Designing FiringSquad’s Reference Home Theaters
Building a home theater is no different than building a custom computer. Just as you can buy a complete PC from HP starting for a couple hundred or a Blackbird 002 for a couple grand, you can certainly save time by going with a pre-packaged home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB). HTIBs aren’t synonymous with budget-quality performance either. While Wal-Mart’s $59.87 “5.1 Durabrand Home Theater System” won’t bring the full movie theater experience home, I’m sure it’ll outperform the speakers on the $300 TV it is probably going to be used with. Likewise, there is probably no better premium pre-packaged HTIB solution than the JBL Synthesis line, which starts at $15,000 for an entry-level setup, sufficient to provide reference quality movie experience in the home, to the Synthesis Everest, retailing at over $200,000 and featuring four 18” subs, and 800 watts per channel into 11 speakers.
Technically, it’s not a HTIB because it comes in many boxes, but the idea is the same. There’s nothing wrong with going with a pre-packaged home theater setup. The sub-$100 HTIB market is something that a custom setup cannot compete with on cost and the combination of JBL Synthesis hardware and services integration is superb, exceeding what is “easily” achieved on your own by buying Lexicon electronics and JBL K2 speakers.
But for the rest of us, those of us looking to build a dedicated home theater somewhere in-between, going with a pre-configured solution is the wrong approach. It’s the same reason most FiringSquad readers prefer to build their own systems, or at the very least to buy a system that allows industry standard upgrades.
Our opportunity to build a new Reference Home Theater came with the desire to come up with a viewing environment that would allow us to test and evaluate the latest video technologies from NVIDIA, AMD, and Intel, as well as the stand-alone world of the Xbox 360, PS3, and countless stand-alone hardware manufacturers. We needed to spend enough money to get a high-performance home theater system that would allow us to evaluate the quality of different hardware and software, but we didn’t have an unlimited budget either.
There’s a lot of an opinion in home theater technology. No one seems to agree on what the best speaker is. How much is good enough? How much is overkill? In this article, we’ll go through the rationale behind our purchases and choices. Remember, this isn’t a checklist of everything you need to buy – it’s a framework for you to do your comparison shopping to understand what you actually need. Over the next few pages you will see us drop the names of multiple manufacturers and resellers, this doesn’t represent an endorsement from FiringSquad, but rather our research.
Before we really get started, we need to establish what a reference theater must have. It used to be that the local theater was the best place to see a movie, but that isn’t necessarily the case anymore. Here are some guidelines, or goals that we think would make for the ultimate theater.
The major components of a theater will be the visual, audio, and visceral experience, with a good source material. Movies should draw you in not just emotionally with their stories, but physically with their presentation.