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Home Theater Buying Guide Part 2

By Matt Simpson - Saturday, February 25, 2012

So you’ve managed to find yourself a HDTV, a Blu-Ray player, and maybe even a media player to stream videos for your home theater. They’re all connected with quality, low priced HDMI cables. You have everything you need to make things look great. The only problem is that the speakers in that HDTV are an afterthought at best.

HDTV’s have speakers in them and maybe they are even stereo, but they are one of the most subpar parts of any HDTV. They are small and of poor quality, with inadequate amplification. They will make sound, but that’s about all that can be said of them. Hopefully in the future, TV makers will offer true HDTV monitors, putting the money that an internal audio sections costs towards making a better picture for a lower price. You need some audio gear to make your movies sound as good as they look.

The Receiver

This is the nexus for all of your home theater data streams. Whether analog or digital, video or audio, they should all pass through here. That is in fact one of the primary functions of a home theater receiver, which is to act as a router and switch for all of your data. It can switch not only between different inputs but between different types of inputs. If you have an old game system you still want to use, the receiver can switch between the analog outputs of the system to the HDMI running to your television from the receiver. Make sure the receiver you choose will have enough HDMI and other inputs to cover all of the devices you want to have in your home theater, along with room for the future.

Power

That’s not all however. In order to drive 5 or 7 speakers you need some serious power. I mean that in both the processing and electrical power respects. The processing power comes in from decoding the surround sound stream. Then the receiver must accurately route each channel’s information to the correct speaker and do so with the correct level changes and delay. That’s only part of it if the user has selected one of the ever popular DSP or Digital Signal Processing modes that modern receivers seem to have a limitless amount of. While true movie buffs may not have any interest in them. The public at large loves to play with the sound and this is done best with a powerful DSP engine. You should be able to find models even at low price points that offer many DSP modes if you like those, although higher end models will have more convincing modes due to more powerful processors.

Power is also used to drive those speakers. Depending on the efficiency of your speakers, you may need more or less power. More expensive models provide more power and there are a myriad of tricks manufacturers use to overrate their power. Always look for RMS power and not peak. Ideally, you should see a power figure that shows a small amount of THD from 20-20kHz, with all channels driven. Don’t be surprised if you cannot find all of these specs included, but look for a rating as close as possible.

Speakers

The size of your listening area and the acceptability of large boxes in that room may decide whether or not you go with large or small speakers. Large speakers are somewhat less vital now that powered subwoofers have come so far. Ideally, any speaker system will reproduce sounds from 20 Hz – 20 kHz. You will see another number along with that and it’s important. You may see 20 Hz -5db. That last number is the level it can produce that sound. Remember that -3 decibels will give an apparent halving of the volume. Depending on your budget, getting as close as you can in either a 5.1 or 7.1 system is advisable. You should listen to speakers before buying as there is no metric to quantify the actual sound they produce.

Please see Home Theater Buying Guide Part 1




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