The Home Theater System – Our Golden Calf

The home theatre. The pinnacle of modern domestic achievement. When our ancestors flocked to the initial cinemas to gaze up in awe at the “picture shows,” little did they guess that their descendents would one day snub such locations in favor of mammoth flat screen TVs and the latest in home theater audio equipment. Because after all, why go out for dinner and a movie when you can stay in?

The home theater system is the latest stage in America’s ongoing romance with the television. What began as a simple black and white box has evolved into a full-scale, no-holds-barred, virtual movie theater that dominates at least one room in the average American home. And what is a movie theater without sound? And not just any sound, but in-your-face sound that blows you out of your chair and makes you feel like you’re . actually in the building that just collapsed (or the space ship that just took off, or the semi that just jackknifed…). Yes, sound is the key to the home theater experience, and when it comes to choosing an audio system to grace your den or family room, there is no shortage of options.

An integrated home theater audio system is often referred to as “home theater in a box,” or HTiB. A basic system might include a 2.1 speaker system with left and right speakers and a small, 8-inch subwoofer. The most inexpensive such system will be no more than a few hundred dollars. A step up from the basic, costing several thousand dollars, might include a several-thousand-watt home theater receiver with five to seven surround sound speakers and a powered, twelve-inch subwoofer. Finally, for those truly dedicated to their DVD collections, it is possible to build an entire room specifically designed for watching movies. Such rooms, which can cost in excess of $100,000, will often boast sophisticated acoustical design elements and will doubtless include audiophile-grade sound equipment. An audiophile, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a person who is enthusiastic about and uses high-fidelity sound reproduction equipment.

Not surprisingly, it is impossible to separate the visual from the audible when it comes to home theatre. The different levels of HTiB mentioned above are all associated with televisions of varying degrees of quality. Whereas the most basic system will probably use a standard CRT television, a mid-range setup might utilize a high-definition television and a matching video format. As for the specialized theater rooms, well, they often include actual cinema mini-screens complete with projection booths.

To say that there are lots of different HTiB manufactures out there is doubtful an understatement. Samsung, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Bose…all offer a variety of options when it comes to home theater audio. Not all brands are created equal, of course, and certain labels have better reputations than others. It is therefore possible to do a reasonable amount of research before purchasing a home theater system. Factors that should be taken into account include not only desired quality and budget, but the space within which one has to work. It would be unfortunate, for example, to spend $5,000 on a top-of-the-line system only to discover that there is no place in your den for a twelve-inch subwoofer.

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