When most people want to unwind and relieve stress from their day to day tasks, they watch their favorite show or listen to some music, then emerge later more energized. This is why most people invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in home theater systems that provide high-quality videos and captivating audio experiences. But will you need an amplifier to set them up?
Home theater systems need an amplifier if you want to improve your equipment’s performance. However, they already have receivers that are jam-packed with new technology, and most of them come with a preamplifier, so your home theater can still work efficiently without it.
The rest of this article will discuss in detail other topics related to this question, including how home theater systems work, how to put together a home theater, and when you can consider installing an amplifier.
What Is a Home Theater System?
The term home theater system is often considered as a general approach to home entertainment. But in simple terms, a home theater system is a combination of electronic equipment that can imitate the experience of a commercial movie theater. Watching a movie on a home theater system is more engaging than watching on an ordinary television.
How Do Home Theater Systems Work?
Because the term home theater system includes several things, it can be difficult to explain how they work. However, all home theater systems have four main components: a watching device, an input device, an AV (Audio Visual) receiver, and speakers. These are all necessary parts for any home theater system to function, but they can be more complex depending on your needs.
These are all the devices that give out media, and they can include speakers, TVs, and projectors. You can use any home theater on your TV. However, if you want an excellent viewing experience, then you should consider investing in good speakers and TV.
This includes all devices that you can view your media from. Examples of input devices include:
- Game consoles
- DVD player
- CD player
- Google Chromecast or Apple TV
- Blu-ray player
- Record player
There are several other devices that fall under this category, but these are the most commonly used devices for home theater systems. All these devices send signals to the AV receiver, which passes it on to the output devices.
The AV receiver is the control hub of the entire home theater system. It receives signals sent by the input device, separates them into relevant portions, and then sends them to the output devices (speakers, TV, or projector). The receiver has ports for these, such as VGA, SCART, HDMI, or DP.
The audiovisual receiver is also fitted with a preamp, which enables them to amplify signals for the speakers. Additionally, it interprets the audio signals and processes them into surround or stereo formats.
Most importantly, the AV receiver provides a user interface for the home theater system, which can include equalizer settings, audio control, channel switching, and control over all connected devices. This makes the receiver the most important part of the home theater system.
A home theater system isn’t complete without speakers, as they provide the audio output. While your TV has speakers, they won’t provide you with the cinematic experience you want.
Generally, there are two speaker categories: stereo and surround. Stereo speakers are designed to send audio signals in 2 channels or two speakers. This format is often used for TV and Blu-ray/DVD shows. Some stereo systems are categorized as 2.1 channels. This means that a subwoofer is included.
Surround systems cover more than stereo systems, and they come in two categories: 5.1 or 7.1 channels. Such speakers have five speakers and one subwoofer. The level of immersion and size of your room will dictate the channel you need.
Another major difference in speaker systems is that they can be either active or passive. Active speakers are equipped with a dedicated power source and amplifier. Therefore, they will often have a volume control of their own, and they can be plugged into an output device using an AUX cable.
On the other hand, passive speaker systems don’t have a dependent amplifier or power source, so they have to rely on a preamp. Fortunately, most AV receivers are fitted with preamps, and they’re powerful enough to power even the most complex speakers. The type of speaker you choose will largely depend on the speaker system you want to build.
The subwoofer is one of the most important parts of your speaker system. Most songs and movies have poor audio quality mainly because they lack a bass output. Therefore, you should include a subwoofer in your speaker system.
When to Add a Power Amplifier
As noted earlier, a typical receiver will have an amplifier. However, in some situations, you may consider adding a power amplifier. Some of the reasons why you may add a power amplifier include:
- Listening habits: How loud do you listen to music? If you enjoy listening to ear-bleeding levels of music, then you may consider adding a power amplifier.
- Your room size: If you have just stuffed your home theater into a tiny room, you don’t need an amplifier. However, if you have a dedicated home entertainment room that can accommodate a number of people, you will need an amplifier to help you achieve high sound pressure levels (SPLs).
- Speaker load: Before adding an amplifier, you may want to first study your speakers' sensitivity rating and impedance graph. If your speaker dips around 4 ohms when at low frequencies, then it may need more power from an amplifier. To learn more on how to study your speaker’s impedance graph and sensitivity rating, watch this video:
- Bass management: If you often run your speakers' full range, they will require more power for heavy bass passages. For this reason, you may have to get a power amplifier. While most receivers are already fitted with preamps, some come with outputs to help you easily connect to an external amplifier. If your receiver has this feature, all you need is a pair of RCA cables to connect to your receiver's output.
Steps on How to Put Together a Home Theater
Home theaters bring the cinematic experience home, but for most people, the idea of setting up a home theater system on their own is daunting. However, with the right guidelines, it can be a stress-free process. Below are some steps that you can follow to get started.
Consider Purchasing an All-in-One Home Theater Package
Now that you know all the components you’ll need to set up a home theater, you may want to consider buying an all-inclusive home theater package. Several companies manufacture complete packages that include receivers and speakers and make it easier to match your TV screen to the audio system.
Therefore, if you prefer to have a specific type of equipment, you may want to go with the all-in-one home theater package. However, keep in mind:
- All-in-one home theater packages rarely come with TVs. This means that you will still need to purchase a new television, or you can adjust yours.
- All-in-one home theater packages from different manufacturers don’t have the same sound quality. But, they’re ideal for beginners.
Choose a Location
You will need a space where you can put all your equipment together. The ideal room should be at least 20 feet (6cms) long by 13 feet (4cms) wide, and it should be relatively isolated from the rest of your home. According to Rob Rickel from RSR Custom Renovations and Additions, “the home theater room should be located in a place where it won’t interfere with other home activities.”
Choose the Right Speakers
Speakers are an important part of your home theater system. Therefore, you have to take your time and weigh all your options before you make a purchase.
Consider the Purpose
Do you want to watch movies, listen to music, or both? Generally, all home theaters can perform both tasks. However, you should ask yourself what you want to spend more time doing.
- Watching TV and movies: The most recent movies are multi-track, which means that the sound can come from different speakers. Therefore, 5 or 7 small speakers can create a more immersive experience than 2 to 3 large speakers.
- Movies: When it comes to listening to music, quality is more important than quantity. Therefore, you can purchase a good receiver and include two hi-fi speakers for more quality sound.
Determine How Many Speakers You Will Need
The size of your room will ultimately dictate the number of speakers you will need. For instance, if you have a small room of about 300 sq. ft, you may only need a soundbar. However, for large rooms of about 800+ sq. Ft, you will need a set of 5 to 7 speakers.
You will also have to consider the proximity of neighbors to your home and the ambient noise levels. For instance, while you don’t need a 7.1 stereo system if you live in a small complex, you can purchase it if you live in a sparsely populated area or a noisy neighborhood.
Build Your Own Surround System
If you don’t want an all-in-one home theater package, you can build your own surround system with a receiver, five speakers, and a subwoofer. Building your own home theater will help you get the best sound. This may be a good choice if you already have a few home theater components, like a Blu-ray player, a TV, and speakers. In order to build your own home theater, you will need the following:
- Two front speakers
- Two rear speakers
- One subwoofer
- Two side speakers (optional)
- A small center speaker (optional)
Draft a Floor Plan
After you have gathered all the necessary components, you should start by drawing a floor plan. Ideally, all the speakers should meet at your main sitting area in order to deliver a realistic surround sound.
Depending on your room's size and the level of immersion you want, you can choose between a 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound system. Supposing you choose the 7.1 system, you will have seven-channel speakers and one subwoofer. To pre-wire for a 7.1 channel surround sound system, follow these tips:
- Center speaker – slightly above or below the screen
- Right/left speakers – either side of the viewing screen, but at ear height
- Side-channel speakers – on the sides of the wall, and slightly behind the main seating row
- Rear channel speakers – on the back wall
Choose a suitable location for the hub, which will house the AV equipment and the receiver. You can hide the hub in a closet or cabinet inside your theater.
Choose the Right TV Size for Your Room
Although you may be tempted to get the biggest screen, the “bigger is better” concept isn’t always applicable here. Instead, choosing the right TV size is more of a science, especially because the size of your room will dictate the screen size you should purchase.
Additionally, you should choose your TV's size, depending on how far away people will view the screen. To get the right TV size, keep the following in mind:
- People should sit 1½ to 2½ times the size of the TV screen away from it. For instance, if you get a 65” television, you should sit 97.5” (8 feet) to 162.5” (14 feet) away from the screen.
- The size of a TV is measured diagonally, from the top-left corner to the bottom right corner.
- You can also choose to buy a projector since it’s easier to adjust the screen size. The recommended distance that you should leave between you and the projector is 12 to 15 feet.
- Once you get the right TV for your room, it’s time to place it in the proper location. Ensure that you select an ideal entertainment center, and then place your TV in the designated spot and insert the power cable.
- Leave enough space between your entertainment hub and the wall until you finish setting up your home theater.
- If you are thinking of mounting your TV, do so after purchasing and setting up your speakers and all other components.
Choose a Receiver
As mentioned earlier, the receiver is the hub of all other components. Although a receiver will help organize everything, it’s not always necessary. However, to get the right receiver, you have to consider a few factors, including:
Your TV’s Video Input
If you are using a receiver, your TV will need an HDMI to send video and audio signals to your TV. However, some TVs also allow DisplayPort inputs. HDMI inputs have a trapezoid shape, while DisplayPort inputs resemble HDMI ports but with one straightened corner.
Purchase a Receiver That Will Accommodate All Your Inputs
There are different types of receivers, and they come in various shapes and sizes. However, you will need one with enough inputs for both video and audio to handle all your components. Your receiver should also have an optical audio input for the speakers.
Because most of your home theater components will be connected through HDMI (speakers, Xbox, TV, DVD player, or Blu-ray player), you will need a receiver that has at least 4 HDMI ports and one or more HDMI output ports. Keep in mind that you’re not purchasing an audio receiver, but one that can handle both video and audio.
Place the Receiver and Other Components Below Your TV
Because most of the non-audio components of your home theater will be placed under your TV, you should also place your receiver here to ensure that all other components are able to reach it easily.
All other video input devices should be placed below the TV. However, ensure that they’re evenly spaced, and there’s no overcrowding. Overcrowding can often cause overheating, which can damage your equipment. Once everything is in place, you can now proceed to hook everything up.
Connect Your Home Theater System
Once you have all the necessary components for your home theater, you can now connect them. Here is a list of all the steps you should take when connecting your home theater:
- Turn off and unplug all your equipment, especially your TV and speakers.
- Connect the receiver to your TV using your HDMI or HDMI-to-DisplayPort cable.
- Connect the video input to the receiver using an HDMI cable.
- Test the video connection before you can proceed to your speakers.
- Attach the media player directly to your TV and check for loose connections.
- Connect the speakers to the right inputs on your receiver, and remember to hide the wires.
- Test the speakers by playing a movie. If you don’t hear any sound, you can troubleshoot it by checking the receiver, the inputs, or play a song from another music player.
Having a private entertainment room was once considered an expensive luxury that only film stars, movie moguls, and the wealthy could afford. According to Joseph Cali, a private cinema could cost over $500,000 or even millions of dollars, depending on the amenities.
Fortunately, today you won’t have to break your bank to enjoy a cinematic experience at your home's comfort. All you need are the components of a home theater system (watching device, input device, AV (Audio Visual) receiver, and speakers).
Because most receivers are fitted with amplifiers, you may not need to add a power amplifier, but in case your speakers demand more power or your room is much bigger, you can get an amplifier. To easily connect an amplifier, consider getting a receiver with output features to connect to an external amplifier.