Back to Basics: How to Set Up Your Receiver

You might think your TV is the most important part of your home theater system. But the real heart of any home-entertainment setup is the A/V or digital surround receiver - the one element that ties all the others together and lets you select and adjust what you watch or listen to.

If you've never set up a receiver before, the cornucopia of connections and bounty of buttons can be intimidating. But fear not - unlike your monthly phone bill, receiver setup isn't as complicated as it seems.

Before you start hooking up your new receiver, spend a few minutes browsing through the owner's manual to get a feel for what it has to offer. Don't worry if your eyes glaze over - manuals tend to walk you through every aspect of operation in obsessive detail and can make everything look more complicated than it really is. Still, it's a starting point.

Putting It in Its Place The first step in setting up an A/V receiver is to find a good location for it. Look for a place where it'll get plenty of ventilation. Its amplifiers can generate a lot of heat when you're playing CDs or DVDs at high volume for long periods, and excessive heat can shorten the receiver's lifespan or even cause its protection circuitry to shut it down. Also, put it where you can get to the back panel easily. You don't want to have to pull it out of a cabinet or break down your entire setup every time you add or change a connection.

Come Around Back The back panel is the main interface between the receiver and the rest of your components . Understanding it is the key to knowing how to wire your system. All those connections might seem confusing, but the layout is actually very logical, with audio and video inputs and outputs grouped by function.

While even the most basic receiver has at least a couple of dozen jacks, you'll see only a handful of different types of connector. That's because most components use the same few kinds, and they're repeated many times to accommodate all the gear you might want to connect.