Create the ideal home theater with the right components
Experience the thrill of watching an epic movie on the big screen without ever
leaving the comfort of your home. Thanks to recent technological advances,
home theaters have put the visual grandeur and surround sound of a movie
theater right in the middle of your living room. With a wide range of TVs and
audio equipment that run the gamut from economical to top-of-the-line, you'll
want to make some decisions before you begin to shop. First determine how much
you want to spend and how much room you have for the system. If you already
have a few pieces in place, it will further narrow down your search. Use the
following questions to help you make some crucial decisions when shopping:
Theater Components, Inputs and Televisions
Some home theater systems are color coded and streamlined for easy installation while others may require professional assistance. If you're working on a budget, you may be tempted to go for an economical theater system, but keep in mind that technology changes quickly. A system that can accept upgraded accessories in the future may cost more now but will save you money in the long run.
Theater Components: There are a few integral components of any home theater system. The receiver serves as the control center and amplifier, connecting all your devices -- audio, video, DVD players, video game consoles and much more. If you have a television with progressive-scan capabilities, look for a progressive-scan DVD player and enjoy a sharper, clearer picture. You'll also need speakers. Many standard home theater systems feature six speakers -- one center, two front, two rear (or surround) speakers and a subwoofer. More advanced systems can include up to eight speakers. There are a couple of ways you can acquire components. One is to purchase an all-in-one "home theater in a box." These systems can include any or some of the following -- a receiver, speakers, appropriate wiring (often color coded for easy installation) and peripherals such as a DVD player. While it may be more difficult to mix and match new components later on, all-in-one systems generally provide solid sound quality and will get you up and running right away. If you'd like to customize your system for high-end performance, consider purchasing components separately. It may require a larger up-front investment, but you'll be rewarded with a system that suits your tastes perfectly.
Connectivity: Connecting your home theater components can be quite a
complicated task, but armed with a little knowledge, you can ensure that you
purchase components with the necessary inputs and outputs for a great audio
and visual experience. Components are typically wired through a central
receiver which manages the various signals. A good receiver will have a wide
range of inputs, with multiple ports for each type. Composite-video inputs are
functional, but don't provide the best picture quality. S-video and
component-video inputs provide a better quality signal. The latest in
audio/video connectivity, HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface),
provides impressive digital video and audio transmission using one single
cable. If you have a DVD player, digital cable or satellite receiver through
which you play music, you'll need a digital-audio input to relay undecoded
Television Specifications: Televisions have evolved remarkably in
recent years, providing a wide range of quality, prices and technology. There
are three important measurements you'll want to keep in mind when purchasing a
TV -- size, aspect ratio and resolution. Screen sizes can range from under 10"
to over 60", making it easy to find the right fit no matter how large or small
your room is. Choose a TV that allows you to see clearly from a comfortable
distance and from varying angles. Aspect ratio is a measure of a TV's viewing
area in terms of its width divided by its height. Traditional sets generally
have a 4:3 ratio, while widescreen sets have a 16:9 ratio. Widescreen
televisions provide an increased viewing range similar to that found on movie
theater screens. Resolution determines how clear and detailed the picture is.
The more lines and pixels a set possesses, the clearer its picture.
Types of Televisions: There are several different types of televisions
available. Use the chart below to determine which one is the best fit for your
|Television Type||Features||Points to Consider|
HDTV: Look for televisions with a built-in HDTV tuner for simple reception of high-definition programming. HDTV-ready televisions require the purchase of an external tuner to receive high-definition broadcasts.
TV/DVD/VCR Combo Units: Some television sets are available with integrated components such as a DVD player or a DVD and VCR player. This eliminates the need to purchase additional components and provides an all-in-one solution.
Front Inputs: Look for a television and/or receiver with conveniently located front inputs to make connecting camcorders, video game consoles and other devices easier.
USB Port: Having this port at your disposal will allow you to connect portable music players so you can enjoy your customized playlist with full surround sound.
Satellite Radio: If you wish to listen to satellite radio services, be sure to look for a receiver that includes an integrated satellite radio tuner. Satellite radio requires a subscription to a service and the accompanying fee, as well as the appropriate antennae.
Onscreen Display: This option allows you to set up and program various functions for your home theater through your TV rather than having to do it through the smaller display on the receiver.
Surround Sound Formats: Look for DVD players with decoding for various multichannel surround sound formats.
Programming Guides: Some televisions receive and display local programming guides that can be accessed through an onscreen menu. Advanced systems can even be programmed to flag your favorite shows and alert you when they are on.