A theater experience at home was once limited to the very wealthy. But advances in technology now make excellent-quality image and surround-sound available to most people. This article introduces home theater systems and points you in the right direction for putting together your own system.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when a home entertainment system capable of giving you a cinema-like experience would cost upwards of ten thousand dollars just for the electronic equipment. No wonder people who could afford that went ahead added special theater seating and décor. But nowadays with big-screen HDTVs and A/V receivers becoming more and more affordable a great home theater is usually within reach.
With the latest home theater gear, you no longer need to hire a design and installation specialist, but you will need to do your homework, shop around, and complete the connections and set-up yourself. You need to seriously think about your budget, making sure you can comfortably afford one to two thousand dollars (buying everything), and then hold to that budget. Fortunately, installation and set up are pretty straightforward. Just connect cables as per the manufacturer’s manual, and the electronic components themselves can do an excellent set-up automatically. You’re likely to be amazed with how great a system you can put together on your own.
My personal preference has been to purchase individual components, one at a time. This lets you get exactly what you want, rather than some compromises in “one-box” systems. This also means that you can spread the expenses out over several months or even a year or so. With some self-discipline you can save up as you go and possibly avoid hundreds of dollars in credit-card interest. You’ll be happier in the long run if you hold out for quality components one-by-one rather than a cheaper combo you’d want to upgrade later anyway.
If you don’t already have one you’ll want to start with a big-screen HDTV. That alone can be a great upgrade. High-definition is indeed a terrific advance, but most people will need a HD cable or satellite box to get the most out of it. If you happen to live in an area with good reception, you can get HD broadcast TV with an antenna specifically designed for digital television. LCD, LED, and plasma are all great flat-screen technologies, each with their advocates. So make a comparison at a local home-electronics store. While you’re doing that, view them at about the same distance you will be watching from at home. This may be your biggest-dollar purchase. Even with HDTV it’s possible to get a screen that’s too big. You’ll have paid a lot more and end up still able to see the individual dots!
You’ll probably want to add a HD-DVD or blu-ray player next. You’ll then be able to select just what you want to watch and exactly when you want to watch it. Nearly all current HDTVs can select between a few inputs, such as cable box versus DVD player. If you’re really into movies and will be purchasing or renting disks, this can be a very important part of your system.
On the other hand, you may want to add a great sound system next. Without a surround-sound receiver you won’t really be getting anything like a true theater experience. Modern AV receivers are designed with home theaters in mind. They provide advanced Dolby and other audio decoding and processing to create amazing surround-sound. Many perform automatic set-up and can even adjust for your particular speakers and room response. You really can’t have a great home theater without a great receiver. It’s the center of your system in more ways than one. Current A/V receivers switch video as well as audio sources, allowing you to conveniently choose between cable box, DVD, blu-ray, CD, and more. You can even connect more than one game controller. They’ll also have built-in radio receivers, some even including HD radio and internet capabilities. New A/V receivers also upgrade older low-res video sources into high-definition. So don’t scrimp on your receiver. Otherwise you’ll miss important parts of the theater experience you’re working so hard to create.
Be sure to include excellent speakers. Most people say this is the worst thing to try to economize on. It’s virtually impossible for any company to make great-sounding speakers inexpensively. Even so, modern receivers can automatically compensate for speaker weaknesses, so if you already have a set give them a try first. Ideally, you should buy all your speakers as a set so that they’ll all be well matched. But since you don’t want to scrimp on quality, your budget may require you to purchase in stages. A pair of stereo speakers plus a sub-woofer (“2.1 channel”) won’t give you a surround-sound experience. If at all possible, start with a “5.1 channel system (2 front, 2 rear, 1 front-center, and 1 sub-woofer), and add another pair for 7.1 channels later (assuming your receiver can handle that many channels).
With a superb home-theater system you’ll be the envy of your friends and relatives, especially after they learn you custom-created it yourself.