Home Theatre Basics 101

Home Theatre Basics 101

So, had enough of the buzz and the industry telling you that you need to go High Definition; do the words “Go Big or Go Home” have you spinning your head? That old CRT Television just not cutting it anymore?

It was up until a few years ago that High Definition Television was only available overseas; Japan and other European countries have had it for quite a long time. Over here across the pond, we were not ready for the switch. It meant spending billions of dollars to switch over all our broadcasting equipment, having content to play on High definition “HD” televisions, and producers to film in HD. It has finally become a reality, and will be the standard in a few short years. Broadcasters, movie companies, equipment manufacturers and the consumer have finally accepted the fact that conventional TV is far too outdated, and like other technology has gone end of life.

HD TV, simply put is like comparing the 8 track tape to a Music CD. Like the VCR to the DVD player. The conventional CRT tube was bulky, heavy, expensive to manufacture, very hazardous to the environment and expensive to dispose of. Technologically speaking, it is out dated, with only 480 lines of resolution (480 lines of which to put an image on).
HD on the other hand is the next logical step in the evolution of television and broadcasting.
HD signals offer aspect ratios of 16:9, (conventional TV was 4:3) resolutions of 720 lines, and a digital signal. There are no ghosts, no snow, or signal degradation as in analog.

If you are planning on buying a HD system, there are a number of considerations you must make before you purchase, and making a check list is a good start. There are four types of HD TV systems.
LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) – same as your laptop or computer monitor; thin, light, a bright display, and wall mountable. Recent technological advances have increased their brightness, and response times (1st generation LCD’s had slower response times, and you might have seen the occasional remnant image on the screen on fast moving scenes and games.
Plasma (Plasma gases to display the images) – also thin, light, and wall mountable. Current generation plasma have no issues with screen burn in (an image permanently ghosted onto the screen) Today’s plasma have pixel shifting technology (they actually shift pixel locations and colours to avoid having any image permanently burned in) the gas life has significantly increased to 60,000 hours of viewing (or about 10 years). Plasma has a warmer image and is definitely the best of the television technologies today.

LCD Projection – similar to the projection TV, however using a small 2″ LCD lens to project onto the larger glass. Lighter and smaller than conventional CRT, and projection TV’s, however with HD quality. They have bulbs that are user replaceable, with an average bulb life of about four years. They do need to be cleaned about once a year. Your sales rep may assist with different options in regards to onsite servicing, and the costs. Bulbs roughly cost about $400. Dust becomes a factor in maintaining longer bulb life and superior picture quality.

Of the three screen types, LCD projection is the least expensive, requiring more maintenance.
If you prefer to have more options as to screen placement, screen size, logistics, then LCD Projector may be another option for you. A LCD projector is similar to the projectors you have seen in meeting rooms and from your school days. They can be mounted on a ceiling, you can adjust the screen width, and project just about anywhere, provided of course you have a suitable projection screen for the image, however even a basement wall can be surfaced to become a projection screen. There are products on the market that one can paint on a wall to make an actual projection surface.

Once you have chosen the technology you would like to use, you have to decide what size of screen you would like, and where you are going to place it in your home. Screen sizes vary from 20 inches to 60 inches (even more with a LCD projector) Obviously 20 inches is more like a computer monitor, so you might as well go big or go home! Of course it is all a matter of your budget. Prices keep falling, and a 50 inch screen can easily be purchased for $2000 CAD.

Next is placement. Ideally, the screen should be located in a square or rectangular room. Not only from the image perspective, buy also from a sound perspective. With HD TV comes surround sound, and most HD televisions incorporate some sort of enhanced surround sound technologies. To experience the full effect of HD TV and surround sound, you have to think that you are a now spectator, the audience, and not a viewer.

Surround sound in itself is a completely different experience from HiFi and Stereo. Dolby has developed industry standards for surround sound that enable positional audio. Essentially, if the picture on the screen shows an airplane approaching from the left and then circles you and leaves behind you to the right, the sound will represent the same effect in the speakers. This means of course that you have to position your speakers accordingly. Dolby 2.1, 5.1 and 7.1 are the standards of today, with 5.1 being the most common. 5 speakers and 1 subwoofer. Or 2.1, left, right and 1 subwoofer. The first digit denotes how many channels, and the second digit denotes a sub woofer channel. Dolby 5.1 is front channel – left and right, a single centre speaker, and rear right and left, with a subwoofer. The centre channel is the main channel for dialog.

Positioning the screen and speakers should be done in such a way that you are in the middle of the room, with the screen on the middle on a longest wall. Centre speaker channel is middle of the room as well, nearest centre of the screen. Optimally, the screen should be in the absolute middle of the room, but that throws the whole system out of balance. Subwoofers do not require positional placement, as their low frequencies are not directional. You can hide the subwoofer somewhere out of sight. Position the front and rear speakers in each of the corners, and make sure you have left and rights proper! It makes a difference. Nothing worse that a locomotive entering the screen on the right side, but sound like its coming from the left side! Each speaker has a polarity as well, with red being + positive, and black – negative. Manufacturers don’t always mark the positive and negative, so make your own rule and stick to it. If a wire in a pair has a black line or a marking on it, make it the – negative. If you mix them up, you will have phasing issues and potentially ruin your experience, and maybe even your amplifier! The speakers should also be placed at ear level and physically pointed towards the centre of the room. Most speakers can be put on stands or on mounting brackets. You may even have them professionally installed and optimized for the room.

A typical solution would be 42″ screen, with Dolby 5.1, 500 watt surround sound system.
If you watch a lot of TV, make sure you talk to your cable or satellite provider about HD programming. If you have a HD television and don’t have HD programming, you are completely missing the experience. Standard television broadcasts do not look all that favorable on a HD sets, and you will have to make adjustments to the aspect ratio. Broadcasters and TV manufacturers understand this fact and have some built in features to change the aspect ratio. Standard 4:3 aspect ratio with 480 lines resolution leaves black bars on either side of the HD screen. Essentially completely wasted screen space. Thus, you can change the standard broadcast aspect ratio to 16:9 and fill those black bars up. You may also zoom and stretch the image to your liking.
That’s not all; you have the ability to change the contrast, colours, brightness and more.
To tailor the display and sound to your linking. Many manufacturers have their own features and technologies, but essentially, you are getting the same common options.

Last but not least, another remote control to learn. I can’t help you rid this annoyance, other than to suggest a universal remote. There are some truly amazing and ingenious remotes on the market that will completely learn every other remote in your home! You can program multiple combinations onto one simple button, for example to play a DVD, press one button, it powers on the TV, the DVD player and home theatre system. Large LCD screens and even self learning features!