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If you have just bought a great TV and are looking match the image with quality surround sound, a home theatre system will be the perfect addition to your set-up. Whether you are upgrading your components or are buying a system for the first time and have some questions, we have you covered. Although browsing by brand is a good starting point, it will not always guarantee that the "top" brand for a particular item is right for you. Make sure you take a variety of brands, models, and prices into consideration. Paying more is not always necessary to get a good product but be wary that sale items may not be able to fit the bill in terms of performance or flexibility.

No matter how easy it looks, it is always a good idea to read the owner's manual for your components, even before you take them out of the box. Get familiar with functions and connections before you hook-up and set-up.

Ultimately, the big choice is between the convenience and affordability of a soundbar, and the sound quality, expense, and size of a multi-speaker system. Both enable a better sound experience than your TVs built-in audio, but there are pros and cons. With many choices available it may seem daunting, but the best thing you can do is visit us in-store and listen to the speakers. Carry out your own comparisons and test multiple systems so you can get exactly what you need.

Common Mistakes

You spent a tonne of money and time setting up your new home theatre system, but something just doesn't seem right. Did you make any mistakes? To find out, check out our list of common mistakes many of us make when trying to put together a home theatre system.

1. Buying cheap speakers

Some spend a small fortune on audio/video components but don't give enough thought on the quality of the speakers and subwoofer. This doesn't mean you have to spend thousands for a decent system, but you should consider speakers that can do the job.

With many choices it may seem difficult but the best thing to do is to actually listen to speakers at one of our stores before you buy. Do your own comparisons by taking your own CDs and DVDs with you to hear what they sound like with various speakers.

2. Unbalanced speaker levels

You've connected and placed the speakers, turned everything on, but nothing sounds right; the subwoofer overwhelms the room, dialog can't be heard over the rest of the soundtrack, and the surround sound effect is too low. This is easily solved as most home theatre receivers have a setup menu that allows you to note the size, as well as the distance of the speakers from the prime listening position. This also includes a test tone generator to assist in adjusting the sound output level of each speaker.

3. Not reading the user manuals

No matter how easy it looks, it is always a good idea to read the owner's manual for your components, even before you take them out of the box. Get familiar with functions and connections before you hook-up and set-up.

4. Not buying an extended warranty on an expensive system

Although service plans/warranties are not needed for all items, if you are buying an expensive home theatre system, it is something to consider for two reasons:

  • House calls by a third-party repairer are costly when paid out of pocket.
  • If you have a problem with your system and you cannot repair the individual defect, you will most likely have to replace the component - which probably means the entire thing.

5. Buying by brand or price, instead of what you really want

Although browsing by brand is a good starting point, it won’t always guarantee that the "top" brand for a particular item is right for you. When shopping, make sure you take a variety of brands, models, and prices into consideration. Also, avoid prices that seem to be too good to be true. Paying the big bucks is not always necessary to get a good product but, more often than not, sale items will not be able to fit the bill in terms of performance or flexibility.

6. Cable Mess

We are all guilty of this. Every time a new component is added to our home theatre, we add more and more cables. Eventually, it is difficult to keep track of what is connected to what especially when you attempt to track down a bad cable signal or move the components around.

Here are two tips:

  1. Make sure your cable runs are not too long, but long enough to allow easy access to your components.
  2. Label your cables using coloured tape or other marking

7. Using Cheap Cables

There is constant debate on whether it is necessary to purchase very high priced cables for a basic home theatre system. One thing to consider is that the thin, cheaply constructed cables that come with many DVD players, VCRs, etc. probably should be replaced by something that is a little more heavy-duty. The reasons are that a more heavy duty cable can provide better shielding from interference and will also stand last for longer. On the other hand, there are also some outrageously priced cables. For instance, although you shouldn't settle for cheaply made cables, you don't have to resort to spending a $100 or more for a 2 metre HDMI cable either.

8. Not Getting Professional Help When You Need It

You have done everything you can - you've connected it all, you set the sound levels, you have the right size TV, used good cables, but it still isn't right: the sound is terrible, the TV looks bad.

Instead of spending more time and money, or returning it all, consider calling a professional installer to assess the situation. You might have to swallow your pride and pay $100 or more for the house call, but that investment can salvage a home theatre disaster and turn it into home theatre gold.

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Auto-Calibration

What is auto-calibration and why do I need it?

Most home theatre receivers come with an auto speaker calibration setup that you can use with the supplied microphone and in-built calibration software. With this equipment, you can automatically equalise and calibrate your home theatre system – a useful tool if you have issues with speaker placement and acoustics in your room. Auto-calibration can also match your subwoofer and speakers for a properly balance sound, set the delays so that sound from all speakers arrive at the same time, and also balance the frequency response of all the speakers.

What are the steps involved?

  1. Make sure you have connected your speakers to the A/V receiver using speaker cable and connected the subwoofer to A/V receiver using a subwoofer cable
  2. Connect a HDMI cable from ‘monitor out’ on the A/V Receiver to ‘HDMI in’ on the TV
  3. Turn on your A/V receiver and select ‘Setup’
  4. Go through the automatic setup process and connect the microphone to the A/V receiver when prompted
  5. Place the microphone at ear height in the primary listening location and follow the prompts
  6. Test tones should be heard through each speaker as the speaker calibration takes place
  7. Many auto speaker calibration setups have multiple listening zones so be prepared to move the
  8. microphone around and go through this process a few times especially in areas with multiple seating areas
  9. Once the measurements are finished, the calibration software will create a room equalisation filter for each speaker and save it to your A/V Receiver
  10. The A/V receiver is now optimised and ready for an enjoyable and engaging audio experience

Calibration Questions

Q: I haven’t noticed anything wrong with my system. Will I need to calibrate it?
A: The auto speaker setup will calibrate your speakers to suit the particular environment the home theatre system is in and the location of the speakers. This will optimise your listening experience to make the most out of your home theatre system.

Q: I’m not very technically-minded, so do I have to buy a system that has auto-calibration?
A: You do not ‘have to’ buy a system with auto-calibration, but it would be an excellent feature to have for someone who wants to maximise their audio experience without having the knowledge or experience to manually adjust the audio settings.

Q: Can I still adjust the calibration manually to suit my needs?
A: Yes

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Soundbars

Soundbars are the most affordable option when it comes to getting better audio quality from your TV. A slim soundbar is the perfect match for a smaller budget and space. Although they can be accompanied by a wireless sub, soundbars do not require multiple speakers littered throughout. The addition of a wireless subwoofer helps to achieve more of a home theatre-like experience by adding low-end bass tones to your TV show, movie or music that a soundbar simply cannot replicate.

Everything you need is included in the box and it is super easy to setup. Bluetooth and an optical or HDMI are important features to look out for. Most soundbars come WiFi and/or Bluetooth enabled, so you can stream any audio effortlessly from your devices.

Bluetooth is a convenient option for sharing music and audio straight from your smart devices. Alternatively, you can connect to a soundbar with wireless network capabilities for multi-room listening with your compatible speakers.

Dolby Atmos soundbars will take your audio to another level and create a virtual surround effect. Combining an object-based sound format, they attempt to mimic the immersive, virtual surround and 3D audio experience you would typically get at the movies. Utilising upward-firing drivers to disperse the sound overhead, it gives the effect of having speakers in the ceiling. Many 4K Blu-Ray discs, Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming platforms support Dolby Atmos with plenty of movies and TV shows on demand. Dolby Atmos soundbars will offer you a vertical dimension to the audio output. As it is self-contained and not reliant on a feature of your TV, you can add a Dolby Atmos soundbar to your existing setup.

The majority of soundbars now come with built-in amplifiers that power everything, and channel processors that separate left, right, and centre speakers within the soundbar. Generally, we would suggest a soundbar with minimum 3 channels to correctly simulate surround sound for the most immersive experience.

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Jargon Buster

If you don't know your woofers from your tweeters, or you're baffled by technology, let us help you out! This handy jargon buster has been designed to demystify some of the most common hi-fi and home cinema terms.

Amplifier
An electronic device that amplifies or boosts the signal from a source component to a required volume.

Aspect ratio
Aspect ratio The displayed width of an image divided by its height. There are the two main aspect ratios around - the traditional 4:3 and its modern 16:9 (1.78:1) successor, used in HD television or the cinema.

Bass
Bass The lowest part of the frequency range, which is reproduced by woofers and subwoofers in loudspeakers.

Blu-ray disc (BD)
Blu-ray is a high-density optical disc format for the storage of digital information. The format offers more than five times the storage capacity of traditional DVDs – up to 50GB on a dual-layer disc. Named after the blue-violet laser used to read the new discs, it is backed by Sony, Pioneer, Samsung and Apple amongst others.

Contrast ratio
This is the difference between the lightest and darkest content that a screen or projector is capable of producing. It’s helpful to know that the contrast ratio you see in ads is always measured under the optimum condition of a room in total darkness. In typical viewing situations, the contrast ratio is significantly lower, making it harder to distinguish between different devices with very high contrast ratios.

DAB
Stands for Digital Audio Broadcasting and is a digital radio transmission that gives a clearer signal, greater selection of radio stations, and wonderful ease of access. What’s more, as well as sound, this technology allows the broadcast of station information and EPG. Look out for DAB+ technology, which offers superior sound.

Digital tuner
With digital TV, a digital tuner receives sound and pictures from the broadcaster in ‘bits’ of information and turns this signal back into pictures and sound. You can access free-to-air HD programming such as Go! Gem, 7mate, 7Two, OneHD and ABC’s 24 hour news channel, amongst others.

Dolby Digital
A digital audio format that delivers surround sound replay, via a 5.1 speaker system. It is the designated audio standard for DVD worldwide and is also the preferred multichannel audio standard for direct broadcast and digital cable systems.

Driver
Another way to describe the round cones in a loudspeaker that create sound. Their diameter is measured in inches and generally; a bigger speaker will give a bigger sound.

HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface)
A wonderful 'pure' digital, high quality connection between a source and screen. It can carry both sound and vision between home cinema components, and has copy-protection capabilities.

Passive/Active
Active refers to a loudspeaker or subwoofer that includes some form of amplification, which is often digital in nature, to power the signal that is received from the crossover. The majority of loudspeakers are passive, which means they need some form of amplification to work.

Pre-amplifier
Refers to a separate component that controls and routes signals coming from your source components.

Progressive Scan
A way of delivering a superior, flicker-free image by drawing all the lines that make up a frame simultaneously, in one clean sweep.

PVR (personal video recorder)/DVR (digital video recorder)
Records video in a digital format to a hard disk. Some manufacturers have started to offer televisions with DVR hardware and software built in to the television itself. If you have a twin tuner, which has two PVRs, you can record two programs at once, or watch one and record another.

Tweeter
A piece found at the top of most speakers; a drive unit that handles all the higher frequencies that need to be reproduced.

Up-scaling
The latest DVD players can upscale the original DVD signal produced by filling in the gaps with new information to produce better pictures. Upscaling isn’t quite HD DVD or Bluray – they cannot add detail that wasn’t in the original recording – but it does boost performance.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is meant by "Home-Theatre-In-A-Box"?

Home Theatre-In-A-Box is becoming quite popular amongst consumers and are a great introduction to the fun of home theatre.

These one-box systems contains most (or all) of the components needed for a basic Home Theatre, including all speakers, a surround sound receiver, and a DVD/CD/Blu-ray player. If you are new to Home Theatre for the very first time and are looking for an easy option, a Home Theatre-In-A-Box is a good place to start.

Benefits of a Home Theatre-In-A-Box system:

  1. They’re reasonably priced. Complete systems start as low as $200, but can be priced as high as $2,000 or more.
  2. They’re compact. These systems are designed so they don’t overwhelm the average person. The central DVD/receiver units are usually no larger than a DVD player, although some systems do include separate DVD player/receiver components.

    The included satellite speakers are typically small enough to be mounted in room corners or on shelves. Even the included subwoofer is usually of very compact design – it can be easily placed in a corner or next to a table without attracting attention - except for the deep bass sound it generates.
  3. They’re easy to install and use. Most all of the required connection cables are provided so all you need is a TV with AV inputs and audio outputs, a DVD/Blu-ray Player (unless one is supplied), and you are ready to go. No special skills are required, just the ability to read simple instructions and diagrams. Also, most systems come with a remote control that is used for all the functions of the system.

What is ‘surround sound’ and how do I get it? And what is an AV receiver?

‘Surround sound’ is a term for sound coming from all directions to give an ultimate immersive experience.

Getting surround sound - the Home Theatre, AV, or surround sound receiver

To get surround sound, you need a component that can play DVDs, CDs and or Blu-ray discs. This component is referred to as an AV Receiver (Audio/Video Receiver), Home Theatre Receiver, or Surround Sound Receiver.

Any of these receivers combine the functions of three components:

  1. A radio tuner for AM/FM and, in some cases, digital radio
  2. A pre-amplifier that switches and controls which audio and video source is selected (such as a DVD player, Blu-ray, CD player, etc.) and processes the incoming stereo or surround sound signals and distributes them to the speakers and the subwoofer output. The pre-amp in an AV receiver can also route video signals coming from a disc and direct the video signal to the television.
  3. A built-in multi-channel amplifier (5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 channels) that sends the surround sound signals and power to the speaker system.

Receiver or separate components?

The home theatre receiver is the heart of a home theatre system and provides most, if not all, the inputs and outputs that you connect everything into, including your TV. An AV Receiver provides an easy and cost-effective way of centralising your home theatre system.

Do I need a subwoofer?

A bass speaker will be necessary if your speakers are unable to reproduce the lowest frequencies, which is generally the case for small-sized speakers. Floor-standing speakers often don’t require the use of a subwoofer. In home cinema, signals are designed for multi-channel sound (5.1, 7.1, etc), with one channel dedicated to the bass speaker. For the best performance, it might be worthwhile to incorporate one into your installation, even though other speakers (front and surround) are capable of descending to low frequencies.

What is the difference between floor-standing and bookshelf speakers?

Floor-standing speakers take up a bit of floor space but are elegantly designed and have sizeable internal volume. This means you can have a greater number of speakers in your set-up than if you just had bookshelf models. As mentioned previously, by dedicating one or more speakers to bass frequencies, floor-standing speakers eliminate the need for subwoofers, particularly if you’re using them for music.

Bookshelf speakers can be mounted on furniture or onto stands, meaning they are a great choice for smaller rooms or for where a more discreet look is needed. These speakers are slightly less powerful and don’t produce lower frequencies as well as floor-standing types.

What is a running-in period?

The components used in speakers are complex mechanical parts which require a running-in period so that they can work to the best of their ability and adapt to the temperature and humidity conditions of your environment.

This running-in period can vary depending on the situations the speaker is used in and can last for several weeks. To speed up this process, you should:

  • Run your speakers for twenty hours.
  • Start with pieces of music without excessive bass and with low sound volume.
  • Regularly increase the volume and change the style of music.

Once this has been done properly, you will be able to enjoy the maximum performance of your speakers. Also, if you use your speakers regularly at a reasonable volume, this will continue to run in your speakers and improve them.

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