Looks like it sounds about right

It’s no coincidence the rise of home theatre has happened right alongside the change from old fashioned, tube style TVs to flat screens.

It MAY be coincidence that home theatre has taken off thanks to (cough) the prices Australians pay at the box office to watch the latest Star Wars flick or something starring Margot Robbie and Jennifer Lawrence – together.

However, from personal experience, it seems there are still quite a few people that don’t understand what home theatre is or what it’s meant to do.

Here’s something in plain English to help de-mystify it all and we’ll start with the visual stuff.


What to watch it on?


It really is as the word suggests. Take your smartphone, turn it on its side – and that’s widescreen.

It’s also why you should pretty much never video anything holding your phone vertically.

The term widescreen is also a mathematical thing.

Remember hearing the word “ratio” back in school.

It means how many of one thing there is compared to another.

Widescreen is a ratio of 16:9, meaning 16 units horizontally against 9 units vertically.

It can also be expressed as 1.78:1 – that’s what you get when you divide 16 by 9.

Full HD/4K/Ultra HD

Two of these terms – 4K and Ultra HD – are interchangeable, while Full HD has fallen out of favour and is no longer commonly used.

TV screens, in fact any screen, like the one in your laptop or smartphone, are made up of dots called pixels – that’s shorthand for picture elements.

Full HD or Full High Definition is 1920 x 1080, meaning there’s 1920 pixels horizontally and 1080 pixels vertically.

4K or Ultra HD contains double the number of pixels – 3840 x 2160.

Currently, 4K is the highest visual standard available.

You can buy movies on 4K discs and for a lucky few that have a working NBN service and subscription to an online video provider, such as Netflix, you can watch movies and documentaries in 4K.

Blu-ray, which is on the way out, offers movies in Full HD.

DVD is a standard that should have been binned years ago – it offers an even lower video standard.


The sources?

Sound-wise, it’s another story.

Once upon a time there was CD. These compact discs provided great sound on a small carrier.

Very quickly came Video CD before the boffins worked out how to get even more info on to the same sized disc.

And thus was born the DVD or Digital Versatile Disc.

More boffinry has given us Blu-ray and now 4K discs.

What this allows is for more and more information to be stored. This includes video and audio information.

More info means a better picture, as well as access to information such as an actor’s biography while you’re watching the movie.

BUT you do need the right gadget to play the discs.

Microsoft’s X-Box S and the new X will play 4K discs – both games and movies – while brand name players are slowly being released by the likes of Samsung and Panasonic.

Backwards compatibility is a term that means a player will play an older format, in this case a hard plastic disc.

Brand name players should play 4K, Blu-ray, DVD, and CD, plus they’ll have a computer style USB socket to play those “legally acquired” movies you got from your mate at work.

Streaming services offer mainly standard definition fare, with some offering full high definition options.

What’s streaming, you cry?

Ever watched YouTube, on your computer or smartphone? That’s streaming.

Netflix was the first to say “here’s 4K streaming” and Stan is now also providing that option.

Access to these is getting better, with more and more manufacturers including them in a TV’s operating system.

Again, it’s all about information and the more information a provider transmits, the better an internet service you’ll need.

But, unless you have a 4K TV – it’s a waste of bandwidth.


The screens?

There’s two types of screens available.

There’s LED or Light Emitting Diode, and OLED or Organic Light Emitting Diode. Although sounding similar, there’s a crucial difference.

OLED screens generate their own light. LED screens use LEDS to light the LCD or Liquid Crystal Display screen.

Confused? Don’t be. Each pixel in an OLED screen is lit by passing a small amount of electricity through it. Power on, light. No power – no light.

It’s also why OLED screens are able to produce 100 percent blacks, so when watching something like Stanley Kubrick’s epic 2001: A Space Odyssey – space is black black – not an almost, slightly murky grey – but black.

LED screens have a bank of LEDs placed around the perimeter of the screen or, in higher end models, they are arranged in lines behind the LCD screen. These come pretty close to the inky blacks of OLEDs.

There’s then the various terms that makers use. For example, Samsung uses a term called QLED.

These use different kinds of LEDs, with some reviews suggesting they’re better in reproducing colours than OLED screens.

Size, as any lover of chocolate will tell you, is important. And, as an odd aside, just like car tyres, they’re measured in inches – not millimetres.

TV screens are measured diagonally, with the most common size nowadays 55-inch. That’s 137.5mm or roughly 4.5-feet.

Getting back to maths. There’s a sweet spot beyond which a 4K screen is pointless.  

Consider a 4K screen that measures 40-inches diagonally, versus a 55-inch or 75-inch screen.

Remember, they’re all 4K, so they have the same number of pixels. But at a certain distance from the screen, the image on a 4K screen will look no different than the same-sized but lower resolution, full high definition screen.

That’s because the human eye can only see so much detail at a certain size.

So if you’re considering a 40-inch 4K screen, sitting any further than three metres away from it is a bad investment.



George Lucas once said that sound is 50 percent of the experience.

It means HOW a movie sounds can make a huge difference in the level of enjoyment.

Surround sound

Again, just like widescreen, the trick is in the name.

Stereo is what we hear from a left and right perspective. Stereo is also known as two channel, because it has two audio sources.

Surround sound takes that up a notch or two. Surround sound once meant 3.1, with a speaker to the left, right and two behind producing the same or mono sound – making up the 3 channels.

The .1 is the bass, or low frequency boom that rattles the room when a car explodes or Darth Vader reaches out his hand and throws a good guy into a wall.

That speaker is called a sub-woofer, due to the sounds being subsonic or below the audible limit.

As a rule, home theatre sub-woofers have their own power source, as bass delivery, done properly, needs a fair amount of electrical grunt.

Then along came 5.1, with left, right, a centre speaker to help localise the voice of the actors on screen, and two speakers behind the viewing position with independent, rather than mono channels.

Now there’s 7.1, some 9.1, and even 11.1 for super high end audio compatible systems, with the intent across any variant to spread the sound around, placing the viewer right in the middle of what’s called a soundstage.

The sound is provided by a receiver, generally accepted as a multi-channel amplifier and surround sound decoder fitted with a radio tuner, and possibly other features like internet radio.

The more channels a receiver can decode, the more plugs it will have on the back – to which the speakers can be connected.

Sound formats

There was Dolby Digital to start with and this name was applied regardless of whether the audio had stereo or surround sound.

DTS was the opposition format and tended to provide only surround sound, with a broader sound to the . . . sound.  

The latest big gun in sound is Dolby Atmos. This allows for speakers to be placed in the ceiling and give an even broader feeling of being inside the sound – be it music, action, sci-fi, or suspense.


By no measure are these a compromise compared to “traditional” surround sound.

They are generally a long, thin, black looking thing that’s placed at the base of your TV or perhaps wall mounted.

On their own they won’t provide a lot of bass so they will come with a separate “subbie” – the .1 part of the sound.

Some companies, such as Yamaha, market soundbars that fire sound upwards to simulate the Dolby Atmos effect.


The experience

Set up properly, using a Blu-ray player connected to your TV and receiver via cables known as HDMI, that provide a fully digital signal between components, the effect is theatre sound, with a smaller version of the large movie theatre screen for the video.

And, that folks, is home theatre.

Some companies understand that not everyone is technically minded so they’ll sell HTIB or Home Theatre In A Box.

This is a receiver, generally of five channels, with small speakers and a small not quite sub-woofer.  

Better units provide tower style speakers and a bigger, more powerful, sub-woofer.


The final number

Not surprisingly, the more you spend, the higher the quality of the sound and video options that become available.

TV screens are like computers in that they have processors for the picture, so the more you spend the better the processor.

Naturally, the bigger the screen, the more your hip pocket takes a whack.

OLED screens are still, dollar for dollar, a bit more expensive – but then there are those true blacks and whites and everything in between.

Audio receivers become more expensive, with the number of features and the amount of power they offer.

If a small, relatively average receiver is all that’s needed, it’s a lot easier to live with dollar-wise compared to something that will power nine speakers and deliver more than 1000 watts of power.

In essence, that’s home theatre. Sit back, plug in, ready the popcorn, and enjoy the movie.


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