround to left surround and so on. Keep your wiring simple and neat. You’ll thank yourself for it later when you need to clean around your setup, or if you need to rearrange it.
    • If you want to get really down and dirty with your setup, you could delve into the world of acoustics. This of course, involves a bit of research, and maybe even changing the room in which your setup lies. Too many reflective surfaces are a no go, as sound will literally bounce off these. At the same time, you don’t want to go in the other direction either, as too much dampening will, well, sound damp and dry.

    Now that you know the basics, it's time to get cracking. Follow these simple guidelines, and it'll make your life a whole lot easier. However, if you do have any further questions, feel free to mail me at siddharth@tech2.com

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