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April 30, 2002

Mr. Phillips,

I have been a reader of your articles in Stereophile and SGHT for years, and I just discovered this site. I would appreciate any help you can provide on a subject that has me more than a bit perplexed.

I have read in various publications that rear projectors aren't really designed for small rooms (such as my apartment). However, there exists in the marketplace several good 16:9 models from Toshiba, Hitachi, and others. For the first time, I actually feel like I can buy an RPTV without feeling like I'm breaking some forbidden rule, and my pocketbook.

Right now, I am making do with my venerable 32" direct-view Proscan TV that I bought about four years ago. I sit about eight feet from the screen. There is no possible way to increase this distance in my apartment.

Now, according to the "rules," I probably should not have a screen any larger than 36". Yet, when I look at RPTVs in stores, even 50" sets look great at 8'. Perhaps this reaction is due to my lack of experience, or the "wow" factor of such a large screen (by comparison to my own).

Nonetheless, I really want an RPTV as it is the only possible way I can afford a true "theater" experience. But I do not want to suffer from eye fatigue, or a bad decision based solely on misguided emotion.

I would appreciate any suggestions or comments you may have on this matter.

Regards,

Jim Zadrozny

Hi Jim:

Yes, people used to cite a formula dictating that, to avoid eyestrain, viewers should sit no closer than a distance equivalent to five times the diagonal of the screen. Maybe that's true of direct-view monitors, but most RPTVs I have experience with don't put out nearly the lumens a direct-view TV screen does. I have used 60" RPTVs in rooms where I could sit no further than 10' away, and this distance was fine. Actually, it was pretty darn impressive.

My general advice these days on TVs is buy the biggest you can afford. I've never met anyone who wished he had a smaller television....Wes Phillips


April 27, 2002

How low does a subwoofer have to play to provide good LFE performance?

Rudolf Jankiwiez

Hi Rudolf:

The LFE channel is specified with an upper cutoff frequency of 120Hz. The practical lower limit is 20Hz. Generally, though, most LFE information is centered between 30Hz and 80Hz, so that is where a subwoofer needs to be strongest. For state-of-the-art performance, the deeper the better, but if a subwoofer is strong to 30Hz (with low distortion and good output capability), you'll get the vast majority of what the sound engineer intended for you to hear.


April 22, 2002

Hi Wes,

Could you please tell me who makes the best-sounding surround-sound receiver? The only thing I care about is pure sound quality, whether it be movies or music; it's only sound quality I care about. As well as receivers, could you also let me know who makes the best-sounding speaker in general?

Drew Michaels

Hi Drew:

I really don't know how to answer questions like these. There is no single "best" unit -- it all ties in to what you can spend and what you need it to do. Frankly, I think the average mass-market $1000 surround-sound receiver is a pretty amazing bargain.

Not all that long ago, all A/V receivers lacked sound quality and power. They sounded tinny and unbalanced and they tended to "cheat." They either offered two or three hefty channels and puny surround amps or they were loaded down with fake-sounding DSP modes.

But the major companies actually listened to what the consumers wanted and, gasp, gave it to 'em.

These days, it's much harder to buy a bad-sounding A/V receiver, even the $300-500 models are pretty good, But at around $1000, you start getting great sound, reliable power ratings, several surround-mode choices, and a universal or learning remote control that makes using a complex HT system a lot easier. It's a wonder they can make any money selling 'em, but that's not our problem, is it?

As to speakers, that's another area where it's hard to buy crappy sound anymore. Even at $250 per pair, you can buy speakers that sound good and measure well.

Now I realize that you want a simple answer, but there isn't one. There may be a single receiver -- or speaker -- out there that YOU prefer to all others, but I don't have any way of knowing what it will be. You'll have to decide what you can afford and go out and listen. Then it'll come down to what floats your boat....Wes Phillips


April 19, 2002

Hello,

I want to build a home theater in my home's basement. The room dimensions are 20'L x 15'W x 6' 2"H (floor to joist). I am concerned about the height even though it's no problem for me as I'm 5' 9".

Can I can build a proper home theater given the room's dimensions? If so, should I use a ceiling or floor projector, and what screen size should I use?

Mr. Laza

Hi Mr. Laza:

It sounds like your basement was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright -- Wright was around your height and he designed his rooms to feel comfy to someone his stature. I visited Fallingwater once and -- at 6'4" -- I felt like I needed to duck going through the doorways (it wasn't that bad, but I was careful walking from room to room).

I'd say it probably doesn't much matter whether you use a ceiling-mount or put the projector on a pedestal -- you don't have a lot of clearance to the ceiling, so you don't necessarily gain a lot of use of the room by putting the projector on the ceiling. On the other hand, you could sit under it, so maybe that is the way to go.

So let me rephrase that. From the standpoint of image quality, you could go either way, but you'll need to give some thought to projector placement and the largest image size you can achieve. You may want to mount the projector on the ceiling just to keep your seating options open.

As for screen size, that'll depend on the projector you choose and its distance from the screen. I can't see where the room's size would dictate a particularly small screen, however. I'd say start by thinking about an 84" diagonal and go up to 120" if your projector will support it.

Incidentally, it sounds like you'll have a neat home theater when you're done -- one great thing about basements is they usually don't pose huge problems with their ambient light levels. And some of the most comfortable home theaters I've been in have a certain womb-like closeness to them....Wes Phillips


April 16, 2002

Hi Wes,

I enjoy your articles. I am now budgeting for a home-theater system, but I don't know how much to spend. I won't change my TV now, but how much do I have to spend minimum on the rest of it to get "decent" sound?

Wayne Forsite

Hi Wayne:

That's a really hard question to answer because there are levels and levels of "good." These days, you can buy pretty darn good home-theater-in-a-box systems from companies like Polk (the DS7200 system for $2599) or Linn (the Classik Movie system for $2995). Or you can buy a separate DVD player, surround-sound receiver and speakers for around that to up to $10,000 -- or you could go the separates route all the way and take the cost as high as you want.

If what you're really asking is how do you get started on a home-theater system without spending a huge amount of money, I suggest you start with a good surround-sound receiver that puts out at least 50Wpc (and get as much power as you can afford -- even receivers putting out 125Wpc into five channels aren't that expensive these days).

With the receiver connected to your TV and even as few as two loudspeakers, you'll take the action out of the box and make the TV experience bigger and more involving. Then add more equipment as your budget allows -- I'd start with a DVD player, because I like to watch movies on my own schedule. Then add a center-channel, followed by a subwoofer and -- finally -- effects speakers.

Even though I'm usually an immediate-gratification kind of a guy, I love the upgrade-path approach. It means you can buy two good speakers for the left and right front channels, instead of five cheap ones. And you can make sure each upgrade really makes a difference by buying the best you can afford (as long as you hear the difference and think it's worth the price).

While the sky's the limit on what you could spend, I think it's amazing how much good-quality equipment is available at even the entry level nowadays....Wes Phillips


April 13, 2002

Wes,

I am thinking about buying a DVD player. I am concerned about availability though, as I like to rent my movies. Will DVD remain widely available from rental chains?

Chip Baskel

Hi Chip:

Yes! As an example, Blockbuster is claiming that by the end of 2002, DVD will occupy nearly 50% of their floor space. So I'd say you are completely safe in buying now, with the rental market assured....Wes Phillips


April 8, 2002

Hi Wes,

I am looking for some speakers for a home theater being powered with a Pioneer Elite VSX-49TX receiver. While this is a pretty beefy receiver, it doesn't have the oomph of separates, so I'd like to find speakers of fairly high efficiency. I've already decided on Sunfire Jr. subwoofer. Any suggestions? I want to spend less than $5000 for the other five speakers.

Roger Fukai

Hi Roger:

Are we talking about the same unit -- the Elite VSX-49TX I know is rated at 160W per channel into 6 ohms. Granted that 6-ohm spec is a bit of an odd one, but it makes the 49TX a pretty hefty A/V receiver!

I don't think you'll have too much of a problem finding speakers to match, but check out the Polk LSi series I just reviewed. There's a lot of bang for the buck there....Wes Phillips


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