Stop the Spread of Home Theater Sickness - Your New Home Theater Can Make You Sick
"What? -- Home Theater Sickness?", you ask... "My home theater can make me sick?" It indeed can if you get it all hooked up and it does not look or sound the way you thought it would or should. If your new system just doesn't look anywhere near as good as you expected -- you may be a victim of Home Theater Sickness. If you have dumped a lot of dollars into what you think is the latest and greatest Home Theater equipment -- and you still end up with a home theater system that leaves you with a great deal of buyer's remorse and a definite sick feeling deep in the pit of your stomach -- that's indeed a classic case of "Home Theater Sickness".
Properly researching your components is an essential part of the home theater selection process and is essential preventative medicine in the battle to prevent Home Theater Sickness. Unfortunately, thousands of anxious new home theater enthusiasts jump into the scene each day with little or no advance preparation other than seeing what's on sale at Best Buy or their local department store. Such a hasty decision will adversely affect your desired home theater experience and help the spread of Home Theater Sickness. However there are some steps that you can take to assure that your results at home are much closer to what you desire. You are about to find out some things about home theater that electronics retailers definitely don't want the "Home Theater Newbie" to know.
You should first read, read and then read some more on what video displays, digital surround audio systems and playback devices are currently available for the home theater enthusiasts. Fortunately there are many web sites dedicated to home theater audio and video systems where you can find preventative medicine for Home Theater Sickness. Do a Google search for AVS Forums and Audioholics for a wealth of knowledge from people who are experienced in the home theater scene. Another great and very informative web site is right here -- Home Theater Systems Advice -- one that I am of course partial to as I personally host this site and share my accumulated knowledge for free. Reading a LOT of information will lessen the chances that what you buy is not what you were expecting.
Only after reading up on the available video and audio devices you should take a "field trip" to your local electronics store. Major chains such as Best Buy are good places to do field research however there are factors of which you should be aware of there as well. First off -- finding a knowledgeable salesperson to assist you can be a chore in itself -- so find one who seems to be smart (perhaps ask a few telling questions using terms you have learned from your reading and reading) and use him/her as an assistant. Be polite and inquisitive yet keep in mind that the salesperson is working on commission and may try to "up-sell" you along the way. Stay focused on your goal of researching what you have learned from your reading. Do not be influenced by a young salesperson whose previous job may have been working at McDonald's flipping burgers and who could possibly be a silent carrier of "Home Theater Sickness".
It would be a good idea to take along a favorite DVD or Blu-ray disc with which you are very familiar and see how it looks on your selected TV models. Politely ask the salesperson to connect a Blu-ray player straight to the TV so as to bypass any signal issues due to the fact that TVs in electronics stores are usually being fed a signal from a central point such as a DVD player and that one source is distributed (often poorly) throughout the store. Also you should ask to adjust the set's brightness, contrast and color to your personal preferences as they are often set to emphasize chroma (color), luminance (brightness) or detail (sharpness). Use the TV's remote as that is how you will interface with your new set and you should determine if the remote and image control menus are easy to navigate.
Another basic tip is to make sure the video display (TV) you are getting is a trusted brand name. Although not totally fool-proof -- trusted brands such as Sony, Panasonic and Samsung have stricter manufacturing quality control practices that will reduce the chance of getting a poorly produced set from their production line.
Use your field trip(s) to familiarize yourself with the qualities of the sets in which you are interested. Then shop online to compare prices as the "brick and mortar" electronics stores rarely provide the best available prices -- you can sometimes save upward of a thousand dollars (depending on the size of your purchase - of course) through online retailers such as Amazon.
Also you should make sure that the video sources that you have at home are capable of displaying high quality video and audio. No matter how good a TV and surround system you purchase, an old VHS tape or SD cable signal will not do it justice and will definitely produce symptoms of Home Theater Sickness. At least feed your set a signal from a progressive scan DVD player, HD digital satellite or HD digital cable or better yet a full 1080p Blu-Ray high definition signal. Also an Over-the-Air (OTA) high definition TV signal is one of the better signals to feed your new HD TV as in most cases the OTA signal is far less compressed than most HD satellite or cable signals.
With regard to digital surround sound there are as many numerous factors to consider. Number one -- avoid off-brand systems boasting huge power. That power is usually the PMPO rating which is a deceiving way of rating poorly powered systems and those units usually have a high degree of Total Harmonic Distortion (THD). Stick with total RMS power measurements and only consider units with a published THD of .1 or preferably less -- .05 is a very good THD rating.
A/V receivers should have component and HDMI inputs (if your TV or DVD is so equipped and it probably should be) and switching should be present. Other basic needs for an A/V receiver is both optical and coaxial digital inputs for legacy (older) component connection flexibility. Yamaha, Onkyo and Pioneer are my favorite manufacturers of receivers. Klipsch, JBL, Yamaha and Energy are excellent brands of speakers.
Then you should consider the amount of clean power (referring to RMS and THD) available. Your powered subwoofer should have the most power of all your speakers -- nearly twice as much as your surround speakers. Remember that a system's loudness is determined by the audio perception level ratio wherein a doubling of power equals one unit of perceived increase in loudness. Therefore a 200 watt system is only perceived as a bit louder than a 100 watt system. In most cases a system with 100 to 150 watts will be fine for all but the largest of rooms.
You may also want to take into consideration network connectivity of your new TV or Blu-ray player. Most new TVs and BD players and some AV receivers offer internet/network connectivity and streaming of video from services such as Netflix, Hulu and Youtube or music streaming services such as Pandora. If you are interested in such functionality you will need to make sure they are available on your desired device.
3D TV is a whole 'nuther story and if you are interested in that you may first want to check out my thoughts at Is 3D TV a Fad or the Future? If you are still interested in jumping on the 3D bandwagon after reading that, you will need to make sure each component of your system is 3D capable -- from display to cabling.
There are many more factors to consider when selecting a home theater system with which you will be satisfied and happy -- unfortunately they are too numerous to delineate herein -- that's why entire websites (such as this one -- Home Theater Systems Advice) are dedicated to demystifying the many factors related to home theater systems. Again I urge you to read, read and read some more as the more you educate yourself the more likely you will make an informed purchase. Do yourself a favor and seek knowledge -- it will save you time, money and hopefully help prevent the spread of Home Theater Sickness.
A Goofy Way to Select a Home Theater System
If you've read this far down the page you may be ready for some comic relief. Take a few minutes to watch this funny animated short which Disney Pictures created in a classic 2D look. It was shown in theaters before the National Treasure Book of Secrets movie. It's hilarious and follows Goofy's antics while buying and wiring a new TV and sound system. Take a moment to look and laugh at -- Goofy's Home Theater Cartoon.