A lot of consumer electronics editors and reviewers have a love-hate relationship with product ratings. The love side comes from knowing they make readers happy. Assuming the ratings structure is well thought out (that is, simple and easy to understand) and the ratings are applied with fairness and accuracy, they wrap the whole product up in a nice little ball and tell you, at a quick glance, whether it's a winner, loser, or in-betweener. Perhaps most important, a good rating, or a good rating coupled with a seal of approval like our Top Picks designation, is validation that the product is worthy of the money you plan to spend on it. Given the sea of black boxes, identically thin TVs, and similar speaker systems out there, we recognize that giving you this validation is really the essence of our job at Home Theater.
One of the greatest put-offs for anyone trying to watch television or play a home theater system, especially non-technical family members, is figuring out how to use it. Even a simple system that just utilizes the TV speakers is likely to require at least three remotes: one for the cable box, one for the Blu-ray or DVD player, one for the TV. You've got to juggle remotes, cycling through inputs with one, adjusting channels or changing tracks with another, then picking the first one back up to adjust volume...it's a miracle some of us even bother. Universal remotes are supposed to solve that problem for day to day use, but don't always do everything we need them to do, either by insufficient design or poor programming. The result is a stack of factory remotes kept close at hand.
Today's poll question, then, is this: how many active remotes do you currently have on your coffee table that you end up having to pick up at least once a week?
Of all the components in your home theater system, none gets more playtime than your audio/video receiver. But buying an AVR can be daunting for home theater newbies or even seasoned enthusiasts diving back into the upgrade pool. AVR technology and features have been constantly moving targets these last few years. Here are some basics to help you make your selection, circa 2012.
An A/V receiver combines three audio components in one box. Primarily, it performs the traditional roles of a preamplifier and power amplifier. The sound for any home theater begins as a relatively low-level audio signal coming off a source component such as a cable box or disc player. These days, it’s more likely to be a digital audio signal than an analog signal. That signal gets converted between digital and analog as needed, manipulated to affect your volume adjustment, and might perhaps have some bass and treble contouring (or more sophisticated equalization) applied before it’s sent to the power amplifier, whose only job is to pump it up to the power level necessary to drive your speakers to sufficient volume.
If there’s been any real change in the home theater audio landscape recently, it’s been the emergence of the anti-AVR. From soundbars to powered tabletop systems to wireless streaming speakers that can double as your TV’s audio system, the trend is toward all-in-one solutions that are simple to shop for, easy to install, and a cinch to operate. Granted, even the most basic receiver is none of those things. But the Swiss Army knife of the A/V world still remains the best value in the land, packing more power, features, flexibility, and (when mated with good speakers) performance than any integrated approach.
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.
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...