The high-definition visuals your shiny new flat screen fills your living room with are undeniably fantastic, but does the audio performance measure up?

High definition images demand to be combined with the best possible sound to achieve the best movie experience. If you want to get the most out of your home theater experience, we recommend investing in some serious audio equipment to complement your HDTV.

The question is: where to start? Read on as we walk you through some frequently asked questions about home theater audio (opens in a new tab), then recommend four systems for the ultimate in home theater. To learn more about these and other home theater systems, check out the 16-page instant guide to home theater audio in the latest issue of What Home Cinema magazine.

Home Theater Audio FAQ

What's wrong with only using my TV speakers?

Most flat screen TVs are so thin that there isn't much room left to accommodate large speakers. Sound quality is often mediocre and surround sound modes are rarely incorporated. A separate set of multi-channel amplifiers and speakers will let you unleash an immersive 5.1 soundtrack.

Do I really need a subwoofer?

A subwoofer is the one point in a 5.1 home theater system that handles the harrowing low frequency effects (LFE) in movie soundtracks. Without a subwoofer, you may miss out on the full 5.1 soundtrack experience.

Where should I place my speakers?

All speakers should be placed the same distance from your viewing/listening position, with the center speaker positioned just above or below the TV screen and the subwoofer at the front of the soundstage.

What works well with HDTV?

Sky HD broadcasts many movies and other programs in Dolby Digital 5.1. To hear the surround soundtrack, you can connect your HD decoder to a multi-channel amplifier or single decoder system using the optical digital output. You can also route the HDMI output of your HD source through the amplifier using the HDMI loop-through jacks.

What works well with Blu-ray and HD DVD?

The two competing high-definition video formats are supported by five new, higher-resolution formats. Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio provide the highest quality HD sound, but can only be played if your receiver is equipped with HDMI version 1.3 jacks. Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD High Resolution Audio, and Linear PCM can be output from any HDMI jack.

Top tips for choosing a theater sound system

– Decide if you want a 2.1, 3.1 or 5.1 speaker setup

– Good stereo sound can often be more appealing than some “virtual” surround sound options

– You don't need a system with a built-in DVD deck if you already have a separate player

– Make sure the speakers can be mounted on the wall if you want a discreet installation. Choose between satellite and loud speaker systems

How to connect multiple systems to your TV

All televisions have at least one RGB compatible scart. In most cases, this will provide decent picture performance, but if your TV has a component video or HDMI connector, visible improvements can be seen by connecting your home theater equipment using these connections. Additional benefits can often be gained by selecting 720p or 1080i upscaling modes on your DVD player.

For speaker systems that do not have a built-in DVD player, you will need to decide whether or not to route the highest quality video output available from a separate player to the multi-channel amplifier (if there is a corresponding video loop through the connection). or directly on the TV screen.

Connect the DVD player's optical or coaxial digital output directly to the multi-channel amplifier to enable it to decode 5.1 soundtracks.

Top Tips for Buying Amplifiers and Speakers Separately

– Decide the number and type of speakers for the available space

Share This