Home Cinema AV Set Up Guide
While seasoned audiophiles will be used to what cable goes where, for anyone new to hi-fi or home cinema, the number of sockets on the back of an AV receiver can be a daunting sight. However, connecting your home cinema needn’t be as worrying as it might first seem and is fairly straightforward once you understand how everything all fits together.
So, take a breath & we’ll do our best to explain it.
For the purposes of this example, we’ve used the rear of the new (for 2011) Onkyo TX-SR609 AV receiver, one of our most popular new sellers as it features the most upto date Dolby and DTS sound modes alongside ample amounts of power and impressive audio and video performance. An AV receiver is the heart of your home cinema set-up and is what you connect everything else to. It accepts image and audio from all of your other sources (CD player, mp3 player, etc), provides the power for your speakers and sends images to your screen with many other settings to get the best from your kit.
The first thing you’ll notice about the back of this AV receiver is the manufacturer has usefully grouped all sockets into groups with a title on each – the group on the left are labelled as “DIGITAL IN” (these are the digital audio inputs), then you have “COMPONENT VIDEO” to the right of these, a large group labelled “VIDEO/AUDIO” to the right of these (with “ANTENNA” above this and “UNIVERSAL PORT” to the right), a group above labelled “HDMI” and a large group of sockets to the right labelled “5.1 CH” (all of these are for your speakers).
We’ve connected a typical group of equipment to it using colour coded lines to show where everything would be connected, alongside a handy key on the right. To avoid any confusion, please note that all connections all have a different type of plug, apart from digital inputs, component video inputs and audio inputs which all use the RCA (or “phono plug”) which is an industry standard used for a variety of things including audio and video connections (more on these below).
So what are all these cables?
Ideally you’ll connect your Blu Ray Player, Sat Box and any other source using an HDMI cable (red cables), speakers are connected as shown (purple cables) although one pair of rear speakers are optional if you want 7.1 channel sound (most movie soundtracks are 5.1 channels but some newer releases are full 7.1 or even 9.1, each of which offers increasingly realistic effects sounds to the rear channels). A subwoofer is a must for realistic movie sound (yellow cable). There are inputs for sound, but we haven’t used these on this example as the sound along with the picture is carried by the HDMI cables. You can connect to your internet router (green ethernet cable) and to a radio antenna (pink cable) for a better FM signal.
It’s as simple as this really! For those of you that want explanations in a little more detail, read on…
Inputs for the picture
Now first things first, this AV receiver – like many, has video inputs to cater for a wide choice of equipment. In many cases, your DVD or Blu Ray player will have several different types of video outputs giving you a choice of which you use. In order of choice the following inputs will give you the best image quality (starting with the best):
HDMI is the preferred choice and will offer the best image, but this AV receiver offers the other choices just incase your DVD player or Sky box etc doesn’t have HDMI. For the purposes of this example though, we’ll assume that all equipment has HDMI outputs and so the “COMPONENT VIDEO” and “AUDIO/VIDEO” sockets are left blank – but at least you know now why they’re there!
1) “HDMI” (shown as red cables) offers the best image quality, upto 1080 horizontal lines in HD (high definition) – see the group of sockets labelled “HDMI”. In contrast to the “component” and “video composite” inputs, can carry both exceptional video images and audio along the same cable (with the other video inputs you need to run separate cables for audio). Please note though that you can only use HDMI for audio as well if you set the AV receiver and source to accept and send audio through the HDMI connection – otherwise you’ll need to use a separate cable to carry the audio (this is where the “DIGITAL IN” connections would come into play, where each of these digital inputs can be linked to an HDMI input if needed – using either an optical cable or coax digital cable. Why does HDMI look so good? Well, it can show upto 1080 individual horizontal lines on the image (referred to as 1080p) which is what you get with HD sources like Blu Ray and Sky HD.. All you need is an HDMI cable.
2) “Component video” is the next best thing to HDMI – see the group of sockets labelled “COMPONENT VIDEO”. These connections are split into three cables and carries image only – one for the green element of the picture, one for the blue and one for the red. Although not quite upto the standard of HDMI, these connections are designed to offer good picture quality as each element of the image is sent separately. To connect say a DVD player to these, you should have corresponding component video sockets on your DVD player and would use a component cable (with a separate audio cable to carry to audio which would be connected to a pair of audio sockets (left and right) under the label “AUDIO/VIDEO”. For the purposes of this example though, we’ll assume everything we’re going to connect does have HDMI sockets – but at least now you know why they’re there!
3) “Video composite” is the oldest type of video connection – a standard 1 socket RCA “VIDEO” input labelled yellow – see a row of 6 of these yellow sockets under the label “VIDEO/AUDIO”. In this case, video sent through one cable only (so you’ll also need to use a separate audio cable to carry to audio as with the “composite video” option above). For the video connection, you can use a single cable with RCA plugs on each end.
In our example, we have a Playstation or XBox, computer, Sat Box and Blu Ray player connected all using HDMI (for video and audio so we don’t need separate audio cables) – easy!
Inputs for the sound
As explained above, if you’re connecting your AV sources using HDMI connections (and we’ve assumed that in this example for the Blu Ray player, DVD player etc), you won’t need a separate audio cable to connect the audio signal. In some cases though the source won’t offer audio along the HDMI cable and you’ll need to use a separate cable for the audio – you now have 2 choices:
1) Digital Audio (connected to a socket under the “DIGITAL IN” set of connections). A digital audio connection offers the best possible sound. These types of connections can either be optical using an optical cable or coaxial using a coax digital cable – the type of cable chosen simply depends on the digital audio output socket on your source.
2) Analog Audio (connected to a pair of audio input sockets under the “AUDIO/VIDEO” set of connections). These are industry standard connections (almost always using RCA sockets) and are labelled white (left channel) and red (right channel), hence the audio interconnect you’d use for these come as a pair of cables (one for left, one for right). You can also use these inputs to connect any stereo hi-fi music source like your CD player, radio tuner, etc. and use your AV receiver to listen to music (we’ve not included these in this example to keep it simple!).
Use an ethernet cable (shown as a dark green cable) to connect the AV receiver to your home internet network socket or router. This allows you to enjoy internet, internet radio and music/video stored on your NAS drive.
The definition of “receiver” in the hi-fi world is an amplifier that also includes a radio tuner. Hence, most AV receivers include either a standard FM radio and/or DAB radio tuner. These sockets allow you to connect a suitable radio antenna. Often times an AV receiver will include a small plastic square antenna with a bare wire cable that you’d connect into the bare wire terminals under “ANTENNA” (on the left). Ideally though, for the best sound, you need to use a radio antenna fitted to your roof (often connected to a wall socket behind your AV system) that you’d then connect using an aeriel cable (shown as a pink cable).
Connect your Speakers
Now we’ve discussed all of the sources coming into the AV receiver, now its time to discuss the sound coming out of it. The connections on the right are all for connecting your speakers using suitable speaker cables (shown as purple cables). You can buy the total length of cable you need, cut it, and then either use bare wire on each end to connect to the speakers and AV receiver – or, ideally, you can have the cables terminated with proper speaker cable plugs (referred to as “banana plugs”) – terminated cables should always sound better from the logic that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” and the plug offers a better and more consistent connection than bare wire clamped into a terminal.
A home cinema set-up has left/right speakers on the front (which play most of the main sound on a soundtrack including music), centre speaker (which plays most of the speech and some of the main sounds on a soundtrack), subwoofer (summarised separately below) and rear speakers (for effects). A home cinema set-up can either be 5.1 (which refers to 5 speakers and 0.1 for the subwoofer), or 7.1 (7 speakers and subwoofer, which is where you have an additional pair of rear speakers). Most movie soundtracks are 5.1 with only the most recent being 7.1. Whether you go for a 5.1 or full 7.1 set-up is upto you. For the purposes of this example, we’ve shown an optional pair of speakers for 7.1 sound connected.
I’ve heard of “Biwiring” – what is this?
Speaker cables come as a pair for each speaker (one is – and one is + which are connected to the corresponding – and + at each end). Most speakers only have 1 pair of – and + sockets which then connect to all drivers on the speaker inside the speaker through a “crossover”. However, some speakers will have 2 pairs of speaker terminals where one pair connects to the woofers (that play the midrange/bass) and one pair to connect to the tweeters (that play treble sound). In this case, you can either use a standard set of speaker cables for that speaker (and connect the two pairs of terminals on the speaker using speaker jumpers so the cable effectively connects to both), or, you can use a biwire cable, which is where you have 2 pairs of cables running from the same connections on the amp to each pair of terminals on the speaker. BiWiring is designed to sound better from the logic that you have a separate cable running from the amp to each set of terminals on each speaker – even though you have the 2 – and 2 + ends connected to a single – and + terminals on the amp.
Connect your Subwoofer
No home cinema would be complete without a subwoofer to provide impressive bass sound. You can connect upto 2 active subwoofers to this AV receiver, but in this example we’ve only included 1. A subwoofer is different to other speakers in this set-up because its “active” – this means the subwoofer features its own amplifier and volume control and is not amplified by the AV receiver like the other speakers – it is simply connected using a mono RCA audio cable referred to as a subwoofer cable (shown in yellow).
You’ll notice some other inputs we haven’t used in this example – these are explained below (from left to right on the image):
- “RI” (“remote interactive”) – this allows you to connect an external remote control receiver (not included) so you can control the unit when its hidden inside a cabinet.
- “PC IN” – this allows you to connect your PC or laptop using a standard monitor cable (useful if your PC/laptop doesn’t feature an HDMI output as in our example)
- “VIDEO/AUDIO” (explained above)
- “UNIVERSAL PORT” – use this to connect other Onkyo products such as the Onkyo UP-DT1 DAB module or Onkyo UPA1 iPod dock.
- “ZONE2″ (next to the “AUDIO/VIDEO” connections) – these allow you to send a stereo (left/right) audio signal to another room
- Power cable (this is shown at the top and is fitted to this model). Some models include a socket for the power cable with a cheap/standard power cable included. In these cases, you can upgrade the amp further by changing this for a higher quality mains cable.