by Staff Writer
You have your home theater system set up, but the picture isn't as sharp as you'd like, and the sound isn't loud or clear enough. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to help you remedy these issues and get the most from your home theater system.
Make sure you're using the best video connections that your equipment supports. If you have a Blu-ray player and a high-definition TV, you'll want to use HDMI. (Of course, if your DVD player or other equipment supports HDMI, use HDMI cables with that equipment as well.) If you're connecting a DVD player to a standard-definition TV, you'll want to use component connections if your TV supports it; otherwise, use S-video connections. If you have an older TV with neither of those, use an RCA cable, also sometimes called composite. The coaxial connection should be your last choice.
Similarly, use the best audio connection possible. If your equipment supports surround sound, then you'll want to use HDMI if it's available; otherwise, you'll want to use either digital coaxial cable or an optical cable to connect your audio and video players to the receiver. If you're not using surround sound, then stereo RCA cables are the standard choice.
Make sure all the cables are properly connected and fully secure. Also, make sure that your cables haven't been damaged; if the wiring is exposed or the cable looks like it's been bent or otherwise deformed, it may not be transmitting as reliably as a new cable.
A calibration DVD or Blu-ray disc is a popular way to help you adjust the video settings of your televisions. These discs have a reputation for being somewhat difficult to use: While they typically include instruction manuals that will help you perform the calibration procedures, the layman may simply find the process overwhelming. You may only want to pursue this path if your own adjustments of contrast, color, brightness and other video settings aren't giving you a picture that you're satisfied with.
If you have a surround-sound system, you may need to adjust the volume levels of each speaker. Some video calibration discs will also help you correctly balance the sound between your speakers.
If you're concerned about the quality of your cables, try cables that have extra shielding against electromagnetic radiation and that use highly conductive, low-corrosion materials, such as gold. These cables are often quite expensive compared to standard cables, but many audio and video enthusiasts swear by the quality of these cables.
When connecting audio and video players to your television or to your receiver, don't use cables that are longer than you need. Signal quality can degrade over long cable runs. A cable length of 6 feet is standard for things like HDMI, component other A/V cables, and 6-foot cables should give you good signals between your equipment. If, however, the placement of your home theater equipment compels you to use cables longer than about 10 feet, you may simply want to rearrange your equipment so that components are closer.
When you're putting together your home theater system, you might find it easier to connect and set up one device at a time, when it's feasible. If you connect everything all at once, it may be much more difficult to track down the cause of a problem. Any time you're troubleshooting, try to remove all unnecessary pieces from the situation so you can evaluate just a few components at a time.