There are many things that go into creating the perfect home theater setup. All things from the speakers, to your entertainment center, to your tv, to the lighting, we all need some direction to make sure we’re getting the most from our investment.
The first thing you need to do is research. Then research some more. And after you think you’ve done enough research, do a little more. Confidence when buying something is huge, especially if you’re going to be spending a lot of money. Speaking of money, we need to set some background about the current technology I have in my home theater setup. I currently have a 55″ Samsung KS8500 UHD tv, a 5.1 Sonos wireless sound system and a Samsung UBD-K8500 4K Blu-Ray player. Read the about us section to learn about me, why I know stuff, and why you should read what I have to say.
Now that you know what I’ve got, let’s move forward with what you need. The Dolby article (listed at the bottom of this post) says you need a surround sound system and the biggest tv you can find. These are spot on but let’s break this down a little bit. Check out that article to start your own research and expand from there!
There are an infinite number of speaker combinations you can create in your home. Some speakers are made for computers, some are made for the trunks of cars. Some speakers are created to be really loud, some are made to accurately reproduce music, and others are fashioned to be thrown in any situation. The ones you’ll need are designed specifically for a home theater configuration. The easiest (and most budget friendly) way to get a 5.1 sound system set up is to buy a home theater in a box. 5.1 refers to the number of speaker channels. Surround sound speakers not processing the main audio are referred to as satellite speakers and the number after the period is the number of subwoofers. 5.1 would denote 5 speaker channels to 1 subwoofer channel.
Sonos Wireless 5.1 Sound System
The center channel processes dialog, the 2-4 satellite speakers process sound field effects, and the subwoofer beefs up all the low tones and cinematic explosions. More modern 5.1 systems include a sound bar that is capable of processing multiple channels of audio and sending that audio out of the left, right, and or middle of the sound bar. As an example, my Sonos Playbar is a 3.0 channel sound bar. It processes 3 separate audio channels and outputs them through the speakers in the sound bar housing. More traditional 5.1 sound systems are based on an A/V receiver which drives the audio through the speakers. These more traditional systems create the same surround effect but require more precision tuning and more know-how for speaker placement to get the full benefit of this setup style. One other big sounding point (excuse the pun) is the difference in speaker setup technology. Without being overly technical, you have to set up a 5.1 traditional speaker system with wires running to each speaker from the A/V receiver. More modern 5.1 systems either use a semi or completely wireless setup that eliminates at least some of the wires. These typically either use bluetooth or wifi to send audio.
It’s important to remember when researching home theater systems that how many watts a particular system has is a poor measure of the quality. The watts only describe how loud it can get, not how good it sounds. It’s always a numbers game with technology and for marketing purposes it makes sense, however a higher number of watts certainly does not mean a better sound system. A 100w system has plenty of power and can easily sound better than a 300w system if designed correctly.
4K. Everyone’s heard of it, few understand what it means. 4K has four times the resolution as compared to a 1080p tv. We’re talking about a difference between 2 million pixels with 1080p and over 8 million pixels with 4K. This sounds and looks good on paper (that’s why everyone’s heard of it and why it’s marketed) but it may have less of an impact in reality. While the jump in resolution is huge, it is much less noticeable than the difference between standard definition and high definition content. Think of when you first saw a blu-ray compared to a DVD. It looked incredible! This is the difference between 480p and 1080p content. The jump from 1080p to 4K is considerable but we’re going from pretty good to great, not poor (480p) to pretty awesome (1080p). All this aside, almost all tv’s now are created with 4K as their panel resolution. The big sticking point with the difference in resolution is that it can be hard to tell the difference between 1080p and 4K. As mentioned before there is a huge difference in the number of pixels, but you need to be a certain distance away from the screen to notice the hike. The graph below shows the screen size to viewing distance and where those lines cross is where the benefit of UHD (4K) becomes apparent.
Ultra HD being 4K, “Higher Resolution” being 5K or higher
The gist of this graph is that the bigger the screen and the closer you are, the more obvious the extra pixels are. Most people don’t sit 6 feet or closer to their tv so 4K by itself may seem a little lackluster. The good news is that 4K tv’s also pack in a lot of new technology that aids the picture quality outside of just a resolution jump. New image processing, local LED dimming, wider color gamuts, and slick motion handling are all wrapped in with the purchase of a new 4K tv and trust me, these differences are noticeable even to someone who could care less about the kind of tv they have. If you went to Best Buy two years ago and looked at the tv’s then, and compared them to the tv’s of 2016 you’d be blown away. So in short 4K in itself isn’t the upgrade most people are looking for but throw that in with the whole package of new tv technology and you’ve got yourself a compelling reason to upgrade to a 2016 4K tv.
Hopefully you’ve now learned some of the basics of buying/upgrading your home theater system and stay tuned for more of my posts!
Dolby Home Theater Details
Updated 12/11: Edited content for easier reading and for coherence.