The Home Theater Experience

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Home Theater Sound

The last component you'll need for a home theater setup is a multi-speaker sound system, which is what delivers jaw-dropping, theater-quality sound to your living room (and often to your neighbor's living room, if you live in an apartment building!). With surround sound, you'll not only hear explosions and other loud audio effects, you'll feel them in your bones. Plus, you'll experience directional audio--for instance, if someone is yelling off screen, you'll hear that audio from a speaker behind you, so you'll feel immersed in the movie's environment.

The most popular and affordable surround sound setups use Dolby 5.1 audio technology. The "5" stands for the number of speakers in the setup, and the ".1" refers to the presence of a subwoofer or speaker-like device that produces low-frequency audio--typically the deep bass sounds that you can often feel in your chest, like the rumbling engines of a starship in the latest Star Wars installment. Finally, the system's speakers and subwoofer are accompanied by an audio receiver, which is like the brain of the audio system. When you play a movie, your DVD player passes the DVD's audio signal to the speaker system's audio receiver, and the receiver decides how to split all the audio information to the various speakers.

Choosing the Components

One of the most surprising things about surround-sound setups is how expensive they can be. You might figure that after shelling out potentially thousands of dollars for an HD-compatible TV set, a handful of speakers couldn't be too cost-prohibitive. But surround-sound systems based on professional-tier speakers can easily cost thousands of dollars themselves.

A better option may be an all-in-one package that contains all the needed elements in one box, ready to go. These can be found in all sorts of price ranges. You can pay more than a couple of thousand dollars for the likes of Bose Lifestyle models, or in the neighborhood of $1000 for something like the Onkyo Envision LSV955, but there are also entry-level packages that start as low as $300, such as the JVC TH-M55 or the Panasonic SC-HT700. In addition, many all-in-one systems, both high- and low-priced, include a DVD player built into the audio receiver, so you can kill two birds with one stone by purchasing one of these models. For more suggestions, read PC World's reviews of several all-in-one setups, and check out "How to Buy a Home Theater System."

Two factors distinguish entry-level systems from more costly options: For starters, there's the receiver's wattage output, which dictates how loud your system can play (realistically, most surround-sound systems are likely to be loud enough for most ears). More important is speaker quality--that is, the speaker's ability to reproduce subtle sounds that enhance your movie-viewing experience. Of course, this is half the fun of home theater sound, and while entry-level systems can deliver sufficient volume and directional audio, they won't give you the sound sophistication found in a theater. As usual, finding the happy middle ground between price and performance will be up to you. For more details, check out "How to Buy an Integrated Home Theater Audio System."

At a Glance
  • Sony WEGA KF-42WE610 42'' LCD Projection TV

  • V Inc Bravo D2 DVD Player

  • Samsung TX-P2675WH 26

  • Philips 30PW8402

  • Sony WEGA KE32TS2 32'' Plasma TV

  • Fujitsu P63XHA30WS

  • Panasonic PT-47X54 47

  • JVC AV-65WP94

  • Panasonic PT-AE500U Projector

  • Sony Cineza VPL-HS10 LCD Projector

  • iVision HD Projector

  • Denon DVD-1200 DVD Player

  • Samsung DVD-HD841 DVD Player

  • Onkyo LS-V955 Home Theater

  • JVC TH-M55 Home Theater

  • Panasonic SC-HT700 Home Theater

  • Sharp AQUOS LC-37HV4U 37'' LCD TV

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