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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
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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