Feeding Video into Your Home Theater

You can get movies (and TV shows and other video content) into your home theater system in many ways — such as plugging into a cable or satellite TV system. For most folks, however, watching a movie means watching a prerecordedmovie (typically a movie on DVD that you buy or rent from the local video store).

Playing DVDs on an HDTV

Many folks hear "widescreen" and "digital" and think "HDTV" (or High Definition TV). Well, DVD isn't HDTV. DVD is digital. It provides a great picture. But it isn't a true high-definition video source. Although DVD looks great when you play it back on an HDTV, DVD doesn't give you the same quality of picture that a full-on HDTV signal can give.

Why don't DVDs do HDTV? Well, for one reason, HDTV wasn't fully finalized and on the market when the DVD was developed, so DVD was designed to work with the TVs of the time (which are still the majority of TVs today). More importantly, HDTV requires a ton of digital data. Using the traditional NTSC signal, you can fit a two-hour movie comfortably onto a DVD, but you can't fit more than a fraction of that movie onto a DVD if you encode it as an HDTV signal.

VCRs ain't (quite) dead yet

You may want to record TV shows that you won't be home for or watch home movies that you recorded with your camcorder. Or you may have a zillion VHS tapes that you're stuck with in a DVD age. For these reasons, the videocassette recorder (or VCR) still has a purpose.

You can buy three kinds of VCRs today:

  • VHS VCRs: These are your standard, garden-variety VCRs that have been around for 30 years or so. They use VHS videocassettes and record a low-resolution TV signal (only about 240 lines of resolution). Most of these VHS VCRs are cheap and include stereo audio capabilities (if so, they're labeled HiFi) and analog Dolby surround sound capabilities.
  • S-VHS VCRs: The S-VHS (or Super VHS) VCR uses a special S-VHS tape to provide a higher-quality, higher-resolution (400 lines, instead of 240) picture. Regular VHS tapes work on these decks, but S-VHS videocassettes don't work on most regular VHS decks.
  • D-VHS VCRs: These are high-definition VCRs. D-VHS VCRs can play and record standard VHS and S-VHS videotapes. More importantly, D-VHS VCRs can also record all the HDTV formats. To record and play back HDTV, the D-VHS system needs an i.LINK (also called IEEE 1394 or FireWire) connector to connect to an HDTV TV or a standalone HDTV tuner. Many HDTVs and HDTV tuners don't have this connection, however, because broadcasters and movie studios don't want you to be able to record HDTV programs. So check carefully before you invest in one of these D-VHS VCRs.

Homegrown video programming

You don't have to limit your home theater viewing to prerecorded DVDs and television broadcasts. You can also incorporate video from your own sources. Many folks like to make their own video programming — home movies and the like. You can also watch in-house closed circuit or surveillance video on your home theater.

Camcorders

You can connect your camcorder to your home theater really simply. All digital camcorders use standard S-Video.

If you use a camcorder in your home theater, you may want to choose an A/V receiver with a set of inputs for the camcorder on the front. With this setup, you don't have to monkey around behind the equipment rack when you want to plug in your camcorder.

Video surveillance

Surveillance video is not high-quality, surround sound video. In fact, most surveillance video (often called closed circuit TV or CCTV) is pretty awful to look at. But if you want to know who's ringing the doorbell or keep an eye on the baby asleep in her room while you watch a movie in the home theater, then you probably don't need a high-quality picture. Heck, you may not even want a color picture, or sound. You just want to see what's going on.

You can get this home surveillance video into your system in a couple of ways:

  • A wireless system: These systems use a 2.4 GHz radio signal (like those many cordless phones use) to send video from a remote location to a small receiver that plugs into your home theater receiver or directly into your TV.
  • Networked cameras that connect to your home's computer network: These systems, from companies like Panasonic and D-Link, cost a bit more, but they're much more capable. Using a standard (wired) Ethernet network or a wireless computer network (802.11b or Wi-Fi), you can feed the video from these cameras into your home theater PC, and you can even view them from outside the home theater (if you have a broadband Internet connection) by using the built-in Web server on these cameras.
  • A traditional "wired" CCTV system: These cameras connect to your home's coaxial video cabling and use devices called modulators that let you turn this video into an in-house TV station. To view a modulated CCTV channel, you just need to tune your TV to the right channel. If you have a picture-in-picture system in your TV, you can even keep an eye on things in a small window while you watch something else on the rest of the screen.
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