Home theater components- Home theater buyer’s guide

Bringing your home theatre system to life seems like a daunting task for anyone that has never done it before.

There are several pieces that come into play when you are planning to build your DIY home theatre system.

At first, understanding different components and their functions can also seem enormous. But that is what this guide for. To give you a better glance at these different parts.

Some of these components include but are not limited to the following;

  • Lighting
  • Displays
  • Speakers
  • Media devices
  • Receivers
  • Video source
  • Connection cables
  • Surge protectors

These are just some of the components that we are going to go through in this handy guide and look into the intricate details.

1.    Receivers

An Av(audio/visual) receiver is the brain of a home theatre system and the center of the whole system. This is where everything comes together.

Receivers act as the point where you input everything which is then relayed to the speakers and the displays. This component not only relays the output but also powers the system at hand. There are several devices that you can connect to a receiver, for example, a gaming rig, players, Fire Tv, and even a cable box.

Receivers also include an in-built amplifier and nowadays most of them come with their own phone apps where you can simply control everything. Some of the newer devices also let you stream directly from the internet.

It also has an amplifier that takes the incoming audio signals and “boost” them and outputs the audio and the powers the speakers.

As the focal point of control, the receiver will have several inputs for the digital optical, RCA audio HDMI, component video, and in other instances, the digital coaxial audio.

If you are planning to keep your audio system for some time and if your room can support it, you should get a receiver with a minimum of 7 channels and Dolby atoms. This will allow you to have a better experience as far as audio is concerned and will future-proof your system.

A good receiver can perform the following;

  • Allow you to switch between several modes of sound.
  • A sign a channel to each speaker and interpret all audio frequencies correctly.
  • Allow online streams from various sources.
  • Send the audio data to all speakers (both wireless and wired)
  • Allow the stellar sound shining of your Blu-ray player.

2.    Display devices

For a great experience, you will need a high-quality display device.

When it comes down to what display you should use, it all about personal preference. Whether you love a projector, an LCD or OLED TV, 4k, or an 8K Ultra HD TV, it is up to you to choose what you think would give you the best experience.

There is no “best option” as far as a display device is concerned.  It may also boil down to the amount of work that you are willing to put in and the size of your room. For example, setting up a projector is more difficult and will require more space than let’s say buying and mounting a TV.

However, on the same note, there are instances where if a projector is set up in the right way it will outperform a Television set. Also, a bigger TV display and one with more pixels will cost more. For example, a 75-inch TV may cost you upwards of $1000 which is more than setting up an average screen and projector.

Display sizes are measured in inches and this is done by measuring the diagonal distance between 2 display corners.

But there are also other things that you need to consider when you are looking for a display whether it is a TV or a Projector;

  1. The screen resolution– this is done by looking at the number of pixels that the display device offers. You can have a 1080p display which is basically a resolution of 1920 by 1080. The resolution is measured in Pixels Per Inch or PPI in short and the higher the resolution, the better and sharper the image will be.
  2. The tech– To produce the best image quality, TV and projectors can go toe to toe. However, the better the technology, the higher the cost, for example, laser tech in projectors and OLED in TVs.
  3. The contrast ratio– Contrast ratio is the difference between the brightest whites and the darkest black that a display device can produce. Typically, most TVs have a contrast ratio of 4000:1 while movie theatre displays have a typical ratio of 500:1. But the higher the ratio, the better.
  4. The display brightness– Projector brightness is measured in “ANSI” lumens and with more lumens comes more brightness. The technology that a TV uses affects the brightness and is measured in “nits”. However, for projectors, higher brightness tends to take the cost up and because they work by bouncing light off a screen the brightness(luminance) that hits your eyes is lower than the actual brightness.
  5. The price– By now it should be obvious to you that the display you get will depend on the amount that you are willing to spend. You should search for a device that is high-quality and one that is within your budget.

Televisions

Today, most TVs are LED LCD (Light Emitting Diode Liquid-Crystal Display). LCD and LED LCD are not the same but I would recommend getting an LED LCD over a regular LCD TV.

In recent times, Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLED) televisions have also become increasingly popular. Each Pixel in these TVs has its own light supply (self-emissive) which allows these TV to have a high contrast ratio. However, compared to TV tech such as LED TV displays, they are more expensive but will outperform LEDs in most aspects.

But with more production of the OLED TVs, we are most likely going to see a drop in the price.

For now, if you are on a tight budget and need to build your home theater using a TV set, I would recommend going for a LED LCD TV. LED LCDs also include QLED TVs as there is no big difference between the two technologies.

Projectors

If you prefer a projector over a TV you need to consider the throw ratio of the projector. Throw ratio is the image size that the projector can produce over a certain distance but thanks to the optical zoom this can range.

By dividing the distance between the projector and the wall by the throw ratio of the projector you can find the width of the projected image.

But just like TVs, projectors also have different technologies and mostly come in 3 projection technologies that include;

  • DLP (Digital Light Processing)- DLP projectors use chips that are made up of spinning color wheels and tiny microscopic tilting mirrors for image creation. They have 3D capabilities, have a faster response time, don’t use filters, and deliver sharp images as well.
  • LCD (Liquid-Crystal Display)- LCDs or liquid crystal displays are less expensive because they have no moving parts.
  • LED (Light Emitting Diode)- LED projectors use LEDs known as “electroluminescence” for light production.
  • Laser- Laser projectors can contain 3-color (RGB) projection sources or a single-color projection source.
  • LCoS (Liquid-Crystal on Silicon)- An LCoS projector is an LCD and DLP hybrid.

All the above projector technologies have their own advantages and disadvantages which is too much to cover in this one article.

However, you should consider the brightness and the resolution of the projector before making a purchase. I would recommend a resolution of at least 1080p (1920 by 1080 pixels) and a brightness that will depend on how well your room is lit. For a well-lit room, you will need a projector with less brightness and vice versa. Some projectors also offer 4k resolution (3840 by 2160 pixels).

You also need to consider the available inputs but if you are going to use an AVR all you will is a single HDMI input port.

Some of the common projector jargon;

Contrast ratio (dynamic vs ANSI) As we mentioned earlier this is the difference between the brightest and darkest pixels.
Lamp Life A lamp can last between 2000 and 4000 hrs. on average. The lamp doesn’t stop to functions after these hours but diminishes as time goes by and may require replacement
Keystone Keystone errors occur when the projector is not perpendicular to the screen thus producing an image that is not rectangular. However, most projectors have digital keystone correction
3LCD These LCDs use a 3-color system for the blue, green, and red color which are combined for the creation of the final image by the use of a prism
Aspect ratio This is the ratio of the height to the width of the image
Letterboxing The standard aspect ratio for most projectors is 16:9 but if you have one with a different ratio you are going to get something that is known as the letterbox effect.
Artifacts This is a rainbow effect that occurs in many single-chip DLP projectors where you can see flashes of green, blue, and red colors on the image.
Screendoor Effect These are visible lines between pixels on the projected image.

What is a Pico Projector? This is a small, portable, and mostly battery-operated projector that can project an image from a tablet, smartphone, storage device, camera, or a notebook onto a surface.

Projector screen or painted wall

When it comes to choosing a painted wall or a projector screen, I would highly recommend a projector screen. A projector screen will have better reflective properties than a wall that is painted white but this does not mean that you cannot use a painted wall.

There are different types of projector screens that you can choose from. However, there are two main types of home theatre projector screens;

  • Retractable- Can be manual or motorized. A manual retractable screen will need to be moved manually up and down while a motorized screen will have a remote control to move it up and down.
  • Fixed /stationary- Does not move

Different screen sizes range from 60 to 150 inches and the size you get will depend on the sitting arrangement and the size of the room where you are planning to build your home theater system.

The material and gain of the screen are other factors that you should consider when looking for a projector screen. Gain is the measure of how reflective the screen is. A white screen comes highly recommended you as you can control the amount of light that is in your room.

3.    Speakers

The speaker you purchase will also affect the choice of receiver that you should go for and it would, therefore, make more sense that you choose a speaker first when it comes to audio devices. Smaller speakers will need less power and vice versa. Also, if you are going to have many speakers you will need an AVR than has more channels.

There is also different speaker’ types that we need to look at;

  • Soundbars
  • Integrated Speakers
  • Surround system

Soundbars

Soundbars are basically long bar speakers that can be mounted/placed below or above your display device. These soundbars have several speakers that make you feel like you are surrounded by speakers although they are only in front of you.

They provide a great sound experience for your home theater and are cheaper than a whole speaker system. You can pair your surround speakers or subwoofers wirelessly directly to your soundbar for a better and full sound experience.

Most soundbars will only need an audio and power source to work as they will have an in-built amplifier for all the speakers. Having a soundbar connected wirelessly to all speakers is a better option than having all your speakers connected to your A/V receiver which can create a cable management mess.

However, as much as this has its perks, you should also keep in mind that it may end up being more expensive than using a traditional surround system.

Integrated speakers

Although they are not as powerful as surround speakers or soundbars, TVs often have in-built speakers. However, this is not the case for most of the projectors.

Integrated TV speakers are not the best option but are better than having nothing at all. A soundbar and sub-woofer would be a better option.

Surround systems

You may have heard about 11.2, 2.1, 7.1 or, a 5.1 surround system, and so on. Ideally, 5 is the number of channels that speakers can be connected to while .1 is the number of subwoofers that can be connected.

So basically, a 7.1 system will have 7 speaker channels and one subwoofer channel. An 11.2 system will have 11 speakers and 2 sub-woofers and so on. Typically, the speakers will face the sitting area and the number of speakers will depend on the sitting location, size, and shape of the room.

If you want a minimum of 5 speaker channels, there will be a speaker on the front right, front left, center, surround right, surround left with one sub-woofer. When the set-up is done correctly the sound will be outstandingly good.

But what does a 5.1.2 system mean for my home theatre? We have already looked at a 5.1 system, but a 5.1.2 system is a bit different as it will have 2 height Speakers represented by the second decimal place. So, that will mean 5 speakers, 1 sub-woofer, and 2 height Speakers. If the 2 Dolby Atmos speakers are set-up correctly in the ceiling you will have a great 3D sound experience.

However, having a surround system with more channels will drive up the cost but is worth it in the long run.

So, how many speakers will you need?

Having more speakers is better most of the time. Most importantly, you should make sure that you at least have a left and right front speaker (2.0 surround system) and that match tonally. This will be better than only depending on the speaker that comes with the TV.

The number of speakers will depend on the surround system that you decide to go for. Just make sure you get the value for your money. Size does not matter as much mush as you are getting high-quality audio. 

4.    Media Sources

There are several media devices that your music, shows, movies, games, and TV can come from. Some examples of these are Blu-ray players, Apple TV, Gaming console, Roku, PC, Cable box, Fire Tv, and so on. You can connect these sources directly to your display and audio devices but connecting them to a receiver is way better.

When using an A/V receiver, almost all sources will be connected by using HDMI cables for the audio and video and in other instances a digital optic cable for better audio.

5.    Lighting

Having great lighting can help set the mood and viewing environment that you prefer. In some instances, you may be required to switch off the lights if you have a front-facing projector for a better viewing experience.

Placing the lights in the wrong position can wash out the projector’s image. If you are using your living room as your home theatre room where they are plenty of light from the windows and other lighting sources, you may be required to install dimmable lights and blackout window shades. The light from the windows should, however, not be an issue at night.

6.    Surge protectors

It is essential that you get a surge protector for your home theater to protect your electronics from power surges that can mess up with the circuit.

A high-quality surge protector will protect all your expensive home theater electronics from power-surge damage. In case of any sudden blackout, your investment will be safe.

7.    Connection cables

It goes without saying that you will need good connection cables for your home theater system to connect the different components for full functionality. You will need to have cables of the right length and size for all the components. Do not overlook connection as this can make or break your overall experience no matter how good and expensive your other equipment is.

The different types of cables are;

  • RCA
  • HDMI
  • F-type (RF)
  • S-Video
  • Fiber-optic
  • TOSLINK

8.    Remote control

There are several methods that you can use to control all your home theater devices but having a universal remote control topples them all. However, there are some of some that enjoy having a remote for each of the devices. There are entry-level, mid-level, and high-end universal controls.

Most of the home theater components can be controlled by the following methods;

  1. Radio-frequency (RF)- RF remote control methods use the same tech used in WI-FI devices. The device being controlled should be in the same area as the remote but the signals can pass through walls.
  2. RS-232- This is a traditional remote-control method that uses cables to connect directly to the devices.
  3. Infrared (IR)- Unlike RF signals IR signals cannot pass through floors or walls to the device and need to be in direct control sight of the device for operation.
  4. Internet protocol (IP)- Devices are connected using WI-FI or ethernet to the control.

Radiofrequency

An RF remote controls work by transmitting radio frequencies and do not have to be aimed at the device being controlled.

These devices have a range of up to 100 ft and can go through corners, walls, floors. When you give an RF remote control a command it sends a specific but corresponding radio wave to the receiver. The frequency of the remote is different from that of a walkie talkie, a phone, etc. so that the receiver can know which signals to ignore from the right signal.

However, they are quite rare in-home theater systems, but in recent times we have been seeing a slow move in the direction of RF controllers.

RS-232 control (serial connection)

Back in the earlier days, most home theaters and other devices used an RS-232 hub, a receiver, and RS-232 cables running through the devices. Each device has a permanent and secure connection and they actually work pretty well. Newer devices do not have RS-232 ports or even RS-232 controls.

Infrared control (transmitter)

This is the most common method of home theater remote control that uses invisible infrared light to carry signals from the remote to the receiver. The home theater system is controlled from an infrared hub using a single receiver and an IR emitter.

Infrared emitters or blasters are devices that affix to the IR receiver in each device. The receiver receives the command from the remote control which is sent to the hub which then gives the IR emitter a command.

Internet protocol

This is a very useful remote-control method that is not commonly used by many home theater users. Most of the newer home theater components have the ability to connect to the internet by using either a Wi-Fi or an ethernet cable connection.

Final take

Many different components are required to bring a home theater to life.

Although at first glance it may seem overwhelming, understanding these parts is very easy and straightforward. Once you learn the basics and the inner workings of each component, you will have a better understanding of how they work coherently for the home theater system you are building or are planning to build.

In case you have any further questions on how these components work you can leave them in the comment section below.

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