Home Theatre Fun.

I love my home theatre. It’s nothing terribly fancy, I don’t even have a shiny new LCD/Plasma/HiDef Television, but I do have an excellent surround sound setup and a great picture. I love it most because I really don’t care to go out to the movies these days. The convenience is the biggest feature of it all to me. The pause button probably being the strongest of these virtues. Have to go to the bathroom? PAUSE. Need a snack? PAUSE. Phone call? PAUSE.

Nothing against movie theatres, but i like to be at home whenever i can, cozy on my couch with my wife and dog, enjoying life and entertainment on my terms. Maybe if we had one of those movie houses where you could get a beer and a panini, that would be nice. I’ve always liked combination venues and fantasized that i might own a bowling alley/laundromat/pub. Or maybe an oil change/diner where your car gets routine service while you eat eggs, that sort of thing. But alas, such is not in my local realm.

So I have always invested in some components to make viewing at home more enjoyable, and It’s becoming more and more popular as well. Netflix makes DVD rentals a cinch, without late fees and a huge selection. You just sign up, pay them a monthly fee and create a rental queue online. They send you the first movie in your queue, and when you send it back, you get the next one. The closest warehouse is in White River, so the turnaround is excellent. I joined Netflix way back in 1999 thinking that they were onto something even then. Living in a trailer in Whitingham with my brother at the time, and having a ridiculously nice home theatre system was a pleasure. The ‘White Trash Palace’ we called it. Finding DVDs locally was near impossible and buying movies seems silly when you generally watch them only once.

Netflix has taken it a step further as of recent and made movies instantly downloadable for viewing on your computer or to a nifty little box that connects to your television. The selection is not as broad on this format as they are still working out licensing with the hundreds of companies controlling movies these days, but it’s coming along nicely and if you have high speed internet, it’s a fantastic option to be sure.

My wife and I don’t care for commercial television either, the key word there being commercial. I like plenty of the programming, but can’t be bothered with the constant ‘buy me’ interruptions that somehow are MUCH louder than the show that I was just appreciating. So we get entire seasons of episodal television on DVD. Sure we may be a season behind whatever it is people are talking about at the water cooler, but how many water coolers are there in Southern Vermont anyway? The only real pitfall to this is how hard it is to shut off a show like 24 or Heroes, knowing that the next episode is a click away, but it’s 2 a.m. and morning is approaching fast. Somehow we manage.

Anyway, the real issue that I wanted to quickly touch on is for those of you spending money on LCDs and Plasmas. There’s some confusion as to what to buy and why for a lot of people and I’d like to try and clear it up and simplify a bit.

Firstly, LCD vs. Plasma. Plasma equals better contrast and better off-axis viewing. (If you sit off to the side of the TV it will look better). LCD equals thinner, lighter and increasingly cheaper per diagonal inch. Parity is being realized between the two in regards to contrast, but my rule of thumb on that for today is easy. 42″ or smaller, go LCD. Larger? Go Plasma.

Secondly, 720p, 1080i, 1080p. Resolution is king. The key to understanding this is simple enough, the higher number is better. The ‘p’ is for progressive, the ‘i’ is for interlaced. Don’t buy the ‘i’ as it’s a faltering standard that nobody cares about. Between the 720p and 1080p there is a huge difference, but you won’t see it. Care to know why? It’s because Blu-Ray and Sony Playstation 3 are the only major formats that currently support it. DirecTV HD? 720p. DVDs? 720p. So why buy 1080p? Because it is gaining steam and all of the providers, be it satellite, cable, or otherwise WANT to broadcast in 1080p and will as soon as the bandwidth is available. The price difference is getting more negligible by the day. And if you’re into computer gaming and have a decent video card in your computer, you can hook it directly to the 1080p screen and it most certainly will look glorious. If you’ve seen those ‘Planet Earth’ documentaries (David Attenborough narrates them better than Sigourney Weaver by the way), they are absolutely STUNNING on blu-ray and really a must buy if you have the gear.

There are plenty of other sub-topics involving home theatre and really, just talking to a geek can help you to decide what you need and what will suit your space. As with everything technological, the prices drop constantly and pulling the trigger on this kind of stuff with the holiday incentives makes it a little easier to get into a great system for less. No matter what, I consider it a reasonable investment to put a few extra dollars into enjoying your time at home. In fact i highly recommend it, stay home and have a weekly family movie night with beer and panini.

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