A DVD/CD player is the staple in any audio/video system. It’s capable of playing both DVDs and audio CDs, making it two components in one. DVD players range from the very inexpensive for a basic unit to $1,000 or more for a high-end universal disc player compatible with newer multichannel DVD-Audio (DVD-A), Super Audio CD (SACD) and just about any other flavor of disc you can find.
Surround-sound processors come in many different models and under different names. There are audio/video receivers, surround-sound receivers, preamplifiers and controllers. Regardless, this is the brain of your home theater system. It’s where all the audio and video is brought in and delivered to the TV and speakers. A receiver also contains a radio and a multichannel amplifier. Preamplifiers and controllers do not and will process the sound for external amplifiers. (These “separates” systems are generally used in higher-end home theaters.) Any surround-sound receiver or controller should have the ability to handle Dolby Digital and DTS Digital Surround soundtracks. Higher-end units may feature Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES for six- and seven-channel surround sound and HDMI connections for audio and video. For theater-quality audio, look for a receiver that is THX certified.
Amplifiers send power to the speakers. They are often used in larger home theaters and media rooms to deliver a clean and strong signal to the loudspeakers. Most amplifiers power two or more speakers from the same chassis. Monoblock amplifiers power only one channel each and are used mostly in serious audio enthusiasts’ systems.
A satellite or cable box (or receiver) takes a signal from a small satellite dish or cable line and delivers it to your home theater system. You can rent or buy these from the service provider. If you want high definition, make sure you get an HD receiver. Some receivers now come with digital video recorders (DVRs) built in.
Video cassette recorders still exist, and you may want one if you have a collection of VHS tapes. If you must buy a VCR and you want quality, pay a few extra bucks and get a four-head hi-fi stereo or S-VHS unit. DVD/VCR combo decks are also a good way to enjoy both DVDs and VHS tapes.
Power management systems protect your sensitive electronics from harmful power surges and clean up the electricity fed into your home from power lines. There are more-expensive power conditioners and voltage regulators and less-expensive surge suppressors similar to the ones you may use for your computers. Less-expensive systems cannot protect your equipment from a lightning strike.
Good audio/video cables are essential. Look for newer HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) or DVI (digital visual interface) with HDTVs and receivers. Barring that, component video is your best option for providing a good picture. Don’t settle for composite cables. Look for optical audio connections for the best sound reproduction. Speaker cables should be 14 gauge or lower, and high-speed communications cable should be Category 5, 5e (for enhanced) or 6.
By Steven Castle, senior editor for Electronic House magazine. To see more articles from the editors of Electronic House magazine about the connected home visit www.electronichouse.com.
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