What You Need for a Complete Home Theater

2 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Home Theater Planning

If you're dreaming of a complete home theater system, then consider this comprehensive list of necessities. Essential gear for a complete home theater includes sources, receivers/controllers, displays, speakers, connections, and accessories.

An all-inclusive home theater typically calls for the following equipment. (All-in-one units are omitted, because they merely integrate various combinations of these devices into one unit.)

  • Sources: These provide the content you watch or listen to.

    • Audio cassette player/recorder

    • CD player/recorder/MP3 player

    • Turntable

    • AM/FM tuner

    • DVD player/recorder

    • Blu-ray disc player

    • VCR

    • Personal video recorder (PVR, also called a digital video recorder [DVR] by some folks)

    • Camcorder

    • Satellite or cable set-top box

    • Video/audio server

    • Gaming console

    • Home theater PC or Windows XP Media Center PC (a specific Microsoft software product)

  • Receivers/controllers: The heart of the system, these devices feed content to your displays and speakers.

    • A/V receiver

    • Controller/decoder

    • Power amplifier

  • Displays: These units are what you watch.

    • Direct-view, rear-projection, or flat-panel TV display

    • Front-projection system with separate display screen

  • Speakers: These are what you listen to.

    • Two front speakers

    • One front center speaker

    • Two side speakers

    • Two or four rear speakers

    • Subwoofer

  • Connections: These are connections to content inside and outside your home.

    • Over-the-air antenna

    • Satellite or cable video feed

    • Internet connectivity — preferably broadband, such as DSL or cable modem

    • Home network — preferably both wired and wireless to make the connection between your Internet service and your home theater and your home theater and your PC (with Media Center Edition) or Mac (with Apple’s Front Row)

  • Accessories: These are devices that make your home-stored content accessible from elsewhere.

Naturally, as you extend your home theater to other points in your home, you can add to the quantities mentioned here, but most of the components are the same. You also might choose different qualities and (in the case of displays) sizes of these things, but the basic formula remains the same.

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