Putting together a home theater can seem like a daunting task. So many pieces to think through and connect up! But if you care enough to do your homework and educate yourself, you’ll find it’s not as complicated as it looks. Here’s what goes into your typical viewing room.
So desperate are the networks to keep you cuffed to their shows that they’ve been launching apps for the second screen. Made for the tablets and smartphones to which viewers’ eyes keep darting—often at the expense of the TV screen—these apps are intended to boost fan loyalty.
If you want the best possible video and audio experience in your home theater, there is no better source than Blu-ray Discsin fact, nothing else equals the super-sharp video and awesome audio you get from Blu-ray. But I get many questions about how to connect a Blu-ray player for optimum performance, so I thought I'd spell it out here. (Don't be intimidated by the diagram above; it shows lots of possible connections between lots of home-theater devices. This article covers only the connections between the Blu-ray player in the center, A/V receiver on the left, and TV at the top.)
For those who stream video from online sources, the speed at which data can be sent into their home is critical. If your connection isn't fast enough, streaming video can sometimes stall as it fills the buffer in the receiving device, or the content provider might send a lower-quality stream because it senses that your available speed can't handle anything more. So how much speed do you need?
If you’re in search of the perfect music station, with a little dedication and patience, you can customize Pandora. For the uninitiated, Pandora is a free online music-streaming service. Unlike other “free” online music services, it can be streamed to smartphones, tablets, TVs, media-streaming devices, and more without a premium subscription fee.
Streaming media from online sources provides a huge variety of movies, TV shows, and music that can be rented or watched for free. Still, you may have downloaded movies and music and stored them on your computer as well. Your media libraries may be filled with movies, TV shows, music that you ripped from CDs, and/or digital photos you've taken yourself.
If you’re reasonably handy and not afraid to cut into drywall in your home, installing in-wall speakers can be a fairly simple affair. You’ll need to assemble the basic tools, including a drywall saw, a stud finder, an electrical snake or fiberglass push rods to run the wires, a tape measure, a drill with a long bit wide enough to pass your speaker wire, and a screwdriver, most typically a No. 2 Phillips.
It’s a given that most readers of Home Theater are that guy—the one friends and family call when they need a new HDTV. But it doesn’t stop there. Because after your 82-year-old grandmother finally tosses out that old Sylvania console and buys a 52-inch LCD on your expert recommendation, you still have to help with the picture settings. We can’t have nana blowing out her sensitive retinas on the factory torch mode, now can we? Oh, what those eyes have seen...
Successful streaming is about making the right connection.
If you’ve just read “Streaming for the Masses”, you’ve got some idea of the range of hardware that lets you stream video and music from the Internet to your home entertainment system. The primary options include HDTVs, Blu-ray players, A/V receivers, game consoles, and various DVRs and dedicated streaming appliances. To some extent, it does matter which you choose, both in terms of the content you can access and your ability to connect it for the best picture or sound quality.
Streaming video has gone mainstream. Are you ready?
Once upon a time, outside factors controlled when and where you could watch a TV show or feature film. Over the past 35 years, that’s evolved dramatically. The revolution began with the introduction of the VCR in 1976. Its ability to record and archive broadcast TV shows and movies on magnetic tape burst open the floodgates for entertainment in the home. Other formats followed, all the way up to our present-day high-density Blu-ray Discs. One thing they’ve all had in common, though, is their physical nature. That’s all changing now. Like it or not, we’re entering a transition phase from physical media to streaming and the cloud. Looks like a revolution all over again.
Getting the most out of your big-screen experience.
When it comes to setting up a great video projection system in your home theater, the screen is nearly as important as the projector. A white wall or sheet simply won’t do, except in a pinch as a temporary stopgap. There’s no substitute for the real thing.
But choosing the right real thing requires research, together with examination of your individual needs. How tightly can you control the room lighting? How big do you want the image to be? What shape screen do you want—that is, what aspect ratio—and do you want a screen that can mask off the unused portions when the source is a different aspect? Can the screen have a fixed frame, or do you want it to be retractable? How much gain should the screen have? Which screen will best match your projector? And last but not least, how will 3D affect all of these other considerations?
In May of 2009, Home Theater ran an article titled “BD-Live in Action” with an overview of the Internet features available on Blu-ray. Even though that piece was written a good three years into the high-def format’s life, the BD-Live aspect was still very much in its formative stages. Many of the Internet features available at that time were gimmicks or filler material. Few could be classified as essential to the experience of owning a Blu-ray Disc. The article concluded with the statement, “We’ve only started to see the building blocks of BD-Live’s potential. Now is the time for a true innovator to step in and show us what it can do.”
I think it’s safe to say that Blu-ray’s early adopter period is finally over. The high-def video disc will celebrate its fourth anniversary on the market in June. Although it hasn’t caught up to DVD yet, the format has grown tremendously. It’s now firmly entrenched in the mainstream. Like many others, you may have waited for the product to work out its kinks before you joined the Blu-ray revolution. Now is a great time to hop aboard. Aside from the obvious benefits of high-definition video and lossless audio, Blu-ray also offers a host of interactive features that distinguish it from DVD and (hopefully) improve the user experience. The following primer will provide an overview of these features and how they work.