Storage, Screens And Sounds (Part 3)

6/26/2012 11:26:58 AM


Most 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.

Description: CES 2012 Samsung Smart TV CES 2012 Samsung Smart TV

CES 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 position.

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!

Description: Screens

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!


Description: Speakers

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' route.

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!

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