Wiring up a 5.1 surround sound system

Yamaha RX-V361B AV Receiver

Recently my sister purchased a Yamaha RX-V361B 5.1 home theatre receiver. My Dad first had a go at setting it up, but failed as there was a hardware fault with the receiver. After it was repaired/replaced, my brother, brother-in-law and myself had a go at setting it up (ruined the family Christmas celebrations, unfortunately.

My sister has a bit of a complex setup, a DVD player, Digital TV STB and Foxtel receiver all currently going into their 42″ plasma TV. They put a couple of restrictions on us setting it up too – all devices must still be watchable with the surround sound amplifier turned off and it must be simple to use (not too complex a procedure on the remote controls).

We couldn’t do it.

We tried, but it just wasn’t possible to have high quality picture coming through the AV receiver as well as directly to the TV, so you ended up having to chose between best quality or simplest.

The problem was mainly due to the Foxtel box. Foxtel signals are not very high quality. The Fox box is able to output video via S-video or Composite cable, at that’s it. Sound is only stereo. Both the other devices have at least Component picture (plus S-video plus composite) and the HDTV box has DVI/HDMI as well. Both have digital audio out (optical or coaxial) which allows the receiver to turn whatever signal is coming in (2.0, 2.1, 5.1, DTS, 7.1 etc) into the appropriate signals to the 5.1 speakers installed in the room. Plus stereo.

The Yamaha amplifier only has a “pass-through” video output to the TV. By this I mean that if you have one signal coming in as composite, one as S-video and one as component, they will be relayed to the TV via the corresponding output, the composite will only come out the composite, the S-video will only come out the S-video, the component will only come out the component. This meant if you decide to change the box you are watching, say Fox to DVD, you would have to change the input on the Amplifier, then change the input on the TV – this does not meet my sisters simple directive.

So what we did was hook all three input devices to the receiver via S-video cables, purchased from your local supermarket. This had a couple of unforseen consequences. Firstly, the DVD player would not output a 16:9 widescreen image via the S-video connection. Secondly the Foxtel box needs to be tuned to either output via composite or S-video, not both, and one or the other must look awful at all times.

We got past the first issue by trying a second DVD player that was fortunately in the house, this one was happy to output widescreen on all connection types. The second we couldn’t beat. Foxtel’s hardware deficiancies simply could not be beaten. In the end we had to get the residents to decide if they would normally watch Fox via the receiver and tune it for S-video, or direct on the TV, in which case we would tune it for composite.

We ran secondary outputs direct from each device to the TV. The DVD had a component cable which went straight to the TV, the HDTV had a DVI/HDMI output we were able to plug straight in, and the darn Fox box had that composite cable which wasn’t very watchable (all devices were able to send stereo via RCA to the TV in addition to the signal going to the AV receiver). This allows my sister to just flick around the inputs on the TV remote without having the amplifier on, if she chooses. We also explained that the DVD and HDTV pictures were actually better straight into the TV and to only have the sound coming via the amp, whereas the Fox needs the amp to show it’s best.

It was all a bit complicated, really, which is unfortunate. Fortunately, the sound from the Yamaha amplifier and JBL 5.1 speakers was excellent. Many hours of home entertainment are in store at that house, I tell you.

JVC RXD-701S AV Receiver

My Dad has also recently purchase a home theatre amplifier. His is a JVC RXD-701S 7.1 surround receiver which he has hooked up to the projector and various speakers we have scrounged/created over the years. One nifty feature of this unit is firstly it’s HDMI capability and another is video upscaling. Basically what this means is that if you have a bunch of different inputs as we had at my sisters, the receiver will translate them into the highest quality connector you have available (in Dad’s case HDMI) and send that signal to the video monitor. This means select one input on the projector remote and the receiver is happy to do the rest of the switching by itself.

Unfortunately Dad reports that the JVC doesn’t have as many inputs as the Yamaha, nor is it as flexible at mixing and matching audio to video signals, but it should provide a mighty sound and very impressive home theatre, when coupled with the projector and 106″ screen he has.

The other part of wiring up a home theatre system, the tedious bit, is the running (and hiding) of the speaker wire and the installation of said speakers in unobtrusive locations. Fortunately my brother-in-law had already done this at his place which allowed us to focus on wiring up the inputs to the amplifier. Dad hasn’t done his yet and I doubt it will look as neat for some time as Dad is upgrading bit by bit, rather than starting from scratch.