Building Your Home Theatre – From 4K TVs To Surround Sound Speakers

Building Your Home Theatre – From 4K TVs To Surround Sound Speakers

There comes a time in everyone’s life – usually on Black Friday or Boxing Day – when you’re watching TV and see one of the big stores having a sale on home theatre systems.

You're tempted to go in and take advantage of those huge savings...

...But when you walk in, you're immediately overwhelmed by options.

You look at TVs and see LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio. They're fairly trusted names, but then you see TCL…

Do you take a closer look, or should you run away? Is there a benefit to buying a newer brand?

If you’re like me, you’re already confused, and you haven’t even gotten past the name brands…

Next you start reading terms like OLED, QLED, X1, or Quantum – they all mean different things – and you start to feel uneasy.

So let's take a step back so you know exactly what you want to buy next time you're in this situation.

Let's talk about:

Important TV terms

When you're at the store, you'll need to know these terms. If you want a 4K TV, don’t let a salesperson sell you an old 1080p model.

Related: The Opportunity Costs Of Mindless Shopping

Contrast

According to CNET, this is the most important aspect of picture quality, even more important than resolution or colour accuracy.

Basically, it's the difference between the brightest a picture can be and the darkest it can be. You want the whitest whites and the blackest blacks.

In the newest OLED TVs, you can find infinite contrast ratios. This means that individual pixels can be turned off, allowing you to get the blackest black.

If your budget stops you from getting the very best contrast, you'll want to aim for a contrast of about 5000:1.

Resolution

The resolution refers to how many pixels are on the screen. The more pixels, the better the picture.

At this point in time, you really only have a choice between 2 resolutions: 1080p and 4K.

4K means there are 3,840 x 2,160 pixels on the screen, whereas 1080p only gets you 1,920 x 1,080.

8K is up and coming, but it's currently absurdly expensive and it'll be a while before it takes over the market.

Brightness

This is how much light your TV can throw at you – how bright the picture, colours, and screen can get. It’s measured in Nits.

The average TV outputs between 100 and 200 Nits, but HDR-compatible TVs can output up to 2,000.

Basically, the brighter the screen, the more the colours will pop.

Related: How To Set – And Stick To – Your FUN Budget

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The buzzword glossary

These are the words that will be on the TVs and projectors. They're how you measure one TV or projector against another.

UHD

Ultra High-Definition.

This means the resolution is in 4K or 8K.

Nothing is being filmed in 8K yet, so it’s basically useless. If you want a fancy TV, buy 4K.

HDR

High Dynamic Range.

This means the TV displays between 16 million and 1 billion colours.

Contrast is improved, which means the colour black is truer.

Brightness is also improved, giving it way more Nits.

LCD

Liquid Crystal Display.

Old technology. Stay away.

One of the drawbacks is that it's backlit, usually fluorescent, so it won’t give you true blacks.

For videophiles who are interested in colour accuracy, this is a dealbreaker.

LED

Light-emitting diode.

The same as an LCD except the backlight is LED instead of fluorescent. LED TVs are also often thinner than LCDs.

This is also old technology, but it's still okay. It'll probably be phased out soon.

They also usually have a feature called "local dimming," which gives you better blacks than an LCD.

OLED

Organic light-emitting diode.

This removes the dreaded backlight completely.

How it works is light is generated by organic compounds that glow when an electric current is applied. Cool, huh?

So what? Each pixel can be shut off, creating what TV-makers (specifically LG) call "infinite contrast." This will give you the blackest blacks possible.

QLED

Quantum dot light-emitting diode.

Basically it creates a purer light and brighter colours.

Plus it uses less energy than the OLED. But it can also have trouble with refresh rates, causing motion blur.

If you don't care about energy use, then the OLED is your better option.

Now we've got our terms covered, let's get into the big questions.

When should I get a projector over a TV?

This is a fairly simple question: If money is no object and you want the best quality possible, go for the TV.

But if you want to be frugal, while still getting a movie theatre-sized screen, you may want a projector. You'll get a larger screen for less money.

But keep in mind you'll need a dark room.

Here’s a good projector option

The ViewSonic PX727-4K 4K Projector is a good 4k option that'll give you up to 300" of screen for about $1,700.

Please note: you'll have to either buy a screen or paint one on your wall.

You can buy a paint-on screen from Amazon for around $300, which you can make as big as your wall lets you (up to the projector's max), or a 100" screen for $189.

This may seem expensive on its own, but opting for a 100" projector and screen over a 65" television can save you hundreds of dollars.

With a projector, you'll sacrifice brightness and contrast, but you'll have a huge screen at a much better price.

But do you want sharp, bright images? Then you should consider...

Buying a TV

If you want a decent picture, you can find an okay 4K LED TV on sale for around $500. Just make sure to pay attention to things like brand, size, and contrast ratio before you go for the cheapest option available.

What I've learned from my research is that you should stick to one of the following brands:

  • LG,
  • Sony,
  • Samsung,
  • TCL, or
  • Vizio.

Just make sure what you're buying has "4K" in the name somewhere.

So if you aren’t too picky then go for an LED TV. You can get a 4K Smart TV model for a reasonable price.

But if you want top of the line, read on. If not, skip to sound equipment.

The best TVs of 2018

The fact is that no websites agree on which TV is the best this year.

The reason for that is likely because there is no real "best TV"...

There are a lot of good TVs out there.

What I bring you is the highlights:

Why you'd want it & Model Size Contrast ratio Fancy words Price

Best TV of 2018
LG C8 - series OLED

55"- 77” Infinite contrast 4K OLED UHD HDR Smart TV $2,745 - $3,745

Runner-up
LG B8 - series OLED

55"- 65” Infinite contrast 4K OLED UHD HDR Smart TV $2,508 - $3,999

Best bargain for size
Vizio P-Series Quantum

75" 6084:1 native 15329:1 local dimming LED LCD 4K UHD HDR SmartTV $2,997

Best variety of sizes
Sony XBR-X900F series

49"- 85” 5089:1 native 5725:1 local dimming LED LCD 4K UHD HDR SmartTV $1,198 - $6,998

Consider your price range and buy the TV screen accordingly.

Related: Buy It For Life: Are Quality Products Worth The Investment?

Now that we have your screen situation sorted, let’s move on to sound.

Home theatre speakers

Bose, Sony, or Samsung? 7.1 surround or 5.1 surround? Maybe you just want a soundbar?

Wait…What’s a soundbar?

It can get a bit confusing. And that’s without considering prices and price matching. So where do we start?

Want the best sound possible?

If you want to go into audiophile-like detail and you're willing to splurge, you should try the Bose Lifestyle 650 for $5,000.

But if you aren't willing to drop 5 grand on speakers, then consider a soundbar (AKA soundbase).

What’s a soundbar and how do they work?

In the simplest terms, soundbars are long bars filled with multiple speakers.

New TVs have terribly thin and bad-sounding speakers. If you're okay with that, then you probably don’t care about sound. That’s fine, move along to media streaming devices.

If you care about sound...

...A soundbar will supplement those awful speakers, without being as cumbersome as a full surround sound system. You won’t have to worry about visible wires or multiple components.

That being said, you may consider buying a soundbar that includes a subwoofer.

Subwoofers help by adding the bass sounds to music and the deep rumbles of trains, cars, and explosions from your favourite movies.

According to Digital Trends, these are the best soundbars out this year:

Brand and Model Speakers Price
Vizio SB 3821 5 inch woofer Other speakers not listed $289.99
Yamaha YAS-207 4 woofers, 3 tweeters, and 1 subwoofer $413.88
Sonos Beam 2 woofer, 1 center tweeter, and 3 passive radiators $499
Samsung HW-MS650 sound+ 9 speakers, some dedicated to producing bass $602.74
Bose Soundtouch 300 3 channel speaker $899

But I want all the speakers

If you want the full speaker setup, you'll want to try a Home Theatre In A Box (HTIB).

In most cases, an HTIB will give you 5.1 surround, plus a built-in blu-ray player.

The downside here is that you're usually stuck with trying to hide all of the wires and it's not upgradeable.

Your receiver (the component that delivers the sound) is also your blu-ray player. Your speakers are the same brand and likely lower quality.

A soundbar will usually deliver better sound quality than an HTIB, but if you want to hear the door open behind you in a scary movie, then an HTIB may be your best option.

Here are the best available right now:

Brand and model Wireless Overall review Price

The shining example
Onkyo HT-S7800

No Great Quality. Middle Price. $999.99

The little brother
Onkyo HT-S3800

No Decent starting point when you're on a budget. $399.99

The cheapest
Samsung HT-J4500

No This is the cheapest, best HTIB option. $228

The godfather
Bose Lifestyle 650

Yes Perfect but pricey. $4,999.99

Media streaming devices

You only have a few options when it comes to media streaming devices:

If you love Apple, and already have a bunch of Apple products, then you should consider the Apple TV. The interconnectivity between Apple devices is amazing.

Otherwise, consider your other options and see how well they work for you.

Related: Free Internet TV – A Complete Guide For Canadians

In summary

Here's the basic rundown:

Screen

  • Buy a projector if you want biggest size and cheapest price.
  • If you stick with a TV, buy what you can afford.
  • Try to stick to LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL, and Vizio brands.

Sound systems

  • A soundbar gives you the best value, but
  • a HTIB gives you the full package.

Media streaming

  • Not necessary if you have a SmartTV, unless you don't like how it works.
  • Pick between Roku and Fire TV Stick if you're an Android user.
  • Pick AppleTV if you have everything Apple.

And remember…

Always price check.

Keep in mind that the model number is important. You might find a Samsung TV at Walmart, but is it the same one you were looking at on Amazon?

What about you?

Have you invested in a home theatre system recently?

Did you know what you were getting in to?

Disclosure: Some links in this article may be affiliate links. We're letting you know because it's the right thing to do. Here’s a more detailed disclosure on how HTS makes money.

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Comments

fbgcai
fbgcai's picture

I think you missed a BIG factor - at least it was for my recent 65" TV purchase - upscaling.
That is what does the TV do when presented with source that is not native (in my case 4K).
As I have a massive video library all of which is NOT 4K this was a critical issue. In order to test the TV candidates I made up a short video test USB with 360p (SD) 480p(dvd) 720p (blu-ray) and 1080p ( blu-ray/cell phone) video files and got the sales person to play it on them in store. The test revealed that my first choice TV(LG) did an abysmal job of upscaling to the point that anything below 1080p was unwatchable and even some of my cell videos (1080p) were really bad.
I ended up with a Samsung because the upscaling engine did a outstanding job - even 360p videos (SD) are ok to watch and the QLED picture quality is great.
Take a little time and actually get the material you intend on watch to test your TV choices before you schlep your purchase home.

December 18, 2018 @ 8:33 pm
HowToSaveMoney Team
HowToSaveMoney Team's picture

Hello,

You're right, we must have overlooked that. It's a great suggestion to make sure that what you're planning on watching will actually be watchable on the TV you're looking at. From doing a little research on upscaling, it seems you probably save money on cheaper 4K TVs because they skimp out on the upscaler, so maybe paying a few hundred extra will be even more worth it.

Hopefully upscaling engines and our sources of 4K content will improve (or increase) as time goes on.

December 19, 2018 @ 12:04 pm

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