Home Theater Audio Systems(page 1 of 2)

Get expert tips and ideas for choosing receivers and speakers for your home theater.

What sets a home theater apart from a typical media room is the sound quality. A dedicated home theater gives guests the feeling that they are in a real movie theater, complete with crisp surround sound. That's achieved through the power of your audio equipment.

Choosing a Receiver

Audio/visual (AV) receivers take any combination of audio and video sources and routes the video source to your TV and amplifies the audio to connected speakers. One of the advantages of an AV receiver is that it acts as the central switcher for most all video sources. Even if your TV only has one HDMI input, you can route a number of different HDMI sources to the AV receiver which uses a single HDMI connection to the TV to display the chosen video source.

This configuration also means most all connections—audio and video—are connected to the receiver rather than the TV mounted on the ceiling or on the wall. This makes mixing and changing cables very easy since the receiver will be located in an easy-to-access location and you only need to make one video connection to the TV from the receiver.

Most all AV receivers designed to be a video switcher have one or more surround sound systems. The receivers use the same surround sound standards movies are made with. Dolby Digital, DTS, and Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS) are the major formats you will find in most AV receivers. These surround sound systems come in 5:1 and 7:1 formats which use 5 or 7 speakers.

Choosing Speakers

Equally important to the receiver are speakers. Largely a matter of personal taste, you should visit an audio showroom where you can listen to a wide range of speakers connected to your chosen receiver.

You will need to start with a decision to use self standing/floor standing speakers or in-wall speakers. You can also combine them. Mixing and matching speakers and speaker locations is an art as well as a science, so also consider that what you hear in a show room may sound different from the acoustics of your home theater.

Surround sound is embedded in the content. A movie is created with surround sound using one of the formats, and when played through an AV receiver equipped with that format, it plays it back in true surround sound. When a conventional audio source (such as stereo) is played, the receiver simulates the sound field as surround sound.

Most all surround sound is based on a 5.1 principle of a center speaker directly in front of you (usually located at, under or behind the screen), two front stereo speakers in the front corners of the room, and two back stereo speakers for the rear corners of the room. 7.1 surround sound adds two side speakers for more presence.

Features to look for in an A/V receiver include:

  • Certified DTS or Dolby Digital surround sound, or combination of both
  • As many AV connections as possible (at least 6 HDMI is desirable)
  • Optical or digital audio out/in connections
  • At least 100 watts per channel of sound
  • Easy to customize sound settings (sound fields)
  • Onscreen display of all settings (AV functions are viewed directly on the TV)
  • Support for portable devices such as iPad or iPod with direct control of the device
  • Bluetooth connectivity so you can answer your phone through the system
  • Easy-to-use menus and controls
  • Attractive appearance and finish as it may be visible in the room
  • Clear, easy to read front panel text display of function that can be dimmed or turned off

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