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RCA's Big Direct View Digital TV

Building a Home Theater, Part two - the components

By Jim Bray

Part One: First Steps

Part Two (This article): The Components We Used

Part Three: Buying a TV

Part Four: Buying a Projection TV

Part Five: Accessorizing

Part Six: Buying a Receiver

Part Seven: Speakers

Part Eight: More on Buying Speakers

High movie theater ticket prices, rip-off snacks – and they still make you sit through commercials?

Time to invest in your own home theater!

In part one of this series, I opened this series on putting together your own home theater with some initial thoughts about budgeting, room size and shape, etc. To make the series as relevant to our readers as possible,s I figured the best way to do a home theaters would be to do it for real, by begging a couple of civic-minded manufacturers (who were looking to publicize their wares) for samples, and to use their equipment.

It worked, too! Riding to my rescue were Thomson Consumer Electronics, makers of RCA and ProScan, and Rotel, a high end audio component manufacturer. Now, you may think there’s a bit of an anomaly between the quite mainstream RCA and Rotel, but it’s all a matter of one’s priorities. I wanted higher end audio (after all, a home theater is also a stereo, and I wanted stuff to match my existing high end speakers), and I’ve always liked Rotel.

Anyway, RCA kicked in its $1999 model MM36100 (click the link for a full review), a 36 inch digital TV that doubles as a computer monitor. It was its S-VGA capability that really turned me on and, though I didn’t use it as a monitor all the time, I grew fond of it – especially for “family surfing” where we gathered around the TV and explored Web sites. The 36 inch screen isn’t big enough for my dream theater (see an upcoming column!), but it’s no slouch. It’s also forward compatible, in that you can add a set-top box to it and upgrade to high definition TV down the road (though it isn’t widescreen).

With as many inputs and outputs as you could need, however, it’s a high tech set that’s easy to live with.

RCA also kicked in its $450 RC5910P five disc DVD changer (click the link for a full review). I didn’t really care about the multi-disc capability for DVD’s (can you imagine how sore your bum would be after a movie marathon like that?), but it’s nice to have a CD changer for those times when you want to play a lot of music. This RCA is a decent performer that comes with higher end features like component video jacks and coaxial (and optical) digital audio output, and those were important features to me. It also sports Dolby Digital and DTS capability, though it won’t play back your home-recorded CD-R disc.

My VCR needs aren’t nearly as great as they used to be. I rarely tape from TV any more, so I don’t need the high resolution SuperVHS format (which is hard to find now anyway). I rarely play VHS tapes, either, having been converted first to laser disc and then to DVD. So RCA’s $229 VR702HF VHS Hi-Fi VCR (click the link for a full review) fit the bill nicely. It works well, is easy to use, has four heads, Hi-Fi audio – and one of the most wonderful features ever designed for a VCR: Commercial Advance, which skips through commercials when you’re playing back a tape.

One mistake I made was asking RCA for its WSP200 $230 wireless speakers (click the link for a full review). I had intended to use them as wireless rear surround speakers, but when I actually tried them I didn’t think they were up to the task. As portable speakers for piping music into another room or onto the patio they’re great, but I ended up leaving my old surround speakers (which were no slouches to begin with) where there were.

RCA capped things off with some accessories like a video source switcher, power bar/surge suppressor, patch cords, etc.

The pair of components that really caused me to start thinking about selling my soul was the Rotels (click the link for a full review). The RSP-985 Surround Processor/Preamp and RMB-1095 Power Amplifier tip the financial scale at $2000 each, and I think they’re a bargain. Both sport the THX Ultra designation and bring outstanding audio quality to your home theater. The amplifier pumps out 200 awesome watts into each of the home theater’s five channels, and the preamp/processor offers Dolby Digital and DTS. It also comes with a universal remote control.

You may not need such esoteric stuff – or you may think this equipment’s entry level. It doesn’t matter.

The point is that, whatever your budget, only get what you need, and choose components that offer the features you really want, not a bunch of bells and whistles you’ll never use.

And, of course, enjoy!

Next: Buying a TV.

(Thanks for the manufacturers for the loan of their equipment in the creation of this series.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.

 

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Updated May 13, 2006