To fully understand how a home theater installer is of immense benefit yo your entertainment needs, it is not a bad idea to look back a few years. The idea is to show you how far the technology has come and what you stand to experience.
As to sound, a true home theater surrounds you with sound, just as you are surrounded at a real movie theater. To do this, you must have an audio/video receiver that includes a surround-sound processor, and a minimum of five speakers—front left, front center, front right, surround left, and surround right. More sophisticated systems will also include a sixth speaker, called a subwoofer, for deep bass; the very latest 6.1 surround-sound formats add a third surround speaker between and behind the left and right surrounds.
The audio/video receiver serves as the control center for most home theater systems. All audio and video components—CD players, DVD players, satellite dishes, and so on—are all routed through the receiver. The receiver routes the picture from all these devices to your television or display device, and routes the sound—after decoding the surround-sound information—to your multiple speakers. You use the receiver’s remote control to select what you see and hear on your system.
Playing Movies (and Other Programs)
Finally, a true home theater system includes a high-quality video source you use to feed your favorite movies to your video display and surround-sound system. This could be a hi-fi VCR (although the picture quality on VCRs leaves a lot to be desired), but is more likely to be a DVD player or digital satellite system (DSS).
Today, the sharpest pictures come from devices that store and transmit the picture digitally. Today’s digital video sources include DVDs and DSS; older analog sources—such as VCRs and broadcast television—simply can’t match the sharpness and clarity of digital pictures. The best-quality picture, however, is the province of high definition television (HDTV). Unfortunately, televisions capable of HDTV display cost several times more than standard sets, and the amount of HDTV programming (via digital satellite and broadcast)is extremely limited.
Still, HDTV is the standard for the future, and I guarantee you that an HDTV system is in your future—someday.
“A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words: Choose theRight Video Sources.”)
The Least You Need to Know
➤ A home theater system attempts to reproduce the experience of watching a movie in a first-class movie theater.
➤ A small-screen television and VCR do not make a true home theater system.
➤ True home theaters include a large video display (television), surround-sound
receiver and speakers, and a high-quality video source (such as a DVD player or
digital satellite system).
➤ You can spend anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000 or more on a good home theater system—with the best systems incorporating HDTV technology. Here’s some good news for you: You might not have to throw out your old TV—and you may be able to save a few bucks while you’re turning your living room into a home theater system. Read on to learn about reusing your old equipment in a new home theater setup.
New TV, or Not New TV? That Is the Question.
Okay, you already have a television set. Everybody does. Do you have to throw it out when you move up to home theater—or can you use your existing TV as the centerpiece of your new system?
The answer to this question depends on what kind of set you have. If you have a relatively new and relatively large (27″ or more) television, it may be adequate for your home theater needs. However, if you want a sharper or bigger picture, you’ll probably have to upgrade.
Newer sets—especially the more expensive newer sets—typically incorporate more sophisticated circuitry and better picture tubes that produce sharper images, more accurate colors, and (in many cases) brighter pictures. In addition, newer sets are likely to contain more advanced features—such as picture-in-picture, built-in program guides, S-Video inputs, and V-Chip parental controls—that can increase your viewing enjoyment.
Of course, if you have a smaller-screen TV and you want a bigger picture for yourhome theater system, then you need to warm up your checkbook. Fortunately, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the affordable prices on many “very large” screen (32″ and larger) televisions these days. Chances are you won’t pay much more for one of these sets than you paid for a 25″ set just five years ago. So, if you’ve been wanting a bigger set, now is the time to buy!
Finally, if you want a really high-end home theater system—one that’s capable of receiving and displaying HDTV programming—then you’ll definitely have to buy a new set. No television sold prior to 1999 had HDTV capability, so you’ll have to buy a new set to get the new technology.
New Audio System—or the Same Old Song?
If you have an audio system in your home—even if it’s a high-end system—chances are it’s an audio-only system. This means that it probably doesn’t include a surround sound processor or video inputs.
To control your home theater system—and to decode surround-sound movie soundtracks—you’ll need an audio/video receiver that includes surround-sound processing and a four- or five-channel amplifier. In most cases, that means you’ll probably have to buy a new receiver.
Even if you already have an audio/video receiver, if it’s more than a year or two old you’ll probably want to consider investing in a new unit. That’s because older a/v receivers incorporated the older Dolby Pro Logic surround-sound system, while newer receivers include both Dolby Pro Logic and the newer, better-sounding Dolby Digital system. Almost all DVDs are coming encoded in Dolby Digital, and once you hear the difference, you’ll definitely want to upgrade.
Old Speakers for a New System
If you have an older audio-only system, you most likely also have only two speakers. While you can use those speakers as part of your surround-sound speaker array, you probably don’t want to.
The reason is that when you’re creating a surround-sound system, it’s important that all three front speakers (left, center, and right) be identical in their sound properties. It also helps if your surround speakers sound pretty much like those in front—which means that you probably want to use the same type and model speakers for all three fronts, and possibly even for your surrounds.
So, unless you can purchase additional quantities of the same speakers you already own, you’re probably
better off replacing your existing speakers with a completely new—and matched—set of speakers. Besides, you’ll probably find that a new set of speakers sounds considerably better than your old set—speakers can get a little mushy sounding over time. In addition, you should consider adding a subwoofer
to your speaker system. A subwoofer reproduces only the very lowest bass frequencies, which are typically used in movie soundtracks for explosions, rumbles, and the low end of the music track. The Dolby Digital system allocates a separate channel for the subwoofer output.
The latest video recording technology doesn’t use tape—it uses a hard disk, like the one you have in your personal computer! This new technology—called DVR, for Digital Video
Recorder—uses a large hard disk to record hours and hours of video and audio, digitally.
The quality is much better than what you get with a VHS VCR, and you get the convenience of “pausing” your TV viewing with the touch of a button. (The program is stored on the hard disk while the machine is paused.)