Home Theater Blog
Home Theater Blog
Pulling back the curtain on all things audio… including home theater, wireless

Armed and Ready to Shop – Home Electronics Buying Guide

Five Tips to Get You Started

TIP #1

Spend some quality time with your room. It’s as much a component in your home theater system as any of the electronics you’ll buy.

Ask Yourself: In what room will my home theater be?Is it going to be a room solely for my system or will it be used for other activities like kid’s parties and other family gatherings? Given the dimensions of my room, are there any size considerations for the components and speakers I’m planning on using?

Homework: 

If you didn’t doodle a map in the course Home Theater Defined, take a second and do so now:

  1. Sketch the possible placements of your furniture, components and speakers (keep an eraser handy).
  2. Measure the room’s dimensions and jot them down.
  3. Make a list of all the inputs you currently have and will continue to use.
  4. Make a list of all the inputs you intend to add to your new system.
  5. Write down which components are going to need cables and wires.
  6. Write down the approximate lengths of these cables and wires.
  7. Carry this map and info with you as you shop.

Don’t forget: the TV picture is not so pretty when light is reflecting off the screen. Likewise, audio is not so beautiful when sound waves are reflecting off hard surfaces like bare walls and windows. You want to configure your room for optimal picture and sound by reducing screen and hard surface reflections.

Tip #2

Ruminate on the experience you want before you ruminate on your budget. Is it stereo, surround sound, primarily music, primarily movies? Get clear on what you want to experience when you’ll settle back in the Barcalounger.

Tip #3

Bone up. The internet is so immediate, a couple hours poking around on key sites and forums and you’ll know more than most. Trade and consumer magazines, friends, family and inquiring jaunts to the electronics store all bolster that thing called customer leverage. Click Helpful Links for a directory of informative online resources.

Most importantly, don’t buy a thing at this point. Just fill your cranium with the information that will empower you come purchase time.

Tip #4

Whittle your home theater choices down to what you absolutely want this instant versus what you’re willing to add later on. Revisit the sketch of your room. Review your research. Ultimately you’ll end up with two, maybe three possibilities. You’re now in a very confident, very resilient place to volley with the sales clerk.

Tip #5

Keep your eyes peeled for values. Electronics superstores make promotions a daily ritual, online manufacturers can offer radically lower markup than retailers and web auctions offer access to deals worldwide. Rest assured the values are out there. The trick is to know your stuff and be ready.

Shopping—Make No Mistakes

Beware of a mismatched TV size for your room The idea here is balance. Too big a TV size and you see the details of the screen, not the image. Too small and you feel like you’re watching from the nosebleed section. Here’s a reference chart you can use to help determine the best screen size for your room.

Note: Use the chart for what it is, only a reference.

BEWARE OF THE SHOWROOM.

Unless your home theater room is acoustically engineered with posh foam walls, asymmetric non-parallel surfaces and corner base traps, make sure the seller offers a reliable exchange and return policy. It’s even better if the seller offers a risk-free audition in your own home. If you don’t like how the system sounds in your own home, take it back, end of story.

BEWARE OF LOUSY CABLES.

The quality of your cables directly impacts the quality of your home theater experience. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on cables. 10% of your total system budget is a good rule of thumb.

REMEMBER: Try to keep your cable and wiring lengths as short as possible. The shorter the length, the stronger the audio and video signal.

BEWARE OF PAYING BY CASH OR CHECK

Credit cards not only include automatic protection for the cardholder, but there’s something about a return on a credit card versus a return out of the cash drawer that makes the retailer bristle less. Of course, it’s up to you. If you’re getting a break for paying cash go for it. Just make sure the return policy is a stellar one.

BEWARE OF THE AMATEUR SALES CLERK

Do not be seduced, coerced, sweet-talked or otherwise bamboozled. Do your research and you’ll develop a finely tuned B.S. meter. Trust its sensitivity. If something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. It’s okay to walk away. It just means your home theater is somewhere else out there waiting for you.

Industry Vernacular—Decoder Ring Not Included

Dolby Digital

Also known as AC-3 or 5.1, Dolby describes the audio coding technique that creates five separate audio channels all the way up to seven channels for a 7.1. The 5 refers to the number of discrete channels (speakers) the format supports. The .1 number refers to the Low Frequency Effect (LFE) more commonly known as the subwoofer information. Dolby Digital is a compressed digital signal, meaning it reduces the amount of disk space needed to store the data used to create the sound. For details go to http://www.dolby.com/digital/

THX

It’s still within the same 5.1 Dolby Digital processing, but when you use all THX certified components (a kind of seal of approval) then you officially have a true-blue THX home theater to brag about. For details go to  http://thx.com/mod/techLib/homeTheaterFAQ.html

DTS

Quite simply, this is Dolby Digital but better. DTS is a less compressed format. Just like Dolby, you need your receiver, DVD player and DVD disc to be DTS compatible in order to play this format. For details go to http://dtsonline.com/home&car/hometheatre/

SACD

Developed by Sony for CD audio, SACD allows more data to be put on to a disc. The extra space leftover can be used in a couple of ingenious ways, namely improving the quality of standard 2-channel audio or adding more tracks for a surround sound mix. Just know that you’ll need a special SACD player to enjoy SACD discs as well as a receiver with multi-channel direct inputs. And yes, Sony is pushing to establish SACD as the standard in CD format. For details go to http://www.sonymusic.com/sacd/

DVD Audio

Similar to SACD, DVD audio uses the extra space on a DVD disc to improve audio quality, to add surround audio channels, to provide additional video or to add special features. In order to fully enjoy DVD-Audio discs, you’ll need to have a DVD player that is compatible with DVD-Audio as well as a receiver with multi-channel direct inputs. For details go to http://www.dolby.com/dvd/

Tags: Guru Tips and Tricks, Home Theater Buying Guides

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