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25/08/2002 - Editorial: Buying Home Cinema Screens. by Saeed Amen.

Home cinema brings together the various technologies to bring you the cinema touch at home. Obviously going to the cinema is always going to be better, but with new devices like DVD you can come close. There are three basic parts to any home cinema setup, the screen, the player and the sound.

Screen. In most cases this will be a television. More expensive televisions now feature 100 Hz technology (less flicker), flat screens (less reflections), widescreen and also built-in digital decoders (which mean you don't need to buy a set top box to access digital television). The advantage of widescreen is that with films you get a full picture (without any black bars), unless the film was shot in a particularly wide format. Also digital television, in the UK, is broadcast in widescreen format! Before using widescreen TVs, when watching normal television was annoying because pictures were regularly stretched horizontally. Very large televisions (ie. 40 inches plus) require darker areas to operate because they work by rear projection. For the truly monster picture, projectors can accept signals from various sources (broadcast signals, DVD or video) and enlarge them onto huge screens. The main disadvantage of projectors is that they are expensive, require a totally dark room and are not very practical for everyday television viewing. Brighter projectors can however operate with some ambient light. Projectors are graded by their resolution and brightness (measured in lumens).

Picture Source. The source of the picture is either from broadcasted television or video or DVD (or the laserdisc format). Of these DVD is the clearest. However, videos have the advantage of being more widespread - the choice of DVDs at video stores is still quite small. Also DVD requires a seperate player. These have come down in price and are now comparible with video machines.

Sound. If you have a television, it is most likely that you will use its speakers to hear your film. However, it can be better to use your hi-fi to deliver the sound, especially if you are watching a DVD or video. If a hi-fi (or sometimes a television which come bundled with extra speakers) supports surround sound, you will benefit from a system usually used in the cinema. The advantage of such surround sound is that it puts you in the centre of the action. For example if a helicopter moves from front to rear, you'll hear it travelling overhead! Surround sound comes in several flavours: Dolby Pro Logic Used on videos, laserdiscs and most broadcasted films. Front left and right speaker, a centre speaker for speech and two rear speakers (feeding off the same signal - consequently the rear speakers are quite weak). Dolby Digital Used on DVDs and most cinemas. Front left and right speaker, centre speaker (for speech), rear left and right speakers and a subwoofer channel for action! All the channels are of the same strength and are encoded digitally. DTS Similar to Dolby Digital, but a rival format. Most systems which support Dolby Digital also support this.