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Understanding Components

Home Theater is like a puzzle. It takes many different pieces that fit together to create a total presentation. Each piece fits in a different spot, and together they make a beautiful picture -- and sound in this case.

Understanding each component's role is helpful when making choices on which ones to buy. And knowing more about component features makes it easier to set up and use them to their best ability.

Front Screen vs. Rear Screen Projection
Any television over 41" is a usually a projection television consisting of a separate projector and screen. Projection televisions have either a front or rear screen and each has its advantages.

FRONT SCREEN

Front Screen doesn't require as much construction. When working with a finished space, front screen projection is usually the better option because it eliminates the need for tearing out any walls.

Because the projector hangs from the ceiling above the audience, it doesn't take up floor space like a rear screen.

The downside is that front screens require a totally dark space or the image will appear washed out. If controlling the light in the viewing room is difficult, a front screen probably isn't the best choice.

REAR SCREEN

A Rear Screen on the other hand will tolerate some ambient light. But a rear screen mounted in a wall requires enough space behind it for the projector and the projector's throw distance. It is possible to reduce the space somewhat by bouncing the image off mirrors.

One big advantage to rear screen is that the equipment is hidden from the viewers. The noise of the cooling fans for the projector is also lessened when behind cabinetry or walls.


Components Explained

TELEVISION

A home theater needs to have a large screen television. The maximum size of a tube-type television is 45" and only a few companies make them that big. Generally, anything larger than 41" is a projection television. Most people now go for LCD or Plasma units which exceed 65".

SCREEN

Screens are manufactured with different materials. Some are little more than a matte-finished screen (for front screen) while others are made of acetate sheets with complex technologies for improving brightness and clarity.

For our home theater we used a rear projection screen of acetate with a fresnel pattern molded into the projector side of it for capturing the image and funneling it towards the viewer, and a lenticular pattern on the viewer side that greatly increased the angle of view.

PROJECTOR

With a projection television, the projector plays the most important role in image quality. Whether dealing with front or rear screen, the biggest factor in choosing a projector is finding one capable of projecting a very bright, clear image.

There are three different grades available in projectors: video, computer, and graphics. Video has the lowest number of lines of resolution (around 400). Graphics grade can handle about 1280 lines, perfect for high definition television or movies that have been line doubled or quadrupled.

RECEIVER

In most home theater systems, the receiver is the brain of the system. It is where all the audio comes together and then. Most home theater receivers have inputs and outputs, a built in tuner, surround sound capabilities, built in amplifiers, and some even have a built in equalizer.

CONTROLLER

High-end systems will most likely have a controller instead of a receiver. In this case, the controller is the most important piece in the system. It processes the audio tracks coming from the source, divides it into the various channels, and sends them to the separate amplifiers.

The controller also handles both audio and video signals and acts as a switching device between the different sources.

AMPLIFIER

Amplifiers are the power behind the system. Amps should be able to handle the huge range of frequencies found in movie sound tracks and they should be able to do it without distortion or clipping.

TUNER

A home theater system utilizing a controller instead of a receiver will need a separate tuner for radio stations. Most tuners today are digital with multiple preset buttons and scanning features.

CD PLAYER

A CD player is synonymous with quality audio and is necessary for any home theater system to listen to your favorite music. Some CD players are separated into two components: the drive unit for the mechanical portion of spinning the disc and reading the information on it, and the Digital Audio Processor (DAP) for all of the electronic processing.

All CD players have these features but they're usually housed in one piece of equipment. Separating the two allows you to use the DAP to send and receive signals from other components through input/output jacks.

The advantage to separate units is that the processor is generally higher quality than those found in most components and will be able to supply better audio from other components. You can often improve the audio coming from a laser disc player, by running its digital signals through a DAP.

EQUALIZER

Once a room's acoustics have been physically optimized as much as possible, the addition of an equalizer will fine tune the room's acoustics and balance the frequencies.

DVD PLAYER

Digital Versatile Discs (DVDs) are one of the elements of a home theater system. DVDs are a cross-media platform for music and computers.

A DVD player makes a great addition to the home theater system for many reasons including its audio support of Dolby Digital/AC-3 and Dolby Pro Logic. And the DVDs compact size makes it more easily stored .

DVDs offer multiple options for specific viewing tastes. Each disc contains multiple aspect ratios including standard television, widescreen, and letterbox for your choice of viewing. The small discs are capable of storing eight different languages for soundtracks and an additional 32 subtitle languages. DVD material also comes with multiple rating options and some DVD players come with parental control capability to only play certain ratings off the discs.

VCR

Disadvantages of the VCR include tape wear and damage, non-instant access, and on a large-screen TV, the resolution just doesn't compare with the resolution achieved with DVD.

DSS RECEIVER

This is not like the satellite dish of yesterday. Besides being a lot smaller (about the size of a large pizza) Digital Satellite Systems (DSS) are more technically advanced. They receive digital satellite signals that carry superior image capabilities.

They're easy to setup and tune in and will be able to accept future television standards like high definition television and six-channel surround sound. Monthly service plans cost about the same as standard cable service.

SPEAKERS

Since sound attributes to half of the home theater experience, it's a good idea to get the best speakers you can afford. Like amplifiers, speakers should be able to reproduce a large frequency range clearly without distortion.

No two speakers sound alike so selecting them is often a matter of personal listening preference. A home theater should have an array of six speakers or more to properly create sound. These will include left, right, and center speakers across the front; a couple of surrounds and a subwoofer or bass unit to create the low, loud, feel-it-in-your-stomach sounds.

RACK SYSTEM

You can see by the list of equipment that a home theater system can take up a lot of room. A rack system organizes the components and helps to keep pieces orderly and neat looking.

Some rack systems come with rollers which slide completely out of the cabinetry making it easier to get at the cables on the back to make changes. Modular rack systems also make it easy to add components in the future.

CABLES & INTERCONNECTS


They may seem relatively unimportant compared to the rest of the equipment, but cables and interconnects can make a difference between a good sounding system and a great sounding system. This is true on any size system from the low end to the highest quality. The signals between components and speakers need to flow unrestricted or the output will suffer.

Cables should be a heavy gauge and the connectors should be gold plated. Some experts even say to allow as much as 10% of your home theater budget for cable.

REMOTE CONTROL

Most electronic equipment has a remote control. Imagine a whole rack full of components each with individual remotes -- you know that the coffee table probably won't be big enough to handle them all! But you still need to be able to control all those devices.

If you happen to purchase all your equipment from the same manufacturer, you might be able to control everything from the receiver remote. But most people don't buy everything from one manufacturer and that's where a universal remote comes in.

There are a number of sophisticated systems out there that will not only do the job but make things a little simpler.

A high-end touchpad system we installed includes a tabletop device with a large screen programmed to control each component. There's a screen for each component with icons that represent different functions. Simply press the symbol on the screen and it performs that function.

The remote transmits information by radio waves rather than the traditional infrared waves so you can keep the components behind closed doors and still be able to operate them. Inside the rack is the remote receiver that takes the information from the radio waves, processes it and sends a command via infrared through wires to the component.

Connecting Components

Sketching out a simple connection plan can be helpful for installing a home theater system. This can help to figure out the general layout of the elements, considering cable connector lengths, the best location for remote usage, easy setup and maintenance.

Exactly how home theater components are physically connected varies according to what equipment is being used. The owner's manuals will be a great help in this department. If you have a lot of equipment, you might consider hiring a professional to install the system.

You can see a basic plan of how our components were connected in the high-end home