HOME CINEMA, THE EASY WAY...
If you think stereo sound on TV is a neat idea, wait until
you’ve tried home cinema! Imagine the Batmobile screaming across the room, big
Arnie blasting away behind the sofa, or a Tomcat fighter aircraft whizzing over
your head, with sound effects so realistic you duck for cover! Large screen TVs
with powerful sound systems have been around for years, but only recently has
it become possible to authentically recreate the experience of watching a movie
at the cinema, in your own living room, without spending a small fortune (though
you can still do that, if you wish...).
The key developments, that have made all this possible, has
been the coming together of video and audio technologies, and the availability
of films with Dolby Surround soundtracks on tape, disc and broadcast, from
land-based transmitters or satellites. The coded information contained within many
recent film soundtracks is the same as that used to generate the exciting multi-channel
audio effects you hear in movie theatres.
You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment, in fact you may
already have the basic components, if you’ve got a stereo VCR or NICAM TV.
Maybe you’ve decided to upgrade your television, hi-fi or satellite receiver in
the near future, if so you can put your own home cinema system together for only
a few pounds more than you would have normally spent.
However, the simplest approach is to go for a so-called
‘one-box’ solution, with a TV that has a built-in Dolby Pro-Logic (DPL) decoder.
There’s at least a couple of dozen sets on the market with this facility, made
by Ferguson JVC, Hitachi, Sony, Nokia, Grundig, Panasonic, Philips, and
Toshiba, to name just a few. Prices start at under £600, for a 25-inch model,
though most are in the £800 to £1000 price bracket. They all come with the
necessary extra surround-sound speakers, that are placed behind the viewing
position. If you don’t fancy the idea of extra boxes and cables JVC have a
range of ‘3D Symphonix’ sets, that generate surround-sound effects from the
TV’s own speakers.
The alternative is to stick with your present TV and upgrade
your hi-fi with a Dolby Pro-Logic decoder, or better still, get a DPL-equipped
system and use it as the centrepiece of an integrated home entertainment
set-up. The cheapest ones cost just under £400, for a mini hi-fi, complete with
the extra speakers, as well as CD player, twin cassette decks and AM/FM tuner.
Aiwa, Sanyo and Sony have well-specified budget systems, most other manufacturer’s
outfits start at around £500, though the sky’s the limit and if you’re really
determined you could spend easily several thousand pounds on a top-end system.
If you’re happy with your hi-fi speakers and audio components,
there are several stand-alone DPL decoders to choose from, though you may need
another amplifier to drive the extra speakers. There are also a couple of
satellite receivers with on-board DPL decoders, made by Amstrad and Pace, that
are worth considering (both sell for £400), however, if you want both power and
performance go for a purpose-designed AV amplifier. In addition to the Dolby
decoder and extra sound channels many of them have digital sound processors (DSP),
that create a variety of interesting surround sound effects from normal stereo
Most surround sound upgrades involve buying extra speakers.
Whilst it’s possible to use ordinary speakers for the rear-effects channels, care
needs to be taken when choosing a speaker for the centre-front channel. This mostly
carries dialogue, and it should be placed as close as possible to the TV. Unfortunately
speaker magnets can cause colour ‘staining’ on the screen, if they’re too near,
so it’s necessary to use a magnetically-shielded speaker, which can be brought separately,
or as part of a home cinema speaker package. Again there’s a broad spread of
prices, from a couple of hundred pounds, to £5000 or more. While we’re on the
subject, it’s worth adding a sub-woofer to any surround sound system. This is a
large speaker specifically designed to handle low-frequency bass notes. It can
be hidden out of sight, behind furniture as bass sound is non-directional. They
really earn their keep if you’re into action blockbusters which generally have
a lot gut-rumbling effects, that really add to the drama.
If you want to do the job properly think about a widescreen
TV, though it has to be said there’s not a lot of widescreen software to watch
on them right now. Lottery winners and the filthy rich, with between £3000 and
£10,000 to spend, may also like to consider video projectors, which can throw
up images up to 100-inches across though don’t forget to add on the cost of the
building work, needed to extend your home...
BOX COPY 1
Some people are put off setting up a home cinema system by
the thought of all the wiring, needed to link the components together. It is
getting easier, integrated systems and home cinema TVs usually come with all
the necessary AV and speaker leads but some extra cabling is usually still
Most TVs, video recorders and satellite receivers are fitted
with SCART sockets, they’re used to carry video and stereo audio signals between
the various pieces of equipment. SCART leads are relatively inexpensive --
about £5.00 upwards -- and one or two are normally all that’s needed. In a
basic set-up one of the TV’s SCART sockets is used to connect it to the VCR; if
there’s a satellite receiver in the system, this plugs into the VCR’s second
SCART socket, if it has one. If not a 2-way SCART adaptor can be used to make
Systems with the surround sound decoder in the hi-fi need an
audio-only connection between the VCR (and satellite receiver) and the AV
amplifier. Virtually all stereo VCRs have stereo line-audio output sockets on
the back for this purpose. These go to the AV amplifier’s auxiliary input, though
nowadays the majority of systems have separate inputs, designated for video
recorders and other AV source components.
BOX COPY 2
Whilst pre-recorded tapes and movies or programmes shown on
broadcast TV can look and sound very good, home cinema purists invariably prefer
the superior performance of Laser Discs. Currently this is the closest it’s
possible to get to the picture and sound quality of the original movie, and one
of the few sources of widescreen format material.
Unfortunately for British aficionados the selection of movies
on laser disc, mastered for the European PAL colour TV system, is nowhere near
as extensive as that in other countries, notably the US, where the format has
been reasonably successful. Nevertheless there is still a fairly good choice of
software, some of it imported. Equipment from the leading manufacturers --
Pioneer, Philips and Sony -- sold in the UK can replay discs encoded for the
NTSC colour system, on recent PAL standard TVs.
CD-sized laser discs are likely to become the main carrier
for movies in the future, indeed they’re already available for use with the Philips
CD-i system, though as yet picture quality is little better than VHS. The next
generation of digital video discs (DVD) promise even sharper pictures, though
the technology is still under development and format rivalry means it will be
several years before players, and discs are available.
R. Maybury 1995 1807