Home Entertainment Systems

Written by Kevin Tavolaro
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The year 2006 is the current target date for the complete phase-in of digital transmission as the sole means of television broadcasting. Although adapter devices will most likely be available in order to make analog TVs compatible with the new digital standard, traditional cathode ray tube-based TVs are clearly on the way out. If you're currently in the market for a new home entertainment system, your best bet would be to choose a system equipped to present high definition digital video.

Screen size will probably be the most obvious feature you review when shopping for a new television. Traditionally, the cost of a television was primarily determined by the size of the screen on a dollars-per-inch basis. However, newer televisions contain numerous features that can overshadow screen size, especially in terms of overall picture quality. In fact, picture quality is now often limited by the broadcast signal, as opposed to the television itself. New digital TVs are often more advanced than the signals they receive, and as such, may not offer a superior picture over a less equipped unit. A good way to test the overall picture quality of a TV set is to observe how it handles black and white images. You can do this with a DVD of a black and white film. While a television may be able to hide some of its limitations through oversaturation when it comes to a color image, black and white footage will immediately reveal any problems with image clarity or contrast.

Home Entertainment Systems and Aspect Ratio

Another significant factor is a television set's aspect ratio. Aspect ratio refers to the shape of the screen, and is denoted as width by height. For example, traditional analog televisions have an aspect ratio of 4:3. This nearly square shape has been the standard for television production and broadcast for years. However, digital technology has made it possible to easily broadcast in the widescreen format associated with movie theaters. As a result, widescreen digital televisions are available with an aspect ratio of 16:9. Some 4:3 sets can mimic the 16:9 appearance of widescreen high definition broadcasting by cropping the image with a technique called "letterboxing." While not all programming is designed to fit the widescreen aspect ratio, the FCC's 2006 conversion to HDTV goal will make 16:9 televisions the best suited for high-quality home entertainment after that point.

Once you've got your perfect video system set up, you're still only half finished creating your home entertainment system. If you're looking to replicate the complete sensory experience of a movie theater, the audio components of your home theater are just as important as the video. Audio receivers now need to be equipped to handle a variety of formats in order to keep up with increasingly high quality sound production in motion pictures and television. When choosing a new audio system, you might want to check its surround sound decoding capability. The most common surround sound format is Dolby Digital 5.1, and a decoder for this format is the minimum requirement for multi-channel home entertainment systems. Other formats include the newer Dolby Digital EX, which covers an additional rear channel, as well as Lucasfilms THX sound format, and several DTS formats.

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