All about home entertainment
For vast numbers of Canadians, staying in is the new going out. The home theatre market is booming, and setting up your own home theatre is more affordable than you might think. For as little as $1,050, you can buy yourself a basic widescreen TV and a home theatre in a box, which includes a DVD player. Epic flicks and sporting events take on a new grandeur when seen on the big screen. Craving popcorn yet? Read on and discover how to choose the best TV for your needs, what to look for in sound systems, how to lay out your home theatre room – and more!
There are four main types of large-screen TVs on the market today. Here's the scoop on each.
The conventional cathode ray tube (CRT) TV is now available in both curved and newer, pricier flat-panel screen models.
Screen size: Up to 40 inches
Pros: Sharp picture quality, deep contrast, viewing at almost any angle
Cons: Bulkiness and maximum 40-inch screen size can be limiting
Rear of front projection
Projection models use a small display device to form images and project them onto a screen. In a rear projection TV, the projector and viewing screen are within the same unit; front projection models replicate the cinema experience by separating the projector and screen, which may be on opposite ends of the room.
Screen size: 37 to 83 inches
Pro: Brilliant colour
Cons: Rear projection units are bulky – usually more than 250 pounds and up to three feet deep; both types must be viewed at eye level
Liquid crystal display (LCD)
Increasing in popularity, LCD TVs are flat panelled and can be stylishly wall mounted.
Screen size: 13 to 45 inches
Pros: Thin profile – only three inches deep; lightweight; more energy-efficient than other TVs; long-lasting and sharp image clarity
Con: Cost can be prohibitive
Plasma TVs earn wows with the largest flat-panel screens on the market and their superthin, wall-mountable construction.
Screen size: 30 to 61 inches
Pros: Rich colour; stylish-looking; more viewing angles than rear-projection or LCD units
Cons: Plasma TVs run hotter and use more energy than other TVs; possible fading over time or blurred text and screen burn-in from scoreboards, tickers or video games set on freeze-play; prices can still be prohibitive
High definition monitors enable you to take advantage of digital cable programming, as well as DVD players with progressive scan technology (which enhances action and movement). HDTV signals require a widescreen TV format (16:9 aspect ratio), so opt for a wide screen over a standard screen.
Surround sound receivers send separate audio signals to each speaker. Two front speakers transmit most of the audio, a centre speaker delivers most of the dialogue, two rear speakers concentrate on background noise and sound effects, while a subwoofer delivers bass. Cube speakers suit smaller spaces like dens and family rooms and can be placed on tables or mounted to the walls and ceiling. Larger spaces like great rooms need tower speakers with increased power and performance.
While serious audio- and videophiles may opt to invest in individual home theatre components, the real bargain is the home theatre in a box. It's an all-in-one audio-video package, including a DVD player, audio-video amplifier, surround sound speakers and a receiver. Prices start at around $450 and rise dramatically for systems featuring cutting-edge performance and design. TIP Look for a DVD player with progressive scan to enhance picture quality.
Optimize your viewing enjoyment by setting up your components correctly.
The centre speaker goes above the TV.
The left and right front speakers flank the TV, at least a foot from the screen and up to two-and-a-half feet away for 42-inch and larger wide-screen models.
The left and right rear-surround speakers should flank seating from slightly behind, either wall mounted or placed on tables; set both speakers at the same height, so sound is in sync.
The subwoofer can be placed anywhere.
The bigger the screen, the farther back you need to sit to enjoy the whole picture. Ideal seating distances are six to eight feet for a 25- to 27-inch set, eight to 10 feet for a 31- or 32-inch set, and 11 feet for a 35-inch or larger set.
Entertainment PCs are a growing trend in the home computer category. PCs sold with Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 software (from $1,000) let you enjoy digital photos, DVDs, live or recorded TV shows, or music stored on your PC – on your TV, using a remote control. Microsoft's Media Center Extenders (from $400) let you connect wirelessly from your home network to the digital content on your entertainment PC from any room in the house.
A home theatre setup can easily share space in a dual-purpose room. Here's how to do it. Match equipment to your decor. Look for streamlined pieces in finishes like brushed aluminum or glossy piano black, for example. Use window shades to screen sunlight, preventing it from reflecting off the screen. Optimize sound quality by limiting sound-reflecting glass tabletops and opting for hard-surface flooring softened with an tarea rug, rather than wall-to-wall carpet. Choose cosy furniture like sectionals or club chairs. Low-plush upholstery like canvas or chintz distorts sound less than absorptive plush fabrics like velvet. Seat backs should be lower than ear level. Store stylishly and efficiently. Armoires and wall units work well for equipment and accessories.