How to Buy a Home Theater System

How to Buy a Home Theater System

Are you a movie aficionado who drops a lot of money every month at the cinema? Maybe it’s time to consider building your own home theater. There are several compelling reasons to do it: the price of movie tickets is rising steadily, a bag of popcorn slathered in something akin to oily, melted plastic costs an arm and a leg, and the time  gap between theatre releases and DVD/Blu-ray releases  is steadily closing. 

Of course, if you relish the public  movie experience as it exists now—screaming kids, people talking on cellphones, sticky floors—that’s cool, too. Keep on keepin’ on. If you’re ready for something a little more personal and exclusive, though, here’s what you need to know about building an in-home system. Check out the following home theater buying guide for hints, tips and advice when shopping for hardware:

Go with an HD screen, but consider your viewing distance – Needless to say, you’re going to want an HD display for your movies. The question is, how big do you want that screen to be? “Bigger is better” seems like a philosophy you should subscribe to automatically, but that’s not necessarily the case. Only you can be the judge of what “works,” so go with your gut, but PC World’s home theatre buying guide reminds consumers of a general rule: “The diagonal screen size should not be larger than about half your seating distance. With a 42-inch TV, for example, you probably should not watch from closer than about 7 feet.” 

Multiple-disc carousels are good – Getting up and down to change discs can be a bit of a hassle. A multi-disc setup will cut down on the number of times you need to stand up to change the movie, which will keep you in a viewing mood. 

Start with three speakers – There’s little point in going nutty with your home theatre purchases at first, especially if you’re on a budget. Start by buying three speakers:  left, right, and center. If you like what you hear, you can add satellite speakers and sub-woofers later on. 

Make sure your AV receiver supports Dolby Digital decoding – For many movie-goers, sound quality makes the biggest difference between the public and home theatre experiences. Make sure your AV receivers can support Dolby Digital Recording, preferably Dolby Pro Logic II. Your home videos and regular music CDs will sound a lot cooler, too. 

Make sure you buy from a store with a good return policy – You’re probably going to engage in a lot of hemming, hawing, and experimentation before you finally settle on a theater setup that works best for your living room. Make sure your purchases all come from a store that has a decent exchange/return policy—not to mention patient, helpful sales clerks. 

Setting up a system is a big job, so for more information and home theater buying guides, check out:

How to Buy a Home Theater System at PC World

Things to Look Out For Before Buying a Home Theater System at Economic Times

Home Theater Buying Guide at How Stuff Works

Best Hard Drives and Memory Cards

Best Hard Drives and Memory Cards

We can’t help but pause these days when we see an inconsequential video or silly image and think about how the size of that one file alone is larger than the memory capacity of many of the first modern computers, such as the Commodore 64 or the Apple IIE. But these days, as the price for memory has decreased, the capacity for portable storage devices such as hard drives has increased.  Kilobytes are obviously a matter of the distant past, but consumers now no longer need to worry about megabytes even. Choosing a reasonably priced storage solution is now a matter of having quick and easy access to storing gigabytes and even terabytes of information. That said, here’s a buying guide to the best hard drives and memory cards that can make the task much simpler.

Best Memory Cards: Picking the Right Storage Format

There are a few different formats, sizes and speeds of memory card, and finding the one that’s right for you is a matter of determining how you’ll be using them.  The most common size is the SD card, used in many digital cameras.  Mobile phones and tablet computers use smaller versions, such as a miniSD or a microSD.  Sony products use a proprietary format called a Memory Stick. 

The best thing to do when looking for a memory card is figuring out what you need it for, and choosing the right size.   The SD Association provides a nice chart on their site detailing at a glance the different sizes and uses of SD memory cards.  For example, a 16GB SD card can provide 160 minutes of HD video in fine mode, 240 minutes in normal mode and 360 minutes in economy mode.   The same card can also store more than 6,000 10 MP pictures.

With so many brands available, focus on the size of the card as your guide when purchasing.  And as a general practice, we always like to purchase at least one extra card to keep on hand with our device should something happen or we surprisingly fill a card up.

Top Hard Drives: Portable and External Models

While memory cards are the way to quickly store photos, video and other info from other devices, chances are they are all being loaded on home computers or networks. Before long, this data can add up, especially if you’re storing a lot of HD video. There are some great options for portable hard drive storage available, many of which provide automatic backup.  Here are three of our favorites:

ioSafe Rugged Portable – The ioSafe Rugged Portable likens itself to an airplane blackbox, touting it’s toughness and durability in case of water submersion, drops up to 20 feet, or even under crushing forces up to 5,000 pounds.  If you’ve got important data that you want to ensure is protected and remains intact even in a catastrophe, then the Rugged Portable is the storage solution for you.

 Western Digital My Passport – Offering 2 terrabytes of data storage in a design that is no larger than a paperback book, My Passport offers an easily portable way to transport a lot of data by hand.  If you have the drive constantly plugged in, it can automatically back up data, even at the instant you save it to your computer.

Seagate GoFlex – If you’re looking to back up more than just one computer, the GoFlex can hook into your wireless network and allow centralized backup and storage for up to 3 PCs and Macs.  Since it’s in the cloud, it also provides you with access to your files from anywhere you can access the Internet.  There’s even a SeaGate app that will allow you to access all your files from your smartphone or tablet.

 

Best HDTVs and 3DTVs: A Buying Guide

Best HDTVs and 3DTVs: A Buying Guide

Although computers and smart phones play an integral role in family life, the individual nature of their use is very personal and solitary.  High-Definition Televisions (HDTVs), on the other hand, continue to be a central focus for families as the entertainment hub for television and movies, and the latest models are working to integrate music, web browsing and more. 

We’re also seeing the arrival of 3D as more than just a gimmick, and the latest HDTVs are incorporating 3D either via glasses, or in some cases without: LG’s Cinema 3D TVs being just one highly-recommended example. These days, the ability to produce crystal clear widescreen HD images is no longer a selling point; you must look even deeper at what else the HDTV has to offer.

Here’s a closer look at five of today’s best HDTVs and 3DTVs and a buying guide you should consider when contemplating purchasing them. Keep in mind that specific models may vary depending on the screen size you are looking for.

Panasonic TC ST50 Series

Panasonic provides a number of features in addition to HD signals and a reasonable price, making the TC ST50 series a great choice for families who don’t need to buy the top-of-the-line models.  If you’re looking for 3D features, the TC ST50 series uses 3D eyewear and also has the ability to convert 2D images into a simulated 3D.  We also love the super-slim built-in subwoofer which helps make the audio experience feel more theater-like.  And one of the coolest things about nearly any Panasonic Viera-branded HDTV you’ll buy is the ability to download an app to your smartphone or tablet and use that device as your TV’s remote control or even as a control for specific games designed to be played on Panasonic TVs.

Sharp Quattron Smart 3D TV

The Quattron Smart 3D TV from Sharp delivers a number of features that may someday be standard on all TVs, but for now are tough to get all in one place.  It’s got built-in apps to quickly allow you to stream videos and programs over services like Netflix, Vudu and CinemaNow, as well as social network integration with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.   There’s also built-in wife so you don’t need to worry about hooking the Sharp Quattron Smart 3D TV up to an Ethernet or other cable to enjoy this streaming content.  And the Quattron branding is indicative of Sharp’s patented use of adding a yellow pixel to the traditional red, green and blue ones that make up standard HDTV displays, which (according to Sharp) creates deeper and more vivid colors.  One other cool feature of this HDTV: the ability to switch glasses into 2D mode, so that family and friends can all make their own choice as to whether to view content simultaneously in 2D or 3D. 

Vizio Theater 3D Edge Lit LED with Vizio Internet Apps

With four battery-free 3D glasses included, Vizio’s Razor LED technology allows for the screen to get brighter and darker than many standard HDTVs, producing more detailed colors in full 1080P HD.  The Vizio Theater 3D Edge Lit LED also has built-in Wi-Fi features and apps to allow for on-demand streaming of TVs and movies, as well as access to web browsing, music and more.  To make all of this easier, there’s a Bluetooth remote with a full QWERTY keyboard. It’s one of the best HDTVs and 3D TVs out there.

Samsung LED 6420 Series Smart TV

Samsung is bringing HDTVs and 3DTVs to the cloud with what it calls the AllShare DLNA technology.  Essentially, with a little work in connecting them all to the AllShare network you can access content straight from your PC, camera or other mobile devices, and view them on your Samsung HDTV.  The other Smart TV features on the Samsung LED 6420 Series Smart TV include apps from Netflix, Blockbuster, Hulu Plus, YouTube, ESPN, Pandora, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an integrated search function which lets you easily seek out content across all these platforms as well as your own personal AllShare network.   The Samsung LED 6420 Series Smart TV also comes equipped with 4 HDMI inputs as well as 3D glasses and the ability to convert 2D content to 3D.

Sony XBR Internet TV

Sony’s Bravia XBR Internet TV is made of gorilla glass, the same lightweight and durable material most smartphone screens are made of.  By combining this with the OptiContrast panel, Sony promises that the XBR Internet TV can minimize light reflections while enhancing picture clarity.  If the sleek design doesn’t grab your eye, a full suite of Internet features to allow on-demand streaming and social networking make the Sony XBR Internet TV an easy choice to quickly connect and mount to the wall to become the entertainment hub of your home right out of the box.