Introducing High-End Home Theater

The idea that you can move up to the high end when you're buying components and setting up a home theater may see a little vague to you. Everyone's got his or her own definition of high end, but it can mean equipment that is designed to offer the ultimate reproduction of music and movies.

The designers of high-end systems are so single-minded in their pursuit of musical and video fidelity that they create their own proprietary systems that they feel do a better job than standard mix-and-match components. When you say a system is proprietary, that mean it's designed to work best (or in some cases only) with other components from the same vendor. So if you buy part of your home theater from one of these vendors, you probably want to buy all of it from them — at least on the audio side. These systems usually work with any display. When you buy a proprietary system, you're in effect taking a bet on this company's ability to do things better than the industry in general does — and its ability to stay in business and support you in the future.

High end starts and ends with the philosophy of the designers and engineers who create the product (which can be speakers, a display, an A/V controller or power amplifier, or even an A/V receiver, though high-end systems usually go with separates). See, anybody designing a piece of consumer electronics equipment has to balance a lot of different (and often conflicting) requirements: price, aesthetic considerations, size, performance, its ability to work with other gear, and so on. High-end gear skews this very delicate balance toward the performance side of the equation, and as a result, the high-end components can be much more expensive, big, proprietary, and even ugly.

A few years back, there was a bit of a geographic divide (or at least, a perceived divide) between high-end and mass market A/V components. High-end vendors were located in the United States, Canada, and Europe, while big consumer electronics companies based in Asia focused on high-volume, middle market products. This perception, if it was ever true or not, certainly isn't true today. Although many high-end manufacturers are indeed based in the "traditional" places, you can find some really awesome (and expensive) gear coming from those big Asian companies. Just because a company sells a ton of relatively cheap A/V receivers doesn't mean that it can't build a great (and pricey) receiver. So throw any perceptions of brand bias out the door because you may be surprised by who's got the great selling products these days.

It's not just the audio part of home theater that fits into the high-end category. You can find high-end video systems out there on the market, waiting to be gobbled up by well-to-do home-theater enthusiasts.

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