Home > Products > Find ENERGY STAR Products > Audio/Video > What to Look for When Shopping for Audio/Video Products

Shopping for Home Theater Systems & Surround Sound

What is a Home Theater System?

The typical home-theater setup includes a TV set with cable or satellite hookup, a DVD/CD player, a receiver, and two to eight speakers.

AV Receivers

The receiver, or AV receiver, is the hub of the typical AV system. Several types of receivers are available in the marketplace. First is a basic stereo receiver, which may include an AM/FM tuners, 2-channel audio amplifier, pairs of external speaker terminals, and connections for external CD and MP3 player connections. Second is a more full-featured home theater receiver, which combines all of the features of a stereo receiver with the capability to process surround sound, connect to the Internet, and switch and distribute a variety of audio and video signals throughout your home.

Planning your home AV installation is an important first step in choosing a receiver that will support your needs. Do you only want to connect audio components like a CD player? Or, are you considering a home theater and need connections for your television, a Blu-ray Disc or DVD player, a cable/satellite Set-Top Box, ? Will you be installing surround sound speakers? Do you want to connect to the Internet through your receiver? Answering these questions will help you determine what to look for in your home electronics purchase.

Here are some typical inputs and outputs that can be found on AV products:

  • HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface): A single-cable digital AV interface commonly found on consumer products for the transmission of high definition and standard definition video and multi-channel surround sound audio. HDMI also supports the CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) interface, which when implemented properly can allow various home theater components to communicate and control each other.
  • DVI (Digital Visual Interface): A digital video interface that is compatible with HDMI (via a plug converter). DVI cables do not carry audio signal content, so separate cables are needed for audio signal connection between devices.
  • Composite-video: A single-cable analog video interface used for the transmission of standard definition video signals. Composite video cables do not carry audio signal content, so separate cables are needed for audio signal connection between devices.
  • Component-video: A three-cable analog or digital video interface used for the transmission of standard definition and high definition video signals. Composite video cables do not carry audio signal content, so separate cables are needed for audio signal connection between devices.

Surround Sound

Looking to recreate the movie sound in your own living room? Surround sound is a movie recording technique that, when paired with a home theater surround speaker system, puts the viewer in the center of the action with sounds that move front to back, and side to side. Surround sound isn't about louder sound, rather, it is more about sound that envelops the listener by creating ambience and providing directionality to off-screen sound effects.

Surround sound is created by multiple speakers linked by a receiver. However, the easiest path to take is a home-theater-in-a-box system. These systems include a receiver, built-in surround sound decoding, speakers, a subwoofer, and a Blu-ray Disc or DVD player.

Speakers

Basic speakers fall into a number of different categories, but each is designed to carry a specific range of frequencies. Knowing the frequencies a speaker carries helps you pick the ideal type for your listening needs:

Bookshelf speakers reproduce a full range of frequencies, making them very versatile. Two bookshelf speakers can be used as the sole speakers with a conventional stereo system, or with a stereo TV. Two bookshelf speakers could also be used for the front or rear speakers in a surround system. Additionally, one speaker may be used as an economic alternative to the center-channel speaker in surround sound, if it is magnetically shielded so as not to interfere with the TV picture.

Front speakers come in a variety of sizes and reproduce a wide range of sound frequencies. They are typically used in a home theater system.

Center-channel speakers are dedicated to reproducing on-screen sound and dialogue. They are placed on top or just underneath the TV, and typically shielded so they won't interfere with the picture.

Rear speakers complete the surround effect by providing background sound behind you. They add a sense of realism to surround sound.

Subwoofers are designed specifically for bass output. They are usually placed on the floor and are "powered," which means that they have a built-in amplifier that requires an electrical power connection in addition to speaker wires. A subwoofer is critical for 5.1 surround sound.