When selecting home theater audio systems – your ears will be the Judge and your wallet will be the Jury . While enjoying your Home Theater, your audio system comes in second in importance only to your HDTV video display. There are several options when it comes to digital audio systems – from the most basic of HTiBs to the most elaborate A/V receiver with big boutique speakers and a beefy, killer subwoofer. You’ll find tips for home theater audio systems in this section and the subsequent pages.
Home Theater in a Box is the term given to all-in-one digital audio systems which usually consist of a progressive scan DVD player, radio receiver, digital surround sound amplifier, speakers and a powered sub-woofer with some offering digital satellite radio receivers, Ipod docks and HDMI connectivity. HTiB systems can range from quite inexpensive with modest power better suited to an apartment or small living room to well powered systems that can fill a large room. I formerly had a Koss HTiB unit in my living room setup and it performed quite well. However the DVD player was a bit lacking so instead I used a Toshiba progressive scan DVD player and bypassed the Koss player. Take note that while HTiB systems can be economical – their performance can be a trade-off for their convenience but in some cases they can indeed work very nicely.
Digital Audio/Video Receivers – Performance
If you are seeking the best performance and sound quality in Home Theater Audio Systems you will want to invest in a digital surround component A/V receiver system. Digital receivers decode the Dolby Surround, Dolby Digital or DTS audio tracks encoded in a DVD or television broadcast. Normally called Audio/Video Receivers usually shortened to A/V Receiversor AVR — such systems range in price from a few hundred dollars for the basic setup to a few thousand dollars for an “Audiophile” quality AVR experience. Your wallet and your ears will help decide if a component home theater audio system is right for you – and if so – how elaborate that system will be.
Wireless Speakers – Convenience vs. Performance
A relatively new innovation on the home theater systems scene is wireless speakers.
Several manufacturers now offer an option with selected receivers to add a module that allows for eliminating running wires to at least the rear surround speakers. Such modules are modestly priced and can eliminate the need to conceal the associated connecting speaker wires which can often entail crawling or fishing wires thru some very tight areas. Sound quality is good however in most cases power is only adequate at best depending on the make and model of the unit.
DTS, THX, DD, – The Alphabet Soup by the numbers
There are several different encoding systems used by program source providers. What used to be just plain ‘ole STEREO sound systems with right and left speakers has evolved digital Home Theater audio systems into a sometimes confusing “alphabet soup” that started in the 70’s long ago with the introduction of Quadrophonic Sound. From two to four to 5.1, 6.1, 7.1 – do ya get the point? BTW – the “.1” refers to the bass information that is routed to the subwoofer channel.
Toslink or Coaxial – Get Connected
Digital audio needs to get from your DVD player, HDTV or Satellite receiver to your audio system somehow – right? There are two (actually three if you include HDMI) digital solutions currently offered by modern system manufacturers – coaxial cable and tos-link fiber-optic cable. Many good and not necessarily overly expensive quality receivers offer both options. The number of those available inputs however will increase the pricetag accordingly. Coming soon will be the HDMI 1.3 format which will be capable of carring the increased bandwidth necessary for the “HD Audio” format information from BluRay and HD-DVD players.
“Feel it in the seat of your pants” – get a killer subwoofer
Subwoofers are dedicated bass speakers dedicated to reproducing the low frequency sound that you can feel as well as hear in Home Theater Audio Systems. My first recollection of Subwoofers was long ago in the 1974 blockbuster movie “Earthquake”. That movie was presented in a format dubbed “Sensurround” wherein – as a gimmick – large Cerwin-Vega bass speakers were placed in theaters to provide the bone-shaking bass effects of an Earthquake ravaging Los Angeles. Nowadays subwoofers come integrated into the HTiB units and can reach ridiculous levels in audiophile component systems. Today’s home theater audio systems can produce nearly the same earthshaking results – usually without the Hollywood blockbuster pricetag.