Playback Devices

  • VCRAlthough the video output from a VCR is considered to be too low quality for the modern home theater, it is still a must if you have a lot of VHS tapes laying around. Once you see the quality picture from a DVD or Blu-ray player, you will never watch VHS tapes again! DVD/VCR combo players are available at very reasonable prices.
  • DVD PlayerDigital Versatile Disk (DVD) is a standard which stores audio and video in digital format on a disk that is the same size as a music CD. A DVD player uses an S-Video, Component Video, HDMI or DVI output for medium quality video (480i), and the sound is encoded in Dolby Digital and DTS (see below). To get Dolby Digital and DTS, you must connect the DVD player to your processor through a digital (Coax or Fiber Optics) connection. Movies in the DVD format are widely available to buy or rent. Single Disk DVD players can be purchased for as little as $29.00! But there are many options that are available on a DVD player as follows:

Progressive ScanProgressive scanning takes the standard interlaced signal and turns it into a progressive signal (480p). This gives you better video quality, but your TV must support progressive signals.

Number of disksYou can get a single disk player, a 5 disk player, or even a 300 or 400 disk player! On the 300 or 400 disk players, you will have a menu that comes up on your TV so that you can browse the titles and pick the movie you want to watch.

Super Audio or DVD audioThere are two competing standards for the next generation of CDs. There are definite opinions on which one is better, but it doesn't really matter anymore. Many manufactures are now shipping DVD players that will play DVD, DVD audio, CD and Super Audio CDs all in one player! But it will cost you more money...

  • High Definition DVDHere we go again.. There were two competing standards for the next generation of DVDs, HD DVD and Blu-ray. These devices are not compatible with each other and they both have video outputs that are 1080p. There are some companies shipping players that will play both formats, and there are many movies available in both formats. As of February 2008, HD DVD is dead and Blu-ray has won the format war.
  • Blu-Ray-- Blu-ray is a great format to give you THE best sound and video quality. The disks are the same size as a standard DVD, but won't play on a standard DVD player. You will need a Blu-ray player which will be able to play both standard DVDs and Blu-ray disks. Blu-ray uses 1080P as its video format, so this means that to get the best video quality, your TV will have to also support 1080P. For sound, it will use a new format called Dolby TrueHD or Dolby Digital+. So that means that your Surround Sound Receiver will need to support those new formats also. See here for more information on Blu-ray and integration in to your Theater.
  • Cable BoxCable TV Receivers can also serve as an input device in your Home Theater. Older Cable receivers usually have a medium quality S-Video video output and allow Stereo or Dolby Surround audio Most new cable boxes have good quality video using an HDMI connection and the audio can be in Dolby Surround or Dolby Digital. Cable system HDTV receivers are also now available and will have Component, DVI or HDMI video outputs and digital audio outputs. They also have models with DVR capability so you can record your favorite programs and watch them when YOU want to. 
  • Satellite BoxSatellite receivers can also serve as input devices in your Home Theater. Satellite receivers usually have a medium quality S-Video video output and allow Stereo or Dolby Surround audio. The newer HDTV models support Dolby Digital and typically have a digital output (coax or Fiber Optics) and support Component, DVI or HDMI Video outputs. They also have models with DVR capability so you can record your favorite programs and watch them when YOU want to. 
  • Gaming ConsolesGaming consoles like the X-Box 360, Playstation3 and Nintendo Wii are becoming very popular options for your Home Theater and the Playstation will play Blu-ray disks while the X-box will play HD DVD disks.

 

Surround Processor

The heart of your home theater system is in the surround processor. The processor's job is to take a Dolby encoded signal, and split them out into 5 or 7 channels of audio. Although the original Dolby Digital standard only specifies 5 channels (right front, center, left front, right rear and left rear), some manufacturers have modified the spec and add right and left side channels to the mix. These two speakers should be positioned directly on either side of the listening area. Now Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD support 7.1 directly. They also will support some form of Video Switching (see below). There are three different ways to buy the processor.

  • Processor and Amplifier SeparatesThis is the high-end way to do it. With this option, you have a processor in one unit, and you have to provide 5 or 7 channels of amplification separately. This method is analogous to having a separate pre-amp and amplifier. You get better sound quality, but the cost is much higher.
  • Processor with AmplifierIn this case, you get the processor AND 5 or 7 channels of amplification in the same unit. This method gives you an "all in one" type of system. One thing is missing though, and that is a tuner for listening to AM/FM radio stations.
  • Receiver/Processor with AmplifierThis is the most popular option. Here we have all of the functions of a receiver (AM/FM, Sirus and/or XM) tuner, inputs for CD, DVD, Sat, etc. plus a processor and 5 or 7 channels of amplification.

The processor you purchase should support all of the following methods for decoding the audio:

  • Dolby SurroundDolby Surround encodes 4 channels of audio onto a normal two channel stereo signal. So the audio on the VHS tape is encoded in stereo, and the processor decodes it into 4 channels. The 4 channels are front left, center, front right and surround (rear). The surround channel uses two speakers (right rear and left rear), but the same sound comes out of both speakers (the rear is a single channel).
  • Dolby DigitalDolby Digital is a newer standard, and is available on DVD players, cable and satellite receivers. It is also the sound standard for use on HDTV. Formerly called AC3, Dolby Digital encodes 5 separate high-quality channels plus a sub-woofer channel (5.1). So now the right rear and left rear are capable of playing different sounds. There is also a separate sub-woofer output. The Dolby Digital inputs are digital, and are usually either a Coax, Fiber Optic or HDMI cable. Most processors will have all 3 types of inputs.
  • Digital Theater System (DTS)DTS is the standard that has been around for quite awhile at your local theater, and is available in the home market also. It uses less compression than Dolby Digital, and most people agree that it sounds better than Dolby Digital. Currently, all of the processors on the market support DTS, and some of the CD's and DVD's that you can buy are recorded using DTS. DTS uses the digital input that will be either Coax, Fiber Optics or HDMI.
  • Dolby TrueHD, Dolby digital+, and DTS-HD--These new standards are being used on Blu-ray and HD DVD players. These standards use 7.1 channels of high quality sound and are really amazing!
  • Video SwitchingAnother thing to consider is video switching. Rather than connecting all of your video devices straight to your TV, you could connect them to the Surround Processor instead. That way, you don't have to change inputs on the TV as you go from DVD to Satellite for example. Newer models will actually up-convert the video signal. So if you have a mixture of Composite, S-Video, HDMI and Component devices, the processor can up-convert them to Component, HDMI or DVI. This is a great feature and makes life much easier!!

Speakers

You will need 5 or 7 speakers for your home theater, with 7 being preferable plus a Subwoofer. In the front, you will have left, center and right and two speakers in the rear (right rear and left rear). If you are using a 7-channel processor, you will add right and left side speakers. For best results, all speakers should have matched drivers. In reality, as long as they have the same sound characteristics, good results can be achieved. The fronts and center are the most important and should be matched. Speakers should be arranged as follows:

  • Center ChannelSince the center channel speaker reproduces sounds that are localized to the screen, it should ideally be mounted behind the screen. This is the way it is done at the movie theater. In the home theater, this is usually not possible, so above or below the TV screen works best. Whichever position is closest to ear level when seated is the best choice. Since this speaker is close to the TV, it should be magnetically shielded. Otherwise, the magnetic field generated by the speaker will cause the TV picture to look distorted. This only applies to tube type TVs, not to flat panels like LCD or Plasma.
  • Front SpeakersThe front left and right speakers should be on either side of the TV. You may have to experiment with the placement of these speakers to get the best results. In general they should be evenly spaced, about 3 or 4 feet on either side of the TV, but not directly against a sidewall. These can either be floor standing speakers, small bookshelf-type speakers, or in-wall speakers. A sub-woofer should be used (see below) in all cases but especially if you are using small speakers.
  • Surround SpeakersThe surround speakers should be positioned behind you, high and outside the normal listening area. They can be mounted on the wall behind you, on the sidewalls behind you, or ceiling behind you. Either way, they should be pointed at your normal listening area. These speakers can be small bookshelf-type speakers, or in-wall speakers.
  • Side Speakers for use in a 7.1 systemIf you are using a 7-channel processor from Denon or others, you will need two more speakers positioned one on either side of your listening area.
  • SubwooferA subwoofer is a speaker system designed to recreate the lowest frequencies of the audio spectrum. A sub-woofer will make the movie come alive by making explosions sound more realistic and the music sound better. Subwoofers tend to be rather large boxes, so at ADI we specialize in building them into floors or walls so that you can't even see them! There are basically two ways to do a subwoofer, Powered and Non-powered. 
 

12 inch sub-woofer built into a wall, made to look like a cold air return

12 inch sub-woofer built into a wall, made to look like a cold air return

 

  • Powered SubwooferPowered subwoofers are the easiest option because the connection to the subwoofer is easy.  You simply run a low-level (RCA patch cable) from your Surround processor to your sub-woofer, and plug the subwoofer into an AC outlet. We recommend at least a 10-inch woofer, and at least 75 watts of power. The system should be rated down to at least 30 hertz. For the serious Home Theater, multiple 12-inch drivers and 200 watts of power is required.
  • Non-powered SubwooferA non-powered subwoofer is just a box with a woofer in it. Some may have a passive crossover, which lets only the low frequencies reach the woofer. We recommend staying away from a passive crossover because you can’t adjust them easily and you usually lose too much power in the crossover. The best way is to run the sub-woofer output of the processor to a separate power amplifier, which drives the sub-woofer. We recommend at least a 10-inch woofer, and at least 75 watts of power. The system should be rated down to at least 30 hertz. For the serious Home Theater, multiple 12-inch drivers and 200 watts of power is required.

 

                Read More: Theater Automation