What is a Home Theater System?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A home theater system uses a combination of audio and visual components to recreate the experience of a professional movie theater. The set-up may be as simple as a DVD player fed through a stereo system and a larger television set, or as elaborate as an entire room professionally wired with multiple speakers and a projection screen. A home theater system may even include theater-style chairs and an elevated floor for optimal viewing.

Some home theater systems use a projector.
Some home theater systems use a projector.

To understand the mechanics of a home theater system, it's important to understand the original movie theater experience it hopes to duplicate. Professional movie theaters have two or three large amplifier units located to the left, right and center of an expansive movie screen. There are also several satellite speakers embedded through the auditorium, including the back. Movie sound editors separate the audio track into as many as six different channels -- the audience may hear dialogue in the front left, center and right channels for instance. Other sounds may start from a rear channel and move towards the front. This creates a very realistic audio environment.

Components of a home theater system may be operated with a remote control.
Components of a home theater system may be operated with a remote control.

Professional movie theaters also project a high-definition film onto an oversized screen which is wider than it is tall. This allows for a more natural visual experience than a typical square television screen provides. The increased definition of a 35mm or 70mm film also gives the movie added realism.

The TV or projector display is generally the centerpiece of a home theater system.
The TV or projector display is generally the centerpiece of a home theater system.

All of these aspects of movie-going are recreated in a good home theater system. The DVD player in a home theater system can separate the audio track into two, three or even five channels. Most DVD movies have 2.0 Dolby stereo and 5.1 surround-sound options for home theaters. Two speakers can be set up for traditional stereo sound, along with a smaller central speaker for surround sound. Those seeking an even more satisfying audio experience can add a subwoofer for bass sounds and a satellite speaker placed behind the audience for complete surround-sound.

A home theater system may be included in an entertainment center.
A home theater system may be included in an entertainment center.

A home theater system should also feature a large television screen, preferably with a 16:9 widescreen ratio. This is the same viewing ratio found in professional movie theaters. A home theater system can employ a standard television screen, but viewers may have to settle for a 'letterboxed' version to recreate the widescreen effect. A flat screen television, whether it is a standard CRT or high-definition model, may work best for a typical home theater system.

A simple home theater system can be two speakers can be set up for traditional stereo sound, along with a smaller central speaker for surround sound.
A simple home theater system can be two speakers can be set up for traditional stereo sound, along with a smaller central speaker for surround sound.

For the ultimate home theater system experience, some homeowners will commission professional installers to design an entire viewing room. A high-end home theater system may use an overhead projector television and screen to duplicate the clarity and size of a professional version. Speakers may be embedded in the walls to reduce clutter and focus the audio tracks more precisely. All of the electronics may be stored unobtrusively in a closet near the screen, with an elaborate remote control system to control them. A central control panel in a high-end home theater system may dim the room lights, open the curtain and start the movie on command.

Some home theater systems use projector screens.
Some home theater systems use projector screens.
Some may prefer a large projection screen in their home theater rather than a television.
Some may prefer a large projection screen in their home theater rather than a television.
Some homeowners commission professional installers to design an entire home theater viewing room.
Some homeowners commission professional installers to design an entire home theater viewing room.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

techless

This is a really dumb question and I couldn't find another article that addresses my very elementary question. I have a plasma TV with HDMI. I would like to connect an auxiliary speaker to improve the quality of the sound but not necessarily install a complete home theater system. Do I still need a receiver or can I simply connect a speaker to the tv?

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