What Do I Buy For A Home Theater?

AV receiver rear view

A standard home theater setup consists of a TV set connected to cable, a CD/DVD player, an AV receiver, and a couple of speakers ranging from 2 for a simple stereo setup, to 6 or more for a complex 5.1 surround sound speaker setup.

The Heart of a Home Theater Setup: The AVR / Audio Video Receiver

The core part of a home theater setup is the AV receiver. It manages the input/output of all the connected devices and makes sure that the correct signal is being passed to the display/speakers. There are many types of receivers in the market.

At the most common lowest form, you have the basic stereo receiver. This type of receiver only has an FM/AM tuner, an audio amplifier, 2 terminals for external stereo speakers and an audio input jack for external CD or MP3 players.

On the other side of the coin there’s the full featured AV receiver, it has all the features a stereo receiver may have, but it also has additional features like the ability to process 5.1 surround audio, connect and stream music from the internet, and automatically manage to switch the audio and video signals in you home.

audio video receiver

Selecting the features you want in an AV receiver is the most essential first step you need to do in picking a home theater setup.

  • Do you just need to connect an external audio devices like a CD player and nothing else?
  • Or, do you need a complete audio/video setup that needs to be connected to your television along with your Bluray/DVD player and your cable or satellite box?
  • Do you have surround sound speakers or will you be planning on installing them?
  • What about Internet connection, do you need your AV receiver to be able to connect and stream music or video from the internet?

Answering questions such as these will help you in picking the proper AV receiver for your needs.

To help you more, here are some of the most common AV I/O interface used by devices on the market:

HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface):

This is the most common connector types around, used by almost any devices on the market. HDMI allows for transmission of HD video and also allows transmission of audio on the same connection. HDMI also supports the CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) standard which in theory allows devices that support this standard to communicate and control each other.

DVI (Digital Video Interface):

Another common standard. DVI is compatible with HDMI via a simple DVI-to-HDMI adapter. But unlike HDMI, DVI doesn’t support audio transmission so you need a separate audio cables are needed to transmit audio,

Composite Video:

The most common analog video interface. Pretty much every device support this interface at the least. It can only carry SD video signals so if you need an HD output, you will need to use HDMI or DVI. Also, like DVI, it can’t carry audio signals on the same cable.

Component Video:

An analog video interface used in high end devices. It consists of three separate cables. Like composite video, it can’t carry audio signals. But unlike composite video, component video can carry HD signals.

Surround Sound Demystified

Have you ever wondered how to recreate the movie sound effect in your living room?

If so, you’re looking for surround sound system. With a surround sound speaker setup, sounds can come from the front, back, left, right or center, in effect putting the listener in the center of action.

speaker system design

Contrary to popular belief, surround sound isn’t about making your sounds louder, it is about enveloping the listener with ambiance and providing directionality to the sounds, especially those offscreen sound effects.

Surround sound can be done by attaching and configuring multiple speakers to a surround sound compatible AV receiver device. This process can get tedious but thankfully, there are premade home-theater-in-a-box-systems you can use. These systems are composed of multiple components packaged together. Most package consists of a receiver with a built-in surround sound audio decoders, multiple speakers, a sub woofer, and a Bluray or a DVD player. The benefit of using a package like these are that the components are guaranteed to work with each other.

Types of Speakers

Speakers are an essential component in any home theater setup. Each speaker type has a range of frequencies that they perform best at. Learning about these frequencies will help you in picking the best speakers for your use case.

Bookshelf speakers are your standard speaker used in stereo setups. They can reproduce and output the full range of audio frequencies around. You can also use them in a surround system, in fact, they make for a good front or rear speakers. You can also use them as a center channel speaker but if you have a CRT display you have to take care and make sure it’s magnetically shielded or it will interfere with the display.

Front speakers are typically used in most home theater system. Unlike bookshelf speakers which comes in a standard rectangular shape, front speakers come in all shape and sizes. As such, you will have an easier time finding front speaker designs that will fit in your living room. They can also reproduce a wide of range of audio frequencies.

Center channel speakers are mostly used to reproduce the dialogue and onscreen sound effects. As such, they are placed directly under or over the TV screen, and are shielded to prevent interfering with the video display.

Rear speakers are placed at the back to complete the enveloping sound effect. While not as important as the center and front speakers, they are necessary to complete the sense of realism in a surround sound system.

Lastly, we have the Subwoofers. Subwoofers are designed to reproduce the low frequency bass sounds. They tend to be placed on or near the floor. Unlike most speakers, subwoofers have a built in amplifier and need an external electrical connection to work. Subwoofers are an essential part of a 5.1 surround sound system. In fact, the “.1” in a 5.1 speaker system refers to the subwoofer.

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