Home Theater Shopping Tips

seating.jpgThe next time you shop for a new television, odds are good you’ll buy a home-theater system as well.

The two often go hand in hand. Many people who come in for a TV take the additional step of adding a surround-sound system and other components, said Quintin Hammonds, assistant manager at Jerry’s Audio-Video in Phoenix.

The percentage of households with home theaters is rising. More than one-third — 36 percent — of American households now have home-theater systems, the Consumer Electronics Association reports. In January 2003, only 28 percent did. What’s behind the increase? Desire for the latest technology is one reason.

Also, increasing prices of movie tickets and concessions are causing more people to turn homeward for entertainment, said Jon Taylor, home-theater manager at a Best Buy in Phoenix. Additionally, prices for fancy electronics and speaker systems are coming down, making home theaters more affordable to all income levels.

“You don’t have to be rich to have a nice home theater,” Taylor said. You don’t have to have a dedicated room for a home theater, either. You can set up surround sound in nearly any room.

An entry-level system, a home theater in a box that provides surround sound for your existing television, can cost as little as $199. Typically used in dorm rooms, condos or bedrooms, these units lack the functionality of more expensive systems, he said.

For $3,500 to $6,000, you can get a flat-screen television, components including speakers, receiver and DVD player, and a remote control that will operate everything. Of course, you can spend even more to get a top-of-the-line system complete with pull-down screen, overhead projection system, theater seats with cup holders and special lighting.

When you buy a home-theater system, think VAS.

A home theater is a combination of video (V), audio (A) and source (S), Taylor said.

“Video is how you see it, audio is how you hear it,” he said. “Source is everything you need to make it work.”

The flat-screen TV reigns. Thin and sleek, in black or chrome, it looks stylish, not at all like the big black box — the old-time TV — that we grew up with.

“It looks as good off as on,” said Mohammad Samad, entertainment sales manager at a Circuit City in Phoenix.

Flat screens, available in plasma or LCD, have become more popular as prices have dropped. In 2002, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, 106,000 plasma TVs were sold at an average price of $4,858.

In 2005, nearly 1.64 million were sold; average price was $2,202. This year, the price is expected to drop to $1,755, while sales are expected to grow to nearly 2.4 million.

Most people choose a 5.1 speaker system, which is a subwoofer and center, left, right and two rear speakers, Hammonds said. Also available: a 7.1 system that comes with two additional speakers for the middle of the room.

Source includes a cable or satellite receiver, connecting cables and other accessories.

Once you spoil yourself with one home-theater system, you may discover you want the same technology elsewhere.

“What I’ve found is more people are doing more than one system,” Hammonds said. The most popular location for a second system? The master bedroom. Also popular: wireless TV in the kitchen.

Before investing in a home theater, consider having your home evaluated by specialists, who can advise you about home-theater systems and installation. Many companies, including Best Buy and Circuit City, have trained staff to help you customize and install your purchase.

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