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Creating Your Home Theater / Entertainment System

Clearly, there’s a revolution going on in how content is sold and enjoyed. The home entertainment theater is blossoming with not only access to DVDs and CDs and digital high definition television, but with equipment that brings increasing quality to the home leisure market.

  • Thirty-two percent of American households now have a home theater system, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
  • Seventy percent have a stand-alone DVD player.
  • Americans will buy seven million digital television sets in 2004 compared with four million in 2003.

A home theater system consists of five basic components:

Video display

TVs with picture tubes; projectors; plasma or liquid crystal displays (which are "monitors," not TVs, because they don’t have built-in TV tuners) provide the screen upon which you watch your favorite content.

TVs can be analog, meaning they receive signals broadcast via TV stations and satellites, or digital, meaning they receive special digital signals. "High definition TV" is a subset of digital TV. "High definition" or "HD" refers to the resolution of the TV signal as measured in how many pixels it can display.

A/V system

The processing center of your home theater is typically a receiver which receives audio and video signals from content equipment such as your DVD or CD player. Your A/V system chooses which signal to send where. At the high end of the market, receivers are often broken down into separate components, such as a controller/decoder and power amplifier.

Video sources

DVD players, VCRs, or HDTV (high definition television) boxes that go on top of your TV.

Audio sources

For pure audio content, we turn to CD players or AM/FM radio tuners, but sound is a vital part of our A/V and video content, as well. Those sources are TV/Cable, DVDs, satellite, and services such as Tivo.


Surround sound requires at least 5 speakers. Stereo requires 2. Subwoofer speakers, which handle rumbling bass sounds can run another dimension to your soundscape.

The Personal Factor

But if you want to keep things simple, look at a "home theater in a box" system. When the amplifier (the A/V system), speakers and a subwoofer are all housed together in one box it’s your basic "home theater in a box," a booming segment of the market.

Most shoppers go into a store and buy all the pieces at once so the electronics all fit together. If you are electronically gifted, you will probably want to shop around to find optimum features for your particular location, viewing pleasure, and budget.

To create your plan, consider these purchae decisions:

  • Identify your personal viewing habits. Id you spend most of your time watching basic television stations, the new high definition equipment might be cost effective for you. But if you love movies or sports, you may be enthralled by the superior details and surround sound available in high definition digital systems.
  • Looka t the space where you'll arrange your home theater system...and your viewing audience. How many people do you want to accomodate? How much space will the system you have in mind take up along the wall and around the room? Room size affects the size of the speaker system you can handle. Accousitcs can be affected by hardwood floors vs. carpet. Be sure to ask about things like this when you are specing your system with your favorite retailer.
  • This is a major investment of money and your future leisure time, so take the time to read some specialty magazines, websites and even books to help you understand what a salesperson will ask you. You get better information if you already know something...and know what questions to ask.
  • Prioritize your key features. You probably can't have everything because differnt equipment mixes different features. You can also add to your system over time if you plan the system early so that upgrades will be feasible.
  • Price isn't always the best indicator of quality or best fit for your needs. Most people don't need a big system to provide the loudness and bass they want from a home theater in their small living room setting. Some systems are designed for large rooms...and they won't perform optimally in small spaces.
  • Remember that specialty retailers usually offer more service, more answers, more warranty service, and usually a higher quality selection of equipment. Sometimes it pays to shop for a dealer more than for price or equipment.

For more information

: Check out Danny Briere and Pat Hurley's suggestions in their book, Home Theater for Dummies.

Robert Harley, author of Home Theater for Everyone.

Digital Homes for Everyone


Stereophile Ultimate A/V magazine

Home Theater magazine

The Consumer Electronics Association

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