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Home Theater System Planning - 10 Essential Elements of a Home Theater System

Getting Started: The Room, The Video Display Device, Audio Reproduction


A home theater system is an exciting entertainment option that provides the consumer with an immersive viewing and listening experience. Your home theater system 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 System:

1. The Room:

The first place to start is the room you intend to place your home theater system 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 home theater system 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 system components, especially for a medium-to-high end system, it might be a good idea to consult with a home theater installer to 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 home theater system budgetary considerations.

2. The Video Display Device:

This is the first actual component to consider for your home theater system. 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:

A large screen (35 or 36-inch) traditional CRT-based television (New units are no longer available as CRT televisions have been phased out - but you may be able to find a used one).

A DLP Rear-projection Television

A Flat Panel LCD or Plasma Television.

A Video Projector/Screen Combination.

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 the increase in the amount of available HDTV programming sources, as well as HD source components, consider a fully-integrated HDTV (ATSC tuner built-in), HD-compatible Television (requires an external ATSC tuner), or a Video projector, instead of a traditional analog television. HDTVs, 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.

You also now have the option of incorporating 3D viewing into your home theater system. However, you will need a 3D-enabled TV, and other supporting components to do this. For more details, read my Guide to Watching 3D at Home

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

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

An AV Receiver usually combines the functions of three components:

A. A radio tuner for AM/FM and, in some cases, HD (High Definition Radio), Internet Radio, or XM and/or Sirius Satellite Radio.

B. 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.

C. 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.

A Home Theater, AV, Surround Sound Receiver or Separate Preamp and Amplifier

The Home Theater, AV, Surround Sound 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. A Receiver provides an easy and cost-effective way of centralizing your your home theater system.

However, in many higher-end home theater system installations, the functions of a 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 home theater 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 Receiver will function just fine.

Check out my supporting articles: Before You Buy a Home Theater Receiver- Part One and Before You Buy a Home Theater Receiver - Part Two

4. Loudspeakers:

The next components to consider for 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:

A. Before you buy, listen to several types of speaker setups.

B. 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. Check out more on Loudspeakers: Loudspeaker Basics and Products.

5. A Subwoofer:

The advent of home theater has introduced the Subwoofer to many consumers. A subwoofer is a specialized speaker that only reproduces the extreme low frequencies present in movies or music. There are several types of subwoofers you can use in a home theater system, 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.

Proceed to Page 2: Sources - Surge Protection - Cabling - Furniture.

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