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Article is courtesy of Big Matt's Home Theater and Audio Website
This page is for absolute beginners or people very new to home theater. This is going to have a lot of definitions and many of them are repeated on other portions of my web site.

Home Theater is playing back movies in your own home. A home theater system includes six speakers (left and right front speakers, center speaker, two rear speakers and a powered subwoofer), five channels of amplification, a video source, and some surround decoder. Most people will build a home theater with a receiver. An audio/visual receiver includes a preamp, five channels of amplification, surround decoder, AM/FM tuner, and also does audio and video equipment switching duty. An A/V integrated amp is a receiver minus the tuner. A receiver is the control center of the home theater system. All components are connected to the receiver by interconnects so you need a receiver with enough inputs for all of your sources. The better and more expensive home theater systems use separates. Separates use a preamp/processor and outboard amplifiers. A preamp/processor is a preamp that handles the surround decoding, sometimes has a AM/FM tuner, and does the audio and video source switching. A surround preamp in its basic idea is a receiver without the amplification in the same chassis. Outboard amps (five channels of it) are connected to the preamp and it makes up the main equipment. The difference between receivers and separates is price and performance. Separates are much better sounding, but are more expensive. If you have a larger budget a separates based system is the way to go. They are more flexible and most importantly are the only way to get the highest sound quality.
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Video sources are really audio and video sources. They play the movies you watch. The video sources in use today are the VCR, DVD, LD, DSS, and cable TV. Most people will build a ht system around a Hi-Fi VCR (it must be Hi-Fi meaning it is stereo) because all movies ever made are available on the VHS format. DVD is the highest quality and newest home video source their currently is. DVD is catching on very quickly. Many people today are making it the video source of choice. See the video sources page for some more explanation of some of the other sources and more infor about DVD and VCRs.

Today there are currently 3 home surround sound formats: Dolby Pro Logic (DPL), Dolby Digital (DD or sometimes wrongfully called AC-3), and Digital Theater Systems (DTS). DPL is a matrix surround format. It derives the signal from the two analog stereo outputs. The four channels are left and right front, center and rear. The rear channel is mono and limited bandwidth so it does not play low bass or the highest treble. DD and DTS are 5.1 surround formats. They have five full bandwidth stereo channels (left and right front, center, and left and right rear). Each speaker can have a different signal at a time because they are all indepedant of each other. The other .1 channel (the sixth channel) is the LFE (low frequency effects) channel. It plays only 20-120Hz bass. This is the channel that gives HT its impact. DD and DTS are only available on DVD, LD, and now on DSS (DTS also makes encoded CDs as well). The future HDTV format also has a standard DD soundtrack. DD/DTS are both digital formats where as DPL is analog. DD and DTS differ in that DTS does not use as much compression and sounds a little bit better. The tradeoff is DTS is not widely available as DD is (encoded medium and DTS equiped components). The other thing you might find on receivers is THX. THX is not a surround format. It is a minimum set of standards that equipment is supposed to meet to be "THX-certified". There are also a few other things that you will see THX on so see my THX section on the receivers page for details on THX.

A normal Home Theater system uses 6 speakers. The left and right front speakers are located on the sides of the TV and the center speaker is placed above the TV. The center speaker is magnetically shielded so it can be placed above a TV. Normally the magnets disrupt the picture tubes. The magnets of the speakers have a cup around them that stop the magnetic field. The rear speakers are placed behind or to the side of the listening position. The last speaker is the subwoofer. The majority of powered subwoofers are powered which means they have their own amplifier built in (and also a crossover to filter out the highs).

The last thing needed for a HT system is of course a TV. For a proper HT system a 27" TV should be the minimum size used and a bigger picture will enhance the experience. But, just don't automatically buy a big TV. Quality is important so some TVs will compromise quality to get a bigger picture. See my Television page for some more Television information.

Last thing I will mention is the golden rule. Listen before you buy and don't worry about specs. I have found no correlation to good specs and good sound. Your ears (or eyes in case of video equipment) are the only thing that you need to judge equipment. After listening to equipment more and more you will learn to listen and find differences in equipment. Also I will mention that if you find something you like do not automatically buy it. Always shop around and base your decision on everything you have heard. It might take weeks to even months to finally decide on your equipment. But, taking a longer time to decide will ensure you will be happier with your purchase


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