When you walk into the home theater system area of your local consumer electronics outlet, the multitude of choices are daunting. Everything is gleaming under the fluorescent lights, very new and very shiny, each system seems saying “buy me, buy me”. Before you get to that point, there are many things you need to understand and realize to help you make the best possible decision for your home and your wallet.
First you need to determine which room of your home will house this home theater system. Note that if you are going for the very large screen like 50 or 60 inches or more, the best viewing is from about 10 to 12 feet away. So putting a screen of this size into a small room is going to disappoint you because the screen will not look sharp or crisp. On the other hand, if you go with a smaller screen like a 36 or 42 inch screen, this would be haytheatre adequate for a small family room or even a larger bedroom.
You need to decide on what type of display you want. LCD and plasma displays will provide the clearest and sharpest images. DLP and rear projection systems can cost less, but a major disadvantage in these systems is the viewing angle — DLP and rear projection do not provide as clear a picture when viewing the screen from an angle. Again, examine your target room where your system will be located, and determine the typical viewing angle for the viewers which should help you decide the best display technology to use.
Another important component is the receiver. Some receivers for home theater systems have inputs for your cable TV or satellite dish connection, as well as inputs for a variety of other things, such as your DVD player, your VCR, your surround sound system, and perhaps even a PC input. Some even have a built-in radio, although these are becoming less common. One of the newer additions to receivers is the ability to play XM radio, although XM radio will require a monthly subscription. So with all these choices, you need to evaluate what is important to you, as well as what you will actually USE. There is little sense, for example, in equipping the receiver with XM radio if you will never or rarely use that option.
No home theater system is complete without a good speaker system. Ideally, the surround sound should be Dolby 7.1 or at least Dolby 5.1. If you are going to spend the money on a great home theater system, it makes little sense to “cheap out” with the speakers and audio system, since after the picture, the SOUND is the other component that lights up your internal sensory perceptors as you are enjoying your system. You can even go the extra mile with your surround sound system if you want to go whole hog, and use the “bass shaker” attachments that are available with some systems. These gadgets attach to your recliner or sofa, and when a scene comes on with an explosion or car wreck, these gadgets actually SHAKE the recliner or sofa, adding to the realism of the movie.
I suggest you make yourself a list, or maybe even a paper spreadsheet that you take with you when you shop around. Put a column for must-have features, a column for nice-to-have features, and perhaps yet another column for a feature you find that is specific to a particular brand. And definitely SHOP AROUND for your home theater system! Create a budget for yourself that will NOT be exceeded, regardless of how loudly a particular system is screaming at you to buy it. Watch for systems to go on sale, which they do on a frequent basis, and you can save yourself a wad of cash. If you are buying the components separately, my recommendation would be to buy them all from the same store. That way if there is a problem, you will not have the issue of “finger pointing” from the various stores trying to blame each other.
The smart shopper is the one who gets the quality system and doesn’t pay “sticker price” for it. Be informed, know what you want, be willing to learn if you run across an intelligent salesperson who knows what he is talking about, and stick to your budget. You will be able to enjoy your investment in this superb home theater system for years to come.
Jon Arnold is a computer engineer with interests in various diverse areas, particularly in display technologies and home theater systems. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and insights at the several web sites he maintains. For more home theater/home entertainment information, visit his web site about Home Theater Systems.