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10-Home Theater Basics

Let us here at CEDAR MILL HOME THEATER help you with all aspects of your Home theater system. From Initial Consultation, System Design, Installation, Customer Training, and After Installation Customer Service.

Family watching TV with marantz surround sound


Home theater is an exciting entertainment option that immerses the home owner in their viewing and listening experience. Your home theater can be something as simple as a 27-inch TV and a home theater-in-a-box system, or a sophisticated custom-built system with video projector and in-wall speakers. However, there is a lot to consider in-between.

Here are the items you need for a well-balanced Home Theater:

1. The Room:

The first place to start is the room you intend to place your home theater in. The size of the room will determine the size and type of video display device (TV or projector) that would be best to use. However, whether your room is large or small, additional questions to consider include:

How much ambient light is present?

Is the room carpeted or not carpeted?

What type of wall construction do you have?

Will you be placing your components in free space, or will you be housing your components in a cabinet or closet and installing your speakers in the wall or ceiling?

Where will you be sitting in relation to the screen image?

Before embarking on buying your actual home theater components, especially for a medium-to-high end system, it might be a good idea to consult with us at Cedar Mill Home Theater. We will come onsite and assess your room and address the above questions

The installer can make useful suggestions on components or installation concepts that will work best in your room environment, keeping in mind your own specific budgetary considerations.

2. The Video Display Device:

SharpThis is the first actual component to consider. After-all, the idea of home theater is to bring the movie theater experience home. The most important element of this experience is the visual experience of viewing a large image on a screen. This is where you have a choice of:

The actual size of the room will help determine the size of screen that can be accommodated. From there, you need to decide what type of video display device would be most appropriate.

In addition, at this point in time, with increase in the amount of available HDTV programming sources, as well as HD source components, consider HD-compatible Televisions or Video projectors instead of a traditional analog television. HD-compatible Televisions and video projectors will deliver the most from new HD sources, but will also work with your older analog components, such as a VCR.

3. Audio Reproduction – Home Theater Receiver or Preamp/Amp Combination:

The next essential element of movie theater experience is sound. The way this is implemented in the home theater environment is with either an AV receiver or Preamplifier/Amplifier combination.

An AV Receiver usually combines the functions of three components:

  • A radio tuner for AM/FM and, in some cases, HD (High Definition Radio) or XM-Satellite Radio.
  • A Preamplifier that switches and controls which audio and video source is selected (such as a DVD player, VCR, CD player, etc…) and processes the incoming stereo or surround sound signals and distributes them to the correct amplifier channels and the subwoofer output. The preamp in an AV receiver can also route video signals coming from source components (such as a DVD player) and direct the video signal to the television.
  • A built-in Multi-channel amplifier (5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 channels) that sends the surround sound signals and power to the speaker system.

AV Receiver or Separate Components

MarantzThe AV receiver is the heart of a home theater system and provides most, if not all, the inputs and outputs that you connect everything, including your television, into. An AV Receiver provides an easy and cost-effective way of centralizing your home theater system.

However, in many higher-end installations, the functions of an AV Receiver are often provided by separate components: Preamp/Processor, Tuner, and either a single multi-channel amplifier or even separate amplifiers for each channel. Such a setup provides more flexibility in switching out and/or upgrading the separate aspects of the system as well as isolating any interference that is caused by having all these functions combined in a signal chassis and sharing the same power supply. For the average consumer, however, a good AV Receiver will function just fine.

4. Loudspeakers:

Polk Audio SpeakersThe next element in assembling your home theater system are the loudspeakers. Just as the size and type of room dictates the type of video display device you need, the same factors also affect the speakers you need for your home theater. Two key points to remember:

  • Before you buy – listen to several types of speaker setups.
  • Consider buying the same brand and related model speakers for your home theater. This will insure that you will have a better acoustical match between both the speakers and the room.
5. A Subwoofer:

Velodyne SubwooferA subwoofer is a specialized speaker that only reproduces the extreme low frequencies present in movies or music. There are several types of subwoofers, and, once again, the size and type of room, and issues such as whether the room is carpeted or not will help you determine which subwoofer is right for you. Once again, you need to perform listening tests.

6. Source Components:

At a minimum, you need some type of DVD player for your home theater. Two things to consider in a DVD player: Progressive Scan and Upscaling capability. This will insure you get the best possible image from your DVDs, especially if you are viewing them on an HDTV.

blu-raySince all DVD players can play CDs, you many not need a CD player. However, having a separate CD-only player in a home theater system is quite common, especially if it is a high-end unit providing better CD audio performance.

In addition, you may also want to include a DVD recorder or DVD recorder/VCR combination in lieu of your old VCR. However, you can still use your old VCR with your home theater.

In addition, you need to decide how you will receive your primary television programming: Antenna, Cable, or Satellite.

7. Surge Protector:

APC Power ConversionSurge protectors are the unsung heroes of home theater. Although they are not foolproof, providing your system with some sort of surge protection is a good idea. You never know when you might have a sudden power outage, or even a brown out that may affect your system.

8. Connection Cables and Speaker Wire:

Ixos CablesYou can’t have a home theater unless everything is connected; whether you buy basic connection cables and speaker wire or the really high-end stuff. The main things to consider is to use the right type, right length, and to connect everything correctly. Some connections are color coded – make sure the colors on the cable ends match the connections on your components – this makes life a lot easier.

In terms of speaker cable, the gauge of the cable can be a factor, depending on the distance the speakers are from the amplifier or AV receiver. I use 16 or 14 gauge speaker wire myself. 18 gauge is very thin and should not be used for longer distances.

9. Universal Remote Control:

Logitech Harmony RemotesOne of the most confusing parts of a home theater is not all components and the connections, but actually managing and controlling it. Each component comes with its own remote, leading to a collection that can number half-a-dozen or more. One solution is to opt for a sophisticated, but easy to use, universal remote that can control most of the functions of each of your components. After the initial hurdle of programming the remote for your system, such a device will enable everyone in the family to use the home theater system without frustration.

10. Furniture:

Bell'o FurnitureYou have a fancy home theater system, now you need some comfortable furniture that will make you want to spend your time with your home theater. Your furniture can be of the traditional sofa and chair variety, or you can opt for specialized home theater furniture that includes features such as built-in cup holders and extra-overstuffed padding.

Final Take

BoseThere you have it, the basic elements of a well-balanced home theater. There is no home theater that is exactly like another, everyone has different rooms, budgets, brand preferences, and decorative tastes when it comes to home theater. The key thing is to keep the basic elements of a well-balanced home theater in mind, while assembling it according to your own needs and tastes.

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