ScreensMost people shopping for an HTPC usually
have their own screen already, but if you're shopping for a complete new home
cinema setup, a wonderful array of choice is now available. Everyone has their
own preferred TV brand, and trying to convince, for example, a Panasonic fan to
buy a Samsung TV is a tough sell. Fortunately, all the major manufacturers are
currently offering some excellent products; it just comes down to picking
something you like the look of. Make sure the TV you choose has enough HDMI
ports to accommodate all the devices you need, and also try to get a model that
features some form of 'Smart' technology. Most high-end TVs now have the
facility to be added to your home network, enabling web browsing, internet TV
and direct streaming of video content stored on a NAS or home server.
2012 Samsung Smart TV CES 2012 Samsung Smart TV
The first thing you should use to narrow
down your options is the screen size. The impulse is to always pick the largest
screen you can, but in reality you should pick one appropriate for your viewing
distance. If you're sitting only a few feet away from the TV, having a 60"
monster isn't going to be the right choice. Standard-definition material in
particular will look horrible on a screen that's too big for your seating
You should also try to audition a TV before
you purchase it. Be sure to check the standard-definition quality of the screen
as well as its performance with HD material. It's very easy to make a
demonstration look spectacular using all-HD material, but a screen's ability to
convincingly upscale SD is arguably even more important; after all, the vast
majority of TV shows are still broadcast at the normal PAL resolution of 576p.
Another thing to check is how the set
you're considering deals with fast action sequences. This is particularly
important if you watch a lot of football or other sports. It's a good idea to
bring your own demo disc in as well - if the store you're looking at doesn't
let you test it, find somewhere else that will. We've found the staff in John
Lewis and Richer Sounds particularly helpful when it comes to letting you
audition the different features of their sets!
It's easy to be blown away by the new
ultra-slimline bezel-free LED televisions, but you need to make sure that these
great aesthetics haven't come at the expense of quality. We've seen some cheaper
ultra-slim models suffer terribly from backlight bleed and clouding, both of
which can be very distracting when watching films with extended darker scenes.
You should also make sure the TV you're looking at has the option to turn off
features like dynamic contrast and frame interpolation. These features help TVs
to stand out from the crowd in shops, but when you get your new prize home,
you'll want to turn them off for a proper cinema experience.
If you have the space for it, you may want
to consider a projector rather than a television. 1080p projectors can be had
for less than $1600 now and allow you to enjoy your films on a gigantic screen
size of six foot or more across. Auditioning projectors is much more difficult
than televisions because of their need for a darkened room and plenty of space.
Along with image quality, it's vital you choose a projector that operates
quietly. All too many projectors emit extremely annoying fan noise in order to
keep the bulb cool, which can greatly diminish your viewing pleasure. For that
reason, make sure you buy your projector from a firm with a good returns
policy; it's worth paying a few extra pounds up front for good service, in case
you're not 100% happy with your purchase!
Although ultra-slim televisions look
superb, one of the biggest losses has been sound quality. You simply can't get
good quality sound without having sizable drivers (speaker cones), which means
the audio experience provided by modern televisions will disappoint those
upgrading from older, bulkier models. It's therefore essential that you factor
in a decent discrete speaker setup for your home cinema setup. If you're going
to be using you HTPC for almost everything, then you can invest in speakers
designed for PCs rather than home cinema setups. These are usually a little
cheaper, and provided you invest in a good-quality set, they can still sound
exceptional. If you plan on using multiple devices, you should invest in a
speaker setup with a built-in HDMI AV receiver, or go down the 'separates'
A receiver will allow you to plug your HTPC
and other devices into the receiver, which then passes video through to the
television and audio to the speakers. You will invariably get much better sound
quality by going for separates rather than an all-in-one option, and this will
give you much greater flexibility when it comes to future upgrades as well,
because the receivers that come bundled with most surround speaker sets are
only compatible with the speakers they're sold with.
If you do go down the separates route,
Onkyo and Yamaha are now arguably the two best manufacturers of AV separates.
Denon's gear has unfortunately diminished in quality relative to the
competition in recent years. When it comes to speakers, it's hard to beat Wharfdale
from a price/performance perspective. The Diamond 9.0, for example, costs just
$63.92 a pair and sounds extremely impressive for the money. Even cheap
bookshelf speakers like these will blow you away if you're accustomed to using
the speakers built into your TV!