A Buying Guide for Home Theatre Systems

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A Buying Guide for Home Theatre Systems

A well-chosen home theatre system can transform the experience of staying at home to watch a movie. A large high definition screen can render the action in stunning detail, while a good quality surround sound system can faithfully reproduce every sound, from the softest word to the loudest explosion. A home theatre system is an expensive purchase, so be prepared to do a little research into the models on offer at the chosen price point. Key to this process is a good understanding of the features offered by the various components.

Home Theatre System Overview

The particular devices that are included when a home theatre system is purchased vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. In its simplest form, a basic 2.1 home theatre system package may contain a subwoofer, two stereo speakers and an amplifier. By contrast, the most expensive home theatre packages may well also offer a large screen television, a media player, multiple additional surround sound speakers, a media receiver and any number of other peripheral devices. Which components are included with any particular package will largely be determined by the price. However, whatever the budget for the intended home theatre package, a little understanding of all its constituent components should help to ensure a compatible system is assembled.

Home Theatre Screens

When choosing a home theatre screen, aim to get the largest branded screen with the highest resolution that the budget will allow. Smart televisions are worthy of consideration, as these can wirelessly stream content from any Wi-Fi enabled device such as a camcorder or computer, and can even play content directly from the internet. Some smart televisions have built-in Blu-Ray players, which can significantly reduce the cabling that normally surrounds a home theatre system. Another important choice to be made when purchasing a television is whether or not to opt for one that offers 3D capability. The four basic types of home cinema screen are outlined in the table below:

Screen Type

Screen Size

Description

LCD

Small to Medium

Good all round image rendering capabilities.

LED

Small to Large

Excellent colour accuracy. Low power consumption.

Plasma

Medium to Large

Excellent viewing angle, video motion and colour accuracy.

Projector

Very Large

Inferior picture quality when compared to a more conventional screen; somewhat offset by superior screen size. Requires lower ambient light.

Home Theatre Amplifier

When considering a home theatre sound system, try to get the most powerful branded amplifier with the desired number of outputs that the budget allows. The main features to consider when buying a home theatre sound system are as follows:

Feature

Description

Power

Generally, the higher the power rating of the system, the louder the volume at which it can be operated before the sound becomes distorted. The most powerful systems will usually more faithfully reproduce sounds in the very lowest registers. The best quality systems will usually more faithfully reproduce the sound in the mid and upper ranges.

Surround Sound

The higher the number of channels, the more convincing the surround sound will be. A 7.1 surround sound system offers 7 full range speaker channels and one limited range channel for a subwoofer.

Digital Input Compatibility

Ensure that the digital connectivity will match the other components of the home cinema system. Check that each intended device offers sufficient input and outputs to allow the for the complete intended installation.

Auto-Calibration

Check that the sound system offers the facility to calibrate itself straight out of the box. Some systems require the purchase of additional equipment, or require that the task is performed manually.

Home Theatre Media Players

When buying a home theatre media player, look for a good quality branded device that can play Blu-Ray discs. Where the budget permits this could be a games console, or a higher specification device which offers additional functionality such as 3D, Wi-Fi, or a built-in hard drive. Ensure that the chosen media player provides the surround sound information in a format that is compatible with the amplifier to be used. The two devices must also both have a free and compatible digital connection to allow them to communicate. One of the advantages of buying a complete home theatre system package that includes these two components is that the compatibility of the devices is assured.

A Guide to Home Theatre Speakers

When buying a complete home theatre package, the speakers will be correctly rated to match the supplied amplifier. However, when upgrading the speakers of an existing system, the compatibility of any replacement devices must first be established. The specification of any speakers under consideration will include their peak power rating. This figure must exceed the power rating of the amplifier, and ideally included an extra margin to ensure the amplifier does not damage the speakers at higher volumes. Therefore, for example, it is usually best not to pair a 500 watt amplifier with a set of speakers with a peak power rating of less than 600 watts. When researching the speakers for a home theatre system, surround sound units which offer wireless connectivity can be worthy of investigation,. These do away with the need to hide the cabling which would normally run between then and the amplifier.

Home Theatre Peripheral Components

When buying a home theatre system, it is important to map out both the current and any intended future hardware layouts. In doing so, it should be possible to specify a system which will have sufficient connectivity to allow for a degree of expansion. For a more complex installation, it can be a good idea to select devices which can communicate wirelessly. Below is a table of some of the peripheral devices it can be useful to connect with a home theatre system:

Component

Description

Satellite Television Receiver

The home theatre system can be used to enhance the sound when viewing everyday television programmes.

Media Receiver

A media receiver, or digital media hub, is a device dedicated to receiving digital content from any device connected to the home network.

Camera/Phone/Camcorder

Any device which is capable of recording and streaming audiovisual content can potentially be use the home theatre system to enhance playback of this material.

Games Console

Routing the sound of computer games through a surround sound theatre system can enhance the feeling of immersion experienced by the player.

Personal Video Recorder

A home theatre system can improve the soundtrack that accompanies the pre-recorded television content.

Hard Drive Player

Those who store their movie collection on a dedicated hard drive player must remember to consider the device's connectivity requirements at the time of a home theatre system purchase.

Computer

A home theatre system which is wirelessly enabled will be able to play content from any computer connected to the home network. Where a wireless facility is not available, suitable connectivity must be provided to allow the computer access to the surround sound system.

Finding Home Theatre Systems on eBay

Home theatre systems can be found on eBay,by either using the search facility or the links provided. Searching is simply a question of typing some attributes of the desired home theatre system into the search bar. For example, should Kenwood be the preferred brand, simply enter the search terms, "Kenwood home theatre system". To browse the complete range of home theatre systems available on eBay, begin by clicking and expanding the All Categories menu. Scroll down to, and then click on, Sound & Vision. From the categories on the left, selectDVD, Blu-ray & Home Cinema and then finally Home Cinema Systems. Whether searching or browsing, the options on the left are the key to zeroing in on the most suitable systems. When combined, these options can be a powerful tool for identifying which is the best system to buy. As an example, note how they are used to display only the Panasonic home cinema systems with Blu-Ray and Internet Streaming functionality .

Conclusion

When considering the purchase of a something as complex as a home theatre system, do a little research beforehand. An understanding of the various components that make up a home theatre system is necessary to allow proper comparison to be made between the products on offer. To arrive at the best decision about which system to buy, the purchaser must also be able to understand the importance of the various features offered by the rival manufacturers. It is also worth considering what current and future equipment may interface with the system, to ensure the devices bought offer suitable levels of connectivity.

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