Audio System Buying Guide

Surround sound is a part of the home entertainment experience. Whether you’re watching a movie on Blu-ray, playing your favorite video game or just watching live TV, you need a surround sound audio system to get the true experience.

You have a lot of choices when designing an audio or home theater system. Selecting the right audio and home theater system--with all the right features and connections-- may seem confusing, but with the information provided here you’ll find it easy to design the perfect system.

Just follow these four steps:

1. Pick a System Type

There are three main types of audio or home theater systems:
● All-In-One System Good. Often referred to as a “home theater in a box,” these systems combine all audio system functions, plus a DVD or Blu-ray player into one component. They are often packaged with matching speakers.

● Component System Better. Consists of an A/V receiver that controls system volume, audio and video inputs, surround sound processing and amplification, plus separate source components (like a stand-alone Blu-ray player) and speakers.

● High-Performance System Best. A high-performance system will use a separate pre-amp, surround processor and amplifier in place of the A/V receiver, plus source components and speakers.
Here’s a breakdown of all three types

2. Find the Right Speakers

Finding an audio system with the right features will ensure you can connect and playback all of your entertainment sources. Consider what types of content you'll want to play and what source components you already own. Be sure to check out the following:

● How many inputs and outputs do I need? Enough for your existing components, like Blu-Ray player, game console and Cable Box, and room to add a few more. Ideally you’ll want three or more HDMI inputs.
● Which surround sound formats do I need? For Blu-Ray and HDTV you'll need at least Dolby® Digital. For Blu-ray movies, look for a receiver that can decode the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio high-resolution formats found on most Blu-ray discs.

● How many channels do I need? For a basic home theater setup you need at least a 5.1 channel system (five full range channels and a LFE, or subwoofer, channel). To get the most out of Blu-ray titles, you’ll want a 7.1 (or higher) setup.

● Do I need video switching? Video switching lets you connect all of your components (Blu-ray player, cable box, etc.) to the home theater receiver and then use it to conveniently select which device plays on the TV screen and through the speakers. The primary advantage is ease of use. For Blu-ray Disc players and other high-definition sources, you will want to look for HDMI video switching capability.

3. Get Surround Sound

Blu-Ray and DVD movies, HDTV programming and video games all offer surround-encoded content. To get the full surround sound experience, you'll need: ● Surround Sound Content The movie, game, show, etc. must be presented in one of the 5.1 or higher surround sound formats (e.g., Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio)

● Speakers and Setup You need at least six speakers – left, center, right, left surround, right surround and subwoofer – properly placed.

● The Right Connection You'll need a digital connection, like an HDMI or a coaxial or optical digital audio cable, between your source (e.g., DVD or Blu-ray player) and A/V receiver.

4. Decide Whether to Upgrade or Integrate You may already own a receiver or stereo components and wonder if you can build a home theater system around it. In order to get the full experience from all of your home entertainment content, you’ll want an A/V receiver with at least these features:

● At least one digital audio input
● Dolby® Digital or DTS® 5.1 surround sound processing
● A multi-channel amplifier (five full-range channels or more)

Once you know your choices of audio systems and their key features, how to maximize your music and entertainment and get surround sound, and upgrade/integrate considerations, it’s a lot easier to identify which system or components will best meet your needs.

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