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Home Theaters and Components

Think of your home theater system as if it were a puzzle. Many pieces fit together to complete the presentation. The pieces must be in the right places. With a home theater system, the pieces can be placed in many different positions to work together producing theater-like picture and realistic sound. If you know a little about each of the components, you will have an easier time deciding what you want. Let's learn about the primary parts of a home theater system.

Sony Home Theater System

Did you know you can get a DVD Home Theater System from Sony for $129.99? What a deal!

With the television, the first thing that you are going to choose is the size and shape. For all the new movies in wide screen format, you will need a rectangular TV with a 16:9 ratio to view them in the original format. A traditional TV is square with a 4:3 ratio and will show the wide screen smaller with black screen above and below the movie. The best advice on the size you choose is the largest you can afford. 27 inches is probably the smallest you should accept. The distance between the screen and where you sit to view it should be equal to about three times the screen size for optimal viewing. So for instance, you have a 40-inch TV, it should be ten feet (120 inches) from you for best viewing. With this in mind, it may be to your advantage to layout your floor plan in the room with the TV ahead of time. Decide where the TV will be and where people will be sitting. Measure the distance and choose a TV size accordingly.

Projection TV - Front or Rear
Projection TVs work differently than conventional TVs. They form a small image on a device inside the projector, either a CRT or LCD, and then shine that image onto a large screen located elsewhere. There are two types of projecting TVs - rear or reflective projection and front or transmissive projection. With a rear projection, the screen is located within the TV box itself. Light reflects off the projection display panel and is then projected onto the screen. On a front projection TV there is a separate screen which, allows for greater size that sends the picture across the room to a screen, much like a traditional movie projector.

Both systems have four basic parts -a projector, screen (separate or built-in), control panel (separate or built-in) and a sound system (separate or built-in). Most rear projection TVs for home theater systems tend to look like very large-screen (up to 80-inches) conventional televisions. Each one is basically a large box that contains all of the above parts, while front projection TVs are spread out across your room in four components. Cost for either system starts around $1500 and escalate to well over $50,000 (for a front projection TV).

Plasma and LCD TVs are the newest television technologies. They have excellent picture quality. Plasma TVs have larger screens, better viewing angles, superior image refresh rates, and lower costs. They are a perfect choice for home theaters. LCD TVs are rapidly improving, but still have problems such as ghosting trails on fast moving images, small screens, and higher costs. However, they do have longer life spans, lower weight, lower power consumption, and no burn-in risk.

HDTV (High Definition Television)
High-definition televisions carry a more detailed image with a digital signal, which is encoded with surround sound information. All of the televisions mentioned before are available in HDTV. Some of them might require a separate HDTV decoding tuner though. These televisions can be viewed much closer than ones that do not have high definition because they have such a high resolution. These TVs will become necessary in the future because the FCC now requires television programming to be broadcast in digital format.

The screen is what you are actually viewing your home theater on. There are different materials used to make these screens by the manufacturers. Most are matte-finished screens or acetate sheets with complex technologies to improve brightness and clarity. Knowing which type of screen you want will clear up a lot of issues before you make the purchase and bring it home.

The receiver is basically the brain in most home theater systems. All of the audio comes together here. The receiver decodes signals from the inputs (DVD player, satellite dish, cable television) and routes them to the proper outputs (television and speakers). A good receiver has inputs and outputs, a built-in timer, surround sound capabilities, built-in amplifiers and equalizers. Prices range from $1000 to $5000. Be sure that the receiver you choose has at least 100 continuous watts per channel and enough outputs for all of your speakers.

Pre-amp and power amps can be bought separately, but most receivers come with them. The pre-amp equalizes the audio signal while the power amp boosts it. Purchasing them separately allows you the ability to fine-tune and upgrade individual speakers. You are more able to get superior sound at high volumes this way, but the extra cost can range $1,000 to $10,000 per unit.

A controller replaces the receiver in a state-of-the-art home theater. What the controller will do that a receiver will not is control both the audio and the video. You will need a separate tuner for radio stations if you use a controller.

CD Player
To listen to your favorite music, you will need a good quality CD player. They can be purchased in a one player or a two-piece players, where the unit that houses and spins the discs is separate from the DAP (Digital Audio Processor) where the disc information is processed. Since the DAP can be used with other components, you will get more usage if you use separate components. The DAP has several input and output jacks.

DVD Player
One of the most popular parts of the home theater system is the DVD Player. DVD's (Digital Versatile Discs) are a versatile multimedia platform for music, movies, and computers. They have better picture quality and most have Dolby Digital or DTS sound that you like at the theater. Most DVD movies have an on-screen menu to watch certain parts, learn about the movie, and more very quickly. High-end players are usually compatible with audio CDs and equipped with viewing options in letterbox for wide screen TVs and standard.

VCRs still remain very popular because of the ability to record. They do not have the wide screen or surround sound capabilities though. The tapes will also eventually wear out.

The DSS (Digital Satellite System) is not like the satellite dish of yesterday. It is much smaller and more technically advanced. The signals they receive are much better giving superior imaging like laser disc players with CD quality sound. It is easy to set them up and tune them in. They can handle six-channel surround sound and high definition television. The monthly cost is about the same as cable.

Sound is half of the experience of the home theater system. You should try to get the best speakers possible. They should be capable of reproducing a wide range of frequencies without distortion. Listen to the speakers before you purchase them. Follow the rule that no two speakers sound alike, so choose by personal preference. Your home theater should have six speakers or more to create the best sound. These should include left, right, and center speakers across the front. There should be a couple of surrounds and a subwoofer or bass for the low, loud vibration feel.

Cables and Interconnects
As unimportant as it may seem, cables and interconnects can be the difference between a good and a great system. This is true no matter what type of system you choose. Unrestricted flow of the output through the cables is important. If the cables are not the right quality or type, they will not allow this. Select heavy gauge cables and gold plated connectors.

If you are concerned about the appearance of these cables, go with a flat speaker wire. They are as thin as a credit card yet flexible enough to make corners. They can be mounted on walls or ceilings. You can wallpaper or paint right over them.

Remote Control
Try to buy a universal remote control to avoid clutter and confusion. Pretty much every piece of electronic equipment comes with a remote now, and after a while there are so many you can't keep track. Universal remotes are pre-programmed to control many devices by many different manufacturers. They come with easy to follow instructions so setup is quick and easy. A remote with an illuminated keypad or backlight is the best option. If you have equipment that is in a closed cabinet, choose a remote that is radio frequency-capable.

All-in-one systems
If it is easier for you to choose a package system than trying to sort out and purchase all the components you need separately, there are all-in-one home-theater-in-a-box packages available. These can cost anywhere from $300 to $3000. You should get pretty much everything you need for a basic setup. Most are relatively easy to setup and install, but know that most will not allow upgrades or integration in the future.