Hi-Def Entertainment

Through 2008 and early 2009 I did a lot of research regarding a high-defintion entertainment system to install as a part of a major home remodel. Since completing that system I've had a lot of questions about what I went with and why I chose it. Here you will find the results of my research and the decisions that went into what I bought. Hopefully this will help you with your own design, purchase, and installation decisions.

Click on the pictures below to find out what components were chosen and the factors driving those choices.

Center Speaker
Subwoofer Front Speaker Television Front Speaker Subwoofer
Blu-ray Player Receiver Subwoofer Amplifier
DVR Home Theater PC
 
Surround Speaker Furniture Surround Speaker
Surround Speaker Surround Speaker

My system had some allowances and constraints which drove the overall design. The basement was going through a total remodel, so the ceiling and walls were totally exposed. This allowed me to make any needed structural changes and run any wires needed. The end result was no exposed wires running on the walls or ceiling. Everything is hidden. On the other side, the room is note dedicated to the home theater so the system has to share space with other furniture, doors to utility spaces, and a fireplace. The suggestions contained here do not involve building the ultimate home theater system, but a system which can work in your home. 


Television

The focus of your attention, you want a TV which gives you the best possible quality.  Sony and Samsung have become the leaders in the large flat screen TV market.  Sony's Bravia XBR line has been their top of the line for several years.  At the time I was buying, the XBR9 series was Sony's current state of the art in non-LED lighted televisions.  With features such such as a 240Hz refresh rate, wide color capability, and Internet media connectivity the XBR9 is an amazing TV.  Moving forward into 2010, Sony is changing to a new nomenclature for their Bravia televisions.  For the latest and greatest Sony TV out there look fo rthe Sony "NX800 Series" models.


Receiver

If you want big sound you need a way to get that sound out to your speakers.  A receiver acts as the hub of your home theater system.  The source devices feed sound and video to the receiver.  The audio is amplified and sent to the speakers.  The video is sent on to the televsion.  You will need a receiver which handles the types of input you need and can drive as many speakers as you choose to install.  Some receivers can convert between analog (composite or component video) and digital (HDMI or DVI).  If you have any older gear which only puts out analog video you will want this conversion feature if your new TV is using HDMI.  To stay with a consistent system I went with Sony for my receiver.  Although I went with the DG1100, I would now recommend the DN1000 for someone building a new system who didn't want to spend the extra money for Sony's "ES" line of products.


Blu-ray Player

For the state of the art in movie watching you have to go with Blu-ray.  Standard DVD can't use the full resolution of today's 1080p televisions.  The Blu-ray format gives you higher definition, greater color depth, and more interactive features than DVD.  Blu-ray also supports "BD-Live", which combines access to Internet content with the recorded media.  Blu-ray came out victorious in the format war with the HD-DVD format.  Since then teh market has consolidated and now Blu-ray support is universal across the industry.  With the price of Blu-ray players down to what a DVD player cost just a couple of years ago, there is no excuse for not going the the latest technology.  My favorite here is the Sony S360, which is actually Sony's most economical player.


Digital Video Recorder

For live television a digital video recorder (DVR) is a must. Being able to watch what you want when you want, or being able to watch a show later because it conflicts with what you want to watch now are both driving reasons to have a DVR.  Most DVRs these days have dual tuners, which means that it can record two shows at once or allow you to watch one live show while another is recording.  These DVRs will also usually allow you to watch a recorded show while two other shows are recording.  Unfortunately, the DVR your cable company provides is likely not the best you can do. Having used different incarnations of the TiVo going back to 2000, I can't recommend them highly enough.  The TiVo Premier is more than just a DVR, it is a full media access point combining cable television with Internet streaming in one package.


Home Theater PC

A Home Theater PC (HTPC) is not for everyone. Pre-built systems tend to be constrained. To have a HTPC which really reflects your desires you have to build it yourself. This is not for the faint of heart. If you are brave enough to build your own system, you can have something which will really compliment your home theater.


Front Speakers

Most of your sound comes from the front. To get that sound you'll want good quality speakers up front.  Left, right, and center channels should be at the front of the room.  My setup is using speakers mounted inside the wall but you can go with in wall, wall mount, or free standing speakers.


Surround and Back Speakers

Movies and many TV shows these days have surround sound. These speakers make you feel like you are inside the show rather than watching from outside. The surround and back speakers are not as important as the front speakers.


Subwoofer and Amplifier

For those deep, deep sounds you'll want a subwoofer.  In my case I went with two, one in each front corner of the room.  Being that in wall subwoofers are usually passive (don't have a built-in amplifier) you'll need an external amplifier to drive them.


Furniture

Where you sit is nearly as important as what you watch. You won't enjoy the show if you are not comfortable.  Depending on the size of the room, and the size of your viewing audience (also known as a family)  you can go from as small as a lounge chair all the way up to multi-tier seating.


Cables

More is not always better. Pick the right cables and you'll be happy without spending a lot of extra money.  Even though you may only have a few components, you will be amazed at how many cables it takes to hook everything up. 


HDMI Control

Did you know that your TV can tell your receiver to change volume? Did you know that your Blu-ray player can ask the receiver and TV to turn on and the receiver change inputs to the Blu-ray player? This is all possible with HDMI-CEC (Consumer Electronics Control).