Home Theater Buying Guide

When it comes to picture and sound, the movie theatre offers an amazing experience we just don’t get at home. That’s usually the reason people pay to go to the movies, even though renting a movie is cheaper. There are a few main components that make watching TV and going to the movies very different.



One of the biggest differences is the sound experience. When you go to see a movie in a quality movie theatre, you’ll hear the music, sound effects and dialogue not just from the screen, but all around you. A standard movie theatre has three speakers behind the screen — one to the right, one to the left and one in the centre, and several other speakers spread out in the rest of the theatre. In this surround sound system, you hear different parts of the soundtrack coming from different places. When somebody on the left side of the screen says something, you hear it more from the left speaker. And in a movie like “Star Wars,” you hear a rumbling swoosh travel from the front of the theatre to the rear as a spaceship flies toward the camera and off the screen. You are more involved in the experience of watching a film because the world of the movie is all around you.


The second chief component of the theatre experience is the large size of the movie screen. In a theatre, the screen takes up most of your field of view, which makes it very easy to lose yourself in the movie. After all, you’re sitting in the dark with only one thing to look at, and everything you’re looking at seems much bigger than life.

Film projectors

We also enjoy going to the movies because we can see everything so well. Film projectors present very large, clear pictures. The detail is much sharper than what we see on an ordinary 21-inch television, and the movement is much more fluid. We may not consciously recognize this, but it does make a significant difference in how we enjoy a movie. When we can see more detail, we are more engrossed in the world of the movie.

The basic idea of a home theatre is to recreate these elements with home equipment.


We have already seen that the major components of a movie-theatre experience are a large, clear picture and a surround-sound system. To build a home theatre, we need to recreate these elements. At the bare minimum, we need:

Picture: A large-screen television (at least 27 inches across, measured diagonally) with a clear picture

Sound: At least four speakers

AV receiver & amplifier: Equipment for splitting the surround-sound signal and sending it to the speakers

DVD player or any other digital playback: Something that plays or broadcasts movies in surround sound, preferably with a clear picture


The biggest variable in home theatre systems is the television. You can go for a large-screen CRT TV and spend as little as Rs 20,000 or you can splurge on a front- or rear-projection television, which could cost a few lakh rupees. The main factors that determine television price are size and picture resolution. The various television options are: 29-inch CRT TV

An LCD or plasma TV. Ideally, you should go for a plasma TV as it gives you brighter, more colourful images in a dark environment You can also go for front projection televisions, where the projector is a separate unit, and you centre the television image on a separate fabric screen. The main advantage of this is that you get a bigger screen size. However, the major drawback is that it requires a dark room For more details go to the section `Television’Buying Guide


The type of sound that you receive will depend on your speaker system as well as the surround sound format that you use. Even with a top-of-the-line DVD player and audio/video receiver, the sound quality will be terrible if you don’t have good speakers.

The main full-size speaker options are floor-standing units, bookshelf units and in-wall units. Floor standing units are the largest, and they generally have the highest performance levels, as well as the highest price tags. Bookshelf units and in-wall units are more compact, which is great if space is limited, and they perform very well. They may lack some bass range, but a good subwoofer should adequately compensate for this.


Almost all home theatre systems include the following speakers:

  • Front left and right speakers
  • Center channel speaker
  • Surround speakers
  • Subwoofer

These speakers work together to create the surround sound experience of a movie theatre.

Front left and right speakers

The front left and right speakers offer a wide soundstage that blends with the video to create a more realistic and exciting movie experience.

In addition to reproducing the musical score, front speakers handle the bulk of the special effects, which move back and forth between the two speakers in sync with the images on the screen.

Front speakers also broaden the soundstage by reproducing off-screen special effects. Finally, the front left and right speakers in the home theatre system also act as the left and right stereo speakers for listening to music.

Centre channel speaker

The centre channel is the unsung hero of the home theatre speaker system. While watching a movie, the centre channel delivers more than 50% of the soundtrack, including almost all of the dialogue.

Since its purpose is to keep sound anchored to the on-screen action, a good centre channel speaker is crucial for a well-balanced home theatre system.

Surround speakers

Surround speakers produce atmospheric, ambient sounds such as rain drops, the rustling of leaves, or footsteps crunching on gravel.

They also work with other speakers to deliver spectacular directional effects, like a locomotive rushing by, or a bullet zinging past. They really help put the viewer in the center of the action.


Many Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks provide a dedicated channel of deep bass (sometimes known as low frequency effects, or LFE). This bass is what makes the entire soundtrack feel larger, fuller, and more lifelike and gives special effects like thunder or explosions.

Since most speakers can’t deliver that level of bass on their own, a subwoofer is needed to ensure that the home theatre system delivers crucial low-frequency impact. A subwoofer is also a wonderful way to enrich music listening it can round out all types of music, from classical to jazz to rock to R&B.;

Surround sound format

Today, there are two main sources for home theater surround-sound formats — Dolby Laboratories and Digital Theater Systems. Dolby Laboratories formats include various versions of Dolby Digital® and Dolby Pro Logic®. Digital Theater Systems has created a range of DTS Digital Theater Sound formats.

Between the two companies, there is a dizzying array of sound options. So here’s what you need to know:

DTS encoding uses less compression than Dolby encoding. This means that DTS sound is clearer and sharper However, DTS encoding is also less commonly used on DVDs and television broadcasts. Most DVDs have some Dolby sound options, and some also offer choices for DTS sound

Fortunately, a lot of A/V receivers support a wide range of Dolby and DTS options. When choosing a receiver, you should decide on two things: whether you want DTS support and how many speakers you want to use for your surround-sound setup.

The most common options are 5.1, 6.1 and 7.1 surround, named for the number of channels. The “.1” indicates a channel for a subwoofer. The subwoofer channel carries low-frequency sound to give a bass boost and create a rumbling effect for certain special effects sounds, such as explosions and trains. These are the typical speaker setups and formats that will support them:

5.1 (5 speakers + subwoofer): A 5.1 surround-sound setup includes left, centre and right front speakers. It also has left and right surround speakers. Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS 5.1 all support this format.

6.1 (6 speakers + subwoofer): A 6.1 setup takes all the speakers from 5.1 and adds a rear channel. Dolby Digital EX uses this format, splitting the one additional channel into left and right rear speakers. DTS-ES, on the other hand, uses a rear centre speaker. DTS Neo:6 can also support a 6-channel format.

7.1 (7 speakers + subwoofer): At the rear Dolby Pro Logic IIx has separate channels for the left and right rear speakers, rather than splitting one channel and directing it to two speakers.

AV Receiver & Amplifier

The audio/video (A/V) receiver and amplifier assembly in a home theatre does the same job as the receiver and amplifier assembly in any stereo system. It receives signals from various input devices, like a VCR, DVD player or satellite dish. It interprets and amplifies those signals and then sends them to output devices, i.e., your television and sound system.

A home theatre A/V receiver and amplifier assembly actually combines several different components. Some even have a DVD or other media player built in. You can generally assemble a superior home theatre system by buying the components separately, but most people buy a unit that does all these jobs because it is more cost-effective.

The path of the audio and video is pretty straightforward. The source component (DVD player, DVR, etc.) feeds a signal to the receiver unit. You choose which input component you want to feed to your output unit, and the preamplifier selects this signal and amplifies its line level a little bit.

DVD Player or any other digital playback

Most DVDs are formatted for one or more surround-sound formats and allow the picture to be presented in its original aspect ratio. For example, many DVDs present movies in widescreen format to match the way the movie looked in the theatre, but they use a full-screen presentation for TV shows that originally aired that way.

Older DVD players have high-quality playback, but they can’t record things you watch the way VCRs can. However, several DVD recorders are currently on the market. Of course, a DVD recorder is a little more expensive than a standard DVD player. But if you want to record a lot of shows (in line with copyright laws), a DVD recorder might be worth the price.

Another recording and playback option is a digital video recorder (DVR). Unlike VCRs, DVRs store video in digital form, on a hard drive. Actually, when you hook up a digital video recorder — such as a TiVo unit — all programming is recorded on a hard drive, and then sent onto your television set a few seconds later. This means that you can pause a broadcast TV show and then resume watching it where you left off.

These units don’t provide the programming — you have to connect another video source, like a cable outlet or satellite dish. You also have to connect the unit to a phone line — it makes a daily call to update its programming information. DVRs are a great option for people who want to record and watch a lot of shows. But the space on the hard drive isn’t infinite — on some models, you have to delete shows you have watched to make room for others you want to record.

In addition, several new digital video recording and playback technologies are emerging in the market. The two most prominent formats are Blu-ray and HDDVD. Both use a blue-violet laser, as opposed to the red laser DVD players use. Blu-ray holds more data but is more expensive than HD-DVD.

Thx certified home theatre

If you want a top-notch home theatre, look into a THX®-certified system. THX is Lucasfilm’s set of standards for movie-theatre equipment and arrangement. Lucasfilm has also come up with certification standards for home theatre setup, and if you want the best of the best, this is the way to go. The chief aim of Home THX standards is to ensure the highest-quality recreation of actual theatre sound.

There are currently two THX standards: THX Select, created with a 2,000 cubic-foot (57 cubic-meter) room in mind, and THX Ultra, for spaces with over 3,000 cubic feet (85 cubic meters). TXH Select and THX Ultra relate to receivers and amplifiers for the same two room sizes. THX has worked with electronics manufacturers to create equipment that lives up to the THX standards.

THX has certified:

  • Audio/video receivers
  • DVD players
  • Video screens – rated by their effect on acoustics
  • Speakers
  • Cables

A THX-certified home theatre costs a good bit more than an ordinary home theatre, because THX-certified components are mainly top-of-the-line equipment. If you want a superior entertainment system in your home, you don’t need to worry about THX systems. This sort of system is a luxury purchase, for connoisseurs driven to get the best possible sound out of their systems.

The right system for your room

For a small room

Think compact. You can go in for an all-in-one DVD home theatre system. Many of these systems are designed to be decor-friendly, especially in smaller spaces.

If you prefer to mix and match, consider pairing the receiver and DVD player with a home theatre speaker system containing satellite speakers and a subwoofer. These systems blend nicely into most rooms, and usually deliver plenty of sound to fill a small- to medium-sized space. Another option is to use in-wall or in-ceiling speakers, along with a floor-standing sub, to supply sound.

In a small room, the lack of available space may limit the choice of TVs. Fortunately, LCD and plasma flat-panel TVs can be mounted on your wall, and take up zero floor space.

For a medium-sized room

There are a lot of options here. Some prefer the more unobtrusive option of a DVD home theatre system for this kind of space, while others opt for the performance advantages and flexibility of separate components, like a DVD player and a receiver, and hand-picked home theatre speakers.

When choosing a TV, you can go for super-slim flat-panels, or choose from the increasingly slender big-screen or CRT TV sets available.

For a large room

Bigger rooms place greater demands on a home theatre’s audio capabilities. Using floor-standing speakers can help the system rise to the challenge. You can also opt for stand-mounted bookshelf speakers instead.

When buying an A/V receiver, consider the quantity and quality of amplifier power. Keep in mind that a receiver with high-current power can deliver more clarity and realism.

Since you don’t have to limit yourself to a space-saving slim design, you have a lot of options. Go for a DVD player with top performance.

The bigger the screen, the more impact the home theatre will have; go for the biggest TV the room layout and your budget will allow. A big-screen TV is an increasingly popular option. If you don’t want the TV to occupy a lot of space, go in for a plasma or LCD flat-panel TV with a larger screen, or even a front-projection TV, which can offer the biggest image available, yet enables discreet ceiling-mounting.

5.1 Or 6.1 or 7.1 channel

Generally, a 5.1 channel home theatre system is best suited for a square room that is small or medium sized. For a room that is rectangular and is medium or large-sized, you may opt for a 6.1 or a 7.1 channel system.

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