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The Best Home Theater Systems

written by: KennethSleight•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 4/8/2011

A good home theater can transform a boring living room into entertainment central. The best home theater systems do this while delivering the highest quality audio and video without overpowering the comfortable feel of the gathering space.

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    The best home theater systems cater to the needs of the entire family. This means they offer high quality video and refresh rates for console gaming and fast action sports viewing, rich audio for experiencing movies and music and integrate into the home environment without cluttering the space with unnecessary wires and mounting fixtures. Even in cookie cutter subdivisions every home is unique to its owner and so every home theater system needs to be custom designed to meet the family needs.

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    Setting Up the Best Home Theater Environment

    Before purchasing any components for the home theater system it is important to do some preliminary measurements of your space. The most important are viewing distance and angle. The system should be able to be viewed from every seat in the room, so measurements need to be taken from every chair and sofa, not just the one directly across the room from the television. It is a good idea to make a room schematic so you can have these measurements handy for the audio set-up as well. Viewing distance for HDTVs is different than for the older standard definition models so you need to take this into consideration. There is still a nice range so you won’t have to do too much rearranging of furniture to fit all of the seats into an optimal viewing situation.

    Once you have a schematic in place you’ll want to make accommodations for the surround sound wiring. For advanced installers, a circuit diagram can help you get the most out of your system but even a DIY install of a surround system will add a measurable quality improvement over most built-in TV speakers.

    A serious undertaking could include installing sound dampening acoustic panels on the walls so the sound stays confined to the theater room and doesn’t disturb other members of the house. This is especially important if the kids (or maybe the adults) like to play video games or watch movies late into the night.

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    Choosing the Best Television for Your Home Theater System

    BigScreen TV The centerpiece for any home theater system is the television. There are several great brands out there including Sony, VIZIO, Samsung, Panasonic, Philips, Sharp and Sanyo. Of course there are lots of off brand names too. This is one area where you are going to want to go with a quality, name brand piece of equipment. Skimping on the video display is simply not an option.

    It stands to reason that a typical home theater system is going to house an HDTV that is at least 55" with some of the best home theater systems flaunting the 65" or larger sets. The 92" Mitsubishi 3D TV would make a huge splash in a large family room. Imagine watching the big game on that monster. Determining the best size of HDTV for your room is a simple matter of measuring out the range of seating distances and finding a set that falls into the optimal viewing range. Don’t forget that the measurement should be done from the seating area to the point on the wall that the TV will be mounted or the height at which it will sit on a stand.

    Selecting the perfect HDTV for your home theater is going to depend on your needs. If you don’t want to have to wear glasses when watching 3D TV you may want to wait for future technology before purchasing one. The best home theater systems will take advantage of DLP HDTVs. These televisions offer the highest quality, crispest picture with the highest refresh rates available. They also work well with console gaming systems like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

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    Adding a Surround Sound System

    Surround Sound Home theater-sized HDTVs often come with decent sound systems, but for someone putting together a nice home theater these just won’t do; they offer virtual surround sound which is really nothing more than audible channel delays that make the sound seem like it is coming from different directions. A true home theater should have the immersive quality of a multiple speaker system. The choices are plentiful from the wired 2.1 surround sound systems to the new kid on the block: wireless surround systems. While wireless systems don’t generally have the same sound quality as the wired versions, the notable exception is the Bose wireless surround system. The installation of wireless is far easier and there is no need to deal with the extra tangle of wires snaking from the back or side of your set. There are even compact systems for the minimalist décor. A surround sound system will let you get the most out of your Blu-Ray discs as well. It doesn’t make much sense to have theater quality picture with sub-standard sound.

    For more on the best home theater systems, including peripherals and remote controls, please continue on to page two.

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    Once the HDTV and surround sound systems are selected, you can begin installing one of the best home theater systems you'll ever own. The next steps involve hooking up peripherals and organizing the system so that you aren't overwhelmed by mounds of electrical wire and piles of remote controls.
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    Connecting the Peripherals

    BluRay Plaer There really isn’t much of a point to a home theater system that only plays Blu-Ray disks. The best home theater systems are fully functional media centers that play Blu-Ray and DVD movies, read SD cards and thumb drives, allow direct connection to camcorders, plug into audio tuners and MP3 players and allow for an unmatched video gaming experience. Connecting all of these peripherals to your system might seem like a chore and can get quite discouraging when the tangle of wires begins to resemble a newly discovered octopus. To remove the headache from the installation process you want to have some colored electrical tape on hand (there are packages made specifically with this use in mind that contain small rolls of multiple different colors). When you are connecting your HD peripherals, start with the ones you use the most and are least likely to be moved. In general, these are the DVD/Blu-Ray players and stereo receivers. If your HDTV has inputs on the back (which most do) this is the place to hook in these wires. Once they have been attached, tape them together with the colored electrical tape. Use one color for DVD/Blu-Ray and one for Stereo and label them with a sharpie marker. This will allow you to immediately identify which cables go to which component if you need to unhook them in the future for maintenance or troubleshooting. The next thing to hook up is the surround sound system. This can also be hooked in the back and should be taped in the same way as the Blu-Ray player and stereo receiver. If your HDTV has more ports in the back, you can attach a gaming system next. If the remaining ports are on the side you may want to invest in an HDMI switch that can accommodate three or more devices (this is perfect for a household that needs to connect a Wii, an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3). This way, all three gaming systems are on the same port. Keep in mind you may need an open HDMI slot for attaching a camcorder. The HDMI switch is good for this too.

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    Tips and Tricks Including Consolidating Remotes

    Universal Remote Once you have multiple peripherals hooked to your theater system you may find yourself buried in remote controls. The best way to deal with this is to purchase of a universal remote that can control both your HDTV and all of the peripherals. There are several good choices from GE, Philips, Sony and Logitech.

    The remote controls may not be the only components that seem to pile up in your theater room. The mass of electrical cords can become an unsightly mess if you don’t bundle them together and hide the wires. Zip ties and electrical tape are two options for bundling the wires and there are some simple systems designed to hide the wires in a contemporary hollow tube (alternatively you can use a PVC pipe painted to match the color of your entertainment system.

    Hiding surround sound wires is a bit trickier. There is commercially available cord channeling which is designed to run along baseboards and look like decorative molding. This is fine if your speakers reside close to the walls. If they are further into the room you may need to use duct tape to hold them down and then hide them under rugs.

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    The best home theater systems are built from the ground up by a consumer that has done his or her research. It consists of the correct size HDTV for the room, a surround sound system that takes advantage of both the shape of the room and the furniture arrangement, plenty of peripheral ports for connecting all of your high definition media devices and a universal remote to prevent you from going insane trying to find the right remote for the electronic device you want to control.

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