Home Theater Basics

So you’ve already got the perfect design in mind and picked out one or two essential pieces of audiovisual hardware? Congratulations: The goal of enjoying a great home theater is almost in sight. Following are just a few crucial tips that can help you make the most of your new system, cut down on clutter, effectively complement central components and minimize the hassle of any upgrades going forward.

Calibrate Your Display

We can’t stress it enough, setting up your home theater and not tweaking your video display is like buying a Porsche 911 and never going over 50 miles an hour: You simply won’t experience the true potential of the machine. Making even rudimentary adjustments to the display through the picture controls in the menu system will dramatically enhance performance. See our article on giving your HDTV a tune-up and improving picture quality for more details.

Enhance Speaker Performance

We live in a video-centric world in which speakers often get short shrift. There are several things you can do to enhance speaker performance. First, make sure to buy speakers as a matched set. If you throw a bunch of different speakers together, audio won’t be cohesive. Also make sure that the speakers’ tweeters are positioned at ear level when you are sitting down. Invest in high-quality speaker cables too, and use the stands or wall brackets rather than putting speakers in bookshelves, which can have negative impact on audio. Finally, test your speakers using the test-tone generator on your receiver to make sure you have them set up properly. It’s easy to mistake a right front speaker for a left front speaker, an error that if unaddressed will produce discombobulated sound—especially on movie soundtracks.

HDMI cableCut the Cords

There is nothing worse than having an unintelligible jumble of wires waiting behind your equipment rack. Without a preemptive effort at organizing cords, managing your system, upgrading equipment or running simple troubleshooting can become an all-day system overhaul. To eliminate issues like these, label each component’s wire clearly using masking tape. Bundle wires together with twist ties, and whenever possible, use HDMI cable instead of component video cable: Component video cable has five connectors to HDMI’s one, making for a messier installation.

Likewise, exposed wiring is probably the biggest aesthetic no-no when you are trying to create a room that looks even the slightest bit put together. There are several solutions to exposed wiring. A lot of AV furniture, for example, has wire-management features built into the cabinetry. Additionally, manufacturers like KEF offer wireless rear speakers so you don’t have to run speaker wire from the receiver to the back of the room (though you’ll still need to plug wireless speakers into a power outlet). If you prefer wired speakers, some cable manufacturers offer flat, paintable speaker wire that seamlessly blends in with its surroundings. Of course, the best solution is to hide the wires within your walls, which can be complicated if you don’t know what you are doing. Consult a professional AV installer before you start drilling holes in drywall.

Get Lighting Right

Lighting your theater appropriately is crucial to the overall experience. There is nothing more jarring than turning the lights off and on before or after a movie. In fact, flipping all the lights on after a movie can actually hurt your eyes as your pupils readjust from total darkness. Use dimmers to avoid a scenario like this, whether you install simple wall dimmers or use a more sophisticated lighting system, such as those from Lutron. Also consider aisle rope lighting so that you don’t trip if you need to take a snack or bathroom break during the middle of a film. Some even use lighting to create a dramatic effect, such as a fiber-optic ceiling that mimics the night sky.

Purchase the Right Gear

Whether you know a lot or a little about technology, it pays to do your research before you lay down your credit card. While it might be relatively simple to go out and purchase a new Blu-ray player, buying a receiver to go with it might not be so easy. For example, if you purchase a Blu-ray player with support for the new high-resolution audio formats then buy a receiver that doesn’t decode these formats, you won’t be able to take advantage of all that Blu-ray has to offer. Additionally, several new receivers have special features that include room correction. These modes are often invaluable in adjusting speakers to the optimal levels for your room. Make sure you know what you are buying and how it is going to work within your desired system – a simple glance at our in-depth home audio and home video reviews section can provide a good starting point.

Klipsch RF-62 Speakers
Klipsch RF-62 Speakers

Product Review

SVS's stunning Prime speakers go wireless with (mostly) brilliant results

The latest offering from SVS is a wireless way to enjoy the company’s incredible sound. While they do come with a few caveats, those looking for gorgeous sound in a stunning package will want to give them a long look.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny, muffled TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.

How do the revised Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles stack up?

Microsoft's new Xbox One S and Sony's PlayStation 4 "Slim" have bucked the generational gaming console trend. But which of these stopgap systems is worth spending your paycheck on?
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.

Become a champion with our beginner's guide to Apex Legends

Jumping into Apex Legends for the first time? Need help becoming a champion? Our Apex Legends beginner's guide has 15 tips and tricks that will hopefully help your team make it into the champion's circle.

Thrive in the nuclear apocalypse with our Metro Exodus survival guide

Metro Exodus is a difficult shooter, especially if you're new to the series' blend of stealth, action, and scavenging. Here is what you need to know to survive the nuclear apocalypse.

Here's where Xur is and what he has for wares this week in Destiny 2: Forsaken

The weekly vendor in Destiny 2: Forsaken always brings Exotic weapons and armor, some of the toughest loot to find in the game. Here's everything you need to know to track down Xur: Where he is, when he shows up, and what he's stocking.

Here's our Champion's guide to picking the best character in Apex Legends

Apex Legends' use of heroes with different abilities helps separate it from other battle royale games. To help you choose your legend, we've put together a legend guide detailing their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

These are the best weapons for taking down mutants and bandits in Metro Exodus

Metro Exodus is a very difficult game, and choosing the right weapons is key for surviving the post-apocalyptic Russia that 4A Games has created. These are the best weapons in Metro Exodus.

Exotic Masterwork Weapons are in Destiny 2. Here's how to upgrade

Destiny 2's new Masterwork gear offers a number of special bonuses. Here is what you need to know about it, including how to find the gear in the game and even create it yourself.

How to keep a PS4 in your pocket with the PlayStation Mobile app

Sony built the PlayStation 4 with smartphone and mobile integration in mind. Take a look at our guide for connecting your smartphone or tablet to a PS4, so you can get the most out of the system while on the go.

Save space on your iPhone by turning off Live Photos in the camera app

If you want to save storage space on your iPhone or reduce the size of your backup for iCloud, then you should think about turning off Live Photos in the camera app. Find out exactly how to do it with our easy guide.
Smart Home

What exactly is Alexa? Where does she come from? And how does she work?

While "Alexa" has become synonymous with products like the Amazon Echo, you can't actually go out and buy an "Alexa." So what is Alexa? How does she work? Here's everything you need to know about Amazon's virtual assistant.

Don't know what to do with all your old DVDs? Here's how to convert them to MP4

Given today's rapid technological advancements, physical discs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Check out our guide on how to convert a DVD to MP4, so you can ditch discs for digital files.