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Home Theater Starter Guide at OneCall

Get your home theater gear at OneCall

A big-screen TV takes you a long way toward maximizing your home's potential for cinematic excitement. But whether your set is big or small, old or new, one fact remains: your living room just isn't a "home theater" until it's outfitted for dynamic, enveloping surround sound.

For the highest quality and the greatest flexibility in your choice of features, "separates" are the way to go--buying each component individually and integrating them yourself. But this has drawbacks. You have to know in advance what gear will work well together (and surround speakers, especially, can be difficult to "match"), and hookups, including cable selections and connections, can be tricky.

The simple alternative? A prepackaged home theater system or "home theater in a box." Prepackaged home theaters range from six-piece speaker systems to eight-piece speaker systems bundled with components like AV surround receivers and DVD players--even DVD recorders. Component compatibility is guaranteed, color-coded cables and terminals usually simplify hookups and--a key incentive for many--prepackaged systems are usually more compact than a system built on separates, making them ideal for apartments, dorms, small living rooms and anyone who cringes at the sight of bulky speakers and stacked boxes.

A 5.1-channel surround system (outlined in detail below) is standard, but 6.1- and 7.1-channel systems can provide fuller, more spacious sound, an asset in large rooms. Please note that discrete surround delivery formats--DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, multi-channel SACD, and HDTV--never exceed 5.1 channels. Extended surround processing always occurs in a surround receiver capable of deriving 6.1 or 7.1 channels from 5.1 or fewer.

Essential home theater elements include:

A television (not included in otherwise "complete" home-theater packages)
A surround receiver A 5.1-, 6.1, or 7.1-channel surround speaker system:

  • Front left/right speakers
  • A front center-channel speaker (6.1 systems include a rear center speaker, too)
  • Left/right surround speakers (7.1 systems include 2 pairs: mid- and rear-surrounds)
  • A subwoofer (the ".1" speaker) to fill in or emphasize the system's bass frequencies

Source components, such as:

  • A DVD player or player/recorder
  • A digital video recorder (ReplayTV, TiVo)
  • A digital satellite receiver
  • A DTV set-top box/receiver

Key Features and Terms

  • Subwoofer: heightens realism through sounds so deep you sometimes feel instead of just hear them.
  • Center-channel speaker: critical for reproducing dialogue and other sounds--and for rooting sound to your TV screen.
  • Surround speakers: responsible for the sonic cues that help put you in the jungle, at the fair, underwater--anywhere the action is.

Surround formats:

  • Dolby Digital: a compression system used to conserve disc space while still delivering one to six discrete channels of program sound.
  • DTS: uses lower compression than Dolby Digital and sounds better, too--ideal for music-based programs.
  • Dolby Pro Logic II/IIx: a format many surround receivers use to generate surround sound from any stereo source.
  • DVD-Audio and SACD: stereo and multichannel surround formats dedicated to music reproduction that far exceeds the resolution of standard CD audio.