Home Theater Buying Guide

30 October, 2012 Life No comments
Home Theater Buying Guide

According to high-tech research firm Parks Associates and the Consumer Design & Installation Association, more than 28% of households now have  home theater system, with the number continuing to grow.

If you’re looking to join those ranks and set up your own personal media-viewing mecca, check out our home theater buying guide below for the basic information you’ll need to know.

Devices

It’s the devices that help make a home into a home theater, and you’ve got any number of choices to make up front when deciding on your set up.  There are really two options you can choose when setting up – selecting an “all-in-one” component system, or buying each piece individually.

Component Systems – Component Systems Offer DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming devices, receivers and speakers all in one convenient package that are built to work together. The advantages of component systems are that you can easily set up and control all your devices at once, but a drawback is that you may not be able to find one with all the exact features you want.

Individual Devices – Instead of going the all-in-one route, you can choose to select each media player, audio system, game console and speakers separately. Going with this option assures you can the choices and functionality you want, but you may run into problems with creating optimal connections and control systems. This can also be more expensive, especially if you’re one who likes to choose “top-of-the-line” equipment.

The Room & Seating

As you look at the size and dimensions of your room, you must also consider the configuration.  Where will everything be situated? Will you be able to run wires to all the components and speakers you need?  Think about not only how you’ll be wiring everything behind the TV, but also how you’ll be reaching the rear and surround speakers.  There are many wireless options which make this easier.

Careful thought should also be put into the type of seating you want.  What types of chairs, couches or customized theater seating are you going to have.  If it’s your standard living room, you may want to get sectional with a chaise for additional lounging. If it’s a dedicated room, you can get  posh, comfortable rows of two, three and even four leather recliners with plenty of spots for drink holders and more.

Display

All this talk about the home theater, and we’re only just now getting to the display, the visual centerpiece of your home theater system.  With HDTVs getting larger and thinner, and more affordable, choosing the display that’s right for your room, and where to put it, can be one of the most important decisions you can make. 

For starters, you’ll need to figure out if you’re going to get a 3D HDTV or not.  There are many 3D options today, some that require glasses, and some that don’t.  Will you be playing a lot of video games in your home theater, or watching many of the latest blockbusters?  Chances are, you’ll want to consider 3D.

You’ll also want to measure the distance between your seating and your TV to get the optimum size HDTV. Most retailers, such as Amazon, will provide a nice chart that give you a range of TV sizes depending on your viewing distance.  For example, if you’re going to be sitting 10 feet away, consider TVs between 40” and 80”.

Or, you could eschew the HDTV entirely and can an HD projector to project an image at whatever size you desire against a blank surface. Smart TVs (Internet connected models) also make a great option, letting you stream audio or video on-demand, or access photos, the Internet, social networking and more through downloadable apps.

Home Audio

When we think of home theater systems, we think of surround sound.  But there are different options . Do you want 5.1, or 7.1.  The first number indicates the number of speakers, and the one after the decimal point is for the subwoofer.  They’re all designed to create an immersive movie, sports or video game experience.  Don’t forget to set all your devices to the appropriate audio setting to make sure you’re taking advantage of whatever audio set up you choose.

Remotes

Now that you’ve got your home theater, you need to control the simplest and best way possible.  From all-in-one remotes, to control panels (LINKS), figure out how you want to control everything.  You can program the remote that comes with your TV or cable box to control devices, or you may want to consider a top-of-the line touch screen remote that can simply control everything.  Many components even have options to allow Apps on your tablet to work as a remote, as well.

Should You Buy an Extended Warranty?

20 August, 2012 Life No comments
Should You Buy an Extended Warranty?

There is an episode of “The Simpsons” wherein Homer Simpson shoves a crayon up all the way up his nose until he involuntarily gasps, “Extended warranty? How can I lose?” We won’t bore you with the story details except to mention that Homer was undergoing a crude surgery to become as stupid as possible, and his exclamation about extended warranties don’t shine a flattering light on the contracts. As far as the real world is concerned, though, are there any benefits? Should you buy extended warranties to protect your electronics? 

The most generalized answer is “It’s not worth it.” Think about it: electronic retailers are quite aggressive about getting you to buy an extended warranty. Why would they bother if they weren’t on the winning side of the deal?   

There are certainly reasons to get more specific, though, and there are exceptions to every rule. For instance: 

Most items come with a manufacturer’s warranty that lasts a year – Most manufacturers will cover the cost of fixing or replacing your item if it breaks for a reason that isn’t your fault. These warranties typically last around a year, and according to Consumer Reports (which has done extensive research on extended warranties, and how much use we get out of them), it’s not all that common for electronics to fall apart after the manufacturer’s warranty expires. 

Modern electronics are engineered to be replaced in a three-to-five year period, anyway – Ours is a product-driven culture, and today’s top-notch smartphone or tablet will be ready for the trash heap within three years, easy (cue hands linked behind back, guilty scuffing of shoe on pavement).  The money that you’d use on an extended warranty is often better saved for the next generation of technology. 

LCD and plasma TVs rarely need repairs within the first three years following purchase – Of course, televisions usually last a little longer than three to five years, especially HD LCD and plasma sets. Polls done by Consumer Reports indicate that televisions are actually hardy pieces of tech, and very few need to be replaced or repaired within the first three years off the shelf.   

The cost of repair is often the same as the cost of the warranty – Extended warranties aren’t cheap, and oftentimes, the cost of an item’s repair matches the price of the warranty. 

There are exceptions, particularly for PCs – Ultimately, only you can determine if an extended warranty is worth your money. If you’re accident prone, clumsy, or just have a talent for losing things, you may find that an extended warranty is money well-spent. Moreover, Consumer Reports’ polls point out that unlike many electronics, new PCs are actually likely to require repairs within three years—and manufacturer’s warranties for computers are gradually becoming less generous. 

If you need more help researching the benefits and drawbacks of extended warranties, visit: 

Should You Buy an Extended Warranty? at Yahoo   

Should I Buy a TV Extended Warranty? at About.com

Should I Get an Extended Warranty? 10 Things to Consider at Switched

How To Stream Video From PC to TV

How To Stream Video From PC to TV

If you’ve ever wanted to share a funny cat video with friends or family, then you already know what a hassle it can be to gather everyone around a single tiny PC monitor. You think to yourself, “There has got to be an easier way to share hilarious internet cat antics with my kin.” As it turns out, you’re absolutely right. There are many ways to stream content from your PC or Mac computer to your TV set. 

Note that the methods mentioned below require, at the very least, an HDTV or 3D TV, a PC (which usually needs to be running Windows 7 or XP), and, in most cases, a broadband connection. If you can muster that much, here’s how to stream video from your desktop or laptop to your television. 

Use Windows Media Player – The Windows Media Player application, bundled with Windows 7, lets you stream videos, pictures, music, and more from your PC to your HDTV. If you’re interested in learning how to set up Windows Media Player for your television, visit Microsoft’s website for specific instructions. 

Consider using Netflix, Hulu Plus, and other paid streaming services – Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus are simple to use, and are a great way to keep up with television shows, movies, and more. You typically need to pay a monthly fee to use them, but their ease of use and picture quality are unsurpassed as far as streaming technology goes. 

Plug your computer into your HDTV – Most HDTVs have connectors specifically for a computer. Of course, it’s much easier to plug in a laptop, if you have one! Once your computer is hooked up, watching PC-based videos on your TV is a breeze. This YouTube video has easy-to-follow instructions for hooking up your PC directly to your TV. 

Wi-Fi connections are an option – If you’re not big into the idea of wires criss-crossing your living room, keep in mind that there are ways to stream the contents of your PC to your television wirelessly. This can be a little tricky, though, so PC World has a write-up explaining how to engineer a wireless connection for your video streams. 

Use your PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 – Your Xbox 360 is more than a game console: it’s a veritable media hub. You can use the system to play content from your PC on your television. Microsoft’s Xbox website has detailed setup instructions if you need them. Note that Sony’s PlayStation 3 offers similar solutions as well.

Looking for more advice on how to stream content from your PC onto your TV? Visit: 

How to Stream Digital Media From Your Windows 7 PC at PCWorld

What Is UPnP and How Do I Use it to Stream Media to My TV? at LifeHacker

From PC to TV at Microsoft 

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