Your Home Theater Affordably
By Jim Bray
Part One: First Steps
Part Two: The Components
Part Three: Buying
Part Four: Buying a
Part Five: Accessorizing
Part Six: Buying a Receiver
Part Seven: Speakers
Part Eight: More on Buying Speakers
Did you know that you can make your home theater perform better by making
a few modest upgrades that dont even come close to breaking the
A little tweak here and there can be an excellent way to augment todays
affordable Dolby Digital-equipped audio/video receivers (which have become
so cheap theyre almost giving them away in Wheaties boxes), and
the mainstream speakers most of us have on hand.
Im speaking about things like patch cords and speaker wire, stuff
thatll give you more bang for your buck without causing you to take
out a second mortgage on your house.
You dont even need to look farther than the big mainstream
companies for such equipment, either. Though snobs may want to look down
their noses at the RCAs and Panasonics of the world, in my experience
these companies have traditionally offered good value and equipment thats,
for the most part, easy to use and easy to live with.
RCA sent me a couple of examples from its line of accessory gadgets and
doodads and, while they obviously arent in the same league as the
really high end stuff Id buy if I won the lottery, theyre
workable solutions for people who cant or wont justify paying
hundreds of dollars for a lousy cable, wire, or cord.
Take patch cords, for example. Quite simply, the connecting cables that
come with most audio and/or video components (if they even bother to include
any) are generally as cheap as the manufacturers can get away with, so
upgrading them can be an excellent investment.
RCAs HP (High Performance) series of cords will only
set you back twenty bucks or so (depending on which cables you buy and
how long they are) and theyre a good place to start. The cables
feature 24K gold plated connectors and oxygen-free copper wire, as well
as an aluminized mylar shield to cut down on signal interference.
Did they make an audible difference? Yes - not as much as the $100 Monster
cables I also have, but what do you expect?
Surge protectors are really glorified power bars, except they can also
help protect your toys from power spikes that could potentially fry them
- and the best of them are supposed to scrub the electronic crud out of
your power line. They dont work miracles, but they help.
RCA's $40 SCTV160 is a surge protector that has room for eight power
plugs, a phone/modem line, and your coaxial cable or satellite TV feed.
It even comes with a phone cord, a length of coax, an audible alarm (which,
fortunately, I never had to experience!) and indicator lights that tell
you its working as its supposed to. A master power button
turns on and off the components hooked into it.
The CVH920 Video Source Selector ($80) is a nice tool for
people whove collected more toys than they have places to connect
them. Its rear panel has inputs for six components, and one more on the
front (which is great for hooking in a camcorder). A single output goes
to your TV. All the connectors include RCA-type (which means "garden variety")
audio and video jacks as well as the higher end video S-Connectors.
The little box doesnt come with its own remote control, but it
has a learn feature that lets you teach it to work with your
other equipments remotes. This is excellent news for couch potatoes,
because it means they wont have to get up and walk over to the source
selector, thereby expending unnecessary energy.
One of the most important upgrades you can make is to your speaker wire.
There are a zillion types of wire, costing from pennies to manybucks
per foot. I recommend you spend as much as you can afford, and I speak
from experience. Id been using dollar a foot wire before
springing for some middle high end Monster cables, and the
difference was immediately audible. It was almost like getting new speakers.
These are only a few examples of easy home theater tweaks, and the difference
they can make in your room will depend a lot on how much you spend and
where you spend it. Even if you only make a few key enhancement, however,
you can receive a noticeable improvement thatll boost your home
theater enjoyment for years.
Next we'll start looking at the audio side of things.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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