Most movie soundtracks are digitally split up into five more more channels. In most instances, you’ll find channels dedicated to front, centre (dialogue) and surround signals, giving a total of five main channels, with a sixth bass-only channel dedicated to bass reinforcement. This bass or .1 channel contains approximately 10% of the audio content found on other channels within the ‘soundfield’ (as it only handles low bass signals), giving rise to the expression ‘5.1 surround sound’. In some soundtracks, an additional sixth channel of audio content has been encoded into the mix to add extra surround spaciousness, giving a 6.1 soundtrack (see our Separates section for more). This can be replayed either by one or two extra rear speakers, giving a total of either six or seven speakers and a sub in the system.
Now, let’s look at the core elements of home cinema systems in more detail. First and foremost, you’ll need a good-quality display and preferably a big one: large-screen plasma and LCD TVs are ideal, while the best, most cinematic results are available with a projector and screen. This will involve watching in a properly darkened room to ensure the best results, but in our view this only adds to the movie theatre experience.
Next, you’ll need a source, which for most buyers, means a DVD player. These have become increasingly disposable items in the modern market, costing as little as the price of two DVDs in some places, but while superficially appealing, these bargain-basement buys will do little for your home theatre enjoyment. A higher-quality player will not only provide a better picture for your screen, it will also deliver superior sonic performance and be built to last.
Then, you’ll require a surround sound processor, amplifier or receiver. This will provide all the amplification needed to drive your loudspeakers plus all the necessary surround sound decoding. Whether a processor (which requires a separate power amplifier) or an amp/receiver, the key audio work is carried out by powerful digital signal processors. These take the digital signals fed to them by your DVD player (games console or satellite receiver) and use them to recreate an enveloping soundfield in the room. Processors can also compensate for the acoustic properties of your room, and the relative placement of your speakers within it.
Finally, you’ll need a speaker system, which will be powered by your amplifier or receiver. There’s a massive variety on offer, from compact satellite systems through to huge floorstanding set-ups, but the key element remains consistent: all the speakers in a home theatre speaker package need to be tonally identical. This ensures that the soundfield remains coherent and is not disrupted by differeing characteristics in one channel or another. The slightest variation in tonality or volume, especially in the centre channel, can ruin the illusion, and with it, your experience. That’s why we produce dedicated centre-channel speakers to suit almost every loudspeaker range we produce.
Whichever size of speaker package you choose to buy, you should also budget for a dedicated subwoofer, or even two. Powered by its own internal amplifier, subs ensure you hear the full theatrical experience, complete with deep, articulate bass.
Invest in all these elements: display, source, amplification and speakers and you’ve the building blocks of a home theatre system. To fine-tune it for the best results, visit our Set-up section.