Going digital

Here's what you need to modernize your home-theater system

With the new digital look of home Theater that’s being touted this holiday season, you may be thinking about updating your own system. As you consider what to buy, it will help to know about market trends and what’s available-whether it’s the latest in VCRs or hi-fi speakers.

Until now, a no-frills home-theater system meant hooking up your stereo to the TV and VCR. Today’s home theater gives you the most realistic, high-quality video and audio, including powerful surround-sound speakers that are about one-tenth the size of floor-size models just a few years ago.

Here are a few of the choice items currently on the market: four-inch-thick, near-flat TVs that are thin enough to hang on your wall; the recently introduced Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) that can hold a movie plus additional information (and may eventually put an end to CDs and VCRs) and DVD players. Also look for the movie-theater-like, realistic picture and surround-sound of high-definition televisions (HDTV), available in select cities since November; the finer detail and improved color of digital televisions (DTV); and the very practical home-theater-in-a-box, a one-package surround-sound system.

Although prices start at as little as $3,000 for a basic retail-purchased system to more than $150,000 for a custom-installed ensemble, there’s no cause for alarm, says Kerry Moyer, staff director at the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association in Arlington, Virginia. “Most people already have the elements of a high-quality system in their home,” he says. A home theater is basically a stereo large-screen color television (25 inches or larger), a receiver with surround-sound capabilities, four or more speakers and a hi-fi VCR, laser-disc or DVD player. Statistics show that 25% of families already have some of those items and can complete their home-theater system for under $1,000.

What’s more, as newer technology is introduced, prices will drop on the current crop of digital models. DVD players, introduced in 1997 for $500-$1,000, now cost about $399- $499. The powerful surround-sound quality of Dolby AC-3, which cost $1,200 last year, is now a bargain at around $499. The holidays and major winter sporting events like the Super Bowl will bring even more deals into showrooms when the previous year’s models are cleared out.

To familiarize you with the latest, we’ve compiled a collection of some of the season’s offerings that can add to your home-theater system, along with some advice you’ll need as a consumer to make the most of your purchases.

Televisions
The television is really the center of the home theater. Choices range from flat-panel or direct-view to rear or front-projection models. Television sales for direct-view and big-screen projection sets were down last year, due in part to the anticipation of digital television. This means lower prices for consumers willing to purchase existing TV sets. Prices for projection television sets fell below $1,500 for the first time last year on some entry-level sets. Expect to pay less than $500 for a standard 27-inch set, but a 25-inch set (with fewer features) may be a better value, at about $250.

Looking to the future,

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6
ACROSS THE WEB