At the movies

Transform your living room into a fully-fledged home cinema.

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By  Cleona Godhino Published  July 17, 2007

There are no hard-and-fast rules for what turns a living room or basement with a screen into a fully-fledged home cinema, but at the very least it's a huge screen display with huge, crystal clear surround sound.

Now it isn't just electronics junkies and movie stars who are setting-up home cinemas these day; scores of families around the region who want a more engaging film experience - minus the overpriced popcorn and soda - are upgrading as well, thanks to affordable options for nearly every budget.

The blacks are much more dense with DLP projectors, whereas LCD and 3LCD-based projectors produce more of a charcoal-grey.

To set-up a home theater in your house, you'll first need to prepare a room, whether it's the basement, your living room, or the bedroom of a college-bound son or daughter. Then you'll need to acquire the necessary components: a TV or projector, satellite receiver or cable subscription, DVD player and speakers.

So then, you' have to put it all together. Throughout the process, remember that in the end what's important is not snazzy new technology or killer specs but how comfortable and enjoyable your home cinema is...

Your options

The first component to be considered when creating your home cinema experience is your screen. Should you pick a TV or a home cinema projector set-up? Let's take a look a each and you can then decide which suits your needs.

The TV route

There are two things to pay attention to when buying a television: its shape, and its size. To watch movies in their original wide-screen format, you'll need a TV with a rectangular shaped 16:9 aspect ratio rather than the traditional, more ‘squarish' 4:3. Size wise, go for the largest screen you can afford; 27-inches is probably the bare minimum we'd recommend.

For optimal viewing, the distance between the viewer and the screen should equal about three times the screen size. Therefore, a 40-inch TV is best viewed from a distance of 10 feet (120 inches). Figure out where the TV and seating will be located and, providing you have the cash to spare, calculate the relevant screen size according to that.

Projector flavours

If you decide to go down the projector route there are two main flavours of projectors available: LCD (Liquid Crystal Display), DLP (Digital Light Processing). Our Win Labs editor Jason Saundalkar, who has tested a huge number of projectors, recommends opting for DLP-based home cinema projector if you're a sci-fi movie fan.

"Science fiction movies, which feature a lot of black, are best watched on DLP projectors as the colour definition is richer and more realistic," reckons Saundalkar.

He concludes by saying, "With that said, it really boils down to what type of films you like to watch. If you watch a lot of nature documentaries or movies then I'd really suggest opting for a LCD-based projector. The reason being that images are more crisp and sharp when produced by a LCD projection system and this is exactly what you need to enjoy detailed, outdoor landscapes."

Now once you've decided on a display route the next devices to look at are the following:

DVD player - most of you already own a DVD player, however if you don't not to worry. DVD players are extremely cheap nowadays and you can buy a one for less than US $60 from firms such as JVC, Philips, LG and Samsung. Mmost DVD players in this region priced under $60 don't support progressive scanning, which means you'll have to fork out a some more cash for one that does. What's so great about progressive scanning? It is a method that creates a TV picture with consecutive lines of info within a single frame or pass. This results in flicker-free video quality and thus smooth picture quality.

Sound system - Next comes the sound system. The choice here is between individual components or an increasingly popular all-in-one system. This choice will largely depend on your budget. All-in-one systems offer excellent value for money, providing a surround sound decoder, amplifier, DVD player and speaker package for as little as us $300. But go for separates if you can afford to - their performance will be superior to an all-in-one system.

However, another deciding factor may be your domestic circumstances. In small living rooms, huge floor-standing speakers and hefty amps might be a no-no. This is another reason why all-in-ones are a great idea - they cut down on clutter by cramming the DVD player and amplifier into one convenient box. The speakers that accompany them are also more space-friendly and likely to blend in with their surroundings, while installation is a cinch. All of the relevant cables are supplied and are often colour-coded.

Cathode-ray tube (CRT) TV

Surprisingly, old-fashioned CRT sets have among the sharpest pictures - and often the lowest prices (US $500-$2,500). Newer flat-screen CRTs eliminate the distortion that plagued the curved edges of older models, and most can display the widescreen formats of DVDs (although sometimes with slight cropping of the image).

Rear-projection TV

So-called big-screen TVs offer the most screen - up to 80 inches - for the money. They produce near-CRT quality in a much slimmer package while remaining relatively inexpensive (roughly $1,500 for a 45-inch model). The drawback is that the picture can appear obscured when viewed from an angle.

LCD TV

This type of flat panel display uses the same basic Liquid Crystal Display technology that has been in use for some time in cell phones and monitors. Unlike standard CRT and Plasma models, there are no phosphors here that light up, thus LCD panels are thin and require less power to operate. Due to the nature of LCD technology, there is no radiation emitted from the screen itself, unlike traditional TVs. To find out more about LCD TVs, read 'Dazzling Displays' on www.itp.net.

Plasma TV

These TVs, like LCDs, are thin - only 3 to 5 inches deep - so you can hang them on the wall. They're also expensive ($4,000 and up!). And while newer models are as sharp and bright as CRT displays, some viewers find fast-moving images have a tendency to blur. Note: if you're torn between an LCD TV or a Plasma we recommend checking out www.flattvpeople.com/tutorials/lcd-vs-plasma.asp.

Home cinema projector set-up

If you want virtually unlimited screen size - and money is not an issue - a home cinema projector is the way to go. Projectors send images to the screen the same way that a traditional movie projector does, which means it's really the best way to truly replicate cinema experience. Prices for a home cinema projector start at US $900 but you'll also have to accommodate and pay for a projector screen (or for cheapskates, the wall).

Guide to choosing home theater kit

Do...

• Think carefully about what you can afford and accommodate;

• Research thoroughly - check all the specifications to ensure you get the feature that you need;

• Be particularly aware of ultra-cheap products, as reliability and after-sales support may be found lacking;

• Ensure your speakers are tonally matched or your sound stage could suffer.

Don't...

• Rule out all-in-ones and packages - these are a great alternatives to a DIY system;

• Don't buy your gear in the first place you visit - shop around for the best deal possible;

• Be afraid to ask for a demonstration of the kit you wish to buy;

• Fork out on features and gimmicks you don't really need.

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