Set up your own home theatre

The right screen and sound make movie night more fun

By Gary Rudy

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Screen types

Once you’ve determined the optimum screen size, consider the choice of front- vs. back-image projection systems. Front-projection sets use the same configuration as movie theatres: they project the picture onto the screen. Front-projection sets usually have large screens, but older models suffer from poor picture quality. Newer multimedia projectors offer a high-quality image. The catch, of course, is apparent if you’ve ever tried to check your watch in the cinema: most front-projection systems require almost total darkness to produce a high-quality image.

Rear-projection TVs include conventional and flat-screen cathode-ray tube sets (CRTs), plasma and liquid crystal display (LCD) models. While you can buy CRT sets that will give you an excellent picture, the sets themselves are big and heavy. The newest technological advances are being incorporated in LCD and plasma sets. If your budget allows, consider choosing either of those.

Plasma screens were the first of the high-tech products to deliver crisp, realistic images, and recently prices have dropped dramatically. In the past couple of years, LCDs have become available, and they have a reputation for better reliability and slightly superior resolution compared with plasma sets.

Don’t sit so close!

The optimal viewing distance from the TV depends on its size. Eight to 12 feet is a good distance for a TV that’s between 32″ to 40″. At that distance, you won’t see the individual horizontal scan lines on the screen. High-definition TVs allow you to sit closer, since there are no scan lines at all. Sets larger than 40″ usually require a viewing distance greater than 10′. Keep in mind that if the TV is going in the basement, you need to get it there. Make sure it will fit down the stairs before you buy.

DVD players

DVDs can encode digital signals and store much more data than VCR tape, so most of the technical advances in home theatre components have come along since DVDs became available. This has two repercussions. First, the data for the image is digital and non-degrading, which results in a sharper, cleaner picture than could be had with a VCR. Second, because of the large storage capacity of a DVD disc, sound information can be split into multiple channels.

The decoder

The biggest upgrade from a regular television set-up to a home theatre is the sound. When you see a movie in a theatre, you’ll hear the music, sound effects and dialogue all around you, which is the effect home theatres emulate. This is different from playing sound through the speakers of your television. The improved, multi-channel sound is what makes the receiver/decoder the foundation of every home theatre system. The DVD player sends the video signals to the television and the audio signals to the decoder. The decoder then sorts out the sound channels so that different sound information comes out of different speakers. If someone in the movie is speaking on the left-hand side of the screen, the sound comes from the speakers on the left-hand side of the theatre. If a car comes from behind the viewer and drives off into the distance beyond the screen, the sound will follow this action.

Viewing distance

The size of your television screen will help determine how far away you should arrange the seating. Most large screens don’t look good if you sit too close. Sitting closer than eight feet to a conventional TV that’s more than 30″ won’t yield the best picture. The closer you get, the more obvious the screen’s scan lines.

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