Buying Guide: Home Theatre System
Home Theatre System, the electronic wonder of the modern world has, today, made it possible for us to sit in the comforts of our homes and enjoy movies an videos the way they are meant to - experiencing all the effects and enjoying each dialogue, every piece of music and every action and emotion, filled with subtle nuances, to the fullest. A good quality home theatre system recreates the same picture and sound quality that you get in a movie theatre. If you are looking to buy a home theatre system, this guide will help you in making a wise decision.
Home Theatre System
What is a Home Theatre System?
Generally, a home theatre comprises of a large screen television or preferably, a High Definition Television (HDTV) or a home theatre projector system with a large screen on which the image is projected. A set of five speakers including a centre speaker, two front speakers and two rear surround speakers and a subwoofer makes for the audio/sound. The home theatre system also includes a DVD player, a digital audio/video receiver or a stereo receiver and connecting colour-coded cables and wires. New generation home theatre systems support a Blu-ray Disc and HD DVDs as well. Your home theatre is a complete entertainment hub. A home theatre system recreates the same magical and surrealistic experience involving sound, visuals, ambience and emotions, right inside the comfort of your home or office. Besides watching movies on your Home theatre system, you can also listen to your favourite music and sync the TV to your PC as well for sharing stored audio, video and pictures. As an option to TV, if you have one of those wide flat screen PC monitors, it can double up as a TV screen.
Broadly speaking, you can set up a home theatre system in two distinct ways. One is to simply buy a Home Theatre in a box (HTiB) system, which comprises of everything mentioned above, except a HDTV, in a single package. With an HTiB, you need not worry about coordinating other components of the system. Simply open the box, follow the manual’s step-by-step instructions and you are ready to experience a whole new dimension of movie viewing.
However, these pre-packaged features may not match with your specific needs. This is where customization comes in where you can build your own home theatre system by getting together all the necessary components. If you already have a HDTV, a DVD player and an audio/video receiver, look for home theatre speakers or speaker systems that offer five matching speakers and a subwoofer in a single package.
Most home theatre systems are sleek and compact and easily blend with your home décor. There are different sizes of TV as well as speakers available to fit in to the available room size. Verify the dimensions before you purchase.
Home theatre constituents
HDTV: A good home theatre system starts with a widescreen standard high definition TV with a flat LCD or a plasma panel. The screen sizes for LCD panels range from nearly 20 inches to 65 inches. Plasma panels range from 30 inches and go all the way to 100 inches. LCD TVs are preferred for brightly lit rooms. Plasma TV’s are selected for true and vibrant colours and deep blacks. Wider the screen, the more enjoyable the viewing experience. However, it makes sense to choose a screen size based on the dimensions of the room, where your home theatre system is to be installed. This TV can be placed on a stand or wall-mounted.
DVD player/ changer: Depending on the component cost, home theatre systems come with a standard or an entry-level DVD player. The latest in line are HDMI-equipped (High Definition Media Interface) up-scaling DVDs player that add to an enhanced viewing experience. Also, Blu-ray home theatre systems that make use of advanced Blu-ray disc players are also in great demand these days.
Speakers: The five satellite speakers and subwoofer provide theatre-quality audio. Good quality speakers can dramatically enhance your audio experience. Each speaker has a special function and has to be placed in the correct position for true surround sound effect. Speakers can be hung on the wall, placed on shelves, in cabinets or placed on floor stands.
- Centre channel speaker: This is the prime source of dialogue and music besides other sound effects. Position this speaker either above or below your television, ideally, at the same height as the left and right speakers, to synchronize the sound and the dialogue with the same position. This allows the sound to be projected directly to you.
- Sub-woofer: A subwoofer produce deep rumbling bass sounds with an ultra low-frequency. Passive or low-end subwoofers are powered by the AV receiver’s amplifiers while higher-end models have power amps onboard. Subwoofers should be put out of way of traffic in room corners. It can also be placed next to the right or left speakers.
- Left and right Rear speakers: For a complete surround-sound effect, these satellite surround sound speakers should be positioned a few feet behind to the left and right of the couch. They produce the background sound such as the sound of galloping horses, the hooting of an owl.
- Left and Right front speakers: Placed equidistant to the left and right of the TV, these speakers deliver realistic sound effects and music experience, essential for watching an action or a special-effects movie.
- Wireless options: Today, wireless home theatre systems are also available. These are primarily speaker systems with wire-free speakers and involves less wires when installing (one cannot completely avoid wires).
Digital AV Receiver: This is a preamplifier, multi-channel amplifier, control centre and AM/FM tuner, all in a single unit. The audio/video/stereo receiver contains the surround sound decoder that is capable of decoding all sound formats on your DVD and HDTV. Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby Pro Logic II are all taken care of by the AV receiver. This is how it works. TV and DVD player send inputs to the home theatre receiver which it amplifies/decodes and transmits to output devices such as speakers and the TV. The AV receiver should be placed in the centre of the home theatre system.
Before buying a home theatre system it is vital to understand what all the specifications means and how it will influence the movie experience.
¨ Surround sound format: DTS, Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic and Dolby Pro Logic-II are some of the digital surround sound technology used for enhancing audio in home theatre systems. A 5.1 speaker surround sound system set is designed to produce true to life sound. Most digital Audio Video receiver in your home theatre system must support all surround sound formats
¨ Wide spectrum speaker system: A wide spectrum speaker covers the entire audible audio frequency range, to capture and produce realistic sound. Thanks to a single driver responsible for reproducing the entire range of audio, there is minimum phase and time distortion, thus the audio quality is protected.
¨ Video Up-scaling: Up-scaling is the process of converting a standard DVD signal to sync with the higher resolution capability of your plasma or LCD television set. Simply put, with video up-scaling you can increase the picture size by "computing and adding" pixels as and where they are needed. A traditional DVD player sans up-scaling will cause image distortion when displayed on a widescreen HDTV.
¨ DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) or D/A converter: Digital signals are converted to analogue signals to maintain every possible detail in the picture to give you a sharp and natural image. Most home theatre systems use 10-bit DAC that poses a limitation while with large screens and projectors. To deal with this, most home theatre systems are equipped with a 24bit D/A converter.
¨ Playable disc formats: A DVD/HD DVD player should be able to multiple disc formats, so that you will are not restricted to use a limited disc formats. DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, DVD-RW, DVD-R, +RW, +R, CD, CD-R/RW, SVCD/VCD, MP3/WMA/JPEG Digital Still (CD-R/RW, DVD-R/RW), MPEG-4 (ASP)/DivX (CD-R/RW, DVD-R/RW) are some of the disc formats. The latest addition to this list is the Blu-ray Disc.
¨ Connectivity: The home theatre system comes with a wide range of wires and colour-coded cables for connecting all your media. Most of them come with SCART cables while high end system also includes HDMI cable. Cable and wires play an important role in determining your audio visual experience. Frayed and worn-out wires are responsible for low sound and image distortions. Always ensure that these are well sealed.
¨ Progressive Scan: Progressive scan technology collates the odd and even lines of the image simultaneously on the screen, so that the eye perceives a sharper image without any lines.
¨ Aspect ratio: This is the ratio of image height to width. Analogue TV pictures, normally, have an aspect ratio of 4:3, simply put it means that the picture is slightly wider than it is tall. To give you a movie hall feel, HDTVs project the picture with an aspect ratio of 16:9, which means that the picture is twice as wide as it is tall.
¨ S/N Ratio: This ratio indicates the relation between audio signal and the existing noise. Measured in decibels (dB), a higher S/N ratio is better.
¨ Frequency response: It is the frequency range that a speaker can reproduce. A human being can hear sounds within the 20Hz to 20000 Hz frequency range. To cover all variations in sound a good home theatre speaker system should produce as much of this range as possible.
¨ Impedance: Impedance is the resistance that the receiver gets from the speaker. It is represented in ohms. A speaker system that has low impedance will make your receiver/amplifier to work harder to produce the same loud sound. Most amplifiers and receivers are set to 8 Ohms.
¨ Karaoke: Some home theatre systems offer Karaoke as an option for music lovers to sing along and record their own songs for fun. Karaoke comes with features that allow you to add an “echo” effect to your voice or controls that lets you select and control your voice range.
¨ Infrared Remote: An infra red remote control gives an unperturbed movie experience. Some also come with a universal remote control that can be used to control the television, DVD player and even your music system if attached to these speakers.
¨ Warranty: Home theatre systems in box or individual components come with at least one year of warranty.
A home theatre system transforms a room into a surround sound entertainment centre, allowing you to enjoy an endless stream of movies, music and share your personal video and pictures with friends as well. Some prominent options include Sony home theatre systems, Samsung home theatre systems, and Bose Home theatre systems.
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