The popularity of Home Theater Systems (HTS) has taken off in recent years as prices have fallen. These days you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to enjoy remarkable sound and video quality in the comfort of your own home.

System Components

Whether it all comes in one box, or you mix and match individual components, the basic home theater system consists of:

  • Television set
  • DVD player
  • DVR (digital video recorder) or VCR
  • Surround Sound Receiver
  • Speakers
  • Cables and Connectors
  • Surge Protector

Home Theater Considerations

The best advice when purchasing a home theater system is to let your eyes and ears be the guide, relying less on marketing hype and more on what looks and sounds good to you. Also remember to take into consideration:

    • Room size: Fit television and speakers to the size of the room.
    • Seating: Consider the angle and distance from the screen and speakers.
    • Acoustics: Determined by the room’s shape, materials, and furnishings.
    • Lighting: Take windows and room lights into account when positioning TV.
  • Ventilation: Assure adequate cooling for both components and audience.

Speaker Wire

When it comes to speaker wire, the thickness or “gauge” matters. The general rule for optimal sound quality is:

Cable Length Gauge
Under 100‘ 14
100’ to 200’ 12
Over 200’ 10

Cables and Connectors

The quality of the connectors and cables that tie all the components together can make a big difference in the picture and sound. While you don’t have to spring for top-of-the-line gold plated connectors, avoid the least expensive ones.


  • Composite Video Connector: Carries the video signal to the TV with standard stereo (RCA) cables used for audio. The color and sound produced is good but not as high quality as other connections.
  • RF Coax Cable: Same as that used to connect cable television. The cable carries both audio and video signals. Can be push-on or screw-on types.


  • S-Video Connector: The connector has four pins that separate the video signal into separate channels to provide high quality.

  • Component Video Connectors: Like s-video, component connectors separate the video signal into different channels but provide even better quality. Separate RCA style plugs are used for each channel.


  • High Definition Multimedia Interface: (HDMI) Produces the best picture and sound quality. The signal carried is completely digital and requires an HD compatible television.

  • Fiber Optic Audio Cable: (TOSLINK) Uses a light beam in a plastic fiber optic cable to connect the audio source with the receiver.

Making Connections

Although all systems are different, it helps if you think of cables as paths leading from one component to another. Your goal is to get the audio or video signal out of one device (output) and send it into another one (input.) For example, the video signal has to travel from the output jack on the DVD player to the input on the TV.

In addition to connecting the video and audio components to each other, the speakers have to be connected to the receiver using speaker wire. Slide the wire in the retainer and close it, making sure to keep the polarity the same at both receiver and speaker.

Speaker Placement

The three basic HTS speaker configurations available today are 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1. The first number tells how many full range speakers the system has while the second number indicates the subwoofer for low frequencies. The 5.1 system, with five main speakers and one subwoofer, was the first introduced and remains the most popular.

Speaker placement is the single most important factor in a home theater experience. Here are some general guidelines for setting up each system:

5.1 System: Position the side surround sound speakers even with or slightly behind the seating area and the two front speakers on either side of the TV at about a 30 degree angle to the seating area. The center speaker goes on top of or below the television while the subwoofer sits on the floor to one side.

6.1 System: Speakers are positioned the same as 5.1 with the addition of a rear speaker placed directly behind the seating area.

7.1 System: The setup is the same as 5.1 except there are two additional rear speakers placed at an angle behind the audience

Hiding the Wires

We’ve all done it—poked holes in walls and floors and stapled wires around doorways—but there are better ways to hide speaker wires:

    • Wireless Speakers: The easiest method – no wires! But wireless means the possibility of interference and degraded audio quality. They can be either battery operated, powered by AC, or both.
    • Channeling: Wires are routed though a hollow plastic tube, known as a raceway, that has adhesive backing so that it can be attached to the baseboard. Channels come in a variety of colors and can be painted to match. Snap on connectors and elbows make it easy to run channeling along walls and around corners.
    • Flat Wire: Flat wire is just as the name implies. It can be easily run under carpets without creating a bulge. Some have adhesive backing to hold it in place and can be painted.
  • Fish Tape: A special type of wire that is very stiff, perfect for “fishing” through walls or under carpets.

The Final Word

A rainbow of colors, and a tangle of wires. While it looks intimidating, it’s not if you understand the basic principles involved and take the time to plan out the installation. While most systems today have color coded cables, they can still be confusing, so the best thing to do is READ THE MANUAL. Done right, you’ll end up with a home theater system that will literally knock your socks off!

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Editorial Contributors
Danny Lipford

Danny Lipford


Danny Lipford is a home improvement expert and television personality who started his remodeling business, Lipford Construction, at the age of 21 in Mobile, Alabama. He gained national recognition as the host of the nationally syndicated television show, Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford, which started as a small cable show in Mobile. Danny's expertise in home improvement has also led him to be a contributor to popular magazines and websites and the go-to source for advice on everything related to the home. He has made over 200 national television appearances and served as the home improvement expert for CBS's The Early Show and The Weather Channel for over a decade. Danny is also the founder of 3 Echoes Content Studio,, and Checking In With Chelsea, a décor and lifestyle blog.

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