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Know this before you buy your home theatre

Do you really need a 10 speaker home theatre system?  There are four things you need to know before you make a decision that is very hard to change once installed.

The other day a guy at a well known national hi-fi store was trying to convince me I needed a 9.1 speaker system (that’s a total of 10 speakers).  This included 9 ridiculously expensive speakers, and a sub woofer the size of box of crownies.  Could I really tell the difference from the cheaper systems?  Well, to be honest, ‘yes I could’.  The sound in the store’s testing lounge was amazing - the system the guy was pushing was great, but I am not sure it was $2,900 greater than the other one that I really liked.

Home cinemaWhen you renovate or build your own home, a typical focus is the home theatre.  Before you go out and spend up big on a state-of-the-art system consider what is really important and practical for your home theatre project.

There are essentially four things you need to know:

(1)  There is a limit to the quality of sound for your house.  Your house is not likely to have the perfect acoustics of the testing lounge at the hi-fi store.  The acoustics are destroyed by the shape of the room, the building materials used, and the furnishings.  Therefore you do not really benefit from ridiculously expensive speakers.  For most people, the mid-price-range speakers maximise the sound quality of the room anyway - the main consideration is more likely to be style and look of the speakers.

(2)  Concetrate your speaker budget on the centre-speaker and sub-woofer.  The centre-speaker is responsible for about 75% of the audible sound for a typical sports programme, and the sub woofer generates the really deep sounds that make it feel like a jumbo just flew over your lounge room.  This is where you should concentrate your speaker budget.  The front left and right speakers are important for music lovers that like to sit in the centre of the room.  The rear and surround speakers have low volume and no where near the output requirement of the main speakers.

(3)  Future proof with a decent receiver/amplifier and cables – the extra cost is not that much these days if you shop around.  You might not use all the speaker channels of a decent amp, but there are a few features that can help to ‘future proof’ your house:  (1) A 'network' plug is imporant so that you can plug into the home PC network to source internet radio and TV and share all your music and video files; (2) Compatibility with HDMI version 1.4 is required for 3D TV and Internet Smart TVs; and (3) consider at least 2 x HDMI outputs if you want to control 2 TVs or a TV and a projector

(4)  Hide the wires and equipment – there are simple ways to hide the ugly cables and the myraid of equipment that you connect to your TV (amplifier, CD player, DVD player, Foxtel, Media box, games console etc).  Use in-wall cables and wall plates to tidy up all the wiring.  Put all equipment in a cupboard or cabinet and control them with an infra-red repeater.  What's that you say?  An IR repeater simply takes your remote control's signal and transmits it into the cupboard to your equipment.

But we can all be accused of being audiophiles when you compare what we expect now to what was the bees knees even 10 years ago.  I think technology has caught up with our ears rather than our ears have become more finely tuned.  But will it keep getting better?  Our view is it doesn’t need to.

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