Things About Home Theater You May Not Know

Tips that cut through the misconceptions and confusion

Whether you call it home theater or home cinema, it's a popular entertainment option around the world, but what exactly is it? Home theater refers to a setup of audio and video equipment in your home that tries to duplicate the movie theater experience. However, there's a lot of hype and confusion as to what you really need to enjoy it. The following tips can help cut through the hype and misconceptions.

Home Theater Doesn't Have to Be Expensive

Salesperson Assists Woman Shopping For TV
Salesperson Assists Woman Shopping For TV. Gety Images - Westend61 - 597070801

Home theater has a significant role in our current entertainment landscape, but when times get tough many believe it's a luxury that may no longer be affordable. But, when you consider the cost of taking the family out to dinner and a night at the movies, buying a home theater system may be just the right, affordable, family entertainment solution during economic doldrums. Here are additional references that provide guidance on how you can put together a home theater system on your financial terms.

An LED TV Is Not a Different Type of TV

Samsung UN32N5300 1080p LED/LCD Smart TV
Samsung UN32N5300 1080p LED/LCD Smart TV. Image courtesy of Amazon 

There is a lot of hype and confusion surrounding LED televisions. Even many marketing reps and sales pros that should know better falsely explain what an LED TV is to their customers. To set the record straight, the "LED" designation refers to the TV's backlight system, not the chips that produce the image content. LED TVs are still LCD TVs. They just use LED backlights rather than the fluorescent-type backlights used in older LCD TVs.

An OLED TV Is A Different Type of TV

LG OLED TV
LG OLED TV. LG Electronics

Although LED/LCD TVs are the most common type available (Plasma TVs were discontinued in 2015), you may have heard of OLED TVs. OLED is a type of technology that doesn't require a backlight—each pixel is "self-emissive." As a result, OLED TVs are extremely thin and display absolute black, making colors look richer.

On the downside, OLED TVs are more expensive than an equivalent LED/LCD TV when comparing the same screen size and feature set, but the gap narrows somewhat every year.

Don't get OLED TVs confused with QLED TVs, which are LCD TVs that use a technology called Quantum Dots to enhance color performance. QLED is a label used by Samsung and TCL. The LED part stands for the backlights referred to in the previous section.

720p is also High-Definition

Video Resolution Chart
Video Resolution Chart. Wikimedia Commons

Although 1080p and 4K are the high-definition resolutions most widely available for consumers (8K is still out of most people's price range), 720p and 1080i are also high-resolution formats. They're cheaper than 1080p and 4K, but they're also older technologies with less visual quality.

Blu-ray Disc Players Also Play DVDs, CDs, and More...

Samsung BD-H6500 Blu-ray Disc Player
Samsung BD-H6500 Blu-ray Disc Player. Image provided by Amazon

Many consumers are confused about what a Blu-ray Disc player really is and what you play on it. It turns out it makes a great all-in-one source for home entertainment content. All Blu-ray Disc players can play DVDs and CDs, and many can play audio/video files from USB flash drives, stream movies and TV shows from the internet, and some can even access media files from your PC.

You Can Access TV Programs and Movies from the Internet

LG Smart TV
LG Smart TV. LG Electronics

The internet is now an integral part of the home theater experience but it's also causing confusion for consumers who want to know how to add the internet to their home theater, what content is available for access, and if it's worth the effort. Check out some basic tips to get started enjoying the benefits of accessing content from the internet, and a home network, on your TV and home theater system.

There's a Reason You Can't Record Your Favorite TV Show on a DVD Recorder

Magnavox DVD Recorder
Magnavox DVD Recorder. Images provided by Amazon

Have you shopped for a DVD recorder recently and have found slim-pickings on store shelves? While DVD recorders thrive in other parts of the world and Blu-ray Disc recorders are available in Japan and other select markets, the U.S. is being left out of the video recording equation, and it's being left out on purpose due to restrictions imposed in the U.S. on what consumers are allowed to record and on what storage medium. For the full story, read The Case of the Disappearing DVD Recorder.

While most consumer electronics manufacturers have abandoned DVD recorders, you can still find them refurbished or used.

Your Smartphone Can be Part of Your Home Theater Too

Pioneer Remote App
Pioneer Remote App. Pioneer Electronics

You can include your smartphone as part of your home theater system. One interesting way to use an iPhone or Android is as a remote control for home theater components and home automation systems. Check out some interesting remote control and related apps you may be able to take advantage of.

Other ways to use your smartphone with your home theater setup is with Bluetooth and AirPlay, which allow you to stream music directly to a compatible home theater receiver.

Also, if you have a DLNA or Miracast-enabled TV or Blu-ray disc player, you can share select audio and video content stored on your smartphone with your TV, or route it through a Blu-ray Disc player to your TV.

Wireless Speakers Aren't Really Wireless

Axiim Q Wireless Home Theater System
Axiim Q Wireless Home Theater System. Axiim Audio

"I would jump into home theater in a minute if it weren't for all those speakers and wires." Sound familiar? Running those long and unsightly speaker wires all over the place can be annoying for many. As a result, consumers are attracted by increasingly promoted home theater systems that tout "wireless speakers" as a way to solve this problem. But, don't get automatically sucked in by the term "wireless." Check out The Truth About Wireless Speakers for Home Theater and What is Wireless Home Theater? before making any purchases.

5.1 Channels Are Enough (Most of the Time)

Onkyo 5.1 Channel Receiver with Diagram
Onkyo 5.1 Channel Receiver with Diagram. Onkyo and Harman Kardon

5.1 channels are the standard in home theater. Most DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies contain 5.1 channel soundtracks. However, when buying a home theater receiver these days, once you get into the $500 range and up, there's an increasing emphasis by manufacturers for delivering 7.1 channel equipped receivers. Although 7.1 channel receivers are not required, they can provide additional setup options.

Even if you don't need to use the full 7.1 channel capability in your home theater setup, 7.1 channel receivers can easily be used in a 5.1 channel-only system. This frees up the remaining two channels for other uses such as Bi-amping, or to run a two-channel stereo 2nd Zone system. Of course, another option is to just leave the extra two channels turned off. Find out if a 5.1 or 7.1 channel home theater receiver is right for you.

There's A Difference Between a Stereo and Home Theater Receiver

Yamaha R-N602 Stereo Receiver vs RX-A760 HT Receiver
Yamaha R-N602 Stereo Receiver vs RX-A760 HT Receiver. Yamaha

Although home theater receivers evolved out of the traditional stereo receiver of old, the two are not the same thing.

Stereo receivers are designed for music listening within a two-channel environment. Unlike home theater receivers, stereo receivers don't provide surround sound decoding, and typically don't provide surround sound processing, and only provide connections for left and right channel speakers. In some cases, an output for a subwoofer is also provided.

What this means is no connections are provided for a center channel and side or rear speakers that are required for a true surround sound listening experience.

Another difference is stereo receivers don't provide video processing and upscaling features that are common on many home theater receivers.

Although you can use a stereo receiver to provide better sound for TV viewing, for a more immersive sound listening experience, consider a home theater receiver (may also be referred to as an AV or surround sound receiver).

You Can Use Alexa and Google Home To Control Your TV

Using Alexa with a TV
Using Alexa with a TV. Image provided by Amazon

The popularity of products such as Google Home and Amazon Echo has opened up a whole new way to interact with your entertainment, information, and household tasks.

Using your voice, in combination with Alexa or Google Home-enabled smart devices, you can control the functions of many Smart TVs, as well as other home theater gear, such as media streamers, home theater receivers, and more.

3D Isn't Bad

3D TV
3D TV. Getty Images - DSGpro - E+

Depending on who you talk to, 3D is either the greatest thing to hit home theater since sliced bread or the biggest consumer electronics folly ever. On a sad note for 3D fans, it looks like the folly folks are winning.

As of 2017, production of 3D TVs for the U.S. market has been discontinued. However, 3D for consumers does live on in the video projector product category—which is the best way to experience the 3D effect.

In light of the current state of 3D, before you take that particular plunge there are things you need to know in order to get the best 3D viewing experience. Despite detractors, it's possible to have a good, as well as comfortable, 3D viewing experience with the right setup and well-produced content.