Ideal home theater system specifics will vary from person to person. What’s seen as perfect for one person may be disappointing for another. What is pretty hard and firm no matter who you speak with is that the perceived quality of the audio and video reproduced by the system must be high. It has to look and sound good in order to be pleasing. I don’t know anyone personally that is satisfied with the system they have and this includes some of the people I worked with to install their systems. Perfect is hard to achieve. Ideal is not so hard to achieve.
The Ideal Home Theater System Starts with Video
If the TV or display can’t create an image that is pleasing to the eye, you’re going to have a less-than-ideal viewing experience. A picture quality that rocks you can help to make up for less than THX movie theater quality audio. What display you should use for your situation will depend on a number of factors, but the two major ones are space constraints and budget. For me, in the space I have right now, about 35 inches is ideal. For you, it may be 120 inches or more.
I have space for a TV in the 30-inch range. If money was the most significant contributing factor in an upgrade/new monitor/TV situation, then I’d probably buy this 32-inch Vizio TV, since it has everything I need and want with its great price. However, it can only do 720p video. But if money wasn’t as much of a factor (and I wanted to remain with a “traditional TV,” I’d probably get this LG one because it has everything I need and it does 1080p. My dream would be an LCD projector, such as this one from Epson, who is a leader in image reproduction technologies.
Keep Number and Type of Inputs in Mind When Reviewing TV/Display Options
Make sure the TV you choose has the right number of the sight style inputs. TV Back Panel Image by author
This is one problem that professional installer and techs see all the time when a customer has already gone out and bought a new TV and then decided that the whole system upgrade is outside of their skill set. The problem we see is that they didn’t take every possible input source they have into account, so they have the right input for the TV source, the right input for their DVD/Blu-Ray, a computer, and all their video game consoles. But alas, when they get it home, they find out they don’t have enough of a certain type of input source.
Item Two in the Ideal Home Theater System Is the Receiver
The receiver portion of the ideal home theater system is what produces the sound. Part of what a surround sound receiver does is process the audio signal to separate the front from the rear and the left from the right, plus the center channel information. This processing allows the surround sound/home theater receiver to make the motorcycle sounds like it’s going across your screen instead of sounding like it’s coming from a fixed point in space.
Although budget may play some of a factor in this particular portion of your decision making process for the receiver, the first decision to make is whether to buy a matched system that includes speakers (and maybe a DVD/Blu-Ray player) or whether to buy your speakers separate from the receiver. You can buy matched sets from perfectly good brands for less than $300. However, without specialized skills, these often leave few options for speaker placement. Buying your speakers separate from the receiver allows you to do things like mount your speakers in the walls where they produce a richer sound and blend into the background of the room better.
How much sound do you want your home theater to make? Do you want it as loud as a movie theater? (The next question here should be are you in a house with space or an apartment?) For me, if I could cut holes in the ceiling and/or walls, and I was looking at a good system that will deliver excellent sound quality throughout my listening range is this one from Fry’s Electronics that combines an excellent Onkyo 5.1 channel receiver with 5-in. wall speakers from Klipsch and a Jamo subwoofer. However, I’d need a separate DVD/Blu-Ray player.
Receiver Specifications to Keep in Mind
7.1 audio gives a better listening experience. Image via Klipsch Support forums
There are also systems that combine the receiver with the Blu-Ray/DVD player. These systems will usually either come with five unpowered speakers or seven unpowered speakers and one powered subwoofer. That reminds me, do you want 5.1 audio or 7.1 audio? Know that 7.1 audio adds surround center, left and right channels to 5.1 surround audio to create more of an immersive audio experience. Imagine spinning a whistle on an eight-foot string around your head with your eyes closed. That’s what 7.1 can do.
I live in a smaller space with neighbors quite close to me, so I’m looking more for absolute quality of the audio produced over the power of it. Ideally, I would have a 7.1 THX system with 200 watts per channel and 400 watts for the subwoofer. One thing to keep in mind with power ratings is the difference between peak and RMS power. Peak power is what’s required for that explosion out-of-the-morning silence, while RMS is for the times between the explosions.
The type of signal processing that the receiver does is also important. Does it do DTS-HD Master Audio? Is it THX certified? Does it have signal processing that can make normal stereo audio appear surround sound? Signal to noise ratio (S/N) and total harmonic distortion (THD) are also important. S/N is just that, the ratio of the amount of amplified signal to the amount of amplified noise. THD is the amount of distortion that the amplifier causes at peak outputs, the more distortion there is, the worse it is for both the amplifier and the speakers.
Like I said, I have limited room, so the system I have resembles this one from Yamaha. My TV tuner, computer, and a iPod/cell phone audio adapter are all connected to it and the speakers all blend in easily. What’s more is that for its price, this one has an exceptionally good THD rating.
Speakers Round Out the Ideal Home Theater System
My ideal home theater system has me buying everything separately. I would buy speakers similar to the Klipsch ones in the Fry’s link above. However, I’d go for 7.1 and speakers that can handle the 500 watts per channel of the amplifier/receiver I would buy. My speakers would also mount in the walls and or ceiling so they blend into the room better. This system puts more emphasis on excellent sound quality and the ability to blend the speakers than anything else.
You may want speakers that make a statement. Klipsch, JBL, and others make speakers that sound simply incredible and look like works of art. You may need small speakers that you can hide in corners and on book shelves.
What kind of restrictions are you looking at when creating your ideal home theater system? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Photo Credit: DJRockout