Home entertainment systems are perhaps the most rapidly evolving amongst the various technologies one may encounter in a residential scenario. In the last 4-5 years itself, the advent of networking and internet-based services have seen the home entertainment segment change drastically and one has seen the near demise of physical media such as CDs, Blu Rays etc and the shift towards content streaming services. Greater bandwidth and storage technologies have also led to content being commercially available in higher quality than ever before like 4K and newer and more efficient content delivery systems like music and video on-demand. Let’s look into what ingredients go into current day home entertainment scenarios.
1. Home Cinema
Got a voracious appetite for movies?Home cinema systems are now able to match the grand experience of a great cinema hall if not surpass it in some cases. A huge flat screen TV or even better, a projector-screen setup paired with a potent surround sound system and you’re not going to miss your neighborhood multiplex very much. Here is what goes into one:
A. Display :
Nothing can match the impact of a large screen and it is pretty much a must for a good cinema system as compared to a TV. While bigger is always better, be careful to not overdo it causing you to end up with having to shake your head from side to side to follow the action. A good rule of thumb is to have a screen that is around 0.75 times its distance to the nearest viewer.
With many new projectors capable of 4k, its always handy to pack in 4 times more pixels than an HD projector especially when you’re looking at a large image size. “HDR” (short for High Dynamic Range) technology is the new kid on the video block that lends new levels of color depth to images making them far more lifelike.
Everyone has heard of Dolby. Make sure you invest in an AV Receiver (cinema amplifier) which features their latest offering Dolby Atmos. adds a third dimension to sound creating a soundstage envelope around the listeners. With more speakers, strategically placed above behind and all around the seating, Dolby Atmos creates a sound field in all directions in an attempt to accurately re-create the sonic ambience of the movie. The result is that the surround experience nomenclature has now changed from the all familiar ‘5.1’ to ‘7.1.4’ , ‘9.1.2’ and other such variations depending on the number of additional effects speakers used. There are known to be Dolby Atmos installations using even upto 64 discrete speaker channels!
The speakers themselves have to be chosen based on the size of the room and placement is critical to achieve the optimum experience. While classic cinema setups involve the large main speakers located behind the screen as seen in cinema halls, newer speaker form factors like in-wall speakers and in-ceiling speakers (also known as architectural speakers) are increasing in popularity where conserving space is of importance.
C. The Room:
A speaker is as good as the environment you put it into. So careful attention has to be paid to acoustics and the acoustical treatment of the room. The room should be carefully isolated so that there is very little to no external noise creeping in. The walls and ceiling have to be carefully treated so that there is not too much of reflection from these surfaces. A very reflective room can cause a very bright and reverberant environment causing poor speech intelligibility and listening fatigue. Choose airconditioners with low noise ratings. In a quiet room and during silent passages, such disturbances become very obvious.
There are various visual considerations too. The room finishes chosen need to be dark so that the only large single source of light in the room is the screen. If there are any bright colored finishes used in parts of the room, the projected light will bounce off these surfaces and cause distractions. Seating needs to be designed so that every viewer has an unhindered view of the screen. Staggered seating and tiered rows are often employed so that no viewer blocks another and everyone gets the best experience.
D. Control System
Home automation systems make it convenient to operate the system without having to juggle with too many remotes. Dim the lights, start the projector, play the movie – just with a click on your smartphone.
For now you will need a Blu Ray player if you want to catch a movie in all its glory but all this is changing. And very fast.
Internet bandwidth has increased to the point where even mobile phones can stream and play music files of nearly any bitrate and moderate video encodes. This is slowly but surely the last nails in the coffin for physical media such as discs to be used as the source. The sheer convenience itself makes the streaming content a hands down winner – no physical medium to handle/ store, purchase easily online without having to go to a brick and mortar store, content is on-demand and can be used simultaneously by multiple users, no lead time for content to be made available from the time of release, lower cost due to no material component, zero wear and tear etc.
2. Gaming Systems
Gaming is hugely popular, especially amongst the younger generations. New game titles with explosive graphics and rapidly moving screen action are especially demanding in the video processing department. For this, gaming rigs actually need to be far superior spec-wise to cinema systems.
Since gaming usually isn’t preferred with lights dimmed, gaming displays are usually large flatscreen TVs. New projection surfaces like ambient light rejecting screens are able to provide acceptable picture quality even with the lights on by using special screen materials that reflect back only the projector light and by rejecting the off axis light from sources like overhead lamps. This prevents the projected image from getting washed out.
VR (Virtual Reality) is the in-thing in gaming and its here to stay. VR glasses paired with the right software immerse the player into a virtual 3 dimensional world. With advancing software and graphics processing, the visuals are turning increasingly lifelike. 4D VR systems that employ the use of motorized chairs that actually move, swing and rotate to orient the player in the game environment to simulate turns, climbs and drops are the closest you can come to reality.
Gaming audio does not need the same precision as desired for movies because game soundtracks don’t really require critical listening. However games do carry multichannel soundtracks and action games can benefit greatly with the surround effects and punchy bass.
3. Stereo Listening and Multi Room Audio
In areas where there is no video and music is the only medium, a variety of sound systems can be used.
A. Dedicated Hi Fi Stereo Systems
Certain individuals settle for nothing less than the very best when it comes to their sound. Usually collecting 1000s of scratchless CDs or records, such enthusiasts prefer to listen to music in its purest form with zero adulteration. This is usually accomplished with just 2 speakers (the same number of channels most music is recorded in) paired with exotic amplifiers and source units. Even the cables that connect such setups could run into lacs of rupees!
Each and every component is carefully chosen to match the others in the chain in terms of sonic quality. The amplifiers used could be in multiple stages; a pre amplifier and a power amplifier, and in some cases 12 power amplifiers, one dedicated to drive each speaker. There are no measurable parameters to gauge the accuracy of the sound in such systems other than the emotions of the listeners themselves. The objective is to be able to flawlessly reproduce every single sound right down to the most minute nuances exactly as the original recording.
The most expensive of such systems are known to cost crores of rupees.
B. Portable/ Wireless Speakers
Portable and wireless speakers are an extremely popular segment. Small, sometimes chargable speakers that can play back music from your phone wirelessly or stream music from Bluetooth sources are extremely popular because of the cost, form factor, and convenience.
Newer amplifier technology has been able to pack in more output into smaller, efficient packages making it possible to have compact speakers with greater output and longer operation times on batteries.
A variant of such speakers are also capable of being linked together or grouped using WiFi to play the same music in sync when needed, this creating a multi-room audio system fully controlled from convenient phone apps.
Waterproof/ dust proof speakers can be carried wherever you go, for the trek, in the shower or to the swimming pool!
C. Party Sound:
Hi-fi home speakers are generally designed for delicate and careful use. They are not capable of bearing too much abuse or being played very loud for extended periods of time. If you entertain often, throw parties and would like good, powerful sound its best to invest in a pro sound system. Designed with high power handling capabilities, resistance to abuse and the ability to endure prolonged use at high output volume levels, pro audio systems have what it takes to keep the adrenalin pumping for your gigs.