With big-screen TVs now affordable and multiple streaming services offering HD and UHD content, there has never been a better time to set up an impressive home theatre. But what do you need to make it really great? Here are five things worth considering to make sure your setup is the best it can be.
1. Picking the right TV
Look at that black box over there… it’s a bit small isn’t it? I know you’ve only had it for a few years, but technology is moving fast. Remember Blu-ray? No sooner had it established itself, 4K came along as the next big thing. Of course, you need to approach innovations with caution (curved and 3D capable TVs have not aged well). But largely, you can find smart TVs with vast screens and 4K resolution without slipping into four-figure sums.
Smart TVs are internet connected and use apps, meaning you won’t need any other devices to stream your content… so in a way, wall mounting a 65” screen is saving surface space!
A lot of confusion around new TVs comes from the marketing around different types of screen, and can make a big difference in price. LED screens are the most common and most affordable option. Many use an LCD display and are illuminated by LED backlights, offering a clear and bright picture.
OLED is a genuine breakthrough moment for television. Unlike LCD or plasma, OLED screens use less energy, produce brighter pictures and do not require a backlight, making screens impossibly thin and the best picture available. However, this comes at a premium – OLED displays are very expensive.
QLED commonly fills a middle ground. This Samsung innovation may sound like a variant of OLED, but is actually closer to a standard LED. Technology will continue to develop, and new innovations will keep appearing every year, but you should focus on what will fit in the space you have available and what you can afford today.
2. Maximise your catalog
Previously, having a large film library would have meant floor-to-ceiling shelving and spending a fortune on the latest releases. Today we are spoiled with high-quality streaming services everywhere we turn. From BBC iPlayer and Netflix to Amazon Prime, there is more choice than ever before. While it may not have the nostalgic charm of a visit to Blockbusters, almost everything else about the experience is better.
But even with so much choice, it can still be hard to find that specific thing you want to watch. Cycling through search menu after search menu without success can be frustrating, and if you still can’t find what you were looking for, it might be that the title has been removed in your region. As rights deals expire, films will often disappear to re-emerge elsewhere later.
While it is not foolproof, equip yourself with a VPN. Though this tool is more commonly used for improving your online security and anonymity online, one of the ways it does this is to ‘tunnel’ your connection through servers based around the world. This means you can appear to be signing in from almost any location, giving you access to regional Netflix libraries and maximising your chances of finding the content you want.
3. Cinema sound
Capturing that cinema-style sound in your home is a big challenge without causing issues. Ideally you will want a wired setup for the best quality and to avoid dropouts that can occur with wireless speakers, but running cables around what is likely to be a living room, could be quite hazardous.
One option that offers a middle ground is the soundbar. While they are generally a bit of an eyesore, they can bring elements of surround sound and deeper bass than you would be able to enjoy from your TV’s speakers alone.
Wherever possible, a surround sound system will provide the most authentic experience with genuine 5.1 or 7.1 rather than a simulated equivalent. But the practicalities of life, be it living in a flat or having children, means that a soundbar might be a more realistic alternative for family viewing, and a pair of high-quality headphones for when you are watching alone.
4. Enjoy the view
The ever-increasing resolutions available for the home market are making it possible to enjoy the most vibrant, realistic pictures ever made available to a home audience. But what do all these terms and numbers actually mean when you get beyond the marketing blurb?
Resolution is the number of pixels used to build the image on your screen and is measured by the number of horizontal rows of pixels used to make up the image. While many TVs boast the ability to offer crystal clarity in their presentation, the truth is that capability is dependent on the source material.
So, let’s compare. A standard definition DVD presentation has 576 lines. Blu-ray and high definition had such an impact because it dramatically increased that to 1080 lines, and still looks fantastic today.
The next big thing that is being pushed by manufacturers is 4K, leaping to 4,096 lines, making the difference in picture quality incredibly obvious. However, while most new screens are proudly 4K ready, the amount of content available in this format is still very slim.
To find some middle ground, a new term is used – UHD (Ultra High Definition). This catch-all term is used by many TV channels and streaming services to promote their highest quality content, which is usually 2,160 lines – higher quality than Full HD, but not enough to legitimately be 4K. For now, this is the highest resolution option that is readily available on most platforms and is a really great way to show off what your screen can do.
5. Getting in position
So now you have all your equipment, it is time to tweak and adjust to make sure you are getting the most out of your setup.
Positioning your TV can be a challenge, but there are a few simple steps to make sure you are doing it right. Eye strain can be a factor for long sessions, so you should make sure your screen height is set at eye level so you don’t have to spend the whole time looking up. You should also try and watch from within a 30 degree viewing angle to make sure you are experiencing the colours as intended.
If you’re settling down for a Netflix marathon or to re-watch the Lord of the Rings, you know that you are going to be in it for the long haul. That means the most important aspect of your experience is having a comfortable place to sit. But how far away should you be to get the most out of all of those pixels? There are a number of formulas available but the simple rule for a standard HD (1080p) display is a ratio of 2:1 – in other words, 100 inches (around 8 feet) from a 50” screen. This changes for 4K and UHD, which should be 1:1 or 1.5:1 at most. For our 50” screen that means sitting no more than 75 inches (around 6 feet) away.
Finally, distractions. To minimise outside noise, reflections and glare, blackout blinds can make a world of difference when trying to elevate your experience from sofa to cinema. Not many people can afford to convert the basement into a full-blown cinema, but almost anyone can improve their current setup and make the most of the affordable technology that modern home entertainment can offer.