home entertainment: an update

to be entertained used to mean to “go out, ” to leave the house. No longer. Of course people still go to the movies, or the symphony, or the computer game arcade. But, as with so many things in the 90’s, our options are broadening. Today you can make your family room a movie theatre, a symphony hall or a multimedia center. The high-tech equipment is not only physically and aesthetically attractive, but also adaptable to a variety of budgets.

the first step in understanding home entertainment in 1995 is to catch up with the vocabulary. For many, “PC” and “CD” are known expressions. But when “CD-ROM”, “subwhoofer” and “Pro-Logic” appear on wish lists, many of us hesitate. To clarify: CD-ROM’s are CD’s (compact discs) designed to be played on multi-media computers. Although most computers sold today come with a CD-ROM drive, a component drive can be purchased for about $150-$2O0. A subwhoofer is a special speaker designed to produce the base notes regular speakers cannot produce. Pro-Logic is the key to any audio system’s ability to produce surround sound; in layman’s terms, it’s the software for the system. (See Glossary on page 85 for more information.)

The second step in the search for audio or video equipment is to shop around. All the Dallas experts in home entertainment agree that with a little patient research, people can achieve high quality systems for a very reasonable price. “The most important thing is to find a specialist to help you,” says Mark Ashworth of Audio Concepts. “Quality has a wide price range.” And according to both Ashworth and Larry Reagan, owner of Audio Insight, knowing exactly what you’re buying is critical. “A lot of flashing lights and buttons doesn’t mean the best equipment,” says Reagan. To help people make the best choices for their homes, lifestyles and budgets, both Reagan and Ashworth offer sound studios, rooms in their stores offering a variety of systems, comfortable chairs and a peaceful setting for optimal listening.

In the business of high fidelity, the greatest change in the last couple of years has been industry acceptance of video. Reagan, whose goal is “to save the world from bad sound,” said the advances in digital technology combined with consumer demand for higher quality video made the marriage possible. Ashworth agrees. “For years high end audio snubbed its nose at the world of television, but that’s changing. The technology has made good sound in video less of a compromise than it used to be.”

“The goal of home entertainment, whether it is music or movies, is to recreate the ambiance of the original performance,” says Michael Gallant, owner of Hillcrest High Fidelity. For movie lovers, “home theatres” are the answer to duplicating the movie theatre experience. With speakers simulating the surround sound of movie theatres and digital technology providing new ways of bringing product into the home, both quality and quantity can be achieved.

For a “home theatre, ” what do you need?: 1) A “big screen” television (The bigger the better, say the experts, but 27″ is the accepted minimum. ), five speakers (including two front, two rear speakers and one horizontal center speaker), a subwoofer, a high fidelity VCR, and an A/V receiver with Dolby Prologic. for many people, who already have the TV, stereo VCR and two speakers, it costs about $1, 200 to $2, 000 to upgrade to a full surround system.

Product options are also increasing. Satellite dishes are now digital and as small as 18″ in diameter. They cost about $700 to buy and install, then $35 a month for a potential 150 channels. Easy to attach to the roof or side of a house with a clear shot to the Southern sky, the new system also offer parents “programming blocks” and programmable spending limits. In addition to current laser disc players that cost between $500 to $750, the new wave in technology will be bring DVD’s (Digital Video Discs). According to Michael Mann, general manager of Ed Kellum & Son, the DCD’s will be size of regular CD’s, will hold two hours of material, and will cost $12-$15 per movie.

CD-ROM’s have taken the merger of computer games and learning to a new level. One CD-ROM to hit the marketplace in early May was created in Dallas. Titled “Victory or Death,” this two CD set features the history of the Alamo with storytelling, music, graphics and interactive games. A wide range of Texans, including broadcast journalist Dan Rather, actresses Sissy Spacek, and musicians Freddy Fender and Charlie Pride, participated in the production. “It’s perfect for the 4th or 7th grader studying Texas history in school,” said Michael McGar, president and founder of Archimedia Interactive, that produced the CD-ROM.

Will we all be hooking our computers up to our big screen TV’s someday? Maybe. Whether it be with a personal computer, television or high fidelity system, the ability to bring what used to be “out-of-house experiences” home is expanding daily. Because the product options are so varied, the Dallas experts all agreed that the buyer should not beware. They instead advise: Find a dealer you trust; look for service and quality, and make sure that what you buy fits your dream and your finances. In 1995 it seems we can do both.

high-tech sense: a glossary

The vocabulary and acronyms of home entertainment are changing as fast as the technology. We offer the following glossary to help the novice understand some of the current terms in audio, video and computer game businesses:

CD-ROM’s are compact discs with “read only memory, ” which means the user cannot write to, (i. e. change) the data on the disk, but can play and interact with the information on the disk. CD-ROM’s offer a way of storing massive amounts of information; one CD-ROM holds 650 megabytes of information or 300, 000 pages of text. The future holds an affordable component for the consumer to create CD-ROMs. Today, a CD-ROM recorder costs about $5, 000; blank disc are about $13 apiece.

Integrated Amplifier is a single box with power and preamps combined.

Preamp, the abbreviation for preamplifier controls the source of the audio; it controls the volume, the base and other aspects of the sound.

Power Amp, or the power amplifier, amplifies the signals from the preamp, making the sound loud enough to drive the speakers.

Pro-Logic decodes the information on a movie soundtrack to produce surround sound. Sending the signals to the center and rear speakers, Pro-Logic works with any video input i. e. video tapes, laser discs or television program that is encoded for it. Licensed by Dolby, Pro-Logic is found in a receiver or separate component.

Receiver is the unit with the power amp, preamp and tuner in a single box, thereby saving storage space, but usually compromising some aspects of the quality of the audio input.

Subwoofer is a special speaker designed to produce the base notes regular speakers cannot produce. Required for surround sound, it adds realism to the special effects of a movie. It provides the “crash, boom and bang. “

Tuner is the source for AM and/or FM radio reception.

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