Understanding home theatre connectivity is important in order to get the best performance out of your system — or indeed, to make it work at all. The rear panel of a typical A/V receiver or HDTV can be intimidating, but in this how-to we show you how to navigate the labyrinth of connectors like a pro.
In this guide you'll learn:
- What HDTV buyers need to know about connectivity
- Overview of connections necessary for a typical set-up
- Connecting to television programming sources
- Types of video connections
- The special problems of HDMI
- Types of audio connections
- Cable management, AC power filtering, and other accessories
Additionally, you'll get an overview of HDTV connectivity that will help you make smarter purchases, or get more out of HD gear that you currently own.
If you haven't already purchased a high-definition television, it's a good idea to familiarise yourself with how an HDTV connects to things. This information will give you a better idea of what to look for when you enter the retail jungle. And if you've already bought an HDTV, it's still important to understand the basics of your components connection scheme, and ways you can maximise the effectiveness of your purchase.
Home Theatre gear can have a large number of connection ports. Fortunately you generally won't need to use them all, but it's a good idea to know the purpose of each connection in order to get the most out of your system.
DTV vs. HDTV
Digital television (DTV) may be either standard definition (SDTV) or high definition (HDTV). Most DTV-delivery services offer a mix of SD and HD channels. But you'd be crazy to limit your video display to SDTV, so we'll refer to sets as HDTVs.
What mode of DTV service will you use?
DTV is available via broadcast, cable, or satellite. To access over-the-air digital television, including HDTV, your screen or set-top box must have a DVB-T — that is, digital-tuner. Over-the-air analog channels require a PAL tuner. For cable and satellite, the only HD box announced so far has been the Foxtel iQ2, but Austar is expected to release its own in the next year.
Other source components
To view HDTV on disc, the best option is to buy a Blu-ray player, with the Sony PlayStation 3 the best option due to its ability to upgrade and add new features via the Net. HD-capable DVRs are available from some smaller manufacturers — plus TiVo is about to make its debut.
Don't buy a HDTV without at least one HDMI input for each of your high-def source components. Most TVs should have at least two nowadays. Avoid sets with the older DVI interface — it's digital, but not fully compatible with some sources. Second best is component video, a high-def-capable analog connection. S-Video and composite video are not high-def capable. An antenna-compatible set must have an RF antenna input.
In this section, you'll learn more of the details of the complexity of a well-equipped home theatre. It can seem daunting, but it helps to understand what's feeding the system, and the basics of how the components are connected.
HD components look clean and simple from the front. The depth of their connection possibilities is only revealed when you examine their back panels.
Connect through HDTV or through surround receiver?
There are two ways to organise your home theatre's nervous system. If you want the best possible sound quality, make a surround receiver the switching heart of your system. Connect all signal sources to the receiver, letting the receiver feed the TV and speakers. If you have only a few signal sources, and are not fussy about sound, you might omit the receiver and connect everything to the TV. But relying on the TV's speakers won't give you a true home theatre system — just a connected TV.
A video display should be placed far enough back to make the dotted pixels invisible. A surround receiver should sit atop the hi-fi rack for best ventilation. If it must go in the middle of a tall rack, to reach the other components, allow at least three inches (or about 8cm for metric types) of space above it.
Audio/video signal sources
To get TV programming, you'll need either an antenna, cable box, or a satellite box. To watch disc or tape, you'll need A/V source components. Note that if you want HDTV, you'll need an HD-enabled service or components.
Audio-only signal sources
While the HDMI interface handles both video and audio, audio signals from A/V components usually travel separately — via either digital or analog connections. A CD changer may use either type. Though some turntables come with a pre-amp on-board, most require a phono input or external phono pre-amp. Analog audiocassette decks need analog inputs and outputs to record and play. An iPod may connect via docking device or 3.5mm adapter cable.
In this section, we'll explore the ways to get many channels of DTV goodness into your system. TV-delivery sources may connect directly to the TV, to a converter/descrambler box, to a DVR, or to a combination of these things.
Like digital TV in general, over-the-air HDTV is delivered mainly via the UHF band. Antenna signals are easily split to accommodate multiple TVs, DVRs, etc. Older TVs without DVB-T tuners may require a separate tuner box to support broadcast HDTV.
Examples of HDTV antennas.
Cable and Satellite
Your friendly local cable operator would prefer you to rent an HD-capable box. At the moment the two main providers are Foxtel and Optus, and these are only available in the eastern states. The iQ2 will be the only way you can access HD on cable come June.
Though there are several more satellite companies than cable, there are currently no locally available HD-capable boxes.
Digital video recorders
Most cable, and satellite operators all offer set-top boxes with built-in DVRs at a small extra charge. The iQ2 is also a DVR.