How to Choose the Best Home Theater System
Nothing brings a family together like a great movie, TV show, or cricket match in a cozy home theater. Suddenly, your house is the cool house, and a rainy Saturday night at home is everyone’s first choice.
The good news? There are countless variations – from high-end home theaters worthy of an A-list Hollywood film director to very affordable variations that can fit in a spare bedroom but still knock your socks off. Add all the connectivity options (how home theaters so easily stream content and/or turn every room into a music room), and your home theater becomes an investment in happiness. And WAY more so than a bike or car.
In this guide, you'll learn the ins and outs of home theaters. And if you still have questions at the end of it, we're here to help. So without further ado, let's dig in.
So, what is a home theater system?
Obviously, a good TV or projector and screen are principal to the experience. But if you think of a home theater system like a Broadway play, then the TV = the stage, and the sound = everything else, from story and actors to music and pageantry. The real magic behind home theater systems is audio, and audio is what you need to get right to create a real home theater system at your house.
Typically, a home theater system includes the following components:
1. A TV or projector and screen.
2. A video source. Like the signal from your cable or dish provider or a Blu-ray player.
3. A home theater receiver. Where the power and the brains originate. Also what everything connects to.
4. Speakers, including (but not limited to): a center speaker, right and left forward speakers, right and left rear speakers, special effect speakers for Dolby Atmos, and a subwoofer or two.
Now, let's take a closer look at all the different pieces that make up a home theater system while lending some advice and giving you pros and cons to each.
Building your home theater system.
Putting the pieces together.
The TV or projector and screen.
A beautiful picture is key to great home theater, and we can’t say it enough: bigger is better. Bottom line: We strongly recommend going with a 4K HDR TV, and if you can afford OLED, even better.
If you’re dedicating a particular room to a home theater alone, that’s not only really exciting, it means you can go really big with a projector and screen that measures 8 feet or more across for true theater-like imagery. Today’s newest 4K projectors are razor-sharp and whisper quiet. Typically, the projector is installed in the ceiling at the rear of the room, and the screen remains stationary or is made to hide away like a motorized window shade. (Sometimes we add automated movie curtains to the mix.)
Your favorite shows and movies can come from any number of devices in addition to your set-top box. Blu-ray players and 4K media players give you a gorgeous viewing experience and extremely rich home theater sound, and the same is true with devices like Apple TV and Google Chromecast, which connect to the Internet and stream content from an ever-growing list of providers (e.g., Netflix, Hotstar, SONYLiv, Amazon Prime). Also, unlike some older TVs, devices like Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV automatically update themselves whenever new apps, games, and/or shows become available.
Now on to audio…
Home theater speakers.
When it comes to audio, it makes sense to choose your speakers first, because your speaker choice helps determine your receiver choice. Big speakers need big power, little speakers need less power, that sort of thing. Also, more speakers means you'll need more channels on your receiver. And for the most immersive sound possible, you may want to consider adding the latest in home theater technology: Dolby Atmos. (We’ll get into Dolby Atmos in a moment, but we mention it here because a Dolby Atmos system requires a few more speakers)
How many speakers will you need?
That depends. Again, more is always better when it comes to sound, and there are literally dozens of speaker combinations that can create true home theater sound. The traditional home theater includes 5 speakers: a center speaker, a left and a right speaker, two rear left and right speakers, and, of course, a subwoofer. A typical setup looks like this:
The center speaker, which is where most dialog comes from, should be centered just below the TV. (Though some in-wall center speakers live above the TV.) The left speaker goes to the left, and the right to the right. The two rear speakers are placed or installed at the rear of the room, behind the viewing audience. Typically, the left and right forward speakers are bigger than the left and right rear speakers.
What do the channels mean?
There’s 5.1, and 7.1, and 11.2, and 5.1.2 and so on. What’s that all about? If you think of channels as speakers, the first number (the 7 in a 7.1 system for example) = the number of speakers, or seven speakers in this example. The .1 refers to whether the system has a subwoofer or not, so the .1 in a 7.1 system = one subwoofer. The last number, for example, the .2 in a 5.1.2 system = how many Dolby Atmos speakers are in the set-up. So a 5.1.2 home theater means 5 speakers, 1 subwoofer, and 2 Dolby Atmos speakers.
Like we said above: think of channels as speakers. And though most music formats only require two channels (left and right), the sky’s the limit for true home theater surround sound. In a nutshell: The more channels you have, the more speakers you can add. And the more speakers you add, the better and more immersive the sound.
At a very minimum, you’re going to want 5 channels… but we highly recommend getting at least 7. With 7 channels, you will experience – at home – the same thing you do in today’s state-of-the-art digital cinemas: big, thrilling, hang-on-tight, theater sound.
Let’s break down benefits by channels:
• A good old stereo system is now referred to as 2.0 (Two channels, two speakers).
• Add a subwoofer for impactful bass, and now you have 2.1. The "2" refers to the two front speakers, and the subwoofer is the ".1".
• Add a center channel speaker, so the dialog always seems to come from the center of the screen (especially important if you sit a little to the side) and we have "3.1".
• Add two more speakers near the back of the room for wrap-around surround sound, and we’re at "5.1". (5.1 was the surround sound standard up until a few years ago when things started getting crazy good.)
• Larger rooms, especially where your sofa is a distance from the back wall, may call for side and rear surround speakers, which takes us to "7.1".
• The coup de grâce, and the latest thing: Dolby Atmos, where we place 2 or more speakers in the ceiling. Now we’re talking actual 3D sound, where any sound can hover at any point in space. To recap: a "7.2.1" system has three speakers in front, two on the sides, two in the rear of the room, and a pair in the ceiling. Plus the subwoofer, which is typically in the back, but can go anywhere.
Power protection, cables and remote controls.
The little (but still important) stuff.
Power protection. Protect your home theater investment from sudden acts of nature and/or sudden blackouts and/or power surges with line conditioners, Power stabilizers, and surge protectors.
Cables. Just one less-than-stellar cable can bring the whole experience down, and your new home theater will require many cables. We carry only the best.
Remote controls. Toss all those stray remotes on the cocktail table and get one awesome, easy-to-use, universal remote control that does everything. It’s nice to be in control.
The good news about home theater furniture.
What was once clunky-looking isn’t clunky-looking anymore.
Once upon a time home theater furniture was silly-looking. Not anymore. The newest hard and softcover goods would be right in any type at home. EPIC Audio Visual features hundreds of choices in every style – credenzas, TV stands, power lifts, racks, wallboards, home office desks, brackets and more — so you can hide your electronics without compromising function or comfort and show off your gear in the best possible light. We can also offer customization options – our Palliser line alone has over 100 different leather choices and 25 different styles.