Surround sound systems dramatically improve your home TV-watching experience. Once you've bought an AV receiver and a surround sound speaker system, there are still more ways to get the most out of your equipment. Here are five tips to start improving your system's performance:
1. Choose your room well. Square rooms are not good for acoustics. Audio experts say you want to build your home theater in a room whose width is 1.6 times the height and the room length is 2.6 times the room height. You'll also want to avoid hard surfaces that reflect sound waves. Carpeting your floor greatly helps your acoustics, and so does installing furniture.
2. Place your speakers carefully. All speakers should be at approximately head height when you're sitting, facing your listening position. You want the front two speakers and the center-channel speaker to be about the same distance from your listening position, although you can raise your speaker levels to compensate if you can't make that happen in your room (more on that later). Your surround speakers should be on either side of your listening position, and your rear surrounds (in a 7.1 system) should be behind your listening position on either side. You can place the subwoofer almost anywhere, because large bass sound waves can fill the room from any angle.
3. Calibrate your speaker levels. Most home theater receivers come with a microphone and a program for calibrating your speaker levels. These systems compensate for imperfect speaker placement and room size. They raise or lower the levels of the individual speakers to give you a balanced, immersive sound.
4. Use the best surround sound formats. Dolby and DTS both have lossy and lossless audio formats. The lossless formats are less compressed. They contain all the information that was in the original studio master track and thus sound better. Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master are the two uncompressed surround sound formats that you should use for the best sound.
5. Upgrade your equipment. It sounds like a cop-out, but it's not. There is no substitute for elite speakers and a high-end receiver. If you have to choose between upgrading your receiver and your speakers, upgrade your speakers. Speakers comprise at least 75 percent of sound quality, with amplifiers and source material comprising, at most, 25 percent.
These five tips are general principles to help you improve your surround sound system's performance. Our in-depth reviews offer more information on home theater equipment.