What is Home Theatre, Home Cinema and Surround Sound
Sound and Image Home Theatre, Home Cinema and Surround Sound
The terms and terminology is used interchangeably by many lay people, and the concepts can become confused.
In essence, speakers are placed around the room, the amplifier tells each speaker/set of speakers, when to send out signals, and the sound reaching the people listening, comes from different directions, creating a rich and full sound experience.
In South Africa, the general tendency is to use the term Home Theatre for the selection of products that together produces the surround sound that is most often put into an existing lounge. The room functions as the lounge /visiting area/ tv room in the normal fashion, and when the family wishes to watch tv, movies, play games or listen to music, they switch on the amplifier and television, and enjoy the improved sound, and the enhanced emotional experience in an area that is already normally in high use.
Home Theatre in a box, is a term brought into use by the mass manufacturers, such as Samsung, where they boxed the amplifier and speakers together as one system and sell mainly through large volume outlets to the Do-It-Yourself market. These systems is a step up from just the tv sound on its own, and for many it is a good first step into the field, and may choose systems that offer just a bit better quality again, when the system comes to the end of its’ life expectancy.
In South Africa, we use Home Cinema more often when the system is going into a room dedicated to the use of watching tv, listening to music and or playing games, and usually have some form of cinema seating, rather than the lounge configuration of chairs.
Many people use the two terms interchangeably.
Dedicated Theatre rooms or Themed Cinemas, or any combination of these terms, refer to a dedicated room, where the decor, the equipment and everything from floor – and wall coverings to ceiling treatments are all planned in advance to complete a particular design. Everything from the interior decoration through to the acoustics is mapped out and brought together.
The term ‘Screening Room’ is very seldom heard in South Africa, it is used more in America, and is used to differentiate rooms which has been built like a second skin/ room-in-room, so that the acoustics in the room is controlled, and very little, if any sound escapes the room. While the whole room is also pre-planned, there is a second walled room with a gap to the wall forming part of the rest of the house.
It is important to speak to someone that is prepared to listen and understand what kind of option would be most appropriate to you, and will then help you achieve the best set-up for your circumstances.
The biggest hurdle in setting up any kind of system is the wiring. No matter what the size or the decor level of the room, tripping over, or looking at wiring is always a distraction and does not assist in creating good living conditions.
This being the case, the first prize is always to get a good conduiting plan designed, and to put in the conduiting while the build is in progress. Speak to your architect, builder and estate agent, and ask for a home with decent conduiting designed for the cabling for sound, televisions and of course, the internet connections.
If you have to retro-fit the equipment, hiding it in conduiting that replaces skirting boards and trying to make the cable from the power source and amplifier up to the flat screen tv look better with aluminium strips and other good finishes, will help to make the room acceptable, in the trade off for great sound.
So what are the configurations for Surround Sound and what options are the best?
Great sound is not about the volume of the sound, but far more about the control.
Very good systems create a field that influences our emotions, and is the difference between understanding the emotional journey the director takes us on through a movie, and seeing the movie stripped down to a few scenes that are barely interesting. How often have you seen a movie in a movie theatre and raved about the experience, and when you watched the same movie on plain television later, failed to understand what was so exciting?
The simple difference is the sound.
While big sound effects can still be obvious, such as seeing and hearing the bomb blast in a scene, the subtle nuances created in tender moments are completely lost.
The sound of a door slowly drifting close behind a loved one leaving, or the rustling of the leaves as two people stroll down a lane creates empathy in us when good quality equipment allows the gentlest murmur to be felt, rather than heard.
In order to create both the subtle sounds, as well as the big obvious moments, speakers are placed around he room.
A 5.1 system will consist of:
A pair of FRONT speakers placed left and right front of the audience.
a pair of REAR/SURROUND speakers are placed left and right, towards the back of the room.
The CENTRE speaker is the fifth speaker (important for clear dialogue)
and the SUB woofer is the .1 which can be placed in any of a number of areas within the room.
In a 7.1 system:
Another pair of SURROUND speakers is added in.
In a 9.1 system:
Another pair of surround sound speakers are added, but this pair is sometimes called “HEIGHT” speakers, as they are intended to be mounted higher than the others, to fill in the sound envelope in the room, and make it easier to distinguish height positioning of the movements that we see on screen.
So which is the best system?
The 5.1 configuration is an accepted standard, with clear guidelines about where the speakers should be placed, so you should find a consistently good experience with what ever you are watching.
There is till some argument regarding the best placing of the additional surrounds in the 7.1 system, so be sure to use a reliable company with experienced and trained staff, to ensure a good result in your room.
There are not yet many 9.1 sound tracks available, but the better amplifiers will give you a good result with any track. A better check point is whether this pair can be mounted in the right in place in your specific room.
How to choose a Home Theatre Surround Sound system?
The part of the system that is most visible, and has the most practical impact on the family, is the speakers. For that reason, it is likely the best place to start.
Look at factors such as:
– How much space is available in the room?
– How safe would the speakers be in their positions (will they get bumped/how much direct sun are they exposed to) ?
– What decor and personal style should they fit in with?
Speaker options to choose from:
– Big speakers : These can create the best sound, and come in a variety of finishes, so there should be a pair that is appealing that can be displayed with pride.
– In Ceiling and Wall mount options: for rooms where space is limited
– Lifestyle speakers : these can not create the depth of sound that big speakers provide, but is a good step up from tv sound, and is designed to look appealing while taking up a minimum of space. This is often a great add on in the bedroom, the guest suite or any room secondary to the main area used.
Once you have picked the set of speakers that suits you, it is best to then look at which amplifier will be most suited to driving those particular speakers.
Also take care to see how many source components must be connected to the amplifier.
These may include: BluRay/Games machines/Satellite/hard drives with backed up movies & music/Turn table
and consider whether a Second Zone is required (this is where the amplifier sends signal to another room, so for example, you play back-ground music where you sit and visit, while the kids dance and play in the tv room)
Also consider whether a Home Control system or an Audio Distribution system will be added.
These choices will determine what cabling is necessary and what level of installation is required.
All systems can be bought and set up, or the system can be built up over time.
There are systems available at all price points, so check that you are comfortable with the quality, finish and support you receive for your purchase.
At Sound and Image, we carry a variety of stock, which we evaluate before allowing into our stores, that is on display and can be auditioned in our sound rooms. We respect your time constraints, so we do site visits by prior arrangement.
You are always welcome to visit us with any questions and to view the different possibilities.