A Review by: Alphonso Soosay
The “Greatest Joy” of having a truthfully home theatre set-up in your own home is to bring the “Cinema” viewing experience into the comfort of your very own living room. So, with today’s DVD & Blu-Ray digital technology you do not have to go to the Cinema to really enjoy watching movies, that means that you can now have the best seats in your own home every day. This is a wonderful enjoyment investment for your family and also these days having a complete home theatre with 100 to 120inches screen projection or Plasma, LCD or LED TV viewing at your very own home is so affordable. For the kind of money paid today, you will be able to clearly see the full (1080p), high-resolution picture and hear surround music plus dialogue and sound effects as they were meant to be heard by music and movie directors, producers and audio visual engineers who created them.
Choice of screen size from your seated position / ratios is very important. Remember, your screen size should be about one third of the distance from screen to your ideal seated position. Close enough to excite you with all the moving experience, at the same time not too close that you can see the actual pixels on your screen which can be annoying to your eyes. When you are calculating the distance from screen to your ideal seated position, start from the centre of the screen and calculate right to the bridge of your nose. The ideal height of your screen is eye level, a little lower than you might think.
Viewing Set Up: The most excellent way to view your screen, especially if it’s a Plasma, LCD or LED is straight on. If some of your seating is off to the side, just make sure that you are not competing with any glare. Do not forget to dim your lights or put down the shutters or close your blind / curtains for optimal viewing.
Surround Sound Set Up: Your surround sound speakers consist of three parts: 1) the front speakers, which should provide a smooth, unbroken sound across the front of the room, 2) the rear speakers which provide the ambient sound and effects, and 3) the low sub-frequency effects or LFE speaker. More commonly known as your subwoofer, this speaker is the “point-one” of your 5, 6, or, 7.1 system. The main numbers refer to the number of other speakers, which always breaks down to three in front, and two, three, or four speakers behind and beside you.
Position your front centre speaker either directly above or below your screen and your front left and right speakers an equal distance on either side of your screen, no higher than two feet above ear level. Make clear in your mind that the front speakers are all angled towards your ideal seated position. Your rear speakers should be behind you, about 2 feet above ear level, and spaced equidistantly. For 5.1, surround speakers should be behind you to your left and right, for 6.1 system add a speaker behind you (centre), and for 7.1 move all four to the read, two beside you and two behind where you are seated. Your subwoofer should go on the floor, and you may want to experiment with it a little just to find the ideal placement for your home theater. Corners of a room will be a good start.
Effective Home Theater Sound: Your front and subwoofer speakers should all be at least an inch or so away from your home walls for optimal sound,
Make sure your speaker cables are connected with the proper polarity, that the red wires match up to the red terminals and the black wires to the black terminals. + to + and – to – connections. Sometimes none-colour coded cables will have writing on one wire, and none on the other. Use writings to + and none-coded to -.
Options are to purchase a sound level monitor from Dick Smith or Tandy’s, which will allow you to properly calibrate the levels of each channel or speaker. It does not matter if you are not a complete audiophile, once you have everything correctly connected and positioned, you will definitely hear the difference.
Brand choice: Although, considering by brand is a good starting point, it does not guarantee that the “top” brand for a particular item is right for you. When shopping, make sure you consider a variety of brands, models, and prices into consideration. Also, avoid prices that seem to be too good to be true. Extra warranty is useful.
Cable Mess: Sometimes we can be embarrassed of this cable situation. Every time a new component is added to our home theater, we add more and more cables. Eventually, it is difficult to keep track of what is connected to what; especially, when you attempt to track down a bad cable signal or move the components around.
Here are two guidelines: 1. Make sure your cable runs are not too long; but long enough to allow easy access to your components. 2. Label your cables using colour tape or other marking so you know what is going where.
About Cheap Cables: constant debate is always on the agenda about, whether it is necessary to purchase very high priced cables for a basic home theatre system. However, one thing to consider is that the skinny, cheaply constructed cables that come with many Set-top box, DVD & Blue Ray players, etc. without a doubt it should be replaced by something that is a little more heavy-duty. The reason is, with a more heavy duty cable it will provide a better shielding from interference, and it will also last over the years to any physical abuse that may occurs along the way. Quality cables are good long term investment.
About professional help? If you have connected everything correctly, and you set the audio levels, correct ratio for TV screen, connected quality cables but it is still not to your expectation. The sound is distressing, and the TV screen looks not as good as the showroom. Now with a situation like this is to call a professional installer to assess the situation. You might have to swallow your pride and pay about $100/- for the house call, but that investment can salvage a home theater disaster and turn it into home theater happiness. Also, if you are planning a custom installation, definitely consult a home theater consultant. All you have to do is to provide the room and your budget; the home theater consultant / installer can provide a complete component package for access to all desired audio and video subject matter.
Troubleshooting: Just before you snatch your phone to make a help call, there are some practical common sense things that anyone should do, check all connections yourself, with that you can get your system running, or at least try to determine what the actual problem is that needs to put back into working order
1. Nothing Turns On: Check all power connections. If you have connected everything into a surge protector, make sure the surge protector itself is turned on and plugged into the wall. Believe it or not, this is one of most common reasons that home theater systems and/or televisions don’t power up the first time.
2. No Television Reception: Make sure your antenna, Cable, or Satellite box is connected correctly to your Television. If you have a standard Cable or Satellite box, make sure it is connected to the antenna/cable connection on your TV and that your TV is tuned to channel 2,7,9,10 & 28 (depending on area). If you have a High-definition Cable or Satellite box and an HDTV, make sure you have the box connected to your TV via HDMI, DVI or Component Video Connections. In addition, if you have your HD Cable or Satellite video and audio outputs routed through a Home Theater Receiver to the TV, make sure your Home Theater Receiver is turned on and set to the appropriate cable input so that HD-Cable or Satellite signal is routed to the TV.
3. Poor Picture Quality: If the picture is grainy or snowy, this could be the result of an incomplete cable connection or bad coaxial cable. Try replacing the cable and see if the result is the same. If you are on Cable, your cable company usually provides free service to check your main cable line for any defects. If using an antenna, change the position of the antenna to get better reception, or try a better antenna.
4. Improper or No Colour: First, check to see if the colour is bad across all input sources. If so, make sure you have your Televisions’ colour settings set to your preferences. If everything looks good except, say, your DVD player, and it is connected to your TV via Component Video Connections (which is composed of three cables – Red, Green, and Blue), make sure they are matched up correctly with the Component (Red, Green, and Blue) connections on your TV. This is a common mistake as it is sometimes hard to distinguish the Green and Blue connectors if the lighting in the connection area is dim.
5. Problems with HDMI Connection: Why am I not getting an image on the screen? This occurs sometimes because the source and the TV screen are not communicating. A successful HDMI connection requires that the playback source component and TV screen must be able to recognize each other, which are referred to as the “HDMI communication”. When you are using a set-top box, DVD, Blue-ray Disc player, or other component with an HDMI output connected to an input HDMI playback TV screen, make sure the correct source is selected on the remote control of the output TV projection playback source. Other solution to this is to turn on the source component first and then the TV, or turn on the TV first and then the source component. If the connection still doesn’t work, try replacing the HDMI cable. On the other hand, if changing the cable doesn’t solve the problem, then this would be the proper time to make an inquiry to the playback source component’s tech support manual.
6. Surround Sound imperfection: The first thing to check: Is the DVD, TV program, or other programming source in surround sound? Next check all of your speaker connections and make sure they are connected correctly, according to the correct channel and speaker’s polarity. The next thing to check is how you have connected your Blue Ray, DVD player, Cable, or Satellite box connections to your Home Theater Receiver. To access true Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound, you need to have either a Digital Optical, Digital Coaxial, or 5.1 channel analogue connection going from the source component to your Home Theater Receiver. The reason for this is that only these connections are able to transfer a true Dolby Digital or DTS encoded soundtrack. If you have the traditional RCA analogue stereo cables connected from your DVD Player, or other source component, connected to your Home Theater Receiver, the only way to access surround sound is with the Dolby Prologic II, IIx, or DTS Neo: 6 setting, if available. These processing schemes can extract surround sound from any two-channel audio source, including CDs, Cassette Tapes, and Vinyl Records. When using this method with Blue Ray’s or DVDs, it wouldn’t be the same as a true Dolby Digital or DTS signal you would get from one the digital or 5.1 channel analogue audio connections, but it is much better than a standard two-channel result. Ultimate thing you have to remember with surround sound is, that even with true surround sound material, surround sound is not present at all times. During periods of mainly dialog, most of the sound may come from the centre speaker only, with some ambient sounds coming from the rest of the speakers. As the action on the screen gets more complicated, such as earthquake, explosions, crashes, etc, or when the music soundtrack becomes more a part of the film, you will notice more sound coming from the side and/or rear speakers. Newer Home Theater Receivers offer an option to balance the sound coming from your speakers, which will optimize the surround sound experience. Using the setup menu on many Home Theater Receivers, the user can set speaker distance, speaker size, and speaker channel level in relation to the listening position.
Having weak Radio Reception: This is usually a matter of attaching better antennas to the FM and AM antenna connections on your Home Theater Receiver. For FM, you can use the same type of rabbit ears or outdoor antenna used for analogue television reception.
Blue Ray / DVD Won’t Play, Skips, or Freezes Often: There could be several reasons for this. One reason is that some DVD players, especially ones made before the year 2000, have difficulty playing back recordable DVDs. If you are having trouble playing a homemade DVD, check the disc, when it was recorded on, if it is a format other than DVD-R, this could be the culprit. However, if you also have trouble playing DVD-Rs, it could even be the brand of blank DVD-R used to make the DVD. There is no guarantee that a specific homemade DVD will play in all DVD players, but DVD-R’s should play on most of them. Another reason a DVD might not play at all, is that it may be the wrong region or made in the wrong video playback system. For more specifics on these issues check out on Google. Type in DVD Region codes. Another factor that contributes to DVD skipping or freezing is the playing of rented DVDs. When you rent a DVD, you don’t know how it has been handled and it could be cracked or be full of greasy fingerprints that may cause some DVD players to mistrack the DVD. Last but not least is that, it is possible that the DVD player may be defective. If you suspect this, first try using a Dolby Digital or DTS DVD player lens cleaner, and also, try cleaning the “Problem” DVD. If this does not improve DVD playback, then consider exchanging the DVD player for another one, if still under the exchange or warranty. However, take the “problem” DVDs with you to your dealer and see how they play on other DVD players in the store first to rule out any problem with the actual DVDs.
The Turntable Volume is Very Low or Distorted: Yes, many of us still have vinyl record collections and a Phono Turntable. However, one problem that is becoming more common is that many newer Home Theater Receivers do not have dedicated Phono turntable inputs. As a result, many consumers try to connect their turntables into the receiver’s AUX or other unused input. This does not work due to the fact that the output voltage and impedance of the turntable cartridge is different than the audio outputs of CD players, VCRs, DVD players, etc. As well as the requirement of the turntable for a Ground Connection to the Receiver. If your Home Theater Receiver does not have a dedicated Phono turntable input, then you need to purchase an external Phono Preamp or a turntable that has a Phono preamp built-in.
Concluding stage: In setting up any home theater system, anything can go wrong in relations to connections done improperly due to either unintentional oversight or lack of A/V knowledge. With a closer look is taken, especially when reading the user manuals before setting everything up you will notice the difference to what you have done. Even when taking time to do everything correctly, it is not unusual, especially in a complex setup that you may still run into a problem that you can’t seem to solve. You have done everything you can you’ve connected it all, you set the sound levels, you have the right size TV, used good cables – but it still isn’t right. The sound is terrible, the TV looks bad. When this happens, instead of spending more time and money, or returning it all, consider calling a professional installer to assess the situation. It is possible that, indeed, something may be defective in one your components. To find out for sure, you might have to swallow your pride and pay for a house call, but the investment can salvage a home theater disaster and turn it into home theater heaven. A home theater system is an exciting entertainment option that provides the consumer with an immersive viewing and listening experience. Your home theater system can be something as simple as a 32-inch Plasma TV and a home theater-in-a-box system, or a sophisticated custom built system with video projector and in-wall speakers. However, there is a lot to consider in between.
Requirements to a well balanced Home Theater system: 1. The Room: The first place to start is the room you intend to place your home theater system in. The size of the room will determine the size and type of video display device (TV or projector) that would be best to use. However, whether your room is large or small, additional questions to consider include: How much ambient light is present? / Is the room carpeted or not carpeted? / What type of wall construction do you have? Will you be placing your home theater system components in free space, or will you be housing your components in a cabinet or closet and installing your speakers in the wall or ceiling? Viewing ratio in relation to screen size: Before making a move on buying your actual home theater system components, especially for a medium-to-high end system, it might be a good idea to consult with a “Home Theatre” consultant / installer to come your home and assess your room and address the above questions. An experienced installer can give useful suggestions on components or installation concepts that will work best in your room environment, keeping in mind your own specific home theater system budgetary considerations.
The Video Display Device: This is the first actual component to consider for your home theater system. After all, the idea of home theater is to bring the movie theater experience your home. The most important element of this experience is the visual experience of viewing a large image on a screen. This is where you have a choice of: A large screen using a projector or Plasma, LCD or LED TV’s
Home Theater Receiver or Preamp/Amp Combination: The next essential element of the movie theater experience is sound. The way this is implemented in a home theater system is with either an AV receiver or Preamplifier/Amplifier combination. An AV Receiver usually combines the functions of three components: 1. A radio tuner for AM/FM and, in some cases, HD (High Definition Radio), Digital Radio, or XM and or Satellite Radio. 2. A Preamplifier that switches and controls which audio and video source is selected (such as a Blue Ray, DVD player, Set top box, CD player, etc.) and processes the incoming stereo or surround sound signals and distributes them to the correct amplifier channels and the subwoofer output. The preamp in an AV receiver can also route video signals coming from source components (such as a DVD player) and direct the video signal to the television. 3. A built-in Multi-channel amplifier (5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 channels) that sends the surround sound signals and power to the speaker system.
Surround Sound Receiver with Separate Preamp and Amplifier: The Home Theater, AV, Surround Sound receiver is the heart of a home theater system and provides most, if not all, the inputs and outputs that you connect everything, including your television, into. A Receiver provides an easy and cost-effective way of centralizing your home theater system. However, in many higher-end home theater system installations, the functions of a Receiver are often provided by separate components: Preamp / Processor, Tuner, and either a single multi-channel amplifier or even separate amplifiers for each channel. Such a setup provides more flexibility in switching out and/or upgrading the separate aspects of the home theater system as well as isolating any interference that is caused by having all these functions combined in a signal chassis and sharing the same power supply. For the average consumer, however, a good Receiver will function as satisfactory.
Getting Professional Guidance: It doesn’t matter if you are a great do-it-yourself person, the best way to get the most out of your custom built home theater, is to either pay a licensed contractor that also does home theater construction or a licensed home theater installer that does construction. The reason is, you will get a much more accurate budget picture of the whole project as the installer/contractor will not overlook small details that you may have overlooked, that could end up being significant.
Characteristic Taken into Consideration: Factors that an A/V consultant will consider when installing a home theater include: Firstly, The room size. 2. Acoustical properties of the room. 3. Whether a projection system or large screen television will work best. 4. Where your A/V components should be located. 5. Audience seating area in relation to the screen. 6. Correct ambient light issues that may affect the type of video display system to be used. 7. Options to In-wall or standalone speakers that would be most effective. And most importantly, room ventilation for both the home theater components and viewers. These, and other, factors can be determined best by an on-site inspection of the actual room or by looking at an architectural plan for a home to be constructed with home theater in mind.
The objective of the “Home Theater” consultant / installer is to provide a complete package that offers access to all required audio and video content. The purchaser provides the room and the budget, while the installer puts together a complete package of components to provide the best entertainment experience possible. The installer puts forward the complete package to the consumer for consideration. The purchaser doesn’t have to decide on each and every brand / model of component suggested. The choice and options are still yours if you already have some ideas.