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Understanding complex technology is best left to the experts. But, here's some clear and practical advice to help you cut through the jargon and assist with your new home theater purchases

Knowledge is power

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Because technology is advancing rapidly, specialized audiovisual equipment is now more of a common fixture in our homes.

A large plasma hangs in a prime spot, and teenagers are either on the internet or listening to music on their iPod. Your neighbors tell you they can turn on the lights when out of town and you're thinking about installing your own home theater.

While we may be more technologically minded, you would need to be in the industry to really be up-to-date with electronics. So, to give you a better understanding and assist with your planning process, we asked the experts at Theo Kalomirakis Theaters to answer some of the most pertinent questions.

What are the considerations when designing a home theater? How you intend on using the room is the biggest consideration. Do you require a dedicated theater room or would you prefer a multipurpose place for entertainment? You may get more use out of the latter, but it can restrict the type of system you use.

The major consideration in a dedicated theater is the shape of the room. A square room doesn't have ideal acoustics, whereas a room with odd angles encourages movement of sound and provides better sound quality. Fixed placement of equipment for optimal sound and visual quality is another big advantage.

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In a multi-use entertainment room, the combination of equipment and aesthetics will have primary importance. You'll need to think about where the speakers and componentry will be stored – and this may require motorized equipment. As well as electronics, you'll need acoustical wall and floor coverings, comfortable furniture and appropriate lighting.

What applications best suit a plasma screen and when is an LCD the best choice? Screen size plays an important part in your decision making. Currently LCD is limited to 42in, where plasma really begins at 42in and is available up to 102in models.

LCD is more suited to small rooms, boats and high sunlight environments, while a plasma is a better option for large audiences, either in the home or commercial premises.

Ultimately, LCD is a better choice for displaying computer and static images due to its capacity to withstand burn-in. Plasma, however, currently offers a better viewing angle at an economical price.

What are the advantages of single and multi-room sound systems? A single room system involves purchasing components that can be set up in one room for optimum television and music sound quality. They are portable, making them ideal if you're unable to alter the home's structure or may be moving from one residence to another in the near future. It pays to take advantage of the compatibility of one brand.

A multi-room system is designed with the whole house in mind. It is controlled via touch pads or remotes at vantage points throughout the house, and all your CDs can be stored on a server in one place.

This allows different members of a household to listen to their own choice of music at the same time. It does, however, require some forethought, with wiring and cabling installed at construction stage.

What combination of speakers is best? Any combination of in-wall, sub-satellites and floor-standing speakers is possible. The configuration you use depends on the sound quality you wish to achieve.

We recommend floor-standing or bookshelf-style speakers for dedicated listening rooms, and in-wall or ceiling speakers for areas where listening to music is not the primary goal.

For a music purist, floor-standing speakers are the best choice. But by combining them with in-walls you'll achieve surround sound and maintain uncluttered design. In-walls, which are advancing rapidly, are ideal for multi-room systems and in bedrooms, bathrooms and other areas of the home not dedicated to audio.

How can I incorporate new technologies into my home entertainment system? Choice of equipment is the most important factor – you need components that will be compatible with new technologies. To be set up for the future look for receivers and amplifiers with multiple digital inputs and outputs. This includes DVI (digital video input), HDMI (high definition media interface) switching, and the capacity to take HDCP (high definition content protection) encoded signals.

What is home automation? What different systems can be linked and how are they controlled? Home automation is about enhancing and simplifying your lifestyle – it's complex technology designed for simplicity of use.

The most common setup includes lighting, security, audiovisual and HVAC (heating and air conditioning). In its simplest form, it's a single remote control to replace the normal half dozen on the coffee table.

At the other extreme, virtually every electronic device in the home could be automated, to the point of preset moods.

By activating ‘party' mode before you arrive at the door, the house is immediately ready for guests: gates unlocked, lights dimmed, CD playing, swimming pool heated and doors to private rooms locked.

‘Shut-down' options are proving more popular. So, if you're away from home for a specified amount of the time, the house can lock itself up but turn security lights in the evening and run the HVAC once a week for maintenance.

Not everyone wants heated towel rails that turn themselves on at 6am and off again at 9am. But if there's something you really want, there is the technology to provide it.

Where is technology headed? What can we expect from the future? Home entertainment industry is headed toward more internet accessibility so your network is available through your laptop from anywhere in the world.

Another forecast for the future is enhanced simplification of technologies.

In order to make use of new systems, you need one communications hub and one remote that is simple to operate. If the end user can't understand or use new technologies, there is little point to it.

First published date: 17 November 2005

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