The Home Theater Experience

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Setting Up Surround Sound

The most important step in setting up a surround-sound system is speaker placement. Each speaker does a specific job and should be positioned in a particular spot in your "theater" relative to where you'll be sitting (for most of us, that would be smack in the middle of the sofa). You should, of course, consult your particular system's manual, but here's a general example of how to position each speaker of a 5.1 home theater system:

  • Center speaker: The center speaker handles most movie dialogue, and should be placed directly in front of you (generally near your television) and at about ear level.
  • Left and right speakers: These speakers tend to handle the bulk of a movie's non-dialogue sound, and should be placed at a 22- to 30-degree angle from where you'll be sitting, again at ear level.
  • Right/left surround speakers: These are typically smaller speakers, and should be placed 90 to 110 degrees from your viewing area, a few inches above ear level, and behind you. These speakers handle directional audio--for instance, effects that should seem like they're coming from a specific place in the movie.
  • Subwoofer: There's no set position for a subwoofer, except that it should be placed on the floor. Positioning isn't so important with a subwoofer, because its bass audio is non-directional.

Place each of these speakers as best as you can--if existing furniture won't let you put a speaker in the ideal spot, you can make small adjustments, but keep in mind that moving speakers even a few inches can subtly change the audio experience. If your room's layout is really hard to shoehorn multiple speakers into, consider getting a home theater sound system that can automatically calibrate each speaker to the custom layout you've created. (Through the magic of technology, the system can gauge the volume of each speaker, compensating for odd positioning).

Also, keep in mind that some rooms are better suited for surround sound than others--for instance, big rooms with bare hardwood floors can create unwanted echoes, whereas rooms with carpeting, rugs, drapes, or lots of plush furniture are well-suited for audio.

Putting It All Together

Once you have your speakers positioned, you'll need to connect all your audio components together. You can typically do this with the speaker wire that shipped with your sound system--just plug one end of a wire into a speaker, and the other end of the wire into its corresponding jack or port on the surround-sound receiver, and repeat this process for each speaker. If the stereo wire included with your speakers is too short for your room's layout, you can easily buy more at a consumer electronics store. Keep in mind that, as with other types of cables, higher-quality connectors can improve your experience--and increase your cost.

Finally, you'll need to plug your sound receiver into your DVD player (if the two devices are separate) using a digital fiber-optic cable, linking the player's audio out connector to the receiver's audio in connector. Older DVD players and cheaper home theater sound systems may not have a fiber-optic connection--if so, use the standard RCA left and right stereo jacks and cables.

Now you can power up your sound system, put in a DVD, sit back, and enjoy the show!

This story, "The Home Theater Experience" was originally published by PCWorld.

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