Once a dream for many homeowners, home theater systems are now commonplace in even the most basic home designs. Audiovisual enthusiasts are taking the design of the home theater to a whole new level, adding special touches that make a system unique and state of the art.
Setting Up the Home Theater
There are quite a few things to consider when purchasing a home theater system. Some manufacturers, such as Bose, take the guesswork out of the experience by offering all-in-one systems. Complete with speakers, receiver and a DVD player, these systems range from US$300 for the most basic model, to US$4,000 or more for high-end devices.
Many people prefer to build systems from the ground up, utilizing components from a variety of equipment manufacturers. While this can be a complicated prospect for a novice audiophile, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Before searching for the perfect components, it’s important to have a solid design plan. Keep in mind the size of your room; take measurements of the wall and floor space to ensure that the equipment you choose will fit in the available area. Then take some time to sketch out your design plan. If you have any questions about your plan, there are plenty of online resources offering advice, or you can try asking someone at your local electronics store.
Components in the typical home theater systems include a television, DVD player, receiver and speakers. The video portion of the system, including the television and DVD, are the visual focal point of design, thus careful consideration should be given when selecting these units. DVD players come in single as well as multiple disk options, and they can be very basic or incorporate a variety of recording options. In addition, dual units can play DVD and VHS media, while several products on the market are also available in the newest Blu-ray high definition technology. While a basic DVD player will only cost about US$50, the Blu-ray HD/DVD can run upwards of US$1,000.
Choosing the Right TV
Take some time, and visit the websites of several television manufacturers to get a better understanding of the pros and cons for each type of television design. Some of the manufacturers you’ll want to consider include Sony, Toshiba, Samsung, and Philips.
The first thing you’ll need to know when choosing a television is the size of your room. While you don’t want to overwhelm the room with a screen that’s too large for the space, you should choose the largest screen available for the room size; this allows you to enjoy an optimal viewing experience. If you have a smaller room that will only allow for a viewing distance of 3–5ft, a 30in television will suffice, however if your viewing distance ranges from 8–15ft, appropriate units could run up to 70in.
In addition to screen size, there are a variety of television types to consider. If you have a limited amount of floor space, consider purchasing a flat screen LCD or plasma television. These are great for small spaces because they can be mounted on the wall.
Another consideration is the viewing angle in the room. Many plasma and LCD televisions can fade when viewed from angles that are too far off center. Some models accommodate off–center viewing better than others, so it’s wise to test their capability at the appliance store.
It is also important to have an understanding of the light levels in the room you’re going to be using as your home theater. Most flat screen televisions work very well in rooms with a lot of light. However, front projection televisions (as well as those with rounded screens) can produce a considerable glare. Be prepared to spend anywhere from US$1,500 to over US$7,000 for an adequate television.
Don’t Skimp on the Receiver
The receiver is the audio powerhouse of the home theater system. The first thing to consider when purchasing a receiver is how it will be used. If you plan to run your system in surround sound mode, you’ll need to purchase a home theater model (as opposed to a stereo receiver).
It’s also important to understand how much wattage your receiver requires; higher wattage input means higher output. If you have a large room or powerful speakers, you’ll need to purchase a higher wattage receiver. In addition, higher watt units (normally 100 watts) also offer more surround sound processing modes. Quality receivers also contain a variety of surround sound decoding options. The most common decoding formats available on DVDs are Dolby TM Digital, and DTSTM. These are typically offered in 5.1-channel format (front speakers – left/right, rear surround speakers – left/right and center speaker). There are also receiver systems which offer 6.1 and 7.1 channel formats, but these require considerably more power.
A basic receiver can be purchased for as little as US$200, however higher wattage units with the maximum surround sound decoding ability can run over US$7,000. Quality manufacturers include Dennon, JVC, Yamaha, and Onkyo.
Topping Off Your System
Speakers are the final piece of the home theater puzzle. The basic theater configuration includes two speakers in the front of the viewer, two rear surround speakers, and a center speaker. The front speakers should be placed at least 6 feet apart for optimal stereo separation. The rear surround speakers, which provide the effects, are typically behind or to the right and left side of the seating area. They can be wall or ceiling-mounted, but also are available in floor or shelf sitting options.
The center speaker provides the features of dialogue of the video; it’s typically placed above or below the television screen. Top speaker manufacturers include Polk, Infinity, and Bose. Speaker prices can run anywhere from US$100 for wall mount options to US$800 for center channels.
Speakers are connected to the receiver using speaker wire. A good rule when choosing speaker wire is to determine the length of the run between the speaker and the receiver. The longer the run, the thicker the wire gauge will need to be. Thicker wires provide better clarity and are optimal for units with higher amplification. One of the best names in speaker wire, Monster Cable, offers consumers an excellent selection of products for home theater application.
A well-appointed home theater system can provide years of viewing pleasure for the entire family. With proper education and research, you’ll be able to create a system that’s the crown jewel of your home entertainment area.