Is a home-theater system on your wish list? We explain the basic equipment and costs.
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Jared Lewis, owner of Audio Video Excellence in Homewood, Alabama, can melt through the mystery of home-theater systems like sunlight on a snowman. Here he's provided a rundown for a well-planned media room, including the different types of display devices that are available.

Primary Importance
The display device is the most important part of your home-theater system. The clearer and larger the image, the greater your viewing enjoyment will be.

  • TVs: If you've bought a new television within the last 10 years, chances are it's DVD compatible (we discuss DVD players and discs below). High-definition, or HD, television is another matter. "Displaying up to four times the resolution of standard TVs, HD TVs were introduced about three years ago," explains audio/video specialist Jared Lewis, "and they've actually become more affordable within the last year." The price range for a 32-inch HD TV is $1,000 to $3,000. For comparison, the price for a good regular TV ranges from $600 to $1,300. Keep in mind that many networks are broadcasting only select programs in high definition. Therefore your money might be better spent on a TV that can be upgraded.
  • Plasma screens: Streamlined down to a flat, thin box, this revolution in the audio/video field has produced TVs that look more like framed works of art. Generally secured to a wall, plasma screens can be viewed from any angle and still maintain their clarity. (These nifty devices can also double as giant computer monitors.) Presently available at many audio/video stores, they're expensive but can be a good solution in a location where space is tight. The price range for a 42-inch plasma screen is $5,000 to $8,000.

Surround Sound
A home-entertainment system relies heavily upon a well-balanced sound system to produce great effects. "A good media room should have three front speakers--left, center, and right," notes Jared. "In particular, the center speaker and its placement are very important because nearly 75% of all TV and movie dialogue will come from that source." Jared also stresses that two side or rear speakers are essential for surround sound, and they should be located parallel to the listener. For even more effects you can include additional rear right and left speakers.

Speakers and amplifiers may be purchased separately or in a more affordable package that comes with a receiver, speakers, and perhaps even a DVD player. Prices, including five speakers, a subwoofer (which is a bass amplifier), and receiver, range from $400 to as much as you want to spend.

Plugging the Source
Resembling a compact disc that's been merged with the CD-ROM of a computer, DVDs offer viewing that is far more refined than videotape. Also, these discs often include interactive features such as scene selections and mini documentaries that further explain the making of the film. DVD players start at around $150 and go up, depending upon the number of bells and whistles you select. Some players even have a VCR built in as well, which allows you to view either disc or tape. A good dual unit can cost as little as $200, but be sure it has a high-fidelity VCR to make the most of your sound system.

Unlike videos, DVDs won't degrade when played multiple times. This is great news for families who want to convert home videos to DVDs, which ensures that cherished images will last a lifetime.