A First-Time-Buyer’s Guide to Home Theatre Systems


Buying your first Home Theatre System can be a tough task. The choice of devices and systems alone can be overwhelming for anyone just starting out in the world of home entertainment. Which is why we’ve put together this handy buyer’s guide. It will cover everything a newbie video/audiophile needs to know before actually parting with their hard earned cash. So if you’re thinking about getting your first Home Theatre System, read this and you’ll be able to make an informed purchase decision.


Which Home Theatre System Should I Buy?

Before we get into the details you should know one hard fact about Home Theatre Systems; the more channels a system has the more expensive it will be. That’s just the way it is so keep that in the back of your mind. That said, choosing the best Home Theatre System for your individual needs will involve more than just making a decision based on price.


First off, ask yourself what you are going to use the system for. Will you be listening to non-stop dance music? Perhaps you’re a fan of classical and are looking forwards to listening to Beethoven and co. for hours without end. Or is your main objective to watch cinematic blockbusters in the comfort of your own home?


Why is this important? Because films and music do not sound the same. They both place different requirements on a sound system. The dynamics of film sound (how loud or soft things are) is a whole world away from a piece of recorded music. Films need more channels to feed surround sound systems. Music doesn’t. So it’s always good to know before you buy what it is you need to spend your money on; a system geared towards films or towards music, or perhaps a mixture of both?


The good news is that when you buy a HTIB (Home Theatre In A Box) you’ll normally have everything you need to create high-quality sound at home. Your new system will contain an AV receiver, speakers, subwoofer(s) and amplifier(s). All in one neat package. You’ll still need to provide a TV and some kind of video player like a gaming console or a Blu-ray, but once you have these devices set up (and most of you will have them already), then you’re all good to go.



What’s the Difference Between Expensive and Cheap Models?

Okay, this is a tough one. There are so many variables involved that answering this question is really quite difficult. But let’s assume we’re talking strictly about Home Theatre packages and we can say that it’s the additional technology that makes one system better value for money than another. Think of Dolby-ready audio or 3D and 4K capability. You most probably won’t find these features on cheaper systems.


Another frequently asked question is whether it’s okay to mix components from different brands. The answer is a definite ‘maybe’. In principle, there is nothing wrong with the idea. But when you consider that speakers and other devices from the same manufacturer are all synced in the factory to work together, then it suggests that sticking with the same brand would make more sense.


7.1, 5.1 and 2.1 Explained

This refers to different kinds of surround sound systems and denote the number of speakers within that system. The .1 is the subwoofer included in the package, which is a dedicated speaker to push out the bass. There’s no guarantee a system with 7.1 speakers will sound better than five; this will depend on speaker quality and the size and shape of your room. If it’s relatively small then 5.1 will be enough to achieve a full and satisfying surround sound. A big room, on the other hand, might need seven speakers or in extreme cases, even more.


Dolby Atmos And DTS: X

You’ve probably seen these letters every time you go into a hi-fi shop or browse a home theatre website on the Internet. Dolby Digital seems to be everywhere these days, and with good reason. One of Dolby’s most exciting inventions is the Dolby Atmos system. It’s designed to move sound around, including up and down. It all adds up to an enhanced viewing/listening experience but of course, there’s a catch. Dolby Atmos will only work with special receiver channels and special speakers.


DTS, another famous company have created a similar system called DTS:X. There is one major difference, however; DTS doesn’t need special speakers to work. Something to think about if you’re planning your new Home Theatre on a budget.


The Jargon

Tweeter: A speaker that puts out high-frequency sounds like human voices and hi-hats. Manufacturers generally put a lot of work into their tweeters. Paired with the woofers which are designed to produce sounds in the low-frequency range.


Subwoofer: A speaker designed to produce extremely low-frequency sounds, and then deliver them with a wallop. You should have one of these in your new system. If not, you’ve been robbed.


Satellite Speakers: All the other speakers in a surround sound system.


3D Capability: Some (not all) Blu-Ray players and discs support the three-dimensional format, which can only be streamed via an A/V receiver with an HDMI 2.0 connection.


4K Capability: 4K means TVs with 4000 pixels capability, a reference to ultra high definition imaging.


Dolby Digital: We mentioned these earlier. Dolby is a company which specialises in audio compression. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see their stickers everywhere.


Finally, A Word About Cables

No one ever said that cables are sexy. And here’s why: cables are ugly, boring and cumbersome. Unfortunately, they are also absolutely essential to your Home Theatre System. It will be worth your time to note that at some point you may need additional cabling and in that case, it’s best to go with the best you can afford. There’s nothing worse than having to sit through a substandard home entertainment session because you’ve scrimped on the cost of a decent cable.


Well, that’s it for now. Of course, with a hobby as complex as Home Theatre, there is always more to learn. But this guide should be enough to get you started. Just please always remember to do the research before you buy and when in doubt, ask an expert!


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