Bigger is better. That’s probably the dominant argument in favor of buying a separate multichannel amplifier and surround processor instead of an A/V receiver. It’s also the wrong argument. There are three good reasons for you to choose separates: to scale up your system to a larger room, to power more-demanding speakers, or to achieve higher performance than you can get with an average AVR.
There is a growing number of media players, media streamers, and other devices that can access Netflix, Hulu, and your own saved media to watch on your TV. The first step in deciding which one to buy is to know why you want it. Do you only want to stream video and music from the Internet? Do you want to watch Netflix or Hulu, or do you like to find unique videos and video podcasts? Have you saved music, photos, and/or videos on your computer that you want to stream to your TV?
It’s always a blast around here to take a look back and see which of the hundred or so components we’ve reviewed in the last year really rose to the top. Of course, the best of these end up on our Top Picks list, but like watching a good movie whose message or performances resonate in the days and months that follow, there are always a few pieces of gear that prove themselves to be just a little more special over time.
Flat-panel HDTVs have undergone rapid changes in technology and pricing. There are now two types of 3D systems for you to decide between, screen sizes have continued to inch up, prices have come down, and the battle between LCD and plasma for image-quality supremacy has heated up, with the latest generation of top-line LED models challenging plasma’s long-held position at the top of the enthusiast heap.
When it comes to the nerve center of a home theater, most consumers opt for an A/V receiver, which combines a preamp/processor (pre/pro) and multichannel power amp into one chassis. However, some enthusiasts choose to buy a separate pre/pro and power amp, believing that this results in superior sound quality, though it's generally a more-expensive way to go. If you want the best possible soundand you have the budgetyou're probably shopping for separates.
Selecting audio components is one of the more daunting tasks that any serious home theater enthusiast faces. On the surface, it seems evident that if you just go out and buy the best components you can afford, they’ll sound great with both movies and music. And that’s generally true: A better system will more accurately reproduce the waveforms you feed it, irrespective of whether they come from a movie or music. But it’s often not that simple. While assembling a home theater system that’s equally spectacular with movies and music may be a laudable goal, unless you have unlimited funds, you’ll probably have compromises to make. At that point, you might want to steer the system’s performance strengths one way or the other with the right mix of speakers and electronics. But how do you go about matching these up?
Buying a new TV ain't what it used to bethere are a lot more choices and features to think about than yesteryear, when the only decision you needed to make was screen size. Among the most common questions I'm asked these days is, "Should I get an LCD or plasma flat-panel TV?" If you want the quick answer, jump to the end of this article. But if you want to understand the answer, read on.
A friend who went to college in the late 1960s told me that everyone in his dorm fell into one of two absolutely opposing groups: those who blasted the Who’s Tommy and those who were mesmerized by the Beatles’ White Album. Or for the sticklers among you, the album nicknamed the White Album but officially known as The Beatles. I could entertain you with a few more sentences’ worth of metaphor, but you get the idea. You say tomato, I say tomahto.
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?
The A/V receiver is your home theater’s central nervous system. All cables and connections to and from your other components are likely to run through your AVR. It will manage and switch the A/V signals from all of your sources, and it will power at least five of your loudspeakers. Making the right choice in an AVR can feel like a science exam, but once you make the perfect match, the rewards are huge. The right AVR will be a pleasure to use and will make your speakers and other components perform their best. Helping you make the best choice is where Home Theater’s AVR Buyer’s Guide comes in.
Home theater has transformed loudspeakers in nearly the same way it transformed TV. As screens have gotten bigger, the stereo soundstage has expanded into a surround soundfield. Wall-mounted HDTVs can now mate with in-wall, on-wall, or soundbar speakers. Even the higher performance of HDTV finds an analog in lossless surround for movies and music.
Not all high-definition videoor audiois created equal. There isn’t an upgrade of any kind that you can make in any part of your system that will allow it to take a lower-quality source and deliver the kind of performance you’ll get from Blu-ray Disc. Blu-ray features the highest bandwidth, best-in-class high-definition video currently available to consumers. And it serves it up with a chunky side order of lossless audio that’s miles beyond the lossy compressed audio we’ve had in theaters and at home for the past decade and a half. Buying a Blu-ray Disc player isn’t the minefield it was just a couple of years ago, but we’ve still got some tips and tricks that will help you get the best Blu for your buck.
When we wrote this feature for last year’s HDTV Buyer’s Guide issue, the flat-panel HDTV market was much simpler. 3D was nowhere in sight, and much of our analysis boiled down to the pros and cons of LCD and plasma technology. This year, 3D is just one of the newer wrinkles in the market. The number of plasmas in the market isn’t what it was just a few years ago, but plasma is not only hanging on, the best plasmas still stake a legitimate claim to being the best flat panels available. With LCDs, manufacturers are aggressively using the backlighting techniques to market the sets. In fact, LCDs are getting more and more sophisticated and offering serious potential value. There’s a lot to learn, so let’s get going.