a Theater at Home
By Jim Bray
Part One (this article): First Steps
Part Two: The Components We Used
Part Three: Buying a TV
Part Four: Buying a
Part Five: Accessorizing
Part Six: Buying a Receiver
Part Seven: Speakers
Part Eight: More on Buying Speakers
If youve had enough of paying through the nose for movie tickets,
only to have your feet stick to the floor and be assaulted and insulted
by commercials, its time to stop throwing money into the street
and start investing in your own home theater.
Building a home theater can be fun and rewarding. It can also be intimidating,
however, so you should start by asking a few questions like: How much
shall I spend? How do I set up the room? What sort of store should I trust?
These are all legitimate questions, but they shouldnt cause you
excessive angst. These are, after all, merely toys for grownups.
Still, you should do some homework. So, in this and a few upcoming columns,
Ill outline some considerations I think are important to your long
term enjoyment of your home cinema. Hopefully, theyll help point
you in the right direction and give you the confidence you need to sally
forth bravely into the retailers dens.
First of all, what is a home theater? A home theater is merely a collection
of audio and video components hooked together. It can be as simple as
a TV and VCR hooked into a basic stereo system, or as complex as a house-shattering
extravaganza that dazzles your eyes and makes your ears bleed.
Some or all of your equipment can be new, depending on your budget and
how happy you are with your existing toys. Im very happy with my
twelve year old speakers, for example, so that lets me budget elsewhere.
Start by choosing where your home theater will be located. Chances are
itll be in your living room or family room, unless you have a spare
area you can shape from scratch. Take your preferred configuration into
consideration as well: if your room is rectangular, as most are, are you
going to use a long or a short wall for your display? It makes a difference.
Using the long wall, for instance, makes for a wide but shallow theater,
while using the short wall will let you sit farther back from the screen.
Also, the long wall lets you spread your speakers farther apart, whereas
the short wall lets you put your surround speakers farther back.
You must decide which configuration will work best for you. In our home,
we chose the family room, placing the electronics along the long wall.
I would have preferred using the short wall, but some fool put a fireplace
there and to narrow the choices down further, our living room was
Next, set your budget with the rule of thumb being that youll
inevitably find that the components with which you fall in love will cause
that budget to swell. So use your budget as a rule of thumb, not an absolute
unless you have more will power than I do.
Once your room and your budget are decided, its time to start looking
for the pieces to make up the whole.
To use as examples for these columns, Thomson Consumer Electronics supplied
an RCA 36 inch digital TV/computer monitor, a five disc DVD Changer, VHS
Hi-Fi VCR, wireless speakers, and miscellaneous accessories. For the audio,
Rotel Corporation kicked in a wonderful THX Ultra preamplifier/surround
processor and a separate power amplifier that are truly awesome. This
home theater, sans speakers, tipped the scale at about $7000.
To augment my lovely old speakers, we went a bit wild and added an M&K
THX-certified subwoofer, which brought the total budget for new toys to
about eight grand.
You dont need to spend nearly that much to get very satisfying
results. For instance, you can buy a Dolby Digital ready audio/video
receiver (it lacks the built in Dolby Digital decoder but accepts all
the inputs) for less than $250, and big screen TVs start at under
two grand. This wont give you the performance or longevity as something
more high end, but so what? Many people dont need to go all out.
You can also defer part of your investment for later, either for financial
reasons or to advance your state-of-the-art as the art improves. If your
TV still works fine, for instance, keep it then go HDTV when the
sets are more affordable and more software is available.
Next time, Ill explain
why I chose these particular components.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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