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The Big Screen Decision

Home-Theater-stone-wallThere was a time where a TV screen was a TV screen. One standard size fits all; it was a simple cathode ray tube that illuminated the fluorescent screen by shooting electrons at it. Black and white made people happy because there was no colour. Then came the computer followed by the Digital Age and everything changed.

Today, the idea of having a cathode ray tube TV screen is in line with having an 8-track player – why? In one sense, even though there are some key decisions to be made when deciding on modern models of televisions for your home entertainment system, you are basically looking at a big flat screen. There are some newer curved models but I am not seeing any reason to spend the extra money at this point.

If you go back and read my earlier blog on Home Entertainment Setup 101, you will see that understanding your room is very helpful in making the best home entertainment system decisions. It is obvious that you don’t want a screen so big you are right on top of it. On the other hand, is it really a home entertainment system with a 20-inch screen? Be careful when you go shopping because the size in a retail store can be deceiving. Measure twice, buy once.

Screen resolution is a huge issue because of your picture is grainy or pixelated your viewing experience is ruined. You have several basic choices: 1080p resolution, full HD quality, and the latest 4K resolution, which is by far the best, you can get (but prepare to pay more). How to decide? The choice is based mainly on what you can afford. Everyone wants the best quality picture. One factor you may consider in your purchase is how often you expect to use the television. Light to moderate use makes it difficult to justify spending top dollar for something you do not use very often. A final factor to consider is the size of the screen, as the larger screens will require a higher resolution to avoid what appears to be a blurry or pixelated image.

Finally, here is a bit of technical information but is becoming a big issue with flat screen purchases – refresh rate. In laymen’s terms, the refresh rate is how often an image is displayed on the screen. What you see on the screen is simply a series of still images that are displayed rapidly, making it appear there is motion. So, the higher the refresh rate, the more natural the motion appears. If you are a serious gamer and connect your PlayStation or Xbox to your television, you will see the difference immediately between the different refresh rates. A rule of thumb is the refresh rate is the number of images that are displayed on the screen in one second. The current highest refresh rate is 240Hz.

For the purposes of viewing, these are the main considerations. Different TV’s offer different features, such as Internet connectivity and built-in DVD players. The more features you add, the more expensive the TV will be. So from a broad perspective, make the size of the screen and quality of the picture priorities. The other features likely can be externally connected.

Home Entertainment Setup 101

dvd1This blog is for those who are setting up something more complex than a simple flat screen TV and connecting it to their cable TV box and maybe a video game system. The components can include surround sound speakers, DVD/Blu-ray players, and stereo receivers. This is a basic guide, so if you are looking for more detailed information there are a number of good web sites what will give you the instructions with illustrations.

First, here are some general considerations. Step back and take a good look at the space where you are setting up your home entertainment system. Pay attention to things that can be overlooked such as whether it is carpeted (sound absorbing) or has a wooden floor (sound reflective). What are the sources of outside noises, if any. This will affect your optimum volume level for your speakers. Tilt your head up and see how high the ceiling is. Lower ceilings will bounce back or absorb the sound, depending on the material. Higher ceilings may give the sense of an echo chamber.

Examine how long the room is and where you will be sitting to watch the TV. Remember some speakers will be in close proximity to the TV, so to get the maximum benefit you should be about 6 – 10 feet from the screen. You shouldn’t have to strain your neck when sitting, so the height of the screen from the floor should put the middle of the screen at a centreline with your eye level.

Now for the specific components. You will likely want to connect a DVD or Blu-ray player to the television. There really isn’t much of a discussion here as to what to use – HDMI cable. The reason is it that it is designed to carry both audio and video signals in a single cable. You may connect external speakers if you are adding a receiver to the mix but this is not an HDMI issue. When determining the length of HDMI cable you will be using, do not worry about the cost as much as making sure that the video player is in a convenient location that also allows for easy access and adequate ventilation.

The issue of ventilation also applies if you are adding a stereo receiver and tuner to the system. Investing in a component rack is a good idea because down the road you will probably need access to the back of one or more components. There is something to be said for rollers. Depending on the features your receiver offers, you may have options for HDMI in and out, six to eight speakers, and a tuner antenna. Having at least one HDMI in port makes your system considerably more flexible.

Setting up the speakers is simply a matter of finding the best location and distance based on the construction of the room, which was mentioned at the beginning. A final note should be made regarding connecting a computer to the television using an HDMI connection to watch movies. You will need a high speed HDMI cable, which will cost a bit more, to avoid any problems playing back digital movies stored on your hard disk. Though this is not a consideration for many people, as they likely will be streaming video through the Internet, for those who have problems and are frustrated this is the simplest and quickest solution.

A Brief History of Home Entertainment

TapeTransferPicA lot of people talk about home entertainment areas, though the more likely term you will hear these days is “man cave.” OK, maybe they are not family entertainment areas except for authorized users, but here when I walk about home entertainment I am talking living room or den area surroundings.

The idea of home entertainment really came to be with the invention of the television. In the 1960’s, televisions were at the centre of the family living areas where everyone would gather after eating supper. Then consumer priced 8-millimeter video cameras came along, and added home movies to the mix. There were slide projectors, where you could have your 35-millimeter camera pictures turned into slides and placed in a carousel, but it was hardly the same thing. Home movie projectors were often shown on a wall because, well, it was cheaper than paying for a movie screen.

Later came the camcorders that recorded with sound and could be watched using a standard VHS or beta player. If one thing changed the way home entertainment was defined, it was the invention of the home VHS tape player. Today’s DVD players (those that are still used) are just a variation of these groundbreaking machines. What the VHS tape players did was to make watching home movies quick and easy, and make Hollywood come home so you could watch a movie at any time – for a price.

Did I forget about the sound? No, but the video aspect of home entertainment systems has always been far more important to most people. We are visual creatures, and while sound does make a huge difference in certain cases, most people can put up with OK quality sound as long as the video is good. Needle style phonographs that played vinyl albums were the mainstay of some sound for decades. There were stereo speakers built-in to stereo systems, but for many years if you wanted a higher quality of sound you had to go with external speakers connected to the sound device by wires.

For most people, the real age of home entertainment came right along with the digital revolution. With advances in technology came larger screens followed by lower prices as a result of consumer demand. High quality Dolby sound along with DVD players were built right into the television unit. It could be said that the television wasn’t really a television in the historical sense, and this is even truer today. What is being sold as a TV today is really a single unit home entertainment system.

Though some may not technically consider the computer as part of a home entertainment system, they have a place worth considering. Connecting a computer to a flat screen TV allows watching movies, listening to music, and playing video games from a single unit. Today the video game units such as Xbox and Wii are divorced from the computer video games, but still can be connected to the all-purpose television unit.

Reflecting back, the home entertainment systems have become more compact, cheaper, and multitasking types of units. It is no wonder that there are on average more than two TVs per household. The home entertainment system has expanded in features without increasing in size.