Step 3: Setting up the System

The idea is to make your home theater feel as much like the real thing as possible. The display should be front and center, not off to the side so people have to strain their necks, and at eye level. Filmmakers typically play to the center seat 10 rows back; at home, that translates to about three times the diagonal dimension of the screen for traditional TVs and one-and-a-half times for HDTV images. Speakers sound better when they're on stands or mounted on the wall rather than set atop bookshelves or cabinets. The three front speakers should form a line with the TV, parallel to the seating area; the two rear speakers should be positioned opposite each other on either side of the listeners, slightly above ear level. It matters less where the subwoofer is placed, but for the best rumbling effect, put it on the floor behind the seating area or against a wall.

When stacking your gear, make sure there's at least 8 inches between the back of the components and the wall or rear of the cabinet to allow for easy installation, servicing, and ventilation. Receivers generate the most heat, so they need to go on top of the stack or on their own shelf with at least 2 inches of headroom and a clear path for heat to escape.

Avoid bundling wires and cables or placing them near power cords; both practices will increase interference and diminish signal quality. And keep them as short as possible (but never coil them up with a twist-tie). Before you trim speaker wires down to their final length, test the equipment to make sure everything looks and sounds great.
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