Home Theater System Buying Guide: Things you should know

So you’ve decided to get a new home theater system, great. Although first time buyers (and likely you’ll be one since you don’t buy a home theater very often) are likely to find themselves confused in the myriad of options. Why do home theaters start from as little as Rs 8,000 and go all the way up to six digits? What’s the difference between 2.1, 5.1 and 7.1? What’s HDMI ARC and do you need it? We answer some of these questions below in our home theater system buying guide.

Is 1000W twice as loud as 500W?

Short answer is no, but hold on since this is confusing. Intensity is measured in decibels (dB), but it’s a logarithmic scale. It is generally believed that for a normal person, the loudness of sound doubles with a 6dB increase in intensity. Now how are watts linked to decibels? Just see the chart below.

db vs watts

For an increase of 6 dB, the wattage has to increase four times. So, a 1000W speaker would be twice as loud as a 250W setup. Again, this is subjective and not everyone may perceive loudness doubling at 6dB. A part of the scientific community considers loudness to double at 10dB. In that case, a 1000W speaker would only be twice as loud as a 100W speaker (roughly).

2.0 vs. 2.1 vs. 4.1 vs. 5.1 vs. 7.1 channels

Starting with 2.0, this is a basic stereo setup that consists of two speakers (left and right) and outputs stereo sound. Add a sub-woofer to it for bass and it becomes a 2.1 setup. You wont get rich surround sound like 5.1 setup, but the clutter of wires and the price is less.

On a 5.1 setup you get 5 speakers besides the sub-woofer. One of them is a central speaker, two are on the sides, while two go on the back/sides (surround channels). The setup is apt for surround sound experience at home and offers enough value for money.

Remove the center speaker from the 5.1 setup and you get what is essentially a 4.1 setup. It has most of the bells and whistles of the 5.1 setup, but doesn’t exactly match the experience.

On a 7.1 setup you add two speakers behind in the rear along with the two surround channels. It adds to the experience, but also to the cost and wire clutter.

Also note, you’ll need content that supports these standards. Also, the 3.5mm port doesn’t support 5.1, so don’t spend money unless you have a HDMI ARC or digital optical port.

The diagram below is how the 7.1 setup looks.

5.1 setup

What’s HDMI ARC and digital optical port?

Like you can only do so much with a VGA port compared to, say HDMI, the same goes for the regular 3.5 mm stereo port as well. It doesn’t support surround sound above 2.1 standard and your expensive setup is a waste if that’s what you’re relying on.

To play anything above 2.1, you need to have port that supports the additional channels. Modern TVs come with HDMI ARC (audio return channel) which allows surround sound to pass between the source (TV) and the home theater system. In case your TV doesn’t come with an HDMI ARC port, you can also use the digital optical port to pass the information between two devices.

Of course having these ports on the TV isn’t enough and you need to have them on the home theater system too.

Bluetooth doesn’t support 5.1 either, but there are workarounds using emulation.

Will there be wires?

Contrary to the images you see on product pages, each speaker in any of the setup comes with a wire that usually connects to the sub-woofer. Yes, even the speakers on the side/rear. That does make it messy since the wires need to run across the floor or on the roof (unless you have some wiring room within the walls). Expensive home theater systems do come with truly wireless setup, but they lie out of reach for the most of us commoners.

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