In our last article we discussed some of the decisions you had to go through to purchase your new home theater system. At this point you are either waiting for the delivery person or you aresurrounded by boxes. You are naturally anxious to sit back and enjoy a movie but there is a little more to do. Don’t worry; the effort will be worth it in the long run. If you haven’t done so by now,start with running the speaker wires.
Long gone are the days where you had at most two speakers placed on either side of your stereo. Surround sound means wires running all around your room. A note here to the husbands, be considerate of your wife’s concerns about how this will look. Not only are wires running across the room and all around the edge of the floorboards unsightly they are dangerous and easy to break. Never place a wire where you will walk. Here is another case where a little bit of planning will save a lot of trouble. Run the wires around the baseboards of your room. Go up and around doors, not across the entryway. For a small investment of time and money get wire covers. These are little strips of plastic or rubber that hold the wire firmly to the wall. They also blend into the wall or baseboard making the wire almost invisible. They will also keep the family cat or dog from using the wires for their own amusement. Run the wires to where you will install the rear speakers. Try to place them about equal distances from the primary viewing seat. In my home my spot of the sofa defines this. In order to best hear the movie your family will become affectionate and try to sit close to you. Just one-way home theater brings families together!
The rear speakers should be off to the side and slightly behind this position. If you need to mount them on the wall make if closer to the ceiling pointed slightly downward, aim at your seat. If your rear speakers are smaller than your mains, satellite speakers are popular for this; the bass response will not be as good as the front speakers. To compensate for this try placing the smaller speakers in the corner of the room, with the speaker facing outward from the angel of the corner. This will make the bass sound a bit better. When finically possible match the rear and front speakers. When I was able to do this the increased realism I obtained made the change well worthwhile. When you run the wires allow a foot or two where your speakers will go. This will give you some flexibility in the final positioning of the speaker. Also give a little extra room at the receiver end. There is nothing worse than tight speaker wires pulling out when you have to get behind the receiver or amplifier. If your speakers are floor models get or make a stand to elevate them off the floor a couple of feet. The center speaker should be on top of your TV or directly in front of it. Make sure all your speakers are magnetically shielded. This will prevent harm to your TV screen and any VHS tapes that may be left near the speakers. The last speaker to place is the sub woofer. This is a heavy monster of a speaker that will provide the very low-end sounds used in the ever-popular explosions and other special effects. It also adds more bottom to regular audio. There are two main types, passive and powered. The passive type requires no additional power outlet. The powered one does. For the powered you will need to connect the power cord to an outlet. This means the sub woofer will have to be off to the side a bit to prevent the speaker wire and power cord from running across the room. At this point your speakers are in the approximate position. Some changes will be made later during the calibration phase.
Okay, the speaker wires are ready and by now your equipment has arrived. Take a moment with a refreshing, non-alcoholic drink and read the manuals. Now comes the fun part, connecting the receiver, decoder, TV, VCR, cable and DVD player with enough cables to put NASA to shame. Rule one: don’t get cheap cables. You will most likely get some cables with the equipment. Save them for other uses. Go out and get real audio/video cables. Monster cables are great but you will pay for the name. I found the same quality for half the price at Radio Shack by getting their high-end A/V cables. They are thicker than normal cables, which will provide a far better response. They are also gold plated at the ends, which will prevent signal loss due to corrosion. Here the question of length comes into play. Get yourself a tape measure or shop ruler and measure the distances between the pieces of equipment that need to be connected. Again you don’t want the fit too tight but you also do not want a meter of extra cable behind your equipment. Most cables for home theaters are color coded, red for right audio, white for left audio and yellow for video. The jacks on the equipment follow these colors you should follow this lead. You will also need, depending on your equipment, S-Video, Component Video and either a fiber optic DVD cable or digital coaxial cable. Your manual will help with the proper selection. Here is a little hint that may help at this point. Go to the drug store and get a wide selection of colored nail polishes. The pre-teen types are great since they offer the most in bright colors. Place a little dab on the end of the cable and the jack it goes into. If you have to disassemble everything this will save a lot of time in replacing all the proper connections. Another must do is make a clear, labeled diagram of your connections. Dab the nail polish on it to show what is connected to what. Save the diagram and a description of any problems and your solutions with your manual is a save place, gathered together in a nice envelope for future reference. Hook up the TV first. Make sure you get the channels through the cable or satellite dish and that the sound is all right. From this point move outward. Next the receiver should be installed. Run the audio output from the TV to the receiver’s audio input. Test every piece of equipment before moving on to the next. In most cases your TV source, cable or dish, will go though the VCR or Tivo before going into the TV. Test first with a direct connection to the TV and then reroute to the recorder.
The next article will detail the special concerns of equipment like the DVD and how to get the most out of it.