Home Theatre Systems

Written by Serena Berger
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Home theatre systems aren't just a collection of electronic items or furnishings, they are a passion to which many people are singularly devoted. Whether you want to feel as though you're as close as you can get to the Berlin Philharmonic from your family room in Green Bay, or as close to the Packers game as you can be from the comfort of your armchair, a home theatre system with state-of-the-art audio and video equipment will help you do that. If your passion is movies, home theatre systems take on the task of combining both the sound and visuals of anything from a heart-pounding action movie to a cinematographic masterpiece, ensuring you have the most complete and rewarding viewing experience outside of a theatre.

Home theatre systems are often an investment which you will make over many years. Most of us aren't fortunate enough to have the money to go out and buy a 60 inch plasma TV, a 7.1 channel Harman Kardon receiver, an Onkyo DVD player and eight top-of-the-line speakers, as well as all the accessories needed to connect and mount these items all in one day. Furthermore, many of us don't have the space to take advantage of all of these items, so choices have to be made.

You need to step back and figure out a plan for how to get some combination of components that will make you happy now, but also facilitate upgrading in the future. Ideally, you can keep integrating better components into home theatre systems without being unable to use relatively expensive items that you've already purchased. If your passion is primarily for movies or television, you're likely to want to start with the best TV you can get, and a reasonable DVD player with it. If music matters most to you, then a receiver and at least two good speakers might be a more reasonable first purchase, and you can keep your old 19 inch rear projection TV for a bit longer.

Receivers: The Heart of Home Theatre Systems

When it comes to receivers, the best home theatre systems cannot compromise. For people looking into all of this equipment for the first time, it can be a little bit confusing and initially disappointing to look at how much it's going to cost you to get a piece of equipment that doesn't obviously do something the way that your TV obviously shows a picture and speakers obviously have sound emanating from them. A basic primer on what a receiver does might help alleviate that confusion and convince you that you should think about getting the best possible receiver early on in the process of building your system, even if it will be a while before you can take advantage of all its capabilities.

The receiver is what connects all of the components of home theatre systems, essentially making sure that all the signals get where they need to go--ultimately this means the receiver is responsible for everything you see and hear. The receiver gets the audio signals from disc to speakers, and sends the video signals from DVD to TV. The best receiver will have at least 100 watts per channel of power, as well as enough inputs for five or more surround sound speakers, a CD player, TV, DVD player, and maybe a VCR, Personal Video Recorder or DIRECTV.

Just about as important as the quality of the receiver, and in its own way, as hidden, is the quality of the cables you use. Cables are one of those things you probably don't think about, and unless something goes egregiously wrong with their connectivity, you might not know what you're missing if you've always had mediocre wires. But once you give your system a chance to shine with cables that have sophisticated noise shielding, sufficient thickness and twisting or braiding of the actual wire, and high ratings for conductivity and connectivity, you will never want to go back to the cheap wires that come with many moderately priced components or pre-packaged home theatre systems.

Adding Speakers to Home Theatre Systems

When it comes time to buy your speakers, you can look forward to a little bit more excitement, because this is an area in which personal preferences can be quite strong, and the difference between products is more immediately evident. If you have spent a big chunk of your budget for home theatre systems on a receiver that will ultimately support Dolby Digital 7.1 channel surround sound or DTS, chances are you won't be buying all eight speakers at the same time. Many people consider starting with just two high quality front speakers, because those will provide great music listening capability, and form the foundation of an ideal surround sound system over time.

When you get to explore rear and side satellite speakers, a center speaker, and a subwoofer, you will really develop your own taste in sounds, and be rewarded with an incredible home theatre experience. Whether you like a warm, rich, and mellow sound, or prefer a bright sound with extreme realism (like hearing musicians breathing or moving their fingers) you can find speakers that will play up the registers and sounds you favor. With the amount of time and money that people put into home theatre systems, you should never forget that the ultimate criteria for what you buy should be what makes you happy and what makes you feel most connected to the music, movies and television that you love. Reviews and recommendations can point you in the right direction, but you should find someplace to listen to and watch many different pieces of equipment before purchasing anything, whether you ultimately buy online or not.

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