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Creating a Home Theater
You May Never Leave the House Again


Creating a Home Theater - You May Never Leave the House Again

Going to the movies isn't what it used to be. Once you get past the chorus of cell phone ringtones, courtesy of fellow movie-goers who've neglected to put them on "vibrate", you find yourself sitting next to the person who makes repeated trips to the snack bar, restroom, or wherever the heck someone goes during a movie. In addition, two adult tickets for this experience, plus parking and snacks, will run you close to $50.

If this doesn't sound like fun, you may want to consider creating a kinder, gentler theater experience inside your own home. Think about it for a second. You can sit on your own couch, and spare your footwear the stickiness of stuck-on confections. You can watch a movie, or even multiple movies, with the flexibility of pausing and resuming them at any time and for any reason. Best of all, thanks to Netflix, movies can arrive in your mailbox for a very reasonable charge and with no late fees.

When creating a home theater, it's important to first understand that the sky's the limit when it comes to everything from equipment and ambience to quality and price. It's also important to understand that most people who create a "higher-end" theater will hire an expert to help them do it. The bottom line is, the more high-tech your theater, the harder it is to put together and the more it's going to cost.

But here's the good news. Unless you are a true audio/video aficionado, or an expert in the field of sound mixing or video editing, you may not get the proper "bang for your buck" from an ultra high end theater. You may be better served by simply creating your home theater yourself, spending far less money in the process. If this option sounds more your speed, here is some information that will point you in the right direction.

The Room

The space you choose for your home theater has almost as much to do with your success as the quality of the equipment. This is where either buying or moving into a new home carries an added benefit. If you were planning on having a theater room in your new home and have yet to determine which room will serve this purpose, here's what to keep in mind in order to make the right choice.

A great home theater needs to have some of the same basic characteristics as a commercial theater. For starters, you'll want to choose a closed-off room, preferably rectangular in shape and with a decent amount of space. Rooms with an open concept traditionally have inferior acoustics. You'll also want a room which does not let in an excessive amount of natural light as having too many windows or a skylight present will cause unwanted glare on your TV screen.

Another key to creating a great home theater is remembering that sound has a tendency to "bounce" off of hard, flat surfaces. Carpeted floors and walls bearing decorations are more conducive to great audio than hardwood floors and a minimalistic décor.

In terms of the room's layout, you'll want to start by positioning the TV in a proper spot. Ideally, this would be directly in the middle and alongside one of the shorter walls of a rectangular-shaped room. The criteria for which of the "shorter" walls you choose should be based on glare. The side which allows for the least amount of glare on the screen is optimal. Once the TV is placed, the remainder of your system, as well as your furniture, can be positioned around it.

If you're in need of furniture for your new room, be sure to pick up pieces which make their function a priority. You'll want the most comfortable seating possible for a room like this.

The Screen

For obvious reasons, having a great TV is an extremely important part of the home theater experience. Ongoing advancements in technology are not only producing incredible results in terms of picture quality, but also multiple options when it comes to the type of set you buy.

Before you settle on your television of choice, it's important to first figure out how big of a screen you actually need. There are two factors which will lead you to the right decision. First is price. Generally speaking, the bigger the screen, the more it's going to cost regardless of the type of TV you buy. Next, and more importantly in terms of your theater's function, is the size of your room.

As a rule, the distance between the TV and seating should equal three times the screen size. In other words, a 40 inch TV requires 120 inches, or 10 feet, between TV and seating. Sitting any closer to the screen will allow the eye to pick up the TV's individual scan lines, thus lessening picture quality.

The only exception to this rule is High Definition TVs which are crystal clear in quality no matter where you sit. But remember, in order to view High Definition television in its correct form, you not only need an HDTV but also a high definition cable or satellite service, and you need to be watching an HD show on an HD channel. If you aren't ready to make this jump quite yet, buying an HDTV may still be worthwhile. We are only about a decade or so away from true High Definition becoming universal for products and broadcasters.

Let's look at the various television options.

Flat Panels

Plasma
Plasma TVs have some wonderful upsides. In addition to providing a great picture, plasma screens are quite thin (3 to 5 inches), making them wall-mountable. Their black levels are deep and rich, perfect for those seeking the home theater experience. Plasmas may be some of the more expensive TVs available, but you do get great value in terms of picture quality and cost per inch. Prices for plasma TVs have also come down quite a bit since their inception and will most likely continue to drop.

When it comes to the downsides of plasma, there are two big ones worth noting. First is their vulnerability to damage. If an object strikes the screen, hundreds of gas-filled tubes can instantly lose their ability to glow. The fix, if it can be done at all, will be quite expensive. You may want to consider purchasing insurance or an extended warranty if you decide to buy a plasma set.

The second downside is the TV's shelf life. Over time, the gas which forms the plasma will begin to leak, making it less reactive to electrical charges. It may take several years for this to happen, but when it does, it's all over!

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display)
LCD TVs are thinner than plasma and also carry the ability to be mounted on the wall. In addition, most LCDs are computer-capable and can double as a monitor. They are also more durable than plasma and have a longer shelf life.

A big downside to LCDs is that they are very expensive televisions in terms of price per inch. They do come in a wide array of sizes, but, if you're going for a really big screen, oftentimes a plasma will be a better deal. Another LCD pitfall is that the black levels are not nearly as rich as plasma or some of the rear-projection TVs. The result is an inferior picture that's maligned by most video aficionados.

Rear-Projection

LCD
These rear-projection TVs are a completely different technology than their flat panel namesakes. Most videophiles agree, the rear-projection versions produce a far superior picture to any of the flat-panels. They do require periodic lamp replacement, but there's very little maintenance other than that.

DLP (Digital Light Processing)
DLP technology has become quite popular with rear-projection televisions, and it's for a very good reason.

With arguably the richest black levels of all TVs, DLP offers a pretty picture at a reasonable price. Like LCDs, the only maintenance they require is a periodic lamp replacement, most costing between $200-$300.

DLPs are not as thin as plasma or LCD sets, but they are much less bulky than conventional rear-projection televisions. One downside to DLP is what's known as a rainbow effect. When some people view DLP TVs, they will occasionally see brief streaks of light, especially when moving their eyes across the screen. Most people, however, never experience this.

LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon)
LCoS is a technology that's seen many ups and downs. Several of the bigger TV manufacturers who initially entered the LCoS market ultimately abandoned the technology. Recently, however, LCoS has made a comeback; but there is a catch. Companies like JVC, Sony, and Hitachi are producing LCoS sets but are calling the technology by other names.

The problem here is that everything from the price of these sets to their performance depends on the individual brand. Your success with an LCoS set really requires some research on your part regarding the individual models. Generally speaking, the upside to these types of TVs is their excellent interpixel fill and the resulting crisp picture. They also require very little maintenance.

CRT (Cathode-ray Tube)
CRT sets are the TVs most people still have in at least one room of their home. Unlike the latest rear-projection technology, CRTs utilize a picture tube. Newer CRT sets are available in flat screen and HD, as well as an array of sizes; but they are quite bulky compared to other rear-projection sets and require regular maintenance. The upsides to this type of TV are the low price and rich black levels.

Front Projection
A front projection TV may represent the ultimate home theater experience, but it carries with it two important requirements. One is money; the other is the perfect room. The better versions of these screens tend to be extremely expensive, and, unless you have an adequately-sized room with optimal conditions, it can be overkill.

The Components

The individual components which make up most home theaters include a DVD/CD player, a receiver which decodes digital audio tracks, as well as functions as a radio tuner, and 6 to 8 individual speakers. Components such as a VCR, an audio cassette player, and a turntable are not suitable for everyone. These technologies are somewhat outdated, and, unless you have large collections in the aforementioned formats, they may be a waste of money.

When it comes to purchasing components, you have two options. The first is to purchase the items separately, which is typically what people who are putting together a higher-end theater will do. This process allows you to research the pros and cons of the various brands of individual components. The end result is a home theater that is completely tailored to you and your needs. The downside to this method is two-fold. Not only is it an expensive way to go, it may also create more challenges when it comes to integrating all of the components.

Your second choice is to purchase what's known as a home theater in a box. This is basically a collection of the individual components, sold as a group, and packaged together in one box. These systems are manufactured by nearly every company in the home entertainment spectrum and are available in varying degrees of price and quality. Their symbiotic nature ensures a very easy set up.

If you decide to go the "all-in-one" route, then you have a few preliminary decisions to make. First of all, do you want a single disc or a multidisc DVD/CD player? Sets with multidisc players may be more expensive, but they allow you play multiple DVDs and CDs without interruption.

You'll also want to decide if you want your DVD player and tuner to be separate components or together in one unit. Sets containing combination player/tuners tend to be cheaper, but the unit itself usually offers less overall functions and far fewer jacks. This will limit how much you'll be able to expand the system. Also, it is important to look for DVD players labeled as "progressive scan". They'll display a nicer picture both on High Definition or Enhanced Definition TVs.

When it comes to speakers, most sets include between 6 and 8; 2 front speakers, 1 center channel speaker, 2 to 4 rear speakers, and a sub-woofer. When positioning them, be sure to utilize the schematic provided with the set. The receiver's decoder is programmed to send appropriate channels of audio to each speaker, creating the desired surround-sound effect.

Expert Advice

Now that we've reviewed the technology involved, let's explore some tips from an expert on the topic. Ron Cruz is the owner of RPC Sound in Simi Valley, California. A self-proclaimed audiophile for 30 years, Ron has been creating and installing home theaters on a professional level for the last six years.

We first asked Ron to identify the most common mistake made by those attempting to craft their own theater. He told us that the majority of people starting from scratch have a tendency to go to the larger audio/video retailers. According to Cruz, you are much better off contacting a reputable, independent dealer/installer, at least initially. He suggested logging on to www.CEDIA.com, the official website for the Custom Electric Design and Installation Association. He says they will have listings for such dealers in your area.

Cruz says that when you visit the dealer, be honest and up front about what you're willing to spend and tell them you're in search of products that are right for you. Also, let the dealer know that you're interested in an appropriate demo. This demo will provide an accurate display of a product's capability. You can then use the information to shop the price.

We then asked Ron to give us one hint that would dramatically improve a theater's "bang for the buck". He suggested that when you're shopping for a system, be proportionate on what you spend for the video and the audio. As an example, let's say you have $6,000 in your budget. He suggested using $2,000 for the TV, another $2,000 for the receiver and speaker package, and the final $2,000 on the DVD player, the proper cables and connections, as well as room enhancements such as dimmer switches and drapery. He says doing otherwise will produce lopsided results in terms of the audio holding up to the video, or vice versa.

The bottom line when it comes to purchasing any portion of your home theater is to do your homework. Find out what features a television or a component has to offer, and ask yourself if they fit your needs. Check out the product reviews online and make sure the quality is also up to par. And then, look around and see who's got the best price.

You are now headed in the right direction for creating a great home theater. So, pop some popcorn and dim the lights – your movie is about to start.

Ron Cruz can be contacted by email at RonDog2@Adelphia.net.


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