How to choose the Best Home Theater Video System

How to choose the Best Home Theater Video System

Home theater TV sets and projectors have become more affordable in recent years. These days, it’s easier than ever to find a decent home theater system that won’t break the bank. If cost is not too much of a concern, then what features would determine the best Home Theatre Video System? That really depends on several factors given the various options available. One’s room configuration and personal preferences in terms of video experience also need consideration.

Whether you are looking for a new TV, projector, screen, or looking to add to your existing setup, it’s important to know how to choose the right equipment. By right equipment we mean a setup that will work best with your room configuration and the personal home theater experience you are seeking.

In this post, we demystify the technical aspects of each component that make up the whole home theater experience so awesome. By the end of this post, you should be able to make an informed decision about how to go about choosing the right theater video equipment based on your personal preferences.

In order to not get caught up in the technical jargon, this post explains the different technologies in simple terms. All so you have the know-how and tools to then choose and decide what would work best for you.

What you need to know about TV Sets

We’ve all come across these terms; LED, LCD, Plasma or OLED. Without getting too technical, here are the differences in simple terms.

The type of TV you choose depends largely on the kind of room lighting you’ll be watching it.

For instance, Plasma or OLED are recommended for a dark or dimly lit room. With a high price tag, OLED TVs offer the best picture quality available. When choosing OLED TVs make sure you choose the right TV for the room it will be placed in as they are not always as bright as LCD/LED TVs.

LED or LCD is recommended in a brightly lit room as well as matte screens for their ability to reduce reflections.

LED or OLED are recommended in normal lighting conditions.

What is OLED Technology?

OLED or Organic Light Emitting Diode is a technology that lights up each individual pixel displayed on a screen independently. This allows for uniform lighting from edge to edge thus reducing hot spots should the screen be dark.

OLED pixel-by-pixel lighting technology provides deep, rich blacks and dazzling whites that can live right next to each other on the screen. This means every scene on the screen displays an amazing degree of detail.

OLED technology should not be confused with the actual number of pixels on a screen. OLED TVs are thin and light. They consume less energy than LCD/LED TVs.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Content

All your contents whether it’s delivered by cable, satellite, antenna, a streaming service or Blu-ray disc will be displayed in very high picture quality on an HDR TV screen.

In addition, a wide range of contents from Netflix, YouTube, Fandango Now and others are available in HDR video quality. 4K Blu-ray players and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs that support HDR technology are other ways to view HDR content on an HDR enabled TV.

HDR technology provides an exceptionally wide color range for the TV or projector to display.

HDR displays should be easy to detect as they come with enhanced picture contrast; making dark colors much darker and bright colors much brighter (one of the most determining factor in a good picture). Similarly, shadows display more depth.

4K Ultra HD TVs

With a screen resolution of 2160p, 4K TVs, also known as Ultra High Definition (UHD, ultra HD), 4K Ultra HD TVs offer the best resolution available on the market. It delivers 4 times the resolution of a 1080p High Definition TV.

In other words, 4K Ultra HD TVs allow for more pixels to be viewed on the TV screen.

Almost all 4K Ultra HD TVs currently on the market play High Dynamic Range (HDR) content. HDR, as mentioned above, enhances each pixel on the screen to provide an even better quality picture.

High Definition or HDTVs

Full HD or 1080p TVs allow you to watch full HD content, Blue-Ray movies, all TV content with their highest level of detail. The most affordable option is 720p HD TVs which allows you to watch TV shows and DVD content at HD picture quality.

Screen Size matters

Most people with big screens do not complain about their screen being too big. However, many would complain to the contrary, that they wished they went for a bigger screen.

The good news is the size of the bezel (the outside edge that wraps around the screen) has become much thinner in recent years. A new 60” thin-bezel screen has roughly the same dimension as an old 55” TV.

Screen size is directly dependent on the size of your room, how far away you’ll be sitting, and the type of entertainment experience you prefer.

65″ or Larger

These work great in a dedicated home theater or media room and provide for a completely immersive visual experience.

50″–64″ class

These large TVs provide for a comfortable and immersive experience within big living rooms.

33″–49″ class

These TVs can work extremely well within average-sized living rooms and most bedrooms.

32″ class and smaller

These TVs are great for bedrooms, dorms, kitchens and casual viewing areas.

The minimum viewing distance determines the TV Screen ideal size

 For a 1080p TV, the size of the screen is half the minimum distance you’ll sit from the TV set. So for a 10 feet (120 inches) minimum sitting distance (from the TV set), that would mean a 60-inch class TV would be an ideal choice.

This ratio changes for 4K Ultra High Definition TVs. Because of the increased resolution, the recommended ideal viewing distance is between 1.0 and 1.5 times the screen size. So, if you bought a 50-inch TV, the ideal distance would be between 50 to 75 inches away and still maintain a clear picture.

Maximum Viewing Distance for a TV Set

The minimum viewing distance is doubled. For example, a 60-inch class TV with a 10 feet minimum, the maximum viewing distance would be roughly 15 feet.

These are not hard and fast rules. They are guidelines based on what works best in most situations and for most people. Experiment with the placement of your own TV set and see what’s comfortable.

Best Home Theater Video Projector

If you want more screen size for your money compared to a TV set, a home projector would be a great option.

As far as entertainment goes, a home theater video projector is ideal for watching movies including 3D movies, sports, viewing photo slideshows, and playing video games.

Home theater projectors are great at simulating dark movie theater environment.

However, it requires a good control of the amount of light that enters the room to achieve that effect. This can be compensated by choosing a home theater projector with high brightness. A high-quality reflective screen to improve how the image is displayed (even in a partially or fully lit room) is also recommended.

Home theater formats come in three dimensions; Standard, Widescreen, and Cinemascope.

Standard (4:3 aspect ratio) is recommended for classic films or DVD-based television series.

Widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio) is recommended for HDTV, widescreen DVD, and Blu-ray formats.

Cinemascope (2.35:1 or 2.4:1 aspect ratio) is recommended for an immersive, theater-like experience at home. Cinemascope requires an anamorphic lens (a lens that stretches the image while maintaining proportions), 2.35:1 or 2.4:1 screen, and a projector with the proper scaling modes

Projector Image Size

Projector image size can be determined either the throw ratio (for permanently mounted projectors), or the lens zoom for more portable projectors.

Let’s look at both.

Projector Image Size – Throw Ratio

The throw ratio determines the width of the projected image in relation to the distance of the projector from the screen. For example, a 1.8:1 ratio will produce a 6-foot wide image by placing the projector 10.8 feet from the screen (6 feet x 1.8).

Before mounting the projector permanently, it is important to first calculate the throw ratio.

A short throw projector is suitable for a projector that needs to be mounted close to the screen.

The Projector Calculator below provides a guide for choosing various projectors based on maximum and minimum screen sizes and projection distances.

Projector Image Size – Lens Zoom

The lens zoom comes in handy when adjusting image screen size for portable projectors.

Projectors capable of projecting large image have greater lens zoom. For example, a 1.2x zoom creates an image up to 20% larger than the minimum size whereas a 2.0x zoom creates an image twice the minimum size.

The space you have available would determine which projector to choose. Either a permanently mounted projector where the image size is calculated by the throw ratio, or a portable one with lens zoom flexibility to adjust the image size irrespective of the distance the projector is placed from the screen. Lens zoom is not present in all projectors, especially not in the compact ones.

Keystone Correction and Lens Shift

Keystone correction is a technology that digitally adjust screen image in case the projector is installed at an angle other than exactly perpendicular to the screen.

Lens Shift does the correction mechanically by adjusting the lens by shifting it up, down or sideways.

Lens Shift retains 100% of the resolution in the projected image compared to Keystone Correction, making the Lens Shift a better option for correcting distortion (in case the projector is not installed perpendicular to the screen).

Generally, Lens Shift correction is available on high-end home theater projectors that are meant to be installed semi-permanently on the wall or ceiling.

Best Home Theater Projector Screen

The size of your projector screen (just like with TVs) will determine how far away you should sit for optimum viewing experience. The general rule of thumb for viewing distance is 1-1/2 times the screen diagonal for a 1080p HD projector and 1 time the screen diagonal for a 4K HD projector. For example, a 96-inch (8 feet) screen would require sitting about 12 feet from the screen. Once again, these are just ideal distances and there’s always room to experiment.

Next, you need to decide what type of screen to installed, either fixed, or retractable.

Retractable is a safe bet in a high-traffic area where someone could potentially bump into it and damage the screen. It can be controlled either manually pulled down, or have a motor built-in that allows you to press a button to roll it up. Motorized screens as you imagine would come at a cost but can be more convenient. In some cases you can wire your motorized screen to your projector and it will roll down when the projector is turned on.

Best Home Theater Projector Screen Material

The three main aspects to focus on when talking about screen material are, texture, gain, and color.

Screens can be either smooth or gritty. A 1080p Projector or less would work just fine with a smooth screen. A 4K Projector works best with a grittier screen. This allows more detail and depth to the higher resolution image.

Gain is the amount of light that’s reflected off the screen back at the viewer. A higher Gain means more light is going to be reflected, thus a brighter picture. But as Gain goes up the viewing angle goes down. This should be factored in the seating arrangement when determining the amount of Gain a screen has.

Screens are generally either white or some shade of gray. Gray screens can boost contrast and provide deeper blacks. A gray screen handles darker tones pretty well but won’t allow the picture to get quiet as bright. Gray screens are great for projectors that display brighter pictures. Gray screens are also great at handling ambient light as they won’t reflect as much – ideal in a room with natural light.

A white screen is generally going to display a brighter picture. But contrast between light a dark can suffer. White screen is a good choice for a projector that does not throw very bright pictures.

There are special, such as perforated screens that allow speakers to be placed behind them, or speakers meant for extra bright rooms.

Which Home Theatre Video equipment is better, TV or Projector?

There is no definite answer as that really depends on what the Home Theater is meant for.

If the goal is to experience visual display in a bright environment, then a TV set might be a better choice since its brightness is far better than a projector. Or, if the room setup is limited in size, then a large display through a projector might not work that well.

4K HDR contents are best viewed on a 4K enabled TV or Projector. Bear in mind that 4K HDR projectors are still far more expensive than 4K Ultra HD TVs.

So, it really depends on the end goal. Some may find that they could have the best of both worlds based on having access to a Home Theater dedicated Media Room while still having a 4K HD TV installed in the living room for instance.

In any case, you now have the tools and know-how to decide what’s best given your individual considerations.

Best Home Theater Connections Cable

For best performance, HDMI cables with a minimum bandwidth rating of 18Gbps is recommended for 4K and HDR content (4K Ultra HD TV). Using a high speed HDMI cable allows more bandwidth for streaming 4K HDR content while maintaining a high quality signal. This is especially important when cable between devices have to run long distances.

Home theater projectors on the market come with one or more HDMI inputs for cable or satellite box, Blu-ray player, gaming console and other devices.

It’s important to know beforehand how many devices you intend to cable-connect to the home theater projector. This will ensure the projector comes with the right number of HDMI inputs to accommodate all the devices.

For example, to connect a Blu-ray player, a gaming console and HD cable box to a home theater projector would require at least three HDMI inputs.

Conclusion

If you want the best price on the latest TV, wait until November or later during the year for better deals such as Black Friday and holiday price drops.

Chances are you’ll end up with a 4K TV should you decide to go for a medium or large size TV. It’ll most probably have HDR capability inbuilt as most 4K TVs these days. The good news is 4K HDR-enabled TVs or 4K Ultra HD TVs prices’ keeps dropping as the technology becomes more affordable over time.

All OLED TVs display in 4K Ultra High Definition but not all 4K TVs are OLED (look for the OLED callout when shopping). All OLED TVs feature high dynamic range or HDR.

When choosing a large TV set, take into account the size of the room it will be used in. Hanging the TV on the wall can add a few inches to a foot to your viewable distance depending on the type of wall mount and the thickness of the TV (most TVs are getting thinner these days).

Cheap HDMI cables normally work great unless you are running long cables or your system specifically calls for high-speed transfer rate such as playing 4K HDR content.

Don’t forget to have fun and experiment!

 

Check out the following related post on setting up your home theater system:

How to choose the Best Home Theater Audio System

 

Sources

  • How to buy a TV & Best Picture Quality TVs for 2018, CNET
  • High Dynamic Range TV Technology, Best Buy
  • Home Theater Buying Guide, Digital Trends

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