Here's one for the reality programmers: Stick three hunky men and three nubile women in a Malibu, Calif., condo with an audio-video receiver, a DVD player, a TV and a set of loudspeakers. Then watch the relationships develop as they try, and try again, to hook up all the equipment. We'll call it "Connections."
Sounds good, but network executives want a simple plot that can be resolved in a single season. Connecting a home theater takes some people forever. It's like setting up a VCR to the 10th power.
Let's remove some of the fear factor with this survivor's guide to home-theater connections. We'll dedicate this to the 77 percent of American consumers who, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, will buy at least one consumer electronic device this holiday season.
Here are the star players, the cables:
RCA: The basic audio cable for analog connections. They usually come in pairs, color-coded in red (for right) and most often white. This dates to the days of two-channel stereo -- one cable per channel. Helpful word association: Red is right. White is what's left. The red cable always goes to the jack marked "R" on your receiver, DVD payer or TV.
Digital (coaxial): An RCA look-alike with a different internal construction, usually a single wire. Sort of like your cable-TV wiring. This is the preferred connection of home-theater fanatics. It delivers the cleanest audio signal from DVD player to receiver. It's also the easiest. A single coaxial cable from a DVD player's digital output to a receiver's digital input delivers every audio signal, whether it's multichannel Dolby Digital and DTS or two-channel stereo. This is the way to go. Just make sure the cable you buy is coaxial.
Digital (optical): A fiber-optic cable, also known as Toslink, developed by Toshiba (thus the "Tos" in Toslink). Like a digital coaxial connection, it requires only one cable. Despite its cost (about $30), it's regarded as slightly inferior to coaxial.
S-video: A four-pin mini-connector that separates color and brightness signals. If your TV set and DVD player have S-video jacks on the back panel, buy one of these cables. You'll get sharper, more vivid images than the conventional analog connection -- a single RCA cable producing "composite video" that combines all color and brightness in one signal.
Component video: An even finer breakdown of the video signal than S-Video. Via a set of RCA cables, it separates red, green and blue signals and also separates chrominance (color information: hue and saturation) from luminance (brightness). Many DVD players have component-video outputs, but only the more expensive TV sets have appropriate inputs. If you're assembling a basic home theater, don't worry about this feature.
Speaker: Speakers must be wired in proper polarity, so make sure the wire from the red-coded ("positive") right speaker terminal on your loudspeaker is connected to the receiver's corresponding red-coded speaker terminal. Many basic speaker cables have a white line on one side of its clear plastic coating. Make this the right, or red, side.
The Ins and Outs: A DVD player and VCR are sources. They create, or output, the sound and pictures that are then input to the TV, sometimes via the receiver. So Output goes to Input. If you want a DVD player to show a movie on your TV, the DVD has all the vital information, the picture and sound. It must output that information so you can see and hear it.
OK, now that we know the players, let's use some to set up a basic home theater with a DVD player, receiver and TV in only a few steps.
1. Insert a coaxial digital cable between a DVD player's Digital Output and the receiver's Digital Input (coaxial). Most receivers have more than one digital input, so keep it easy and use the first one.
2. Insert an S-video cable between the DVD player and TV. (If your TV has no S-video jack, insert a single RCA video cable between the DVD player's composite-video output jack and the TV's composite-video input.)
3. Connect all speakers to the proper terminals on the receiver.
4. If your subwoofer has a built-in amplifier, insert an RCA cable between the sub's Line Input and the receiver's Subwoofer Pre/Out. This preamplifier output sends the audio signal from the receiver to the subwoofer.
That's it for the connections. Now plug everything in, then follow the set-up directions in your receiver's menu. (You must, for instance, go into the receiver's setup menu and tell it you're using that Digital Output, and not the Optical or Analog settings, for the DVD player).
In this configuration, you'll switch from one video source to another (TV, DVD) with the TV's remote. The receiver handles all the audio.
A simple home theater shouldn't take too long to set up. That's the reality.
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