Setting up a Home Theater

Bringing Theater Quality Sound Home

If you are one of the many people around the world who loves the sound quality of watching movies in theaters but hates the hassles (crying babies, people talking, cell phones ringing, etc) of actually going then I hope you are seriously contemplating the value that a home theater or surround sound system could bring to your movie enjoyment. In fact, a good surround sound system cannot only improve your overall enjoyment of blockbuster hits but also your favorite music and video games as well. Surround sound is far more than a tool for watching movies at home, it is an entirely new way to look at and listen to your television in general.

You do not have to begin your home theater or surround sound experience with a top of the line piece of equipment. It is quite possible to start small with a surround sound system and build a better system as you go. In fact, I seriously recommend that people invest heavily in speakers from the beginning and sacrifice the number of speakers in favor of better quality speakers. In addition to this there are many box kits out there that are designed for almost any budget on the market. You can find box kits for everything from basic surround sound systems to home theater in a box. If you are seriously considering the enjoyment this can bring into your home there is no time like the present to start checking out your options.

I never recommend simply walking into the store and purchasing the first kit you find though you are certainly welcome to do just that. I feel that you might walk away from the experience a little jaded however and highly suggest that you go to a local retail center that has sound rooms set up in order to listen to the many options that are currently on the market and compare the sound and the quality of the sound within those items in your price range. I suggest that you start on the low side and work your way up rather than starting at the high end and working your way down.

When you find the quality of sound you are most comfortable with, this is the system I recommend you go home and research. Compare prices online to see if you can find any major values and bargains. The Internet is usually full of good deals for consumers that are willing to sort through many companies that market online. While the Internet is the land of opportunity for some, I also recommend that you take the lowest price you find online to your local retail store and see if they can match it or throw in a few perks to sweeten the deal. You could find some interesting deals by doing this and it costs nothing to try and could save you money in the long run.

The point is to get the best system your money can buy (without sending you to the 'poor house' in the process). Once you have decided on the system you want all bets are off when it comes to finding the best price. We live in a consumer driven marketplace and as a consumer you do have control over where your money is spent and whether or not you are willing to pay the price of spending your money elsewhere.

You know the quality you expect, as you've listened and compared in the stores, and you know the price that you are willing to pay for that quality. Most consumers are learning this fact and willing to make concessions in order to compete with those companies that operate online. See what your local retailers can offer you and if they can't match what you've found online you should be willing to go with the online service. This is a great way for you as a consumer to know what you are getting and feel as though you've gotten a good deal in the process. More importantly you get to bring the theatrical experience you love so much into your very own living room. Now the only kids crying over your movie will be your own.

Excellent Example of Electronic Evolution

No one had a clue during the early days of television the incredible impact that this device would have over people and their daily lives nearly a century later. I can hardly believe the difference between the television offerings of my childhood and the vast number of quality shows, channels, and information that is available by simply turning on the television. In addition to that, the quality of sound that can be achieved through the simple act of adding a receiver and surround sound speakers to your television is day and night when comparing before and after.

I do not think for one second anyone could have possibly anticipated the global impact that televisions have introduced. Add to that the entertainment value and the fact that we are now using our televisions for much more than simply watching and you have opened up a whole new world of entertainment. Surround sound not only works wonders with movies and (some) television shows but is also an excellent enhancement for video games and even music.

Televisions are also being used for more purposes now than ever before. With each generation of video game system there are new features added that require more from the televisions and speaker systems we spend so much of our time enjoying. From the days when people first gained the ability to check their email on their television sets, the technology seed has been planted for greater things to come. Each year new televisions and new surround sound and home theater systems hit the market with amazing success among consumers. We all want more sound, better pictures, and more functionality from a piece of technology that is not yet a century old. It's amazing the progress that has been made already and the rapid rate at which this technology continues to evolve.

Surround sound is only one example of the great possibilities that exist in the entertainment industry, it simply happens that this is one piece of the technology puzzle that enhances so many other of the things that we enjoy so much on a daily basis. From gaming to music to movies, all are enhanced by the technology and premium sound that a good surround sound system with high quality speakers can provide. When purchasing speakers for your surround sound system, be sure to make sure that they are THX certified in order to assure that you are getting top quality speakers for your surround sound system or home theater.

You will find as you sort through the various surround sound systems in the market today that there are many options available to you. I hope that you will take the time to find the one that you like best and keep an open mind when you bring it into your home. It is important to remember that you may find the system doesn't sound as good in your home as it did in the store (acoustics are going to be different). If this is the case with your system, make a note of the differences that you find troublesome, and return the kit to the store, then ask for recommendations on systems that might work better in your home. You should also include things like the size of the room, the types of walls and flooring you have (all of these things affect the acoustical quality of your room). Most importantly, make the most of the advances that technology has allowed and enjoy.

Home Theater Sound Systems

An inexpensive Bose Home Theater Setup
An inexpensive Bose Home Theater Setup

Budget Friendly Surround Sound

A good home theater and surround sound system for your movie enjoying pleasure is a rather large investment for the common movie buff-at least if you are purchasing a really high quality system for your home theater or media room. This isn't to say that you cannot find decent surround sound systems for small spaces that come with much lower price tags than you will ordinarily find on the market. In fact, there are many ways in which you can buy a decent surround sound system for a small room even if you are limited by budget constraints.

Second Hand Systems

Buying second hand from Ebay carries some degree of risk but a reputable seller is often a good place to start. There are some people who simply can't stand to have technology that is 6 months or even 6 days for some matters, old. Their loss is your gain as you can score a really nice surround sound system, speakers included at amazingly low prices if the bidding works in your favor and you know a little about brands and quality. Pawnshops and electronics consignment stores are other good places to find bargains on this particular sort of equipment.

Buy Boxed Sets

I'm typically opposed to box sets when it comes to electronics as there have been many instances in the past where these were merely a method of pawning off inferior goods on an unsuspecting public. However, big names such as Bose have gone over to the dark side so to speak and are beginning to offer box sets of surround sound speakers at surprisingly and amazingly reasonable price tags. There are cheaper brands than Bose, don't get me wrong, I use them as an indication of the wide variety and standards you will find in surround sound speaker systems that come in box sets today. The good news is that you can get really good prices on speaker systems such as this if you are willing to shop around.

Compare Prices

It really does pay in this day and age to do just that. Even if you have a favorite retailer chances are that you could get a better price through them by doing a simple search online and looking for a lower advertised price. If not, it might be worth your while to go with the Internet provider this time and save your money for DVDs and music with which to enjoy your new surround sound system. I also recommend seeing what local competition has to offer; you'll be amazed at some of the wonderful bargains you can find by walking into a store on any given day. I know that stores like Circuit City have great bargains on featured items during the week in order to boost sales. You never know when one of those items might be an outstanding surround sound systems or a phenomenal set of speakers.

Wait it out

If you have your heart set on one surround sound system and nothing else will do, then it may be in your best interest to wait until the price drops. In electronics terms that often means waiting about 6 months or until the next consumer expo event (this is when all the new technology is introduced, which makes all the existing technology drop its prices in order to seem more appealing). Both of these options may seem unappealing but can mean very real and very significant savings on your part if you are willing to wait in order to get what you really want. Not only does this give you time for the prices to decrease but also for the size of your savings to increase.

While shopping on a budget isn't always the preferred method it is very possible to get a decent home theater or surround sound system for your home even if you are working within the limits of a seriously impaired budget.

Cables Wires and Cords Galore

One thing that often gets overlooked during the process of purchasing pieces, parts, and components for your surround sound system is the importance of cables to the overall sound of your system. It makes absolutely no sense to buy top of the line speakers and excellent quality components only to use substandard el cheapo cables with which to connect them to one another. Unfortunately we see this every day and it causes problems with the quality of the sound that leads over time to a total and complete dissatisfaction with the quality of sound your system provides.

There are other considerations when it comes to cables such as aesthetics, which will also affect the price when it comes to your system. I strongly encourage you to seriously consider what level of cabling and wires you can and cannot live with before you purchase your surround sound or home theater system, as both tend to be very wire and cable intensive. There are however things you can do to tame the tangle before it overtakes your home and one of my first recommendations is to seriously consider the value that going wireless would add to your system.

Wireless speakers eliminate the need for a good portion of the wires and cabling that are typically part and parcel of the lot when it comes to good sound systems. Going wireless for me is far preferable to drilling holes into the walls and running the wires through and having a rat's next of speaker wires overhead in my home is simply not an option. Of course everyone has different priorities when it comes to their surround sound or home theater systems and some people aren't all the considered about wires and cables. If you are not one that bothers then that is no problem either.

Unfortunately the wires and cables in a home theater or surround sound system are not limited to the speakers alone and while going wireless for the speakers is often financially feasible it's an entirely different ball park to go wireless for the whole kit and caboodle. For this reason there are all kinds of nifty tips and tricks for taming a mess of wires and keeping things organized and tidy behind the scenes. Among my favorites are these new power strips that allow you to color code and label which cord goes where. These strips are also great because they offer surge protection for your costly electronic equipment.

In addition to having the power strips labeled and organized you can purchase PVC piping and run all the cords down one tube in order to reach the power strip. You can also paint the tube in order to blend in with your wall if you are concerned about the aesthetics of the tube. I personally like this option for keeping all the cords in one spot rather than having them run haphazardly along the back of your other electronic components. It simply looks neater and more organized and your friends and family will be impressed at your cleverness for thinking of it.

If you have a certain disdain for over organization or having things too terribly tidy you can always opt for these Velcro ties that you simple use like the old sandwich bag ties. They can keep several cords together so that you aren't constantly having to work around them and yet allows you easy access to the cords should you find a sudden need for access or get the urge to rearrange or change settings and situations.

While it doesn't take rocket science to tame the wild tangle of cords that sometimes invade of entertainment space, it often helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve when confronting the seemingly endless stream of wires that are part of the average home theater or surround sound system. Hopefully you will find that some of these suggestions and tips will be helpful in your home.

Common Surround Sound Formats

In case you hadn't figured it out by now, surround sound is named as it is because the sound literally surrounds the listener. While there have recently been significant leaps and bounds in this technology there was a huge gap in time between the introduction of this technology and the significant improvements we have seen in recent years. This is especially true when the evolution of sound technology is compared to how fast the world of video has evolved over the last three decades.

There are many different formats on the market today. This can be confusing for many consumers though the good news is that most devices that interpret the formats do so automatically. In other words, you won't need a PhD in terminology in order to enjoy the latest blockbuster hit to come out on DVD with your surround sound system. You will however need a good AV receiver and even better speakers in order to get the maximum enjoyment from your home theater and surround sound system.

If you are simply curious or like to know a little about a lot, then you just might find some of the following explanations for common surround sound formats to be useful. Dolby Digital AC-3 is by far the most commonly seen surround sound format. It is a 5.1 channel format (this means five speakers plus one subwoofer). This is what most DVDs will include and some programs that are found on digital cable or satellite channels will have this type of surround sound as well. You can use Dolby Digital for older mediums that do not include surround sound in their format, as surround isn't required in order to use the system.

Pro Logic is a system used by Dolby in order to translate or decode the signals from other mediums such as old videocassette tapes or television broadcasts. This is becoming widely known for its ability to take two speaker sounds and turn them into shockingly realistic surround imitations.

DTS is the largest competitor for Dolby when it comes to sound. DTS is this company's answer to Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. This is mostly seen only on DVDs.

DTS-ES is the above-mentioned company's answer to Dolby's 6.1 surround system (this is 6 speakers plus 1 subwoofer). Of course DTS is also going to have their own answer to Pro Logic and that answer would be DTS NEO:6, which is said to produce great imitations of surround sound from existing 2 channel mediums very much like Pro Logic.

You may be wondering why we went through all of this information and the primary reason is so that you know there is a difference and you purchase equipment and DVDs that are compatible with one another. Failure to do so could result in a sound that is less than desirable. Most systems will at the very least support both Dolby Digital and DTS, however, you should make sure that you are aware of the format your system requires from the start in order to make the proper decisions when purchasing.

Much like anything in life the proper formats and surround sound system comes down to a matter of choice. The more speakers (such as you would find in the 6.1 or 7.1 surround systems) will present a great quality of sound than fewer, however poor quality speakers can completely ruin the beauty of the sound of your surround sound system. Your speakers should be your single largest investment when it comes to building your ideal surround sound system.

There are many things that go into creating not only the perfect surround sound system for your home but also the perfect surround sound set up. Do not get so caught up in researching these systems online that you neglect to walk into your local stores and actually hear the sound systems you are considering for purchase. There is noting like hearing the quality of the sound to help you make your final selection.

Demystifying Surround Sound Terminology

Just in case you've been reading around and researching the many terms and topics that concern surround sound and the many surround sound systems on the market today, I thought it might be a good idea to explain some of the terminology that is floating around. First of all there are many initials names and numbers floating around when it comes to surround sound technology and equipment, it's no wonder that many of us mere mortal consumers are more than a little confused by it all. Hopefully the information you find below will prove helpful as you weave through the wired jungles of modern sound technology.

The first and probably most common thing you will see in these circles is Dolby Digital. While there are many complicated definitions of this term the one that will matter most to you, as a consumer is that right now it is the leading format on the market when it comes to processing the digital data that your system will need to process. There are better brands such as DTS when it comes to musical sound for this function but the vast majority of television broadcasts and DVDs are optimized for Dolby.

Speaking of DTS, at the moment they are Dolby's primary competition. While most items you find on the market such as DVDs are viewable in both DTS and Dolby you need to make sure that they system you purchase whether Dolby or DTS can read both formats for those times when your favorite flick just might not be enhanced for both.

Now perhaps the most confusing of terms when it comes to surround sound systems would be 5.1. It looks so innocent just sitting there but most people are ready to pull out their hair when they realize that it really stands for a system that includes 6 speakers rather than five. The ".1" in the name refers to the frequency of the subwoofer (or Low Frequency Effects-LFE), which is .1. Despite the existence of 'better' systems on the market today, most movies are optimized for this particular set up so this will be of the most value to you with the current products on the market rather than spending more for systems that the DVD makes haven't yet caught up with.

DTS ES refers to a format commonly referred to as 6.1. In this format there is one additional speaker moved to the center rear of the configuration and the two-rear left and right speakers are moved forward. And THX EX 7.1 is what happens when you add yet another speaker. There aren't too many films at the moment that use this particular format some notable exceptions would be the Star Wars movies. This means that movies haven't really caught up to the technology of either of these systems but they are on the market and some people simply must have them. I recommend going with a superior 5.1 channel surround sound system for the time being and adding speakers when there are more reasons to do so.

This list is by no means exhaustive but will give you a basic overview of the information that is relevant to you as you look into the various surround sound systems on the market today. You shouldn't have to weed through volumes of confusing terminology in order to find out that the system you are interested in actually has 6 speakers rather than 5. My hope is that you can go in armed with basic knowledge that will help you make an informed buying decision.

DIY Surround Sound

The debate of whether or not to install your own surround sound system has fallen on deaf ears and you have decided to tackle this delicate task for yourself. Good for you. The thing is you aren't really too certain about where to actually begin this delicate procedure. At this point, I'm assuming that you have purchased either a home theater kit or surround sound system for your home and are preparing to begin the actual installation process. A good place to start is by reading the instructions and owners manual that most likely came with either the kit you purchased or each of the individual components.

The thing to remember with a surround sound system is that nothing will work without the speakers and they will only work for their intended purpose if they are positioned properly. However, you need to make sure that the other components are in place before beginning to work with the speakers. I recommend, particularly if this is your first system that you go with a simple AV receiver, if you've already purchased a tuner, amplifier, and all that other great stuff it is no problem, just a little more involved as far as processes go. The installation of each of these devices is often as simple as finding a space for them and plugging everything into the proper slot. The good news is that most systems have the 'slots' well labeled for just this purpose.

Once you have the receiver hooked up you should begin placing speakers. If you went with the basic 5.1 channel surround sound system you should have 6 speakers including the subwoofer. This is a good system to begin with and (if you purchased your AV receiver wisely) will leave room for growth and expansion in the future. I will begin with instructions for the placement of the 6 speakers for a 5.1 channel system and expand those instructions to include the others later.

With a basic 5.1 channel surround sound system you will have five speakers and one subwoofer. The placement of the speaker is important when it comes to placing the ambient sounds that are found in movies in the proper location in relation to the action onscreen. Three of the five speakers belong in the front. One speaker in the center and one each on the front left and right-the two remaining speakers belong behind you to the left and right (one left rear; one right rear). While this isn't an overly complicated concept you'd be amazed at the number of people who have their surround sound systems improperly set up.

With the 6.1 channel system you will move the rear left and right speakers to the side and place one speaker to the rear and in the center. If you then upgrade from a 6.1 to a 7.1 channel surround sound system you will move the speaker that is in the rear to either the left of the right and install the additional speaker on the opposite side and to the rear.

If you are going to make the investment in a home theater or surround sound system please take the time to insure that the pieces and parts are properly located and installed in order to get your money's worth out of the process. Now it's time to sit back and enjoy your new sound system.

Haste Makes Wastes of Time and Money

It's a jungle out there, especially when it comes to the wonderful world of electronics and electronics components. The competition is fierce among industry leaders and there are wide gaps in prices and quality from which to choose. Even among the private sector there are such variances in price and quality that it is difficult for most to make truly informed decisions when purchasing a surround sound system or a home theater.

One of the best things you can do for your search is grab a few sound intensive movies, a favorite CD or two and head out to your local retail sales center for electronics. Best Buy may not always be the best place from which to buy but they generally have a good selection of surround sound systems and home theaters that you are able to test out and compare with one another. It's always a good idea to try before you buy and taking an afternoon or a Saturday to browse through your options is good investment of a day if you ask me.

By listening to the different systems you can get a feel for the features that you prefer, those you don't care much for one way or another, and those you would rather do without. This list will be extremely valuable when it comes time to narrow down the systems you would like to further investigate from those that simply aren't best suited for your music and sound requirements. There is nothing wrong with identifying what you want and making efforts to get it. In fact, it's a savvy decision on your part if you ask me.

Once you have a list of the systems you like and a few reasons why you like each system it's time to begin comparing prices. The Internet is probably the best way to do this. You can use prices that compare prices among major competitors and see what others are charging for these items in comparison with what your local stores are charging. If you are feeling up to bargaining you can try to arrange for your local store to match the online price. This works with some stores and not with others. It's a toss up even with the larger chain stores as to whether or not they will acknowledge prices received online as a 'competitors' price in order to meet it. It's worth a shot if you prefer the convenience of shopping locally; otherwise if the best price is online (even after shipping and insurance) then your best bet is to make the purchase online.

There is no magic formula when it comes to purchasing home theater and surround sound equipment other than to make sure you are pleased with the quality of the merchandise. If you listened and made notations about your likes and dislikes, chances are that you have just purchased a sound system that you like, which means you should be thrilled with the fantastic sounds coming out of your brand new speakers for quite a while to come. Taking your time in the beginning in order to make sure you get the system you really want and will be happy with is well worth the wait when compared to the price you pay for haste and purchasing a system with an inferior quality of sound.

How much is Too Much?

The question that many consumers or would be consumers of home theater or surround sound systems must ask themselves is how much should I spend on a home theater system. The problem with that question is that there isn't an answer that is appropriate for every potential buyer. While there are many who honestly and firmly believe that if you are making the investment in your home and the entertainment value within your home you should really consider how much time you spend there and how much value a system such as this will actually add to your perception of the time you spend in your home. I did tell you that there really isn't a simple answer.

The long and short of it is that you only need to find a system that you believe will enhance your perceived value of your movie viewing, television viewing, music listening, or game playing experience. I say start at the low end of the spectrum and listen to the various systems and devices on the market until you find one that you feel will be a vast improvement over your current situation and that should be the system that satisfies you. Do not move up in price range once you've found a system you like or you will wind up spending more money than you could have spent and been just as content.

I was once a true believe in the philosophy that everyone should buy the high-end equipment and that name brands were important. The truth of the matter is that there is a level of quality that is often paid for but it is noticeable to me only if I have heard better than what I am hearing. This means that I am perfectly content with the system I choose as long as I do not encounter something better. I guess it's kind of like dessert. I'm content with my chocolate cake until I see someone walking by with chocolate truffle cake with raspberry sauce and ice cream on the side. It made my chocolate cake look a little less fulfilling if you know what I mean.

We often experience this problem with electronics. There is always going to be some fantastic system just beyond our reach. I say make the investments where it matters (in surround sound systems this would be the speakers) and find contentment with the knowledge that the sound you are purchasing is a vast improvement over the sound you had before. On the other hand if only the best of the best will do for you, you can easily pay well in excess of $50,000 for a very high end home theater and surround system in your home (plus the price of installation of course).

There will always be those who are willing to spend more and those who haven't enough to spare. We live in a world of the haves and have not's the good news is that even if you aren't one of the few privileged 'haves' there is probably a decent surround sound system in your price range if you are willing to take the time to really look for one and make the effort to save your pennies, nickels, and dimes in order to get one once you've found it. Those things in life that are really worth having are those that are worth making sacrifices in order to receive. How much is too much? More than you are willing to pay.

Pieces Parts Components and Sound

If you are in the market for a surround sound system I'm sure you are trying to learn as much as possible about options before you reach the buying stage. One thing to keep in mind is that there are many options and most of them will come down to a matter of taste when all is said and done. There is no right or wrong component or process when it comes to buying a surround sound system only what does and doesn't work for you and the space you have available.

You will find throughout the process that there are many parts, pieces, and components that you may purchase for your surround sound system and even more prices for those individual items. Ultimately the decision comes down to how much of a sound snob you are. Seriously. I must admit that my personal preference is for the most possible sound saturation and the most realistic possible sound as possible. For this reason I am more interested in buying the components as individuals rather than a simple AV receiver. This does not mean that an AV receiver wouldn't be perfectly adequate (especially in relation to the size of my rather small media room) but that I prefer the added control over the sound that individual components provides.

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you which will work best for your situation as your tastes and requirements will also play heavily on which decision is best for you as will your budget. Some people do not place nearly as much emphasis on sound as I do and most people have budget constraints that make individual components seem like a bit of overkill. However, if you spend, as much time as I do submersing yourself in experiences that require sound, then you will find that the investment in these components may be well worth every penny. You will pay a few though and should understand that now.

If you want to build a fabulous surround sound system you will need to start with the preamp or processor. This will be the heart of your sound system and works as a surround processor, AM/FM radio, amplifier, and preamp in one. This piece of equipment receives the signals and then sends them on their merry way. Amazingly enough the information always seems to find its way where it should go-assuming of course that everything is plugged into its proper channel.

The tuner allows you to receive and process AM/FM radio signals, XM or Satellite Radio, and some High Definition signals as well. The amplifier adds power to the sound or as its name implies, amplifies it. This allows the sound to 'reach' across the room so that everyone in the room is touched by it.

These components each achieve functions individually that a good quality AV receiver can accomplish. The difference is always in degrees and depth. The AV receiver allows some of the functionality of each but doesn't quite match the control and nuances that can be achieved with any one of the pieces individually. The average consumer doesn't need that sizeable of an investment in equipment, money, time, or space in order to achieve excellent theater quality sound in their home theater system and that is the important thing to remember.

If you are hoping to imitate a 'theater' experience in an average size room, chances are you will never need anything more than a decent AV receiver and an excellent set of speakers. The more speakers you have in your surround sound system, the better the quality of the sound will be. However, better quality speakers will trump marginal quality equipment any day while marginal quality speakers can still ruin the sound of even the best quality AV equipment. The best advice I can give you when purchasing equipment for your surround sound system is to make sure you put your money in your speakers and sort the rest out afterwards.

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swiftman 7 years ago from At Sea

Some nice info you have here, there are so many surround sound systems out there. You can always find better products for less when you shop about. Take a look at my related post.

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