"The technology that makes up a home theater is not that dissimilar to the technology that makes up a high end movie theater. Home theater technology is just a scaled down version that better accommodates smaller, more personal areas of a home."

The Defining Elements of a Home Theater

Patrick Roberts

The Defining Elements of a Home Theater
by Patrick Roberts

"The technology that makes up a home theater is not that dissimilar to the technology that makes up a high end movie theater. Home theater technology is just a scaled down version that better accommodates smaller, more personal areas of a home."

Patrick Roberts is a junior at Cascia Hall Preparatory School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has been involved in the home theater industry for about four years and has been installing and designing them for about three years. Patrick is co-director of the audio and visual crews at his school and looks forward to a career in Communications or Computer Technology. His personal website, The Definitive Home Theater Website, has been devoted to the development of home theaters and their technology.


The movies have always been a symbol of wealth, prosperity, happiness, and theatrical excellence. Today, people wait in endless lines to see their favorite actors and actresses portraying the latest in villains, heartthrobs, heroes, and lovers. Packing into a large auditorium with hundreds of other unknown people has always been a favorite pastime of many. Just recently, however, the technology became available to bring this wonderful, crowded experience into our own home.

Home Theaters have now become affordable for many. What draws us to Home Theaters? Any of various reasons. Maybe we want to be able to sit down, in our own living room, kick off our shoes and enjoy our favorite movie in our pajamas. Maybe we like the idea of being able to recreate the movie experience in our own home. Perhaps we just want to have the only house on the block that we can make rumble. Whatever the reason, home theaters are the latest craze!

The technology that makes up a home theater is not that dissimilar to the technology that makes up a high end movie theater. Home theater technology is just a scaled down version that better accommodates smaller, more personal areas of a home. Whether you are watching a movie at a movie theater or at home in your own theater, all systems are essentially the same. Here is an outline of the components of a home theater:
  1. A source
  2. A receiver (or a preamp and amp)
  3. Something to view the material (widescreen t.v., projector, etc.)
  4. 6+ speakers (three for the fronts, two or more for the surrounds, and one or more subs.)
  5. Wires for connecting everything.

After you have put these components together, you have a home theater.

The source can be many different things. The source is where your material is coming from. This can be a C.D. player, laserdisc player, DVD player, DSS, radio, etc. Some sources you just get audio from (C.D. player and radio) and some you get both audio and video (laserdisc player, DVD player, DSS).

Once you have the source, you need something to “receive” all of the raw data and process it. This can be a receiver or a preamp and amp. The functions of these can vary. In lower end systems, their job is to process the sound and video and send them where they are supposed to go. When you start to go higher in quality, you get into more processing and terms like THX, Dolby Digital, and DTS. What all of this does is makes the sound coming out of your speakers more precise creates the feeling like you are in the movie. There is not that much difference between a preamp/amp system and a receiver system. With a preamp/amp system, the preamp processes all of the sound and then sends the audio data to the amp where it outputs the sound to the speakers. A receiver system combines the two and processes the sound and powers the speakers by itself. Usually, preamp/amp systems are more expensive, but the sound quality can be much better than a receiver system.

Once you have settled on the source and the processors, the next thing you need is something to view the material with (if you are listening to your favorite C.D. or radio station, you obviously don’t need to “view” the material). With the advent of DVD and laserdiscs, aspect ratios and letterboxing is common. This is the widescreen affect that you get at the movies. The movie is wider than it is high. Most laserdiscs are letterboxed, leaving a black bar at the top and bottom of your movie. But thanks to DVD, you get the choice of letterboxed, pan and scan, or normal full screen versions. There are many different T.V.’s out there. Some are your regular tube T.V.’s and some are widescreen T.V.’s. You can also get projectors for your home. They are going to be a little more expensive, but you will get the benefit of a large, widescreen movie experience. If you are not wanting a projector or a regular T.V., you can go for projection T.V.’s. These T.V.’s are massive. Some are as large as 80” (6’ 8” from the bottom left corner to the top right corner). These will do the job, but they are very expensive, some are even more expensive than your basic projector and screen.

I would say the heart of every home theater is in the speakers. The speakers are the key when putting together a good home theater. In a basic home theater, you will have three for the front, two for the surrounds, and a subwoofer. You can get more complex however. If you have multiple rows of seating, you will probably need more than one pair of surround speakers. Also, you might want dual subwoofers to better distribute the lower frequencies throughout the room. There are many home theater speaker companies. Some offer basic home theater models and some offer top of the line, THX certified and Dolby Digital ready systems.

You might not put much thought into the wires for your home theater. You may think that they are not that important and they all are the same. If you think about it, the sound coming out of your speakers is only as good as the wires you used to hook them up. I would recommend buying good home theater wires. Investing in well made wires will insure that the sound and picture you are getting are the best. Why spend a bundle of money on your speakers and equipment and then skimp on the wires? You want to get good quality interconnects (wires connecting your receiver, source, and T.V. together) and good quality speaker wire. Buying really good equipment and skimping on the wires is like putting regular unleaded in a Ferrari, you just don’t do it.

After you have all of this stuff, you have your home theater. There are people who will set your equipment up for you, but I think if you do it yourself, you will appreciate it more. You will also know how to change everything around if something is not working correctly. There is a home theater for every price range. A good home theater that will scare the neighbors will run you about $4,000-$5,000 (without the T.V.). You can get home theaters for as little as $750 and as much as $100,000. It just depends on how crazy you go when buying all of your products.

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