How does one go about reviewing a home theater? Are certain aspects more important than others? Is it better to buy equipment that is all made by the same company or is it better to mix and match?
The quality of a home theater system is dependent on more than just the components that are used to put it together. Several intangibles need to be considered when putting together the perfect home theater for your home but there are factors that are completely dependent on the components you choose as well. Home theater reviews often focus on specific all-in-one systems sold by major manufacturers but here we will discuss the value in purchasing from several different companies to create the best theater for you.
Why Mix and Match Components?
There are only two reasons not to mix and match components when putting together a home theater system: price and convenience. If you are willing to spend a bit more money and take a bit more time, the system you build will be better suited for your needs than any out-of-the-box-ready system would be. There are those that believe components made by the same company are somehow more compatible than those of different makes are. The fact is, all components are made to work with specific protocols and not specific machines. This is why your Sharp DVD player works with your VIZIO TV and your Samsung surround sound.
When you are constructing your system, you will have three major component areas: the display, the audio system and the peripherals. Each of these areas can be selected individually to best use the space in which they are placed.
Choosing a Display
The centerpiece of your home theater is the video display. The size of your viewing space will determine the size and possibly the type of display you use. There are several options from the many high definition flat screen televisions to home cinema projection systems. It used to be the case that if you wanted a movie screen sized display you needed to go with a cinema projection system. That is not true anymore. With the release of the 92-inch Mitsubishi 3D HDTV with even larger models on the horizon the size of your screen is now, more than ever, determined by your budget. If you do choose a flat panel television, you will need to decide on the type of display, be it plasma, LED, LCD or DLP. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type. The plasma screen offers deeper colors and higher contrast ratios than either LED or LCD but does come with a bothersome humming noise (this usually only bothers viewers under the age of 40 who still have their high range hearing in tact). LEDs are energy efficient. LCDs offer the lightest weight and easiest mounting. The DLP screens offer amazing quality but at quite a price.
Once you have decided on the best video option you will probably want to upgrade the audio that comes with it. After all, the focus of televisions is mostly on the visuals. Go on to page two for audio systems and information of peripherals.
Top quality names in audio all offer home cinema speaker systems as well as most electronics manufacturers like Sony, Samsung and Yamaha. There are two ways to go about choosing an audio system for your home theater, a physical surround sound or a virtual surround. With a physical system there are both wireless and wired choices (wired usually being both cheaper and higher quality but considerably harder to set up). If you choose the higher quality route you’ll may want to take a look at some clever ways of hiding the surround sound wires including hiding them behind existing baseboard by routing out a small channel for them.
Speakers systems can be as small as an individual box up to twenty or more unique units that can be placed at different points in the theater room to achieve optimal surround sound. It may be tempting to purchase the largest system you can afford it is better to find the best home cinema speakers for the size of room you will be using. Consult the manufacturer’s recommendations and use one where your room size is in the midrange of the recommended room size. Save the extra cash to use on new movies to watch on your ultra-sweet new home theater.
You must absolutely check the receiver to make sure that it supports all of the major audio formats (Dolby Digital, DTS, Analog, etc.), and that it does so on separate channels. Some cheaper models of receivers digitize analog audio, which makes it sound unnatural. Avoid these. In this day of High definition everything make sure that the receiver you choose has multiple HDMI inputs so you don’t end up have to buy an extension box (or worse have to keep switching cables around when you want to use your gaming system). Again, do not go with the most expensive receiver you see simply get the one that is best for your needs. If you will not be listening to ear busting audio you can stay in the 80-watt range for a receiver any more than that is overkill.
What good is a fantastic television with amazing surround sound if you do not have anything to watch on it? None. Check out all of the peripherals that are available, from Internet access through pay services such as Boxee and Roku to Blu-ray players to gaming systems.
Some peripherals must have HD inputs while others can utilize the lesser quality inputs. For instance, a Blu-ray player needs to be connected via an HDMI port while a traditional DVD player can use the component cable input without a loss in quality. Most gaming systems offer both HDMI and HD component cables, either of which offer high quality sound and visuals. The internet applications can be set-up to run either on a wired or wireless router (depending on if the TV has wireless capabilities or not) and you can even expect to be able to hook camcorders, computers and flash drives to the latest models via the USB ports.
A truly integrated home theater system will be more of a media clearinghouse than a simple space to watch movies. In this arena, a home movie theater also becomes a place to check your email, chat with friends on Facebook or enjoy a few hours of WarCraft.
Piecing together a home media room will be a more fulfilling experience in the end as it will allow you to add components as you need to instead of having to buy them as part of a premade package. While an all-in-one system might seem easier at first, rearranging your furniture countless times to fit it into your media room might not be worth the savings. A custom system can be built around and work with the existing furniture arrangement while delivering a higher quality audio/visual experience.
Image courtesy of Home Cinema Pictures at FlickR.com