Video and Audio Center Blog



Monday, September 29, 2014

Update Your Home Theater

It's an exciting time to be watching television - what with flat screen HDTVs and 4K Ultra HD TVs now available at affordable prices (not to mention that you can get a Curved TV, if going flat isn't desirable).

As the heart of a home theater, a big screen TV closer emulates "going to the movies": sitting in front and being enveloped in a high-resolution image filled with detail and sparkling with colors as real — if not more so — than the "real" world provides. But the other components of the home theater shouldn't be left out because they can be updated in ways to make the movie-going experience even more vivid and exciting.

Home Theater Audio
A great picture deserves great audio in the home theater, and there's more than one way to get it. Those looking to keep the room's decor uncluttered will find a sound bar an appropriate way to produce the audio for the room. Sound bars aren't just a pair of speakers (producing stereo) stuck inside a cabinet either; multiple speakers and electronics enable them to produce a surround sound effect from their front-facing location. This is done through various means that include psycho-acoustic trickery of the ears, along with actually "bouncing" the sound off walls to then impact the viewer from different points of their seated location.

Besides being slim and self-contained, a sound bar can also go up on the wall to compliment an already-mounted TV. Another advantage of sound bars is that they can come with a subwoofer which — due to the low frequencies produced — can be placed in a corner or otherwise unobtrusive location in the room. And since these subwoofers are wireless, there's no unsightly cables that have to go from the sound bar to them.

Another approach is to add a complete 5:1 audio system (this consists of L/R and center speakers, along with a pair of surrounds). The advantage of this is that a full surround sound audio system can be set up at once. These systems also include a receiver to power them, and a subwoofer and a Blu-ray player as well in some cases (also some feature wireless surrounds so as to eliminate having to run wires across the floor).

There's also a new audio technology called Dolby Atmos — it creates an even more immersive audio experience for the listener and is now being found in movie theaters. Think of it as even more "Surround" to surround sound. Atmos doesn't mean those speakers already in place in the home theater — a Left front and Right front with a center speaker and a pair of surround speakers — have to be replaced. But they do have to be augmented. First, though, the receiver must be able to decode the Atmos signal, and this can't be done through a firmware or other update to the existing receiver. An Atmos compatible receiver must be had and fortunately a number of audio receiver makers have stepped up to the plate. And of course these Atmos-compatible audio receivers have all the other features that the home theater expects as well: there's no giving up on using the receiver as a video switcher that can handle 4K as easily as a HD signal. Or not having Bluetooth for audio streaming from a favorite playlist on a smartphone or tablet. Or not having WiFi for Internet radio and other uses.

As noted, speakers don't have to be replaced but additional ones need to be added. These can be placed in the ceiling in the conventional manner by an installer, for example, who can also help with wall mounting a TV. But there's also Atmos-compatible speakers that can be added to the home theater's audio compliment which direct their sound "at" the ceiling and then back down to the listener.

A question might now pop up as to where the Atmos sound will be coming from — turns out that it can be included in existing Blu-ray discs to play on existing Blu-ray players. So the "how" becomes a non-issue, although having to get a Atmos-enabled movie will require that the disc purchased comes equipped with it.

Home Theater Video
The television needs to have a high-definition video signal sent to  it, and a cable box/satellite receiver or an external antenna will give it broadcast and/or cable TV channels to watch. There's also streaming capabilities and, depending on the TV, this can include being able to watch HD or 4K Ultra HD video (example: Netflix in 4K streaming, courtesy of the 4K converter built into a 4K Ultra HD TV). But for watching a high-definition movie — and having lots of them to choose from — nothing beats the convenience and dependability of a Blu-ray player which doesn't have to "share" bandwidth with others or depend on a remote server's functionality. Blu-ray players even provide the "Smart TV" features that TVs now offer and, if you like the interface of a particular TV manufacturer, it can be found in their Blu-ray player for your use.

And The Rest
Don't forget that getting comfortable in front of the TV with a favorite drink and some snacks is part of the "move theater experience" too. And this has the advantage of costing a LOT less than emptying your wallet at the snack bar. Plus you can get up for seconds without having to wait in line.

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