Every month, Digital Home receives hundreds of thousands of visitors and thousands of questions about what products they should buy to improve the quality of their home theatre system.
Rather than simply buying new more expensive equipment, we often tell readers how they can improve sound and picture quality by "optimizing" the equipment they already own.
To help home theatre enthusiasts better understand what we mean by "optimization", Digital Home asked our long time forum contributor and optimizer, "57", to write about how he believes readers can improve the output of their existing home theatre.
Home Theatre Optimization
It wasn’t that long ago, home theatres didn’t exist. Wealthy people started to have home theatres installed in dedicated rooms of their homes soon after the advent of HDTVs about 10 years ago. These home theatres were extremely expensive and were almost always installed and optimized by professional installers. At that time, most (regular) people had a TV, with perhaps a VCR connected to it.
As home theatre components became less expensive, more people purchased the equipment. Today’s home theatre may include an HDTV, a DVD player or recorder, a satellite or cable box, an A/V receiver, 5 or more speakers with a subwoofer and so on.
Most of these new customers don’t get their home theatres set up or optimized properly, so several things happen: Firstly, people are dissatisfied with their systems and many are returned to stores (the return rate is more than 10%). Secondly, people watch their TVs and listen to their audio equipment, but are not happy. Many of these people have HDTVs but are not watching HD since they don’t know that they need a source for HD, so they are also less than satisfied. Some prefer the picture that they had on their old tube TV.
Spending a much higher percentage of their incomes on their home theatres than the affluent do, today’s smaller home theatre owners also have much more to lose by not having their systems optimized and that’s a shame. People need to understand the importance of this optimization.
What does this optimization do for you?
It provides you with a home theatre that gives you all the content and performance you paid for. Whether you paid $1000, or $10,000, it’s not good value if you’re watching SD instead of HD, or you’re listening to stereo instead of surround sound.
It gives you the picture that the director/producer intended you to see. You won’t have to wonder if “The Matrix” movie has a green tinge (it has), or if the colour changes in movies like “The Aviator” (it does). You also won’t end up wondering about the short fat people, or tall skinny ones on your TV.
In addition, TV optimization gives your TV increased reliability and longevity, since the default mode stresses the TV, while the optimized mode does not. It will save you energy since a properly optimized TV uses less electricity. The electrical savings over the life of the TV will often pay for the optimization, when compared to the default mode of the TV.
Why are TVs not sold pre-optimized?
In order to sell, a TV needs to stand out in the store (typically a big box store under bright fluorescent lighting). The TV is therefore set from the factory to be very bright, with oversaturated colours and far too “blue”, because people equate blue with bright. If an optimized TV were put in these stores, it would never sell because it would look dark and dull. Once the TV is placed in the home though, many people realize that the default settings are not realistic or appealing, but don’t know what to do about this situation.
The answer is to optimize all of the equipment to work in concert, in your particular environment. In addition to the TV, the other equipment like DVD players, satellite, cable or OTA boxes, A/V receivers and the various connections between them must also be optimized. The default settings are rarely the correct ones to use. Many people leave their equipment in the default settings and do not get the performance that they paid for – not watching HD, or hating the picture quality of standard definition sources for example.
There is one new wrinkle with today’s A/V Receivers. Many people are now connecting their equipment through the receiver for video and using one connection to the TV instead of directly connecting each device to the TV. With a separate connection for each device, each input/device can be individually optimized. It’s very difficult to optimize for each device if you’re only using one input on the TV, although there are some workarounds. Also, some less expensive A/V receivers may not pass the best quality video signal to the TV.
Unfortunately, proper, automatic optimization of home theatre equipment is still years away.
As an owner you should have the equipment optimized so that you:
- See the picture that the director/producer intended you to see,
- Hear the correct, accurate sound that your equipment can produce,
- Make your TV last as long as possible,
- Save energy,
- Get what you paid for, and
- Obtain an understanding/education about what your equipment can do by discussing the optimization process and equipment with the person doing it.
- Purchasing setup and optimization service from the store where you’re purchasing the equipment. This typically costs $200-$500+ depending on the complexity.
- Learning as much as you can about the process and using a tool like a setup DVD (there are several available from various sources).
- Hiring an independent professional to perform the optimization of your equipment.
57 is the alias of a member and moderator on the Digital Home Canada Forums since 2002. 57 also optimizes home theatres in and around the Greater Toronto Area.