Looking for blu-ray & dvd players?

Blu-ray & DVD PlayersStart shopping

What Do You Need for Home Theater?

Putting together a great home theater system can be simple. The key is pairing a good high-def picture with engaging surround sound. We've outlined the components you'll need below, some of which you probably already own.

Why build your own system?

The simple answer is sound quality. When it comes to surround sound, you've got two options: building your own system out of separate components or choosing a pre-packaged one. Pre-packaged systems are designed to be easy to choose and set up, and can definitely deliver an engaging surround sound experience. But with a component system, you'll typically enjoy higher-quality construction and better audio performance. [Shop for home theater systems.]

Component systems are good for folks who:

  • want a full surround sound experience and high-quality audio
  • already have a few key components, like a Blu-ray® player, receiver, or a set of speakers
  • prefer to create a customized home theater system
  • are comfortable choosing and setting up separate components

To learn about your other audio options, check out our article on four ways to get better sound with your TV.

Now, let's dig into the components you'll need for a complete home theater system.

TV

A TV

A gorgeous picture is the focal point of many home theater systems. Virtually all of today's TVs are high-def — they offer a stunning, high-resolution 720p or 1080p picture. Now some of them also offer the 3D experience in the comfort of your own home (a compatible 3D Blu-ray player and glasses are required).


Disc player

Video sources: Blu-ray movies, high-def broadcasts, and more

If you've got a high-def TV, you'll want plenty of high-def sources. A Blu-ray player will give you the sharpest picture possible. High-definition Blu-ray Discs™ are your main source for full 1080p video, not to mention ultra-detailed surround formats like Dolby® TrueHD and DTS-HD™ Master Audio. For more information, check out our article about Blu-ray players.

Other top-notch home theater sources include HDTV programming, which delivers high-resolution video and digital audio, and video game consoles, which offer impressively crisp images and high-impact surround sound.

receiver

A home theater receiver

In order to enjoy surround sound, you'll need a home theater receiver. A receiver acts as the control center for audio; it processes audio signals, amplifies them, and sends them to your speakers. All home theater receivers can process and amplify multichannel surround sound as well as stereo audio, because they have built-in surround sound decoding.

Some people use their home theater receiver to manage video as well as audio — by running all their video signals to their receiver, they can make a single video connection from their receiver to their TV and simplify everyday use. It's a great option if you want to connect multiple sources, like a cable box, a Blu-ray player, and a video game console or two, to your home theater system. Then whenever you want to watch a movie or play a video game, you just have to press a button on your receiver's remote to switch to the right inputs, without having to switch inputs on your TV.


speakers and subwoofer

Speakers and a subwoofer

To faithfully re-create the larger-than-life, wraparound excitement of movie theater sound, you need at least five voice-matched speakers and a subwoofer. Some people opt for six or seven speakers and a subwoofer, so they can hear even more channels of surround sound. If you buy a pre-matched speaker system, you won't have to worry about voice-matching. But if you put together your own system, then make sure you buy from the same family of speakers.


Cables, power protection, and more

Often, people forget about essential accessories. They end up rushing out to the store in the middle of setup, or making do with a cable that isn't really suited to the purpose. The result? Extra hassle, and a real risk of missing out on the system performance they paid for. You can avoid that by planning out your system before you buy, accessories and all.

HDMI cable
Cables

You'll need speaker cables, audio cables, and video cables. You may already have some cables you can use. Just don't forget that very old or very cheap speaker cable can degrade your sound quality, the same way very old or very cheap speakers just don't sound good. Also, "freebie" audio and video cables that come in the box with a component can also result in lower-quality sound or picture; reduced picture quality is especially noticeable with today's high-end TVs, which aren't kind to static or picture flaws.

power protection
Universal remotes

Have you ever fumbled around with the remotes on your coffee table, and ended up changing your TV's input when you mean to pause the movie on your Blu-ray player? A universal remote can really help you simplify your system — and clean up your coffee table.

power protection
Power protection

It makes sense to use a power protection unit to safeguard your investment from lightning strikes and power surges. Some home theater fans choose a power protector with built-in line conditioning to ensure cleaner power, a better picture, and more accurate audio.

Internet connection

Many receivers come with built-in Ethernet ports that enable a host of features including free Internet radio, access to media on a networked computer, subscription music services and more. In addition to broadband service, you will need a network connection close by.

BDI furniture
A/V furniture, speaker stands, and speaker brackets

Depending on your room's size and shape, and the equipment you choose, you may need some stands to place your gear on. Be thinking about whether you'll need anything like this ahead of time, so you can avoid putting your TV on a couple of old crates, or having small surround speakers on the floor behind your sofa where you can't really hear them.

Gift Card The Great Gear Giveaway

Sign up for our email newsletter and then enter to win a $500 Rewards Card.