How to Choose a Home Theater System

Home theater systems are fast gaining in popularity, but what is it and how to choose one? The aim is to recreate in the home the audio-visual experience of going to the cinema: big, lush surround sound, a big, sharp on-screen picture, and an exciting atmosphere. A basic home theater system consists of a TV, a receiver, a DVD or Blu-ray player/recorder and speakers. There is a huge range of systems available, so your choice depends on your viewing preferences, room size and budget.

Cinema in a Box vs Separates

The home theater industry’s new buzzword is “cinema in a box”. Essentially, these are all-in-one systems made by the same manufacturer, although TV sets aren’t included because it is assumed that people already own one. They tend to be easier to set up and cheaper than a mix of different brand separates, although high-end systems are available. They are ideal for children’s bedrooms or smaller rooms, but sometimes lack the quality needed for a true cinematic experience in a living room or theater room. One reason for this is that not all manufacturers specialize in making all the components, so the craftsmanship throughout the system is not uniform. A system comprised of separates gives the choice of high quality in every department, such as more features and better reliability. Additionally, separates are easier to upgrade.

Home Theater Checklist

It’s a good idea to make a checklist of your requirements before buying. You can either compare your preferences online or take your list to a reputable specialist shop where they can advise on the best system to suit your needs.

Room Size – There’s no point in buying a huge home theater system for a small room. The sound will be overpowering because small spaces can’t contain the high sound pressure, and the sound quality and dynamics will suffer. Take room measurements and choose a system that complements your room size and furniture layout.

Favorite Movies, Music and TV – All modern flatscreen TVs can deliver high-definition TV and DVD pictures with incredible color depth and clarity. Sound is the thing that really defines a home theater system. Why should the type of music you listen to most often affect the choice of speakers? The answer is that different types of music have different sonic qualities. For example, electronic music uses very high bass and treble frequencies, so speakers that can handle these frequencies well are advised. Classical music however, has a large dynamic range with lots of detail. Most DVDs have 5.1 and even 7.1 sound and the soundscape is very rich with a very large dynamic range. To appreciate this fully, the more speakers the better. In general, the larger the speaker and better quality the receiver, the clearer the sound.

How Many Speakers? – Several options are available. A 2.1 consists of two stereo speakers and a subwoofer for delivering good bass sound. Other options are 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1. which have varying combinations of front, centre, surround and subwoofer speakers. Obviously, room size can determine your choice. It also depends on what you will watch and listen to most often. For general TV viewing a 2.1 system is adequate. If your preference is movies then more speakers are required to distribute the rich, multi-channel sound. The most important speaker in the setup is the central speaker. This carries around 50% of a movie’s soundtrack, including most of the dialogue. The reason the hard of hearing find TV sound difficult to hear is because on ordinary stereo speakers the center channel is split between the two speakers. A dedicated speaker for the center channel makes it clearer not only for the hard of hearing but for hearing people too.


Choosing and buying a home theater system can be a simple and enjoyable task. LCD or plasma TVs deliver beautiful crisp high-definition pictures, multiple speaker systems carry the detailed, multi-layered DVD and movie sound, which adds up to a cinematic experience in your home. Now all you need is the popcorn!

Harry Young works for Toltech Internet Solutions and writes on behalf of Robert Whyte LTD.

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