Blog Directory CineVerse: Why and how to choose a good home theater system

Why and how to choose a good home theater system

Thursday, March 17, 2011

by Erik J. Martin

(Note: This is part 1 of a 2-part story that will continue a week from today).

If you want to capture the look, sound and feel of a big movie theater experience in the cozy confines of your home, consider building your own home theater system. You can buy a preassembled system, purchase separate equipment or simply add on a few extra components to the devices you already have. With the right know-how and careful planning, you can even put all it together yourself. Determine the kind of system that is ideal for your existing components, room dimensions and your budget by talking to home theater experts at consumer electronics stores. And be sure to test out the devices in the store before making the investment. By doing your homework, comparing prices and gauging quality and performance prior to buying, you can better ensure that your home theater system will be capable of providing an impressive entertainment experience that will keep you satisfied for years to come.

The law of home theater is that you truly get what you pay for. If you can afford high-tech, expensive devices and (if necessary) design and installation costs, you can create a breathtaking sensory experience that should be able to rival the sound, image and effect of a motion picture theater. If you are on a tight budget, you can still put together a bare-bones system that can at least enhance your audio output. And, ultimately, that is the most important criteria of a home theater system: the ability to improve and expand upon the sound. The size of your screen is important, but your audio capabilities are really what distinguish a home theater system from just a TV set hooked up to some extra speakers.

The heart of your system is your receiver, so choose a quality name and model. Be sure your component has plenty of inputs/outputs for HDMI, component, S-video and composite (RCA) cables, built-in video upconversion/upscaling to make non-HD sources look better, decoders for Dolby Digital and Dolby TrueHD, DTS and DTS-HD, ample watts per channel to deliver to each speaker, full-bandwidth power (20-20,000 Hz), and total harmonic distortion level below 0.1%.

You can expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for a complete home theater system—depending on the quality of the devices you want and how many extra components you need that you do not already have. It is sometimes cheaper to buy “home theater in a box” packages (which will include the audio/video receiver and usually six speakers) or rack systems that include everything but the television, but you may achieve better quality by purchasing your equipment separately--one device at a time or in separate groups.

Buying all the necessary components is just one step toward building a home theater system, Before you shop for equipment, you should take time to plan exactly where and how you will build the perfect entertainment beast. After all, what good is a high-tech home theater system without the ideal "home" for the equipment?

First, think about where you will position each device and speaker in your designated room, Ideally, the room should be spacious enough to accommodate all of your equipment. To deaden sound and improve acoustics, avoid square-shaped rooms with too many bare surfaces. The best kind of room is one with carpet instead of hardwood or paneled floors, one that has framed pictures and drapes or curtains along the walls, and a room with walls of different lengths.

Experts often recommend choosing the basement for the best acoustics and to better control light interference. Whatever room you choose, be sure it's not positioned too close to a neighbor’s home—you don't want to get noise complaints about your righteous home theater setup.

Next week: part 2

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