Home theater made easy! Dolby Digital, DVD, A/V glossary, FAQs, and more!
The Crutchfield Guide to Home Theater
The Magic of Home Theater
Dolby Digital, Pro Logic & DTS Surround Sound
Sound that surrounds you
Dolby Digital
Dolby Pro Logic
DTS (Digital Theater Systems)
What You Need For Home Theater: An Overview
What You Need: Dolby Surround Sources
DVD players
DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite)
What You Need: A Dolby Digital Receiver
What does the preamplifier section do?
What does the amplifier section do?
The separates option
What You Need: A TV
Digital television
What You Need: 5 Speakers and a Subwoofer
Main speakers
Center channel speaker
Surround speakers
Powered subwoofer
Satellite/subwoofer option
Home Theater Anywhere: More Options
Complete home theater systems
Home theater shelf systems
Surround sound from your PC
Portable DVD players
Planning Ahead: Speaker Placement
Placing your main speakers for optimum performance
Placing your center channel speaker
Placing your surround speakers
Placing your subwoofer
Planning Ahead: More Resources
Before you buy
Frequently Asked Questions
Dolby Digital
Dolby Pro Logic
A/V receivers
Glossary of Terms
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Fourth edition, revised 5/00. All rights reserved.
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The Magic of Home Theater
We all know how movie theater magic comes to
life. The gorgeous, vivid images on the screen
are enhanced by the impressive, enveloping
audio. From the faint chirping of crickets in the
background, to the crackle and boom of a
thunderstorm, to the resounding roar of a
spaceship rumbling into view, it is the sound that
draws you into the action on-screen and holds
you there.
Now, home theater systems make the same
experience possible in your own living room.
The detail and precision of surround sound
enhance the picture, and make even your 27"
television loom large. The result is stunning,
three-dimensional sound, complete with the
detailed special effects and imaging that you find
in a theater. When that tornado tears across the
screen, you’ll feel like it’s passing through the
room, too — the winds will howl right past you,
and far behind your right shoulder, you’ll hear
the “crash!” of a tractor hitting a barn.
Transform your room into a cinema!
Home theater is now so popular that it can be
both easy and inexpensive to achieve. Whether
you want to build an entire home theater system
from scratch or add to your existing components,
the options are plentiful. This guide is designed
to answer your questions about home theater and
give you an idea of what is involved. We also
hope that you’ll be able to identify what you,
personally, need for great home theater. Some
helpful things to think about are:
1) Which new technologies appeal to you the
most? (Remember, home theater doesn’t
mean having every component on the
market! You can pick and choose.)
2) What components do you already own?
(Some may be ready for home theater now.
You can always mix and match to create a
3) Are you thinking of replacing any old
components? (If so, now might be the time
to upgrade.)
Before we get into DVD players, A/V
receivers, and other A/V gear, let’s take a look at
Dolby Digital, and the concepts and technology
behind surround sound.
Dolby Digital, Pro Logic & DTS
Surround Sound
Boom! Just seeing that word on the screen is not
too startling, by itself. But if someone whacked a
bass drum a few feet away from your chair,
you’d jump! It’s the same story when you replace
the sound from those tiny speakers in your TV
with wraparound home theater sound.
George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars
and a master of movie excitement, has said,
“Sound is 50% of the experience. If you don’t
have a good sound system, you cut the
experience dramatically.”
The key word here is “experience.” Add
realistic sound to whatever’s on the screen
(a movie, TV show, video game, concert, or
ballgame) and suddenly you’re no longer just
watching — you’re experiencing! Two-dimensional images become three-dimensional events.
TV and movie viewing is transformed into a
senses-grabbing cinematic experience, letting
you enjoy the sights, sounds, and power of the
movie theater in the comfort of your home.
Sound that surrounds you
When stereo was developed, music lovers who
had only experienced mono were in heaven.
Imagine one muddy channel of sound — the
kind you’d find on an old-fashioned transistor
radio — being replaced with 2 distinct channels!
Suddenly, familiar recordings offered greater
clarity and precise detail.
Now imagine the same kind of change taking
place when it comes to watching a video.
Although a movie soundtrack can be played
through your regular stereo speakers, or just
through the speakers built into your television,
imagine the clarity and precision possible with
multiple speakers surrounding you! Just like a
movie theater, which uses lots of speakers to
engulf you in sound, Dolby® Surround uses several carefully placed speakers to achieve the
same effect — right in your own living room!
past you, then slowly fade away in the distance
to your right.
Dolby Surround comes in two flavors, Dolby
Digital and Dolby Pro Logic, that add
excitement and immediacy to every scene. Dolby
Digital has rapidly become the standard for great
home theater surround sound. What’s more, it’s
widely available. You can find the Dolby Digital
logo on thousands of DVDs, and it is the chosen
audio format for HDTV (see pg. 14 for more
information on HDTV). Read on to find out all
about why Dolby Digital 5.1-channel sound has
taken the world by storm.
Dolby Digital
Introduced in movie theaters in 1992, Dolby
Digital is simply a digital form of encoding
audio data, which ensures accurate reproduction
of sound. The fact that Dolby Digital is digitally
encoded means that it can be stored and sent as a
digital signal — and digital signals are not prone
to degradation the way analog signals are. As a
result, it was chosen as the standard audio format for DVDs and
High-Definition Television
(HDTV) — a guarantee that it
has a future.
The accuracy and flexibility
of Dolby Digital have resulted in
the development of Dolby Digital
5.1-channel surround sound.
5.1-channel surround is a much
newer system than Dolby Pro
Logic, but it has quickly established itself as the preferred
format. It offers top-notch audio
precision and depth, and much
clearer dialogue than other
surround formats or regular TV
listening. As a result, even
though it can take the form of
stereo, even mono, sound, Dolby
Digital is often simply referred to
as a “5.1-channel” system.
In 5.1-channel sound, there
are five full-range (3-20,000Hz)
Movie Theater
channels of sound, for impressive
depth and precision. Two channels offer full-range stereo sound
Turn your living room into a movie theater, with surround sound that
in left and right front speakers
re-creates the cinema experience!
(your regular stereo speakers can
Whether they’re tiny speakers (called satelfit this bill). A third channel plays through the
lites) that hide away discreetly on shelves, or
center channel speaker (usually positioned right
large, floor-standing tower speakers, you hear
above or below the television’s screen, so
details you never dreamed were there. A multidialogue seems “attached” to the faces on the
channel soundtrack can even convey the impresscreen). The last two full-range, stereo channels
sion of movement — so as a horse gallops across of sound are sent to surround speakers, creating
the screen, you can hear its hoofbeats begin far
a spacious, ambient atmosphere and distinct
to your left, drum closer, seemingly thunder right special effects.
Dolby Digital Home Theater
front left
front right
subwoofer (low
frequency effects)
surround left
surround right
State-of-the-art “5.1-channel” Dolby Digital home theater surrounds you with six discrete channels of crystal-clear, dynamic digital audio. With 5.1-channel surround, your main, center and surround speakers are all
fed separate full-bandwidth information, for increased three-dimensionality and more precise localization of
sounds (it’s important to have surrounds capable of handling all this information). Dolby Digital decoding
also sends a channel of “low frequency effects,” which adds bass excitement and immediacy to a soundtrack.
The “.1” (or subwoofer) channel, with a
frequency range of 3-120 Hz, contains the
additional low bass information (also called low
frequency effects, or LFE) needed for the
optimum excitement and impact of movie scenes
involving explosions, crashes, and other
sensational effects. It is referred to as “.1”
because 3-120 Hz is a very limited amount of the
soundtrack’s frequency range.
On its way to your home theater, a
5.1-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack is
“squeezed” down to a single digital bitstream for
reproduction on DVDs and HDTV broadcasts.
Your Dolby Digital decoder then converts this
digital bitstream back to six discrete audio
channels for playback in your home theater.
Since all six channels are digital, they can be
transferred — without loss — from the movie
studio to your living room. This advanced home
theater technology delivers pristine detail,
incredible dynamic range and unparalleled sound
localization. It’s a significant improvement on
earlier surround formats like Dolby Pro Logic,
because the full-frequency stereo surround
speakers add more spacious ambience and
clearer off-screen effects, while the dedicated
subwoofer channel gives realistic bass impact to
the faintest rumbles and loudest roars.
To experience 5.1-channel Dolby Digital
sound, you need a DVD (many DVDs are encoded with 5.1-channel Dolby Digital — check to
see if the DVD case says “5.1” on the back
cover), a DVD player, an A/V receiver, and a
Dolby Digital decoder (either as a separate unit,
or built into the DVD player or A/V receiver).
You also need a complete home theater speaker
system and a TV. There are a variety of ways to
make connections between these different
How Dolby Digital Works
Dolby Digital DVDs,
digital TV
broadcasts, etc.
In a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack, all the sound elements (dialogue, sound effects, and music) are
encoded as six discrete channels of digital audio.
Dolby Pro Logic Home Theater
P R O • L O G I C
front right
front left
To re-create the realism and impact of the movie theater experience, Dolby Pro Logic home theater places
you in the middle of a three-dimensional soundfield. It’s a 4-channel system: (1) center channel for dialogue
and on-screen sound; (2&3) front left and right channels for sound that moves with the action; and (4) a
mono surround channel for ambience and effects.
components — just be sure, if you’re thinking of
adding to your system, that there are compatible
inputs and outputs on each component. The
digital audio connections you’ll be making will
probably use either an optical digital (or Toslink)
connection, or a coaxial digital connection. In a
few cases, DVD players with built-in Dolby
Digital decoding may let you run 6 analog
channels (the five full-range channels and one
limited channel of 5.1 audio) into a Dolby
Digital-ready receiver.
If you already have a substantial video library
full of Dolby Pro Logic sources, don’t worry.
Dolby Digital decoders are Dolby Pro Logic
decoders too — they automatically interpret
Dolby Pro Logic signals and play them in that
format, so upgrading to Dolby Digital doesn’t
make your other favorites obsolete. Now, we’ll
offer a quick overview of Dolby Pro Logic.
Dolby Pro Logic
Dolby® Pro Logic™ was the home theater
surround sound standard for years, and is still a
very common form of Dolby Surround. It’s the
decoding format needed when your video source
is a Dolby Surround-encoded videotape or stereo
TV broadcast.
Dolby Pro Logic is a four-channel system,
offering three channels of full-range sound in the
left front, right front, and center channel
speakers. A fourth (mono, not stereo) channel of
limited-bandwidth sound is shared by two
surround speakers, creating a spacious, ambient
atmosphere and engaging special effects.
To make all this happen, the movie soundtrack goes through a Dolby Surround encoder,
which “squeezes” four channels (left, right,
center, and surround) into two matrixed channels.
These channels are then stored on a videotape or
broadcast in the same (matrixed) stereo format.
How Dolby Pro Logic Works
Pro Logic
Really Good Movie
Dolby Surround-encoded A/V source material
With Dolby Surround Pro Logic, the 4-channel movie soundtrack is “squeezed” into 2 channels for stereo
VHS, cable, DBS and over-the-air broadcasting. A Dolby Pro Logic decoder separates it again.
Your A/V receiver’s Dolby Digital or Dolby
Pro Logic decoder converts the matrixed
two-channel signal back into four-channel
surround sound. The steering logic circuitry built
into the decoder precisely directs sound to the
appropriate channel, so each speaker plays the
sounds intended for its location.
The rear surround information passes through
a time-delay circuit before it reaches the surround
speakers, adding a sense of space, and making
off-screen sound effects seem distinct and realistically placed. Although this surround information
is mono, keep in mind that it’s necessary to use a
pair of speakers to achieve the intended surround
effect in your home theater. And remember —
even if Dolby Pro Logic can’t quite measure up
to the precision and intensity of Dolby Digital,
it’s still a great way to get surround sound out of
a number of home theater sources!
What’s the buzz about DTS?
Digital Theater Systems
(DTS) first appeared on the
scene in 1993, providing
commercial movie theaters
with a digital surround sound
alternative to Dolby Digital. Nearly 9000 theaters
worldwide support this format, and hundreds of
movies have been encoded for the cinema in
DTS. Now, DVDs with DTS encoding seem to
be gaining some momentum.
Like Dolby Digital, DTS offers a discrete
What you need for
1. AYouDolby
Surround source
need an appropriate component — like a DVD
player or satellite TV system — to pass Dolby®
Digital-encoded audio along to a decoder. Also,
thousands of movies and stereo TV broadcasts
feature multichannel Dolby® Surround audio ready
for Pro Logic decoding. You have a lot of choices.
See pg. 10 for more info on Dolby Surround sources.
2. ATheDolby
Digital receiver
Dolby Digital sound stored on DVDs must be decoded
into separate audio channels for playback through your
home theater speakers. Most new home theater receivers
have built-in Dolby Digital decoding; some are “5.1-ready”
with inputs for an external Dolby
Digital decoder (or DVD player with
built-in decoding); all have
built-in Pro Logic decoding. See pg. 12 for more
info on Dolby Digital
3. AInTVhome theater, your TV’s critical contribution is a sharp, natural picture
— and thanks to new technologies, TVs are better than ever. In addition,
you can use a stereo TV as a home theater sound source for Dolby
Surround-encoded TV broadcasts: just connect the TV’s audio outputs to
a receiver with Dolby Pro Logic decoding. See pg. 13 for more info on TVs.
multichannel soundtrack. However, DTS uses
less compression than Dolby Digital. As a result,
DTS soundtracks are believed by some to sound
slightly better than Dolby Digital soundtracks,
providing still finer sonic and surround detail.
There are drawbacks to DTS, though.
Because DTS uses less compression, it is difficult to fit lots of other features (like multiple
viewing options and languages) onto a DVD.
Additionally, even though many manufacturers
have incorporated DTS decoding into their
receivers and decoders, relatively few DTSencoded DVDs are available — as of May 2000,
fewer than 100 could be found. (However, there
are many DTS CDs available, offering impressive surround sound for music listening.)
Because of the vast amount of Dolby Digitalencoded software already on the market, and the
fact that it’s the standard for DVDs and HDTV,
we see Dolby Digital as the dominant home
surround sound format for the foreseeable future.
Remember that most DVD players are DTS-compatible, in that they will send the encoded signal
along to a receiver or decoder, but very few can
decode DTS. Many people choose to buy a
receiver or decoder with both Dolby Digital and
DTS decoding, for flexibility no matter what
happens. The most important thing to keep in
mind is that both Dolby Digital and DTS provide
superb digital sound.
home theater
4. and
Five speakers
a powered
To re-create the movie theater
experience, home theater
literally surrounds you with speakers:
a pair of front left and right speakers for
stereo soundtrack information and audio
that moves across the front soundstage;
a video-shielded center channel speaker
for dialogue and on-screen action;
and a pair of surround speakers
for ambience and effects. Dolby
Digital also calls for a
subwoofer: the added
deep bass makes the
entire soundtrack feel
larger and more lifelike,
and the special effects
will blow you away.
(It’s great for music too!)
See pg. 15 for more
info on speakers
and subwoofers.
What You Need
Dolby Surround
There are several primary source components
that figure prominently in today’s home theater
systems: DVD players, HiFi VCRs, and DBS
systems. As you read, keep in mind that you’ll
need at least one such video source to enjoy
home theater’s great picture and Dolby Surround
quizzes, and outtakes.
Along with all that information, DVD is also
the first home entertainment medium to include
state-of-the-art Dolby® Digital as its standard
audio format. And while some movies, like
Casablanca, retain their original mono soundtrack in an encoded Dolby Digital format, more
and more DVD titles offer outstanding
5.1-channel Dolby Digital.
Watching a movie on DVD is much more
convenient than using a VCR. A DVD player lets
you skip ahead or move back with the touch of a
button, just like a CD player. And when the
DVD players
If you really want to
experience how exciting
home theater can be, a DVD
player is a must. DVD is the
most popular high-quality
video format around. A
5-inch disc — the same size
as a music CD — can hold a
two-hour-plus movie with
picture quality that’s twice as
sharp as VHS tape. With up
A DVD/CD mega changer (like this 200-disc Sony) keeps your entire movie
to 500 lines of resolution,
collection and all your favorite music ready to play at a moment’s notice!
picture quality is also better
than laserdisc, which maxes
out at 425 lines, and far better than broadcast TV, movie’s over, you don’t have to wait for a tape to
rewind! DVD players aren’t able to change sides
which only manages 330 lines.
automatically, but luckily, out of the thousands of
A DVD can have information on both sides
of the disc. And because of the disc’s “sandwich” DVD titles available, nearly all can fit an entire
movie on a single side of the disc.
construction, it can even have two layers of data
All DVD players are “backwards-compatible”
per side! That’s a lot of room to store picture and
music CDs — they’ll play them perfectly!
sound information. The DVD format also offers
reviews have generally described
movie lovers amazing features that have never
the CD audio performance of DVD players as
been possible before. Many DVDs contain two
“outstanding.” On top of that, keep in mind the
versions of the movie on a single disc: one in
standard 4:3 aspect ratio for display on a regular increasing prevalence and flexibility of DVD.
DVD-ROM drives that will play regular DVDTV, and one widescreen version. The same disc
Video discs are now available on many computcan also include, for example, soundtracks in
ers. Several manufacturers also offer
multiple languages, with subtitles in English,
DVD/receivers that come with a full set of
French, and Spanish. Other common features
include director’s commentaries, actor bios, trivia voice-matched 5.1-channel surround speakers —
complete home theater systems that are extremely easy to set up. There are even a few portable
laptop-style DVD players on the market — a
DVD: A closer look
great solution for travelers! (For other home
theater solutions, see pgs. 17-18.)
If you already own a sizable laserdisc
collection, you may want to consider a
combination DVD/laserdisc player. (This is an
especially good idea if your current laserdisc
player lacks an AC-3 RF output for multichannel
Dolby Digital sound.) A combination player is
the easy way to enjoy Dolby Digital sound from
Compared to CD, DVD uses smaller data pits
DVDs and laserdiscs.
and more closely spaced pit rows.
At this point, having a DVD player and
Dolby Digital decoding is undoubtedly the way
to enjoy home theater at its best. There are
already thousands of movies available on DVD
(and around 200 more every month). Both major
video rental chains and privately owned video
stores have an increasingly large selection of
DVD rental titles — there are even Internet rental
services. And DVDs cost about the same as
videotapes, with a price range of $15 to $25.
If you can only afford one Dolby Surround
source right now, there are a few reasons why
you might choose a VCR over a DVD player:
1) By definition, players are playback-only;
to record off the TV or other video
sources, you need a VCR.
2) There are still more movies available on
videotape than on DVD.
Of course, the ultimate solution is to include
both a HiFi VCR and a DVD player in your
home theater system!
If you plan to do a lot of editing, a flying
erase head makes transitions between segments
cleaner, by erasing a portion of the tape a splitsecond before the new image is recorded. And if
you edit from your camcorder or a second VCR,
front-panel A/V inputs will make hook-up extra
quick and easy. Front-panel A/V inputs are also
convenient for connecting video game systems.
For the best possible analog video recording
quality, in an increasingly affordable package, go
Super VHS. With horizontal resolution of 400+
lines (compared to 240 lines for standard VHS),
S-VHS preserves the detail in high-resolution
sources like DBS (regular TV recordings look
better, too). Some brands offer Super VHS ET,
which lets you record with Super VHS quality on
standard tapes. And don’t worry, S-VHS models
also do a great job with those VHS movies from
the video store.
Now there’s even a digital alternative to a
VCR — a hard disk video recorder! This new
technology makes recording and watching TV
broadcasts easier than ever before. You can even
pause regular programming to get a snack, walk
the dog, or answer the phone, and then return to
your program where you left off — because
these recorders record everything you watch
while you watch it. They also work with a
programming service that adds loads of
innovative features.
You probably have a HiFi VCR at home — and
you’ll be glad to know it can be an integral part
of home theater. HiFi VCRs can work with
Dolby Pro Logic decoding to unlock rich,
wraparound surround sound (over 11,000 movies
are ready for Dolby Pro Logic playback). They
also let you record TV and DBS broadcasts for
later viewing (and they’re great for editing,
copying, and watching home movies you
make with your camcorder!).
In addition to HiFi stereo
sound (a must for home
theater), there are some other
basic features to consider when
selecting a VCR. One is the
number of video heads. Fourhead VCRs (as opposed to models with only two heads) offer
A Super VHS VCR, like the JVC above, offers all the recording and playback
improved special effects like
flexibility of a regular VCR, plus higher resolution for a clearer picture.
slow motion and freeze frame.
Without four video heads, slow
DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite)
motion is barely watchable and freeze frames are
Whether you want to see hundreds of movies
hardly ever still or clear. Fortunately, with the
from HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and The Movie
advance of video technology, four-head models
Channel, all your favorite teams’ games from the
are so inexpensive that two-head VCRs are
NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA, and NHL, a
practically a thing of the past.
wide range of concerts and other specials, or
If you plan to tape your favorite TV shows
even commercial-free, DJ-free digital music
when you’re not at home, VCRs with VCR
channels, you’ll find programming you like with
Plus+ simplify timer recording. Many VCRs
even include a controller to change channels on a Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS).
Along with all that variety, DBS is a great
cable box or DBS receiver.
source of home theater. First of all, it comes to
For ease of operation, consider a VCR with a
you with near-DVD-quality resolution (450+
multibrand remote control, for operating the
lines). On top of that, high-end DBS receivers
VCR and TV (and sometimes cable boxes or
can pass a Dolby Digital signal to your Dolby
DBS controllers) from other brands as well. A
Digital receiver! Also, many programs and
shuttle control improves the ease with which you
search through a video for the segment you want. virtually all movie channels are Dolby Surround11
encoded. And finally, some providers are now
broadcasting a DTV signal via DBS
(for more information on DTV,
see pg. 14). The bottom line?
DBS is an outstanding
source for sharp, accurate
images and wraparound
sound, allowing for even
more home theater
DBS systems like this JVC offer a flawless digital image,
great sound quality, and a wide variety of programming.
A DBS receiver connects to your TV just like
a VCR, but getting the signal into your home is a
little different from the cable TV or antenna
hookup you’re used to. A DBS system receives
its signals via an 18"-24" dish mounted outside
your home, aimed at a particular spot in the
southern sky, depending on where in the U.S.
you live (not everyone’s home is DBS-ready).
Popular mounting locations include roofs,
exterior walls, and decks. The dish is specially
designed to pick up the digital broadcasts from
high-power satellites orbiting 22,300 miles above
the planet. A coaxial cable runs from the dish,
into the house, and to the DBS receiver near your
TV. It’s the receiver’s job to convert the digital
video and audio signals into the picture on your
TV and the sound for your home theater system.
You just sit back and enjoy the vast amount of
programming beaming down to you.
What You Need
A Dolby Digital
In your home theater system, an A/V receiver
serves as the central component — both the brain
and muscle of the system. It has the complex
task of processing, switching, and amplifying the
various input signals from your source components (DVD player, VCR, DBS system, etc.).
Dolby Digital receivers include both Dolby
Digital and Dolby Pro Logic decoding for
unlocking the multichannel surround sound
hiding in videodiscs, videotapes, satellite and TV
broadcasts, etc. They also offer optical and/or
coaxial digital inputs for accepting the digital
audio signal from a DVD player.
Full-featured A/V receivers have at least two
video signal inputs, as well as separate inputs for
the accompanying audio. Instead of struggling to
connect several audio/video sources to your TV,
you can hook them up to your receiver, then run
a single video connection from your receiver to
your TV. When you want to watch movies on
your DVD player, just select the appropriate
video input, and the receiver does the rest! You
also get the flexibility of selecting and recording
both audio and video.
For convenience and flexibility, A/V receivers
combine a preamplifier, power amplifier(s), and
an AM/FM tuner in a single chassis. Most people
prefer this all-in-one design because it’s more
cost-effective and space-efficient than separates.
(You’ll find a more complete discussion of
separates on the next page.)
What does the “preamp” section do?
An A/V receiver’s preamplifier functions as the
control center of your entire home theater
system. This means providing the capability to
switch from one source to another, route the
signal between your components, and prepare the
signal to be boosted by the amplifier(s).
Common features you’ll find in an A/V
receiver’s preamp section are Digital Signal
Processing (including Dolby Digital and Pro
Logic surround decoding), soundfields for
enhancing movies and music, digital audio
inputs, and video inputs and outputs for video
What does the amplifier section do?
If a receiver’s preamplifier supplies the brains,
its amplifier section supplies the muscle. The
amplifiers actually deliver the power that drives
your speakers. The amount of power you’ll need
depends on several factors:
1) Speaker efficiency — High-efficiency
speakers need less power; low-efficiency
speakers require more power. Check your
speakers’ sensitivity rating.
2) Room size — Other factors being equal, if
your system is in a large living room,
you’ll need more power than if it’s in a
small den or bedroom.
3) Listening volume — The louder you like
to play your music and video soundtracks,
the more power you’ll need for clean
When it comes to amplifier power, having
more than you need is better than not having
enough. Overdriving an under-powered amplifier
can cause speaker drivers to distort — so if you
routinely play your receiver so loud that the
sound distorts, there’s a good chance that your
speakers (if not your ears) will be damaged. At
normal listening levels, an amplifier’s output
averages less than one watt — it’s usually about
⁄3 watt. The key word here is “average.”
Music is characterized by abrupt changes in
volume, or transients: the crash of a cymbal, the
blast of a brass section, or the kick of a bass
drum. To reproduce transients accurately may
require an amplifier to suddenly deliver several
hundred watts for a fraction of a second. (The
same applies to explosions, gunshots, etc. on
video soundtracks.) The more reserve power an
amplifier has, the better it will be able to cope
with these momentary demands, and the more
“live” the music or video soundtrack will sound.
your separates, as well as making all the necessary system adjustments, is more complex.
What You Need
Because the TV is the focal point of your home
theater, make sure that your TV does justice to
the picture quality of all your video sources.
Some older TVs just can’t measure up to the
standards associated with DVD — especially
TVs with only an RF input.
We also recommend that you
go with the largest screen your
viewing area can accommodate.
We’ve found a 27" screen to be
about the minimum for good
home theater performance,
although some smaller screens
are very effective in smaller
rooms. Keep in mind, though,
that the larger the screen, the
greater your comfortable viewing
distance will be. (See below for
some suggestions.)
Most audio/video receivers (like this Kenwood) now include Dolby
Really large images are more
Digital decoding. Thousands of films have been made using Dolby
visible from a distance away, so
Digital, many of which are available in 5.1-channel Dolby Digital on
they usually require fairly deep
DVDs for your home theater!
rooms for optimum visibility.
However, if your room is small, a giant
The separates option
projection TV will be overkill. And remember,
A/V receivers include a complete preamplifier
although the home theater systems you see
section with inputs and switching for your audio
advertised often include giant screens, it’s amazand video components plus built-in surround
ing how much bigger any screen image seems
decoding. They also offer built-in amplification
when you have a good surround sound system.
for main, center and surround channels, and an
AM/FM tuner.
An alternative to an A/V receiver is to build
Suggested TV Viewing Distances
your system with separates, which distribute a
receiver’s functions to different components
(preamp, power amp(s), and tuner). There are a
Minimum Viewing
TV Screen Size
wide range of A/V separates available, designed
specifically for home theater. You can choose
between separate surround processors, A/V pre72" away
24" TV
amp/processors, A/V tuner/preamp/processors,
and home theater power amps.
81" away
27" TV
Separates designers — not as concerned with
price and space constraints as A/V receiver
96" away
32" TV
designers — can be more generous with highquality parts, dedicated circuitry, and magnetic
108" away
36" TV
shielding. As a result, separates frequently offer
higher-quality performance, as well as more
One rule many people find useful is
flexibility, than an all-in-one receiver.
to multiply the screen size by three,
Of course, building a home theater with sepaand use the result as a guide for
rates requires more time, knowledge, and money.
how close to their TV they should sit.
You’ll need to make sure that all your gear is
The chart is based on this guideline .
compatible (A/V receiver manufacturers have
already done that work for you). And connecting
Digital television
Keep your eyes peeled!
Digital television, or
DTV, is the way our
future is heading.
Making use of digital
rather than analog
signals, digital TV is
aimed at achieving topquality resolution —
picture quality will start
at DVD-quality, 480line resolution and go
all the way up to 1080
lines of resolution!
Other exciting options
being discussed are
sophisticated interfaces
that will give viewers
point-and-click interactivity with the show
they’re watching, and
“datacasting” for
custom-tailored news
For home theater, we recommend a TV with direct audio/video inputs and
picture-enhancing technology like a digital comb filter.
feeds. The nation’s
largest television
For great home theater viewing, the following markets (and several DBS channels) are already
features are some of the most important:
broadcasting DTV to viewers able to receive it,
1) Direct audio/video inputs and outputs —
and cable TV providers have gotten on board too.
They provide hookup flexibility and clean
Within the two DTV categories, High
signal transfer. Especially useful are
Definition TV (HDTV) and Standard
S-video and component video. Both offer
Definition TV (SDTV), there are 18 different
much better picture quality than RCA
formats. But don’t worry — you don’t have to
patch cords (composite) or an RF input.
memorize all of them. Just remember that HDTV
DVD players have either an S-video
will bring you between 720 and 1080 lines of
output, a component video output, or both.
resolution, in a 16:9 aspect ratio (like a movie
They offer the most accurate delivery of
theater’s wider screen), while SDTV will offer
DVD’s high-resolution picture.
480 lines of resolution in either a 4:3 (traditional
2) Improved picture technology — Many TVs television screen) aspect ratio, or a letterboxed
now include very useful technology
16:9 aspect ratio. And one last thing to keep in
designed to clean up the images you see.
mind — HDTV uses Dolby Digital as its
Line doublers and other picture enhancestandard audio format. That means that from
ment technologies make the picture richer
some stations, you’ll be able to get crystal clear
and less grainy (Sony’s Digital Reality
images broadcast to your television, with Dolby
Creation actually enhances each pixel).
Digital stereo or even 5.1-channel surround
Digital comb filters help provide a clear
sound (for more on Dolby Digital, see pg. 5).
picture — they offer a significant reduction
If you’re looking for a new TV, however,
of jitter and dot crawl.
don’t think you have to run right out and find a
3) Flat screens — Increasingly, TVs are offer- digital one! Analog broadcasts will continue until
ing flatter screens, instead of the gently
at least the year 2006, and set-top decoder boxes
curved screen that was standard for the last are being created so people can receive digital
45 years or so. Flat-screen TVs reflect less
signals on analog TVs. “Hybrid” TVs are also
glare from windows or lamps, and many
being built, incorporating the best technology of
feel they give a more realistic, geometrical- traditional NTSC TVs and the digital capability
ly accurate picture. Some TVs have
needed for DTV. Just keep in mind the home
vertically flat screens (screens that are flat
theater possibilities of digital television, so you
from top to bottom and gently curved from
can make an informed decision.
side to side), while some are flat vertically
and horizontally.
What You Need
5 Speakers and a
Your speakers have the greatest impact on the
sound quality of your system. After all, the
speakers are what you actually hear. And no
matter how high the quality of your components,
they can only sound as good as your speakers.
That’s why your choice of speakers goes a long
way toward determining how your whole system
To re-create the movie theater experience in
the home, 5.1-channel Dolby Digital home
theater systems surround you with five full-range
speakers — a pair of mains, a center channel
speaker, and a pair of surrounds — and add a
powered subwoofer to add crucial bass punch.
(This same speaker arrangement works for Dolby
Pro Logic and DTS surround, as well as soundfields designed to enhance
your music.)
Main speakers
For those of us who want
great music and impressive
home theater, choosing the
right main speakers is
important. They’ll need to
act as front left and right
speakers for home theater,
but be able to handle the
job of main stereo speakers
when it comes to music
enjoyment. Choosing your
mains is really a matter of
personal taste.
Music lovers often
appreciate the way large,
floor-standing tower speakers provide a wide, full
front soundstage, while
blending nicely with surrounds to achieve big
home theater sound. For
those who want great
sound and flexibility, but
can’t afford expensive
tower speakers, bookshelf
speakers are popular —
their ability to combine
high performance and easy,
inconspicuous placement is
always a winner with
people who split their lis-
tening between home theater and music. And
tiny, discreet satellite speakers, coupled with a
subwoofer, are a great way to extract wraparound
surround sound from speakers you barely see —
a nice compromise between home theater and
unencumbered decor.
One of the best ways to choose your main
speakers is to identify what kind of listening
you’ll be doing most. For top quality Dolby
Digital surround sound, many people
recommend that you use matched speakers all
the way around. Although it’s not imperative, it
can offer optimum balance and seamless
transitions when home theater sound effects
move from speaker to speaker.
If you already have a set of stereo speakers
that you love, don’t worry — they can probably
work as your front left and right home theater
speakers. Just remember, it’s important to try to
voice-match them to your center channel speaker. (Some center channel speakers have
adjustable tweeters, so you can voice-match them
to almost any set of mains.)
Voice-matched surrounds
are important too, for
creating seamless surround
sound. Many speaker
manufacturers can
recommend matches for
older lines.
Center channel
These Polk powered towers offer impressive
sound for music and home theater alike.
In home theater systems,
the center channel speaker is the most important
speaker. It handles over
50% of the total sound in
the soundtrack — including
almost all dialogue, and all
on-screen effects. Because
on-screen action (including
explosions, gunshots, roaring engines, whispers, and
other sound effects) as well
as dialogue must seem
visually anchored to the TV
screen, your center channel
speaker should include
video shielding (to protect
your TV’s picture from
magnetic interference) and
be positioned above or
below your TV.
When shopping for a
center channel speaker, we
recommend that you choose
one with a wide frequency
range that’s able to handle
all of your A/V receiver’s center channel power.
It’s also important to match this speaker as closely as possible to the other speakers in your home
theater, so the sound doesn’t change in tonal
character as the sound moves around your room.
If your center channel is not voice-matched,
especially to your front speakers, you will notice
awkward transitions from speaker to speaker —
which can jar you out of the engrossing home
theater experience!
while still conveying precise off-screen effects.
In a Dolby Pro Logic system, where the surround channel is a mono signal, it’s believed that
dipole speakers work best, mounted on the side
walls (also above ear level). Dipole speakers fire
sound forward and backward — and out of phase
— along the walls to keep surround effects from
becoming too localized.
As you consider speaker placement in your
home theater, just keep in mind that good
surrounds should deliver three things:
envelopment without “gaps” in the sound,
seamless movement of sonic sources, and
convincing placement of stationary sounds.
Powered subwoofer
In home theater systems, the center channel speaker
anchors all on-screen sounds to your TV screen.
In a home theater system, you can’t fully
experience the bone-rattling tremor of an
earthquake or the jarring impact of a bomb blast
without a subwoofer.
Surround speakers
To become totally enveloped by a movie soundtrack, you need a pair of surround speakers
beside or behind your listening position.
Surround speakers are responsible for creating
wide, diffuse effects around you, while occasionally giving directionality to distinct sounds. As a
result, they can recreate almost any effect
realistically, from a shower of raindrops to a
jumbo jet thundering overhead. This threedimensionality is achieved when a time-delayed
signal is sent to the surrounds, creating a greater
sense of space and improved sound localization.
In a Dolby Digital system, some experts recommend bipole or direct-radiating surround
speakers, mounted on the back walls well above
ear level. This placement adds diffusion to the
stereo, full-bandwidth sound of the surrounds,
These versatile Polk surround speakers feature a
dipole/bipole switch to change the phase relationship
between its two sets of drivers.
The dipole mode creates a diffuse, ambient soundfield when your speakers are mounted on your side
walls. If you’re mounting them on your back walls, the
bipole mode fires the drivers in phase to flood your
room with surround sound.
To maximize the performance of your system, a
powered subwoofer is a must. Adding one dramatically improves the home theater experience.
Designed to handle the lowest bass frequencies, a powered subwoofer does more than just
reproduce the low frequency effects, or LFE, in
the “.1” channel of a Dolby Digital soundtrack
(or enhance the bass in a Dolby Pro Logic
soundtrack). It can also improve the sound of
your system’s midrange and upper bass frequencies by freeing the main stereo speakers from the
stresses of reproducing deep bass. Cabinet
resonances in your main speakers caused by deep
bass can also muddy the midrange frequencies.
Adding a subwoofer alleviates these problems, so
the overall sound quality — not just the bass —
is greatly improved.
A powered subwoofer will lighten the load on
your receiver’s amplifier, too, so the power
normally used for low bass can be redirected to
those higher frequencies. With a powered sub,
your entire system plays cleaner and louder!
Satellite/subwoofer option
Another speaker system design to consider is
the satellite/subwoofer system. Often designed
to be low-profile, satellite/subwoofer systems
provide a room-friendly alternative to traditional
speakers. This approach uses small satellite
enclosures for the tweeters and mid-ranges, and
a separate, specially designed box to house the
Besides saving space and blending into your
room’s decor, the advantages are numerous:
1) A satellite’s small
face reduces
diffraction, projecting sound further
into the room, and
contributing to a
more threedimensional
soundstage than
many big
speakers offer.
This satellite/subwoofer system from Sony delivers fullrange sound without taking over your room. The small
satellites nestle in a bookshelf or can be placed on
stands. The subwoofer can be hidden out of sight.
Home Theater Anywhere
More Options
Love the idea of home theater, but looking for
something a little different? Maybe you don’t
want to worry about choosing and matching
components and speakers. Maybe you don’t have
room for a full-fledged home theater system in
your living room. Or maybe you have a unique
spot — like a small bedroom, dorm room, boat,
or camper — just begging for home theater.
Perhaps you want to use your computer’s DVDROM drive to achieve home theater. Some folks
even like to take their home theater on the road!
In this section, we’ll discuss just a few of the
new possibilities in the world of home theater.
Complete home theater systems
Some folks call these systems “home-theater-ina-box” — and that’s pretty much what they are.
A single package offers a DVD player/receiver
with 5.1-channel decoding, a satellite/subwoofer
system, and all the wires and instructions you
need. The idea is simplicity — you make the
connections, turn it on, and hit play!
These systems are perfect for people who
want worry-free, instant home theater. All the
speakers are voice-matched and designed to
work together, and the DVD/receiver unit usually
has extra inputs for hooking up your VCR and
other components. The design of these systems is
generally sleek and inconspicuous, for those of
us who don’t want huge, bulky black speakers all
over their living room. (Different home theater
systems offer different levels of flexibility,
however, so if you’re thinking
of starting out with one,
and expanding or upgrading down the road,
compare the
different connection
options and
features to see
what will serve
you best in the
2) The subwoofer can be placed almost anywhere because it produces only low, omnidirectional bass frequencies. You can hide
the subwoofer under a table or behind
draperies, and still get full-range sound
without giving up living space or
compromising your room’s appearance.
3) These systems are designed to provide
voice-matched sound and easy setup. That
means that if you want instant surround
sound, you don’t need to hassle over
choosing and matching speakers — the
manufacturer has already done that
for you!
For these reasons, satellite/subwoofer
systems can be a great choice when
building a home theater system.
And, just in case you’re wishing that
a speaker system like this also came
with a DVD player and receiver — read
on! The next section discusses some
Sleek, discreet, and surprisingly powerful, complete home theater
unique options designed to widen the
systems (like this JVC) are voice-matched for seamless surround.
home theater possibilities.
Home theater shelf systems
Your living room may already be set up for home
theater. But sometimes, you want surround sound
in other rooms. Home theater-ready shelf systems are a great solution when it comes to dens
or dorm rooms, where there just isn’t room for a
full-sized component stack, five large speakers
and a huge subwoofer. Thanks to the incredible
popularity of home theater, some manufacturers
now offer shelf systems designed to provide
great music and surround sound performance.
created with only a pair of stereo speakers).
Students and executives will find that the combination of a PC’s DVD-ROM drive and a desktop
receiver makes for great A/V entertainment in
any workspace.
Portable DVD players
Whether your business asks you to travel, your
family takes a lot of long car rides, or you just
can’t bear to leave home theater at home, there is
an answer. Several manufacturers now offer
portable DVD players. Some players come in the
shape of a slim, laptop-style portable with a
DVD deck and a built-in flip-up screen — easy
to watch and easy to transport. They usually
include a headphone output, plus a variety of
digital and analog audio outs for connecting to a
variety of A/V gear. (One popular add-on is wireless 5.1-channel headphones, that replicate the
surround sound experience within a simple pair
of over-the-ear headphones.)
This 5.1-ready mini system lets you enjoy home
theater sound in an office, bedroom, or dorm room!
These systems usually include five speakers,
Dolby Pro Logic decoding, and, occasionally, a
powered subwoofer. Some even let you achieve
Dolby Digital surround, with 5.1-channel inputs
for attaching a Dolby Digital decoder or DVD
player with built-in decoding.
Surround sound from your PC
Many computers nowadays
include a DVD-ROM drive,
which is capable of reproducing all the digital glory
of DVD movies on your
computer monitor. Now,
instead of hearing the
movie’s sound on disappointingly small, tinny
speakers built into your
computer monitor, you can
use a PC receiver to process
and amplify the sound.
These receivers are
PC receivers play
designed to connect to your sound from a varicomputer through a USB
ety of sources: CDs,
port, and can play sound
DVDs, and the ‘Net.
from any of a number of
sources — CDs through your CD-ROM drive,
downloaded music files, game sound, or DVD
soundtracks with Dolby Digital 5.1-channel surround (they use special processing to downmix
those soundtracks into Virtual Surround, an
approximation of the surround experience
No TV needed! This compact, portable player lets
you take DVD entertainment everywhere you go.
Other portable DVD players lack an attached
screen, and are instead ready to plug into TVs
wherever you go — in your van, camper, boat, or
vacation house. You can also use one as your regular DVD player at home!
Planning Ahead
Before you create a home theater system, it’s
important to think about how it will work in your
own home. Because home theater relies so
heavily on seamless surround sound, speaker
type and placement is especially important. The
next few sections may help you determine what
kinds of speakers you need, while offering some
guidelines to follow when experimenting with
speaker placement. Your goals should be
balanced, accurate sound and a convincing
soundstage — left-to-right, front-to-back, and
everywhere in between. This discussion should
also give you a detailed idea of what each
speaker does, how it should sound, and how you
can best achieve home theater sound.
The key to good sound is matching the speakers’ output to your room’s particular acoustics.
You don’t need test equipment, just your ears and
a willingness to experiment. The variables you’ll
work with are the distances your speakers are
from you, the walls, the floor, and each other.
Even slight changes in positioning can make
major differences in how your speakers sound.
And don’t forget — read your owner’s
manual! Manufacturers sometimes offer very
specific recommendations for ideal speaker
placement, based on a speaker’s performance
during the design phase.
Placing your main speakers for
optimum performance
Stereo speakers
Almost everyone is familiar with a traditional
stereo setup, but there may be a few details
you’ve missed or forgotten. Here are the basics
behind arranging your main stereo speakers:
■ Stereo speakers should, ideally, radiate sound
throughout the length of the room.
■ Place them at equidistant points to the left and
right of your listening position. Seen from
above, you and your left and right speakers
should form an equilateral triangle.
Seen from above, you and your left and right
speakers should form an equilateral triangle.
Test the presentation of music, or “soundstage,”
by moving the speakers nearer and farther
apart. Identify the placement that brings you a
full wide soundstage with complete “centerfill” (just what it sounds like, center-fill means
that sound completely fills the space between
the speakers, with no gaps or holes).
Often, angling the speakers inward toward your
listening position, so the tweeters point toward
your ears, improves the sound.
■ Ideally, the tweeters should be at ear level
when you are seated, for optimum
high-frequency detail. Most tower speakers are
designed this way. Bookshelf speakers can be
placed on speaker stands of the appropriate
■ You will generate more bass by moving your
speakers near room boundaries (like walls or
the floor).
Remember, not every room is perfectly
designed for audio enjoyment. In that case, use
the principles discussed here (of enhancing bass
with placement near walls, positioning tweeters
at ear level, and creating a full soundstage without audible gaps) to get the best sound out of
your speakers and room. The more you
experiment, the more likely you are to find the
best sound your room can offer.
Home theater mains
Nearly all of the suggestions for stereo speakers
apply to the front right and left speakers in a
home theater system. The only major exception
is that they should be placed after you’ve placed
your center channel speaker. The center channel
speaker’s position is directly related to the placement of your TV, which doesn’t leave you much
room for adjustment. And since the center channel sends a great deal of sound into the center of
the soundstage, it changes the way your mains
add to the soundstage. As a result, you should
always place the mains after the center channel.
■ Set up mains at the exact same distance from
your listening position as your center channel
is — if you measure correctly, they should
form an arc in front of your listening position
(see the illustration on the next page).
■ Angle the right and left speakers inward, so the
tweeters are directed at your listening position.
■ Again, the use of walls to enhance bass, and
tower designs or speaker stands to raise
tweeters to your ear level when seated, usually
improves sound.
■ Find the placement which provides the widest,
most realistic soundstage possible (you can
usually move home theater mains farther apart
than stereo speakers without the center-fill
Even if you watch a lot of home theater and
listen to music frequently, you should be able to
find a position that makes for home theater
enjoyment and great stereo listening. Patience
will pay off. When you find just the right location, you’ll know it. And you’ll be amazed at
how much better your entire system sounds.
Placing your center channel speaker
The center channel plays such a vital role in
home theater that its correct placement is very
Some home theater enthusiasts opt for speakers
specifically designed for in-wall installation
(see pg. 21 for information on The Crutchfield
Guide to Home Theater Installation).
■ Position the surrounds so they either face each
other or into the room (see Dipole and Bipole
illustrations below, and note Dolby Digital and
Dolby Pro Logic home theater illustrations on
pgs. 6-7).
■ The height of your surrounds is especially
important — unlike your main speakers, they
should be aimed well above your ear level
when seated. Many people place them at the
height of ear level when standing, to make sure
they’re high enough.
Bipole Surround Speakers
We recommend placing the center channel speaker the
same distance from you as the left and right speakers.
Make sure that your center channel speaker is
video-shielded, so it will not cause picture
distortion in your TV (almost all center channel
speakers are).
■ Place the center channel speaker directly above
or below your TV, wherever it sounds the best
(most experts say placement above the TV
drastically improves the sound of the speaker).
■ Make sure the speaker’s front edge is precisely
aligned with the front edge of the television
screen. This reduces distortion caused by
sounds being reflected off the TV, and helps
anchor the dialogue and center channel effects
to the action on the screen.
■ Aim the speaker’s sound directly toward your
primary listening position.
■ As we discussed before, placement of the
center channel speaker at exactly the same
distance from your primary listening position
as your front left and right speakers usually
produces a well-defined soundstage.
Bipole surround speakers often work well if you’re
placing your speakers on the back wall behind your
listening area. Bipole speakers are also often
recommended in Dolby Digital home theater systems.
Dipole Surround Speakers
Placing your surround speakers
For optimum performance, we recommend
placing surround speakers to the sides of, or
behind, your primary listening position.
■ You can elect to use your surround speakers on
a bookshelf, with speaker stands, or mounted
on the walls (many surround speakers are
designed to be used with wall brackets).
Dipole speakers mounted on the side walls is the
surround sound setup recommended by many experts
for Dolby Pro Logic home theaters.
Placing your subwoofer
In a surround sound system, you want the bass
from your subwoofer to rumble throughout your
room. Because bass frequencies are generally
omni-directional, you can usually place a sub
almost anywhere in the room. However, we’ve
included some recommendations that we think
will help you get the best sound out of your sub.
■ Although you have a great deal of freedom in
where you choose to put a subwoofer, keep in
mind that sometimes, positioning it too far to
the left or right can call attention to the sub as
the source of low frequency effects.
■ Placing a subwoofer next to a wall or in a corner will deliver the most bass, because the subwoofer can use the wall(s) as a soundboard.
■ One good place for your sub is between your
two main speakers. If that’s not suitable, many
people place the sub behind the listening area,
or in a corner of the room (increasingly, manufacturers recommend corner placement).
■ Because every room is different, feel free to
test locations until you’ve found one that gives
you a room full of low frequency effects.
Planning Ahead
More Resources
We hope this guide has helped give you a basic
idea of what home theater entails (and maybe
helped you figure out how it will work for you).
On the following pages, you’ll find an FAQ section with answers to frequently asked questions,
and a glossary of all the words in bold throughout the guide. We also know you may have other
questions that aren’t easily answered here. For
up-to-the-minute information on what’s out
there, or a more in-depth look at home theater,
here are a few sources that might help:
■ Crutchfield Sales
Feel free to call our Sales Advisors at 1-800955-3000 for more information. Not only can
they offer you advice tailored to your individual needs, they can also recommend specific
products based on what you care about.
■ www.crutchfield.com
Visit our website at www.crutchfield.com. Our
online Info Center offers great information on
home theater and all its separate components,
with FAQs, glossaries, tips, and links to current
products. You can also contact a web sales
advisor with questions. And new and helpful
features pop up there every day!
■ The Crutchfield Audio/Video Reference
Our A/V Reference is loaded with the details
every home theater enthusiast needs. With
MasterSheets for connecting a wide range of
different components, an in-depth speaker
placement and room acoustics guide, and
color-coded CableLabels™, the A/V Reference
is this guide’s impressively knowledgeable big
brother. (See the back cover for more info.)
■ The Crutchfield Guide to Home Theater
Yes! You can have an easy-to-operate A/V system that fits beautifully into your decor — and
this handy new guide tells you how. It includes
detailed instructions for installing in-wall
speakers, setting up multi-room systems, and
more. The pictures, diagrams, and hints from
professional custom installers are perfect for
do-it-yourselfers who want their speakers to
literally vanish into the woodwork. Call
1-800-955-3000 to get this free guide, and visit
www.crutchfield.com/htinstall to see our growing selection of A/V installation products.
■ Dolby Labs
At www.dolby.com, Dolby Laboratories offers
discussions of their surround sound systems,
along with diagrams and illustrations. Great if
you’re looking for a more in-depth understanding of how a soundtrack travels from the studio
to your living room.
For up-to-date info on all things DVD, and all
the various developments surrounding them,
check out this fairly technical but extremely
thorough site: www.dvddemystified.com.
Before you buy
Getting into home theater is exciting — but it’s
important to make a careful decision, too. We all
know how frustrating it is to buy a new toy, and
then get it home and find out that batteries aren’t
included. Planning ahead when buying home
theater is vital, so you won’t experience that kind
of frustration (on a much larger scale!). Use this
guide to:
■ Figure out what kind of components you
already have that will work with home theater.
■ Decide what new ones you need.
■ Determine what kind of system is right for you.
■ Make sure your room is surround sound-ready
— if you don’t want to be able to see a single
speaker, no matter how tiny, you may not want
surround sound.
■ Be ready to buy all the extras — when you’re
setting up home theater, you need more than
just components, a TV, and speakers. Good
speaker and video cables are vital to producing
great sound and picture, and you will almost
certainly need either stands, shelves, or
wall-mounting speaker brackets to place your
surround speakers correctly.
■ And above all, have fun! Enjoying yourself is
what home theater is all about!
Frequently Asked Questions
DTS was developed by Digital Theater
Systems, and can be found in many
commercial theaters worldwide. To date,
fewer than 100 DTS titles have been recorded
to DVD for use in home theater systems.
However, there are many DTS CDs available,
that offer impressive surround sound for
music listening. See “What’s the Buzz About
DTS?” on pg. 8 for more information.
Dolby Digital
Q: How do I know if a DVD is encoded with
Dolby Digital?
for the Dolby Digital logo. Almost
A: Look
every DVD’s audio is encoded in Dolby
Digital. (Keep in mind, though, that Dolby
Digital does not automatically mean
5.1-channel surround sound. Movies like
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, for example,
retain the original mono soundtrack,
although the form of digital encoding is
Dolby Digital.)
Q: For 5.1-channel Dolby Digital, is it important
to have equal power for all five full-range
Since the five channels in Dolby Digital
A: Yes.
are all full-bandwidth, it is more important
than ever to have equal power fed to each
speaker. Many experts even recommend
using identical speakers for mains and
Dolby Pro Logic
Q: Can I add Dolby Digital to my Dolby Pro
Logic receiver?
can connect an external Dolby Digital
A: decoder
to your Dolby Pro Logic receiver
under the following conditions: your receiver
is “5.1-ready” (with 5.1-channel analog
Q: My surround speakers are only rated at
20 watts, and I’m not ready to spend the
money on new ones. Do I have to buy new
surround speakers for Dolby Digital?
don’t need to buy new ones (although we
A: You
think you will eventually want to!). Select the
“small” setting for the surround channel on
your Dolby Digital receiver, keep the volume
in check, and you should be okay. It won’t be
the best performance possible, but it will
Keep in mind, though — Dolby Digital
makes much larger demands on surround
speakers than Dolby Pro Logic, so be careful
not to play them to distortion (or you’ll be
purchasing new surround speakers much
sooner than you expected)!
Q: What’s the difference between Dolby Digital
and DTS?
Dolby Digital and DTS are both
A: Basically,
systems of encoding digital sound, often in a
multichannel surround format.
Dolby Digital was created by Dolby
Laboratories and is the chosen audio format
for DVD and DTV (Digital Television) in the
U.S. There are currently thousands of Dolby
Digital movie titles available on DVD.
Q: How do I know if a videotape or laserdisc is
produced in Dolby Surround?
for the Dolby Surround logo.
Q: Why aren’t my surround speakers playing in
in Dolby Pro Logic is
A: mono, notinformation
stereo. (However, you still need a
pair of surround speakers to be immersed in
sound effects.)
Q: Why do my surround speakers sound
low in volume?
channel supplies off-screen
A: soundsurround
effects and ambience, and only about
8% of a video soundtrack’s information is
dedicated to surround. To keep the surround
information from overshadowing the front
three channels, it’s mixed to a lower volume
Q: All my friend ever talks about is her new
DVD player. Is DVD really that much better
than VHS?
has a few advantages over DVD, in that
you can record programs or play home
movies on a VCR. Also, most video rental
stores still have more movies available on
VHS than DVD.
However, in terms of sound and picture
quality, DVD far surpasses both VHS and
Super VHS, and does not degrade over time.
Today, DVD is the best video format readily
Q: Can I play DVDs on my CD player or
laserdisc player?
A: DVD movies can only be played on DVD
players and DVD-ROM drives. A DVD’s
information pits are smaller and the rows of
pits are much more closely spaced than on
CDs or laserdiscs. As a result, while DVD
players can read CDs, the reverse isn’t true —
CD players can not read the denser data on a
DVD. A few “combination” players are available, that play both laserdiscs and DVDs.
However, DVD’s data format is completely
incompatible with regular laserdisc players.
Q: Can I still get surround sound from my DVD
player without a Dolby Digital receiver?
Dolby Pro Logic receiver will
A: decodeAny
Pro Logic surround sound from DVD.
Q: Will I need a widescreen (16:9) format TV to
view DVDs?
not! Most DVDs come with a
A: version (pan-and-scan
or letterboxed) that
can be played on a regular TV.
Q: What is this “regional coding” I keep hearing
about on DVDs? Can I get a DVD player that
will play all DVDs?
coding was developed to prevent
A: Regional
piracy of DVD software overseas. Region 1
consists of the U.S., its territories, and
Canada. All DVD players and DVDs
purchased in Region 1 are compatible, so
there’s no need to worry. Unfortunately, you
cannot get a player that will play all DVDs
Q: DVDs aren’t very common where I live.
Where can I get them? And are older movies
being reissued on DVD?
major video store chains now offer DVDs
A: All
at most locations, and many local video rental
stores do as well. You can also get DVDs
through mail-order CD and DVD companies,
or from a variety of retailers on the Internet.
And yes, some older movies (The Wizard of
Oz, for example) are available on DVD right
Q: I have an old TV. How do I know if it has the
inputs and resolution necessary for DVD?
doesn’t matter how old your current TV is,
A: when
it comes to resolution. All NTSC TVs
have the resolution capable of showing all the
detail on a DVD image. As long as your TV
offers separate A/V inputs (very few DVD
players have an RF output), and is still in
good condition, the picture from DVD will be
a dramatic improvement over what you
currently enjoy. It will look fantastic now,
and even better when you’re ready to upgrade
your TV to a high-tech model. (If your TV
only has an RF input, you can connect a
DVD player using a separate RF converter —
however, the picture quality will suffer.)
Q: When I tried to record a DVD movie onto a
VHS tape using my VCR, the copy turned out
to be distorted. Why?
most VCRs, DVD players include copy
A: Like
protection circuitry that prevents you from
making recordings of copyright-protected
movies. When you do record, the picture
automatically distorts.
Q: Do some VCRs have features that make timer
recording easier? I’m especially interested in
VCRs that can control my DBS receiver so I
can record satellite programs when I’m not at
timer recording? Absolutely. Look for
A: Easy
models with built-in VCR Plus+ simplified
timer programming. Setting up for unattended
recording is as easy as punching in a show’s
“PlusCode,” which is found in TV Guide and
many local newspaper listings.
Several DBS systems include the
capability to communicate with VCRs to
perform “one-button recording.” Some VCRs
also include an infrared cable box controller
for timer recording control over regular cable
boxes as well DBS receivers.
Q: Can I get DBS where I live?
receive the DBS signal, you must live in
A: To
the continental U.S. (lower 48 states and
Alaska). Your site must have an unobstructed
view of the southern sky, free of signal-blocking trees, buildings, hillsides, etc. The best
way to determine whether or not your site
will work is to perform a site survey. For
more information on doing a site survey, call
a Crutchfield Sales Advisor. Everything you
need to do a site survey is included in our
DBS Starter Kit.
Just a quick note: if you live in a singlefamily residence, you don’t need permission
to put up a dish one meter or smaller, but if
you have a condominium or town house, you
should check with your homeowner’s association. And if you live in an apartment, you’ll
need to check with your landlord.
Q: What size TV screen do I need for home
on how big your room is, and how
A: Itfardepends
you plan to sit from the screen (if you’re
too close to a really big screen, it doesn’t
look as good). We’ve found a 27" screen to
be about the minimum for good home theater
performance, although a smaller screen can
supply great home theater in a den or bedroom. See the chart of suggested viewing
distances on page 13 for more help fitting a
TV to your room.
A/V receivers
Q: Is an A/V receiver’s (or amplifier’s) power
rated in peak watts or RMS watts? And what
exactly is RMS?
receiver’s power output can be measured in
A: Aeither
RMS or peak wattage — or both.
Usually, however, RMS wattage ratings
are more common for home audio equipment.
RMS power is the amount of wattage an
amplifier can produce on a continuous basis.
The higher the RMS wattage, the louder and
cleaner your music sounds.
The peak power rating tells you the
maximum wattage an amp can deliver as a
brief burst during a musical peak (like a
cymbal crash, a sudden orchestra hit, or an
explosion in a movie soundtrack).
Although the RMS figure is a more
realistic measure of a receiver’s or amplifier’s
power, occasionally stereo manufacturers display peak power ratings on their products.
Many retailers are also happy to call attention
to this higher but potentially misleading number.
Q: What is DSP?
short for Digital Signal Processing.
A: It’s
Basically, any signal processing performed in
the digital (not analog) domain qualifies as
DSP. Digital processing is less susceptible to
signal loss and added distortion than analog
processing. Many A/V receivers offer DSP,
although its functions vary from model to
model. Some of the more common uses are
Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic decoding,
digital soundfields (to create more lifelike
listening environments), digital time delays,
and digital sound equalization.
Q: What is THX? Is it a kind of surround sound?
® is a division of Lucasfilm Ltd.
dedicated to accurate reproduction of movies.
That includes overseeing film-to-DVD
transfers, certifying those movie theaters and
mixing studios (there are now over 2000
worldwide) whose design and equipment
meet THX standards, and ensuring that home
theater systems re-create more closely the
movie theater experience. To receive THX
certification and carry the THX logo, home
theater processors, amplifiers and speakers
(whether in a Dolby Digital or Dolby Pro
Logic system) must meet very high
performance standards. Very few are
designated “THX Select” — still fewer
receive the more demanding designation
“THX Ultra.”
Because movie theaters and homes have
very different acoustics, a soundtrack can
seem unbalanced or unnaturally bright
when it is played back on a typical home
system. To compensate, a home THX
system includes special processing
A THX-certified receiver first decodes the
soundtrack, then adds patented signal
processing enhancements, such as
Re-Equalization™, Decorrelation™, and
Timbre Matching™. These changes let the
soundtrack reach your ears at home the way it
was intended to reach your ears in the theater.
Keep in mind, though, that not every
manufacturer applies for THX certification.
Therefore, while THX certification is an indication of high-quality, non-THX-certified
components can be of equally high quality.
So, are “THX Ultra” and “THX Select” a
form of surround sound (like Dolby Digital)?
No, they are simply performance standards.
However, THX has recently developed “THX
Surround EX,” a form of surround that
achieves 6.1- and 7.1-channel surround by
sending a mono signal to an additional
surround speaker or pair of surround
speakers. At this point, however, only a few
DVDs are encoded for it, and even fewer
receivers can decode it.
Q: When I run “A” and “B” speakers at the
same time, how much power is going to
each speaker?
depends on whether the receiver’s
A: That
outputs are wired in series or parallel. If
wired in series, your total power decreases by
about half when you switch from “A” to
“A+B,” and four speakers share this lower
output. Your overall volume will decrease,
and the sound quality can degrade, but the
amp runs cooler and is less likely to overheat.
If wired in parallel, your total power is
somewhat increased when you switch from
“A” to “A+B” because the amplifier is
presented with a lower impedance (ohm
load), and four speakers share this higher
output. (Please note that your amplifier must
be capable of handling a 4-ohm load, and
that it will run hotter than usual at this lower
Q: Can I use my “B” speaker connections for
surround sound?
speaker connections are used for sending
A: the same
stereo signal that your main stereo
speakers see to a second pair of speakers
(often in another room). Usually, “B” speaker
connections will not work for surround.
Q: What is the difference between a two-way and
a three-way speaker?
two-way speaker’s crossover splits the
A: frequency
band into two ranges: bass
frequencies go to the woofer, and treble
frequencies go to the tweeter. In a three-way
speaker, the frequency band is divided into
three ranges. The middle frequencies are sent
to a third driver commonly called a midrange
driver. (Keep in mind that these terms simply
refer to types of design — one is not necessarily better than another!)
Q: What is a “bass reflex” speaker? Does it
mean a speaker puts out a lot of bass?
an acoustic suspension speaker that
A: uses a completely
sealed enclosure, a bass
reflex speaker includes a port (a hole in the
box tuned to a specific frequency) or a bass
radiator (often referred to as a “drone cone”)
to produce more bass output in a tuned frequency range. With a bass reflex design,
efficiency is better — a bass reflex speaker
will play louder than an acoustic suspension
speaker when driven with the same amount of
amplifier power. This can be a big benefit,
especially if you’re using a low-powered
receiver or amp.
Q If I buy a set of large floor-standing speakers,
will I still need a powered subwoofer? What
about speakers with their own built-in
powered subs?
answer to your first question is going to
A: The
depend on individual taste — how much you
like bass, and how much bass you like. If
your main interest is home theater, and you
want to re-create the body-slamming bass you
experience in a movie theater, it’s a difficult
thing to achieve without a powered subwoofer.
A pair of floor-standing speakers with
built-in powered subwoofers will probably
deliver as much bass as you need.
do I know if I should use speaker
stands? If so, which size? And what exactly
will spikes do for me?
midrange and treble frequencies are
A: Because
very directional, your speakers will sound
their best when your ears are at the same
height as the tweeter. Tower speakers are
designed to be used without speaker stands,
but small- to medium-sized speakers will
most likely need stands to raise the tweeters
to ear level. It’s worth taking the time to
measure, so that you can determine what size
stand will work best with your speakers.
If your room has a carpeted floor, and
your speakers or speaker stands accept
carpet-piercing spikes on the bottom,
installing them may improve your speakers’
sound. Spikes often “tighten up” bass
response by reducing sound-muddying
speaker cabinet resonances and vibrations.
Spikes also provide greater stability on
carpeted floors (when you install them, be
sure your speakers remain level, with no tendency to tip over). Some spikes are reversible
for use on carpeted or hardwood floors.
Q: How can I make sure my home theater speakers are balanced properly?
surround decoder supplies test tones for
A: adjusting
the speaker levels. As these sounds
cycle through your speakers, simply adjust
the level with your remote control. Your goal
is to set all speakers at the same loudness.
Q: When I try to use test tones from my A/V
receiver to set up my speakers, I don’t
really get tones, just hissing sounds. Why?
nothing wrong. Those “hissing”
A: There’s
sounds, also called pink noise, are the
test tones.
Q: I am a little confused about surround speak-
ers. Do I need a special kind of speaker (I
keep hearing about “dipole” and “bipole”
models)? Or should I use a conventional pair
of direct-radiating speakers?
truth of the matter is that you can get
A: The
excellent sound results with dipole, bipole, or
direct-radiating speakers. It all depends on
your home theater system, your room, and
your personal tastes. See “Surround speakers”
on pg. 16 for more information.
Q: My receiver puts out 100 watts per channel.
Should I get a speaker with the same rating?
worry! Unless you plan to run your
A: Don’t
speakers at abusive volume levels, it’s no
problem if they’re rated to handle less power
than your receiver delivers. The power rating
most manufacturers assign to a speaker is the
amount of continuous (RMS) power the
speaker can absorb without damage.
Receivers and amplifiers are also usually
rated for continuous power, so as long as both
ratings are fairly close to each other, you
shouldn’t encounter any power-handling
problems. Actually, an amp or receiver with a
high power rating is often safer for speakers
than one with a low power rating. A
low-powered model may “clip” (run out of
amplifier headroom) and produce distortion at
high volumes, which is a common cause of
tweeter damage.
mind that narrow placement like this will
deliver a less-than-adequate soundstage with
very poor imaging. See “Planning Ahead:
Speaker Placement” on pg. 18 for a more
detailed discussion of speaker placement.
Q: Can I use my TV’s speakers for the center
provided that your TV has separate
A: Yes,
audio/video inputs, and your receiver has a
preamp-level center channel output.
However, most people find that using the
TV as a center channel is, at best, a temporary solution. Surround sound just sounds so
much better with a real center channel speaker! Because a large portion of the sound
information recorded on a video soundtrack is
in the center channel, it’s best to have a
speaker that can handle full-range sound and
is voice-matched with your other home
theater speakers.
Q: I can see why my front speakers should sound Connections
alike. Should I also try to get surround speakers that are voice-matched to my front ones?
Q: Does special, high-quality cable really make
Surround sound is most believable when
a difference?
A: Yes!
you feel enveloped in a three-dimensional
The better your cable, the better your
soundstage. The less attention each speaker
A: picture
and sound! Well-made cables tend to
calls to itself, the more consistent and
seamless the surround effect. If your budget
and aesthetic preferences allow, select
surround speakers that are voice-matched
to your front speakers.
Q: I don’t have a subwoofer output on my
receiver. Can I still hook one up?
You can connect a powered subwoofer
A: Sure.
via its speaker-level inputs. However, the
dedicated LFE effects of Dolby Digital won’t
pass through your subwoofer.
Q: Why can’t I play the “A,” “B,” and
surround speakers at the same time?
receivers, the amplifier dedicated to
A: Inthemany
“B” speakers in stereo mode is dedicated
to the surround speakers when the receiver is
set for surround sound. As a result, separate
“B” and “surround” speakers cannot be used
at once. Some other receivers are simply
designed that way so internal amplifiers are
not overdriven. Just keep in mind that “B”
speakers are used for stereo music, not home
theater surround sound.
Q: How close can I place my main speakers
to the TV if they aren’t video-shielded?
should place them at least a foot away.
A: You
(Let the TV be your guide — if the picture
distorts, the speaker is too close!) Keep in
carry cleaner signals over longer distances,
and as time goes by, they are less likely to be
damaged by the inevitable bending and
twisting that most cables undergo. Even
though high-quality cable costs a bit more, it
can be a key part of achieving the clear
picture and pure sound you paid for when
you bought your components.
Q: What component would I connect to a DVD
player’s digital output?
and/or coaxial digital outputs on a
A: DVDoptical
player’s back panel are for sending the
Dolby Digital audio bitstream to some type of
Dolby Digital decoder — either a separate
decoder unit, or one built into a Dolby Digital
receiver. Although coaxial digital connections
use standard RCA-type connectors, the cable
itself is specially designed to handle the much
wider frequency bandwidth of digital signals.
With optical connections, the signal is
transmitted as pulses of light through a cable
housing a slender bundle of glass or plastic
Q: Is an optical (Toslink) digital connection
better than a coaxial connection?
all depends on the quality of the internal
A: digital
and optical conversion circuitry of
your component, as well as your sonic
preferences. However, over longer lengths,
fiber optics are preferred since they are
immune to radiated noise.
Whatever type of connection you use, we
strongly recommend using high-quality
cables for the best signal transfer possible.
You’ll be amazed at what a difference good
interconnects will make in the overall sound
of your system.
Q: I keep hearing about three different types
of inputs on a TV: composite video inputs,
S-video inputs, and component video inputs.
Which is better, and will I really be able to
see a difference?
it’s important to understand that a TV’s
A: First,
picture can be broken down into chrominance (color) and luminance (black-andwhite). The more clearly defined these
elements are when they are sent to the TV,
the better the picture.
Composite video is a single video signal
that contains both luminance and
chrominance information. A composite video
jack is usually a single RCA-type. (If your
television has a set of 3 inputs on the back,
labeled “audio left,” “audio right,” and
“video,” you have a composite video input.)
An S-video signal uses a four-pin
connector that provides a sharper picture by
transmitting the chrominance and luminance
portions of the video signal separately,
reducing interference. Direct S-video
connections are a significant improvement
over composite video, and are found on
high-performance video components like
DVD, DBS, Super VHS, Hi8, D8, Mini DV,
and some laserdisc players.
Many TVs are now available with
three-jack (RCA-type) component video
inputs designed to be compatible with the
component video outputs on some DVD
players. If you think about S-video as a type
of component video signal that separates
brightness and color into 2 portions, this
three-jack connection carries the concept
even further. Component video carries a
single brightness portion of the signal, then
splits the color signal into two parts, for even
greater accuracy and less color bleeding.
cable designed specifically for video use.
Additionally, when your VCR is turned on, its
RF output can only transmit a mono signal.
Note: When using direct video connections,
you’ll need to select the appropriate “Video”
input on your TV remote control.
Q: Do I really need to route my DVD player’s
and VCR’s video outputs through my
is not necessary to run video connections
A: Itthrough
your receiver; you can run them
directly to your TV. However, if you have two
or more video sources, it may be more
convenient to run all audio and video signals
through your receiver.
Q: A friend told me that I should connect my A/V
gear to a surge suppressor. What are the real
surge suppressor or line conditionA: Aer reliable
is a must in any system, both for protecting
your A/V investment against damaging power
surges, and for filtering out electromagnetic
interference (EMI) and radio frequency
interference (RFI).
To protect your full audio/video system,
be sure to choose a suppressor (or suppressors) with AC outlets for your electronics
gear, coax connectors for DBS, TV cable, or
antenna, plus telephone (RJ-11) jacks (if
subscribing to DBS programming).
Q: For making a video connection between my
VCR and my TV, should I use RF cables or
video patch cables?
both your VCR and TV have direct video
A: Ifconnectors
(RCA or S-video), you should use
them because they provide improved picture
quality. And since video signals are of much
higher frequency than audio signals, use a
Glossary of Terms
Dolby Digital has six discrete digital audio channels: 5 full-bandwidth (for front left/right, center,
and surround left/right) and 1 “low frequency
effects” subwoofer channel. These six channels
are sometimes referred to as “5.1-channel.”
Acoustic suspension
Speaker design that uses a sealed, airtight
An anamorphic video image is one filmed in true
16:9 aspect ratio. If it is watched on a screen
with 4:3 aspect ratio, it gets “squeezed” —
everything appears taller and thinner, and actors
have pointed heads! An anamorphic image needs
to be viewed on a true 16:9 screen to look
Aspect ratio
The ratio of width to height for an image or
screen. The North American NTSC television
broadcast standard is 4:3 (1.33:1). The new
HDTV (High Definition digital television)
standard calls for a wider screen with a 16:9
(1.78:1) ratio.
A/V inputs
They allow direct connection of your video
Rear A/V inputs are located on your gear’s
rear connector panel, for components you
normally leave connected.
Front-panel A/V inputs allow for quick and
easy hook-up of a camcorder, second VCR, video
game, etc.
Refers to the range of frequencies a component
can reproduce. For audio components, like
receivers, “full bandwidth” is generally
considered to be the entire frequency range of
human hearing (20-20,000 Hz).
Bass reflex
Speaker enclosure design that uses a port (a hole
in the box tuned to a specific frequency) or a
bass radiator (“drone cone”) to produce more
bass output in the “tuned” frequency range.
A speaker design which generates equal amounts
of sound both forward and backward, with the
two sounds being in phase. See also Dipole, and
the surround speaker illustrations on pg. 20.
Center channel speaker
In a home theater system, a video-shielded
speaker placed above or below your TV dedicated to reproducing on-screen sound and dialogue.
The portion of the video signal that carries the
color information.
Component video
A video signal which has been split up into its
component parts. TVs with three-jack component
video inputs are designed to be compatible with
the component video outputs found on some
DVD players. If you think of S-video as a type of
component video signal (separate brightness and
color portions), the three-jack component video
connection carries the concept a step further by
splitting the color signal into two parts for even
greater accuracy and less color bleeding.
Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS)
A method of receiving over 200 channels of
programming via satellite signals beamed to a
small (18-24") dish and passed through a receiver. DBS systems include Sony’s DIRECTV and
JVC’s DISH networks. These networks also
supply SDTV-format and limited HDTV-format
programming, and a few high-end DBS receivers
can pass the Dolby Digital audio signals
accompanying some programs to your Dolby
Digital receiver.
Digital comb filter
A filter for picture sharpness which reduces
“jitter” and “dot crawl.” Standard digital comb
filters are “2-line” — they compare consecutive
scan lines within a field. 3-line digital comb
filters compare three consecutive scan lines
within a field, for still better clarity. The most
effective comb filter, the 3D digital comb filter,
compares a scan line to adjacent lines in the
same field, as well as the corresponding lines in
the preceding and following fields.
Digital Signal Processing (DSP)
Some receivers use Digital Signal Processing for
creating soundfields (simulated acoustic
environments) and time delays, and for precise
steering of multichannel surround information.
When an audio signal is processed and routed in
the digital domain (instead of the analog), it is
less susceptible to signal loss and distortion.
Digital Television (DTV)
The new American digital broadcast TV standard, it falls into two general categories: HDTV
and SDTV. HDTV includes a number of
formats, which share the same basic characteristics: resolution from 720 to 1080 lines, Dolby
Digital audio, and an approximately 16:9
widescreen format. The formats in the SDTV
category are far more common, and include
resolution starting at 480 lines, and aspect ratios
from standard 4:3 to, in a few cases, 16:9. Only
digital televisions and analog televisions with
digital set-top converter boxes are able to receive
the signal. Digital TV is being broadcast in over
30 major markets across the country already, and
by 2006, every broadcaster (whether local,
national, cable, or satellite) is required to comply
with digital broadcasting standards.
Digital Theater Systems (DTS)
A multichannel digital audio format first
introduced in commercial movie theaters in
1993. See pg. 8 for more info.
A speaker design which generates equal amounts
of sound both forward and backward, with the
two sounds being out of phase. Dipoles are often
used as surround speakers. See also Bipole, and
the surround speaker illustrations on pg. 20.
Dolby® Digital
A form of encoding audio information digitally.
5.1-channel Dolby Digital contains an advanced
decoding matrix for a bitstream of digital data
consisting of six channels (front left, center, front
right, left surround, right surround, and a
subwoofer channel). Five main channels are
full-bandwidth and the “low frequency effects”
subwoofer channel has a frequency range of
3-120 Hz. Although it is often used in reference
to 5.1-channel surround sound, Dolby Digital can
also take the form of Dolby Pro Logic surround
sound, stereo, or even mono audio. See the
diagrams on pg. 6 for more information on a
Dolby Digital surround setup, and the Dolby
Digital encoding/decoding process.
Dolby Digital “ready”
A/V receivers that do not have Dolby Digital
decoders built in, but feature 5.1-channel inputs
for hooking up an external Dolby Digital
decoder. Increasingly, these receivers are called
Audio in a two-channel, left and right format.
Years ago, stereo sound replaced mono sound as
the standard music-listening format.
Dolby® Surround
The term used with consumer equipment and for
the identification of Dolby-encoded video
software released for use at home. Dolby Pro
Logic and Dolby Digital are the two current
formats of Dolby Surround.
Dolby® Pro Logic™
An audio format consisting of four channels of
matrixed sound (front left, center, right, and
surround). Dolby Pro Logic delivers distinct
channel separation, precise localization of
on-screen sounds and dialogue, plus realistic
special effects and theater ambience. See the
diagrams on pg. 7 for more information on a
Dolby Pro Logic surround setup, and the Dolby
Pro Logic encoding/decoding process.
If you don’t have a Dolby Digital system, you
can still enjoy excellent Pro Logic or stereo
sound from your DVDs. All DVD players have
the ability to take a “5.1-channel” Dolby Digital
soundtrack and “downmix” it to two channels,
which can then be sent to a stereo receiver, a TV,
or an A/V receiver with Dolby Pro Logic
A 12 cm optical disc format for video and audio,
which is rapidly superseding VHS in popularity.
There are already thousands of movies available
on DVD, and hundreds more are released each
Frequency response
Expressed in cycles per second, or Hertz (Hz), it
tells you how wide a range of music an amplifier
or speaker is reproducing.
High Definition Television (HDTV)
A high-quality DTV category which refers to
several different formats, all of which have the
following attributes: resolution of 720 lines or
higher, a 16:9 aspect ratio, and Dolby Digital
Videos that show the entire picture as seen in a
movie theater. The resulting image width is much
greater than its height. On a TV screen with
standard 4:3 aspect ratio, letterboxed videos
appear with horizontal black bars above and
below the image.
Line doubler
Technology found in television sets which, by
doubling the amount of information per line,
offers a clearer, more defined picture. Other
variations on this theme include Sony’s Digital
Reality Creation, which is more efficient and
more precise than standard line doublers because
it enhances each pixel.
The brightness or black-and-white component of
a color video signal. Determines the level of
picture detail.
The process of transferring a movie or other
source material to videocassette or broadcast so
that it fits the 4:3 aspect ratio of the NTSC
(National Television System Committee) system,
as well as nearly all current TVs. This results in
some lost picture information, particularly in the
width of the image.
Remote control
The capabilities of receiver remotes can vary a
lot from brand to brand, and model to model.
A/V remote controls can operate several A/V
components from the same manufacturer.
Multibrand remote controls have preprogrammed commands for components made by
popular brands. Programmable, or learning,
remotes can be programmed by the user to operate A/V equipment from other manufacturers.
The sharpness of a video display in the horizontal direction; the number of vertical lines that can
be resolved from one side of the screen to another. The detail you see depends on your signal
source. All NTSC TVs offer resolution that
surpasses standard signals such as TV broadcasts
(330 lines) and VHS VCRs (240 lines). New
technology enhances built-in NTSC resolution
still further. However, future hybrid TVs (a mixture of NTSC and ATSC capability) and digital
TVs should have noticeably better resolution.
Satellite/subwoofer system
Speaker system that uses between two and five
small satellite speakers for tweeter and midrange
drivers, and a separate box specially designed to
house the woofer(s).
Signal-to-noise ratio (S/N)
Expressed in decibels (dB), it compares the level
of an audio or video signal to the level of
internally generated noise (such as audio hum).
Speaker efficiency
Measures in decibels (dB) how well a speaker
system turns input power into sound.
Standard Definition Television (SDTV)
The category, containing multiple specific
formats, for standard DTV broadcasts. This
format will be more common than HDTV, and
entails a minimum of 480 lines of resolution. It
will offer both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios, and a
wide range of sound encoding (from stereo to
Dolby Digital 5.1).
A speaker designed specifically for bass output.
Subwoofers are usually powered (with a built-in
amplifier). Subwoofers offer deep, resounding
bass, and are an important part of Dolby Digital
surround sound.
Super VHS
An improved VHS format which offers better
picture quality than standard VHS 240-line
resolution. S-VHS VCRs record at 400+ lines of
resolution, and can even improve the
picture quality of standard VHS tapes during
playback. Some also use S-VHS ET to record at
S-VHS quality on standard VHS tapes. Although
S-VHS players will play standard tapes, most
standard players will not play S-VHS tapes
(however, some brands offer Quasi S-VHS to
let you do just that!).
Surround speakers
In a home theater surround sound system, this
pair of speakers is positioned to the sides or
behind your listening seat, creating ambience and
providing directionality to off-screen sound
S-video inputs/outputs
Special four-pin connectors that carry the
chrominance (color) and luminance (brightness)
portions of the video signal separately, for
improved color accuracy and reduced distortion.
A division of Lucasfilm Ltd. devoted to accurate
sound reproduction in theaters and on home
systems. See FAQ on pg. 24 for more info.
Total harmonic distortion (THD)
A measurement of amplifier accuracy, it
indicates the presence and amount of internally
generated noise.
Brief bursts of musical energy.
VCR Plus+ with cable box & DBS control
Easy videotaping for cable, DBS, and over-theair broadcasts! Simply enter the show’s
“PlusCode” (found beside its title in most TV
listings) and the VCR is automatically set for the
channel, date and times. Cable box control
means the VCR is able to switch most cable
boxes to the appropriate channel at the appropriate time, automatically. Some VCRs also include
infrared transmitters which let them control of
DBS receivers, so you can make timed recordings of satellite programs.
Video shielding
A way of containing a speaker’s magnetic energy
inside its enclosure. This is usually achieved by
placing another speaker magnet back-to-back
with the existing one so that the two magnetic
fields cancel each other. Shielding may also be
achieved by lining the inside of the speaker
cabinet with metal. Video shielding is important
in home theater — especially with the center
channel speaker. If an unshielded speaker is
placed too close to your TV, the magnetic energy
can cause picture distortion and even
permanently damage the TV’s picture tube.
Refers to speakers with a similar timbre or tonal
quality. Voice-matched speakers will result in
more seamless, consistent, and convincing
wraparound sound in your home theater.
The aspect ratio associated with movie theaters
from around the 1950s on. Widescreen usually
means movies filmed in a 16:9 aspect ratio
(although theaters do not use 16:9 as their
standard, it is a close approximation of the wide
screen size of theaters). When transferred to
video for home viewing, widescreen films are
released in a pan-and-scan, “modified to fit your
screen” format, a letterbox format, or both. With
the onset of HDTV, we will see more films
available in a true, non-letterboxed widescreen,
or anamorphic, format.
Be sure to ask your Sales Advisor about Crutchfield’s exclusive
Audio/Video Reference — free with the purchase of any home
audio/video component (or you can order it separately). This popular
and informative guide includes:
over 150 color-coded, self-adhesive CABLELABELS™
for quick, easy identification of every speaker wire and patch cord in
your system
easy-to-understand A/V MasterSheets
which include close-up illustrations and hook up instructions, and
provide a visual reference for applying your CABLELABELS
audio/video glossary
“The Crutchfield Guide to Speaker Placement & Room Acoustics”
with placement tips for your speakers, plus information that will help you
get better sound from your system’s biggest component — your room!
Call 1-800-955-3000
for product advice and technical assistance.
For help with a product you’ve already purchased from us,
please have your Crutchfield invoice handy when you call.
For information on other resources, including our
new Crutchfield Guide to Home Theater Installation, see pg. 21.
Visit us on the Internet!
© 1998–2000 by Crutchfield Corporation
Revised 5/00 30M