Expert Tips on Installing New Home Electronics

A close view of the ports on the back of a television.

Whether as a gift or taking advantage of a sale, a lot of us find ourselves with new home electronics, with no idea how to set them up. With that in mind, we took a minute to talk to Agent Derek Meister at Geek Squad to get some answers and sort out the tangle of cables behind the TV. (DIY): I have a new flat screen TV, and it has input/outputs including AV1 and 2 (with the red, white and yellow plugs), Comp 1 and 2 (with red, white, green, blue and another red), and HDMI. What do all these really mean?

Derek Meister (DM): How we transmit audio and video from a device to our TVs has changed and improved over the years. To be as compatible with a wide range of home entertainment devices, you will likely notice many of those different input types available on the back of your new HDTV. The hierarchy of inputs versus their picture and audio quality goes as follows:

Coaxial Cable – This single cable will be familiar to most long-time cable television users. This single cable provides both basic audio and video from either a cable TV wall port, cable box, or over-the-air antenna. In most cases, this will be used for older, standard definition devices.

Composite Cables – This set of three cables also provides basic, standard definition video through a yellow cable and audio through a red and a white cable. These inputs may be marked as AV1, AV2, etc., and do not provide high-definition picture quality.

S-Video – This cable replaces the yellow composite video cable. It is still standard definition, but often produces a better picture than composite video inputs.

Component Cables – This set of five cables is capable of high-definition video. The red and white audio cables provide sound, while the video is separated into red, green and blue channels for better picture quality. Often, these inputs will be marked as COMP1, COMP2, etc. on the TV.

HDMI – For most home theater setups, an HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) cable will provide the best high-definition video and audio quality through a single cable.

DIY: So, for the highest quality picture, what’s the best way to hook up a cable box to this TV?

DM: If your cable or satellite box supports it, an HDMI cable will provide the best audio and video quality through a single cable. If your box does not support HDMI, then component cables will be your next choice.

DIY: Where does the optical cable fit in to all this?

DM: Originally designed for high-quality CD and audio systems, many TVs and home theater receivers will have a Toslink or “optical audio cable” port. These ports send digital audio via light-signals across fiber-optic cables. Due to the design of the cable, it can be damaged if bent or pinched in tight spaces.

For most newer home theater equipment, HDMI cables are a better choice as they reduce the number of cables used, are more resilient, and can send 7.1 multi-channel audio (if the equipment supports it) versus 5.1 channel audio over Toslink.

DIY: How about an Xbox 360 or PS3?

DM: Both the Xbox 360 and Sony Playstation 3 support a range of outputs, but HDMI is recommended where possible on your HDTV or receiver.

DIY: Now that I have my TV wired up right, I want to use it. My son is away at college and he’s on the soccer team. His games are streamed live on the internet. Can I hook my laptop to my TV so I can watch on the big screen?

DM: It will depend on the video output ports your laptop has. Many newer laptops have an HDMI output to send audio and video to your HDTV. If your laptop does not support HDMI, it likely has a VGA port.

If you do need to use a VGA port, you will want to check that your HDTV has a VGA input (sometimes listed as a PC VIDEO port). The VGA connection will only transmit video, so you will need an audio cable to plug into the 3.5mm headphone jack on the laptop and into a compatible port on the TV.

A select number of Intel laptops will support WiDi (or Wireless Display). This hardware can wirelessly send video to a box that connects to your HDTV.

If you have an Apple MacBook that has a mini-Display Port or mini-DVI port, you can often find adapters to link to your TV via an HDMI cable. If your Mac is new enough to have a Thunderbolt port, you can use a mini-Display Port to HDMI adapter.

If you are not sure what ports your PC, Mac, or HDTV has, stop into your local Best Buy for help from our Geek Squad Agents.

DIY: I’ll do that. On a similar note, my daughter is in the school choir. I shoot her performances on a camcorder. You know what I’m going to ask. How do I watch the video back on the TV?

DM: Many current camcorders will have either an HDMI port, or a mini-HDMI port that will allow a mini-HDMI to HDMI cable to connect to the TV.

Older camcorders will generally have adapters for either composite or component cables.

DIY: What about audio? If I have HDTV, should I invest in 5.1 surround sound, or are the speakers on the TV going to be enough?

DM: While a great picture will definitely help your watching experience, it takes multi-channel audio filling the room to really get that theater experience in your living room. 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound systems use a number of strategically placed speakers to separate out sounds to create audio that immerses you versus simply being projected from two small speakers on the front of a TV.

If cables are a concern, our Geek Squad Agents can help with their cable management skills to hide cables or run them through walls to get you the best sound with the cleanest cable layout. There are even options for wireless speakers for layouts that may require them.

If space is at a premium, you may want to consider upgrading those TV speakers to a soundbar system. These compact devices can deliver enhanced audio with a range of speakers built into a single unit compatible with a wide range of home theater systems.

DIY: Do I hook up the surround sound receiver to the HDMI?

DM: Your home theater receiver acts as the heart of your home theater setup. Devices like cable boxes, blu-ray players, and game systems send audio and video to the receiver, which sends the multi-channel sound to the separate speakers, and the high-definition video to your HDTV.

Many receivers will have more inputs than your TV does, so they can act as an easy way to expand and select between your devices without having to switch out cables.

DIY: Now I have all these components. Can I consolidate my remotes? Do universal remotes really work with cable, TV, surround sound, and a CD player?

DM: A universal remote is the best investment you can make for your home entertainment sanity. They take over for the remotes that come with your devices and allow you to control a number of different functions in one device.

More advanced universal remotes will allow you to program “macro sequences.” With a macro, you press a single button, like “Watch Blu-Ray Movie,” and the remote automatically turns on the Blu-ray player, selects the correct audio and video inputs on your TV or receiver, along with any other device settings that may need required.

DIY: That sounds perfect. One last question. So, I have this new flatscreen HDTV, but it’s not 3D. Is my new TV about to be obsolete, or is 3DTV just a fad?

DM: With an increasing number of 3DTV channels and 3D Blu-ray titles becoming available each year, 3DTV isn’t likely to go the way of red and blue 3D paper glasses from the 1950s.

One important consideration when looking at a 3DTV is that they often support other advanced features such as improved picture handling and SmartTV functions that allow you to connect to the Internet for more streaming content.