Basic Design Goals – Display Type and Speaker Configuration
Do you want to use a Flat panel TV or Projector? OK, we’ve already started to answer this question but let’s go over it again to make sure your “wants” match up with your intended goals.  There is no doubt that a front projector can offer a big-screen, immersive experience.  A 100″ screen offers four times the visual impact of a 50″ display.  If your main interest is watching movies and you can control ambient lighting, a front projector will give you the biggest, most immersive viewing experience.
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However, there is a down side to using a front projector in a home theater, which is the need for light control.  To obtain an optimum image (brightness, color saturation, and shadow detail) the room should be virtually dark with very little ambient light.  So again, this wouldn’t be the best setup if you plan to do a lot of socializing while watching a mix of sports, TV and the occasional movie.  A flat panel TV will be a better fit in a general purpose, multi-media theater room.

For some, incorporating both a flat panel display and front projector into the same home theater offers the best of both worlds.  When the family wants to kick back and watch a movie they can dim the lights and fire up the projector.  At other times they can use the flat panel display for watching TV or when having friends over to enjoy weekend football.  It just depends on your goals and resources.

What speaker configuration do you plan to use?

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(5.1 Surround Sound Configuration)

Surround sound speakers can be configured in many different ways, which will determine how many speakers you will need.  A basic 5.1 surround sound system incorporates five directional channels and one non-directional, low frequency effect (LFE) or subwoofer channel.  This is the minimum speaker configuration that is considered acceptable to reproduce an immersive sound stage.  The vast majority of movies are mixed in Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  Larger rooms (and larger budgets) may allow for adding more speakers for an even more immersive sound experience. 

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(7.1 Surround Sound Configuration)

Adding two rear surround speakers creates a 7.1 channel configuration (6.1 if only one rear surround speaker is used).  One or two speakers located behind the main seating area can add depth to the sound stage.  But you should keep in mind that the majority of movie soundtracks and multi-channel audio (SACD and DVD-Audio) are still mixed in 5.1 channels; meaning the back surround channels must be artificially created (digital sound processor and algorithms from Dolby, DTS and Audyssey).  However, in the future expect to see an increasing number of Blu-ray DVDs and games being mixed in 6.1 and 7.1 channel audio.

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(7.2 Surround Sound Configuration)

Another popular configuration is to add multiple subwoofers to the mix.  Incorporating two (or more) subwoofers into your home theater can offer significant advantages over having just one.  It’s not just about generating loud bass; but more importantly about generating clean, strong bass that delivers smooth bass response across the entire listening area.  Having two or more subwoofers can make placement easier and can go a long way in helping to eliminate boominess and increase dynamic range.

If you have a relatively large room (and budget) the latest trend is to add height and/or width channels to increase the size of the perceived sound stage.  In addition to the extra speakers you will also need an AVR (audio-video receiver) with the appropriate DSP and algorithms that can synthesize and amplifier stages to drive these extra channels.  Three different companies are currently competing in this area.
•    Dolby Pro Logic IIz: adds two front height channels
•    Audyssey DSX: adds two front height channels and two width channels
•    DTS-HD: multiple height channels

The major advantage to these new systems is they expand the sound stage by filling the room with subtle ambient sounds, which helps further envelop the listener.  This results in deeper immersion into movies and games and makes relatively small speakers sound like much larger ones.  Several high-end receivers and processors currently have IIz and DSX capabilities built in (Denon AVR-4310).

Review: At this point you should know:
•    Your basic goals for your home theater and the types of source material you plan to enjoy the most (movies, TV, sports, music, gaming, etc.)
•    The room environment (open multi-media family room or dedicated viewing room)
•    The location of your home theater (including whether or not you are remodeling an existing space or starting new construction)
•    The amount of direct and ambient light and how well you will be able to control them
•    The type of video display you plan to use (flat panel TV or projector)
•    The size and shape of your home theater (hopefully optimized for sound quality)
•    The amount of professional help you will need (remodeling, builder, installer)
•    The number of speakers you plan to use (5.1, 7.2, 9.2, 11.4)

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