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How to buy a Home Theatre System: Part 1: What you need

Part 1: What you need

If the cinema experience has paled for you of late, what with the popcorn rip-off, sticky floors and noisy kids, the idea of Home Theatre has probably crossed your mind. But it sounds expensive and complicated. Never fear, our audio-visual expert, JOEL KOPPING, is coming to the rescue. In the first part of a series on how to buy home theatre, he looks at the main options you will have to consider.

There are few things more entertaining than going to the cinema to watch a blockbuster movie.That is, if you can get past the tweeting teens, sticky floors, expensive refreshments, stale popcorn and sometimes poor audio and picture quality.

Fortunately for those of us who like our popcorn freshly made and our floors clean, home theatre systems have become so good that it’s no longer necessary to go to the cinema to watch a movie. Couple this with the fact that our TVs have become bigger and better, and we don’t have to lose out on seeing our heroes on a large screen either.

What you need

So what exactly do you need if you want a home theatre system that rivals your local cinema complex?

1. You need a room in which to place all your equipment.

2. You need a big screen TV ‚ or, for a more expansive experience, a video projector.

3. You need an A/V amplifier that can decode all the latest surround sound formats.

4. You need a surround sound speaker system.

5. You need a player to deliver audio and video signals to the rest of your components. This could be a DVD player, Blu-ray player, media server or PC.

If you’re considering home theatre, you probably have numbers one and two already. If not, we recommend that you read our How to Buy a Flat Screen TV guide (find part one, How to buy a TV, here:

The reason for this is that much of what comes next depends on the size of your TV and room.

As with buying a TV, there is a vast array of home theatre systems, and these can cost anywhere from a few hundred Rand, to a few hundreds of thousands.


There are essentially two types of home theatre systems:

So called Theatre-in-a-Box systems often combine amplification, processing and player in one unit with a full set of surround sound speakers. These systems can vary in price and performance, from cheap and nasty to systems that deliver superb performance.

Component systems can comprise separate amplification and surround sound processors ‚ although in most cases these are combined into one unit and called an A/V receiver ‚ a dedicated DVD, Blu-ray or media player, and speakers that would be selected based on the size of your TV and room ‚ and how loud you want the system to play.

Component systems typically are more flexible as, for example, you can replace just the DVD player if it breaks, and not have to replace the entire system. Another benefit is that your average A/V receiver has more input options than typical all-in-one systems, which typically have only one or two additional audio and video inputs. This means that you can connect more devices to them. More about this later. Of course you do pay for this flexibility.

The most common speaker configurations you’ll come across are 5.1 and 7.1. A 5.1 home theatre system uses six speakers. The front left and right, centre and dual surround speakers combine to become the five in 5.1 and the .1 speaker is a subwoofer. A 7.1 speaker system adds two surround back speakers to a 5.1 system.

High Definition or not

This is another option to consider before buying, as it dictates the type of player and A/V Receiver you’ll need to buy.

If you want the absolute best in audio and video quality, then you only really have one ready-to-go option as far as source components is concerned, and this is Blu-ray. Blu-ray players, when used with Blu-ray discs, will deliver High definition video and, if the disc has the option , High Definition Audio in the form of Dolby TrueHD or DTS Master Audio.

The need for High Definition Audio and video also determines that you’ll need a High Definition TV ‚ which, hopefully, you already have if this is your requirement – and an A/V receiver that has the capability to decode the High-resolution audio formats. As these High Definition Audio formats can only be digitally transmitted to your receiver via HDMI cable, you’ll need one of the latest models that is High-definition audio compliant.

Remember that the presence of HDMI on an A/V receiver or Blu-ray doesn’t automatically mean that the player can deliver the High Definition audio stream to the A/V receiver, or that the receiver can decode the audio stream. Both the player and receiver have to be HD Audio compatible.

There is another way to get High Definition audio to an A/V receiver, and that is to use a Blu-ray player that has built-in decoders for HD Audio and has 7.1 channel analogue outputs. These players tend to be quite pricey and you do then need eight audio cables to send the decoded analogue sound to the matching 7.1 input of an A/V receiver.

Next, in Part 2: Choosing thespeaker system

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