What home theater components are found in a typical system?

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Answered by: Jeffrey, An Expert in the Home Theater - General Category
The first thing that jumps into our heads when we think of the movies is a big white screen. In our homes, this translates into the television screen. Due to advances in technology over the last decade, the television has soared past any other component in terms of cost, but at the same time has made the home theater experience that much more rewarding. Long gone are the days of knobs, rabbit ears and a fuzzy grey picture. Televisions have advanced to the point of simultaneously producing an almost life-like picture while being a fraction of the weight and volume that they were not long ago. This will be the centerpiece of your home theater as it will be the main focal point for yourself and your guests.



The next item on the list of home theater components will likely vary in quality from user to user more than any other: speakers. Speakers to some are essentially a means of hearing what they are seeing. But to those in the audiophile crowd with hyper-sensitive ears, this is where the real money is spent.

But it all depends on how you plan to use your system. Many plan to watch movies exclusively, as the term "home theater" implies, but others will want theirs to be a capable means of accurately reproducing high-quality digital music, compact discs or LP's. For the movie watcher, a simple satellite speaker and subwoofer system will do. This will produce the thundering explosions and send bullets whizzing past them during action movies, while still being suited for the intense dialogue and suspensful music of a thriller.



For the music fan, the smaller main speakers of a sattelite system do not have the response or depth required to output their favorite tunes with the desired clarity. For this group, a larger, usually floor standing, set of main stereo speakers of a higher grade will be required, while less attention will be given to the center and surround speakers, and a subwoofer may not even be in the plans. Whether bought as a package, or pieced together, there are far more options for speakers than the average home theater enthusiast may realize.

And now we get to the nerve center of the operation, the AV receiver. AV, of course, standing for Audio/Video. The receiver is what bridges the connection between your input devices (cable box, DVD player, etc.) and your stereo or surround sound speakers. For many, this is the key component for the entire business. At one time, a receiver was just an AM/FM radio that a turntable was hooked into, but over time it has evolved into much more.

In basic terms, the receiver is an amplifier where multiple inputs go in, one a time is selected, and the output is sent to the television and speakers. But every receiver on the market does far more than this. Many have built-in graphic equalizers, sound programs for optimization depending on media, and the ability to decode many different digital audio formats used on Blu-Ray and DVD discs. And this is only the low-end models. High-end models are packed with features that would take a lifetime to take advantage of, such as WiFi capabilities, Blue Tooth communication and more inputs than one could possibly need.

The AV receivers of today are very programmable and customizable, allowing the user to change multiple pre-configured options at the touch of a button. Mid to high-end receivers are even capable of upscaling one type of video signal to another, for example, component video to HDMI. Not only does this result in a better picture, but only one cable is required between the receiver and television, as opposed to one cable for each type of video output. When selecting an AV receiver, it's important to take the next topic on our list into consideration.

This may be putting the beginning at the end, but the last home theater component on this list is input devices. This is where the music and movies truly begin. While televisions and receivers have changed quite significantly over the years, they remain essentially the same products with the same basic jobs. But nothing has changed as much as the types of inputs that might be hooked into a system. From turntables to iPods, this is an area with more products than any one receiver is capable of handling.

Today, the most common medium for video is the DVD. This replaced the VHS tape that once saturated the market, but even the DVD is now losing its hold to the superior quality of the Blu-Ray disc. The same can be said of the compact disc, which took the place of the vinyl record, but is now being forgotten in favor of the digital download. Media is the one aspect of the home theater system that will always be changing on such a fundamental level that it will be always be changing the othe components along with it. Media is what determines the input devices your system will include. The beauty here being that just about any media-playing component can be hooked into even the latest receivers.

Therefore, the old stack of albums can play on the same system that runs 1080i BluRay discs. A fairly recent trend is the advent of using desktop computers as exclusive home theater input devices. Known as an HTPC, this eliminates the shelves of DVD's, etc. in favor of movies stored electronically, along with the ability to view movies and TV shows from internet streaming sites. This opens up a multitude of possibilities for any home theater user. But more articles have been written on each device than can possibly be counted.

The above is barely scratching the surface as far as what home theater components might be found in a typical system, and new technologies will yield even more. This basic overview should give the reader a good idea of what components they'll want to invest in. But this is the easy part. The hard part is picking each one.

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