Buying and Installation
Where to Shop, Purchase, and Who
There are a multitude of researching, shopping and buying options available for home theater equipment and services. Each option has strengths and weaknesses that have to be weighed, and which choice(s) is best for you will depend upon your unique situation. Discussions with family and friends that already have theaters, or know of those who have theaters, can be extremely helpful in selecting dealers, manufacturers and products.
What better way can there be than finding out what has, or hasn't, worked
for others? But be aware that products are changing fairly rapidly - so that last year's news and "must haves" may no longer be appropriate. We recommend strongly that you take some time to investigate and evaluate for yourself, then you will likely get a more personalized system that best meets your needs, and that you will be able to fully appreciate and enjoy. We hope that WalVisions can be helpful toward that goal.
First let's offer a few comments regarding "in store" evaluations. There are a number of factors to take into consideration when evaluating home theater equipment in stores, as what you see or hear there may not represent the performance you will get after installation. The biggest factors are the viewing or listening environment and source material. You might notice that when you first enter a store from the outdoors on a cloudy day, your eyes may at first react to the illumination of the store's
fluorescent lighting - this can give an unnatural background for viewing and skew the colors as seen by your eyes. Frequently the displays are setup at the factory to look good to most people in this lighting, and generally this means they are too blue and are overdriven. What is the source material? Is it in
true high definition? Is it the kind of programming you will be watching? Make sure you view the display from the distance you expect to view from at home.
Now let's offer a few comments on the most common outlets for purchasing home theater equipment.
Electronic Superstores: These large stores provide a reasonable selection and generally have good prices. To succeed, they need to generate lots of sales to cover their overhead, thus they must sell relatively high volumes, and therefore they need to have relatively low prices and merchandise that appeals to many customers. They may not carry some of the higher end, more specialized equipment. They frequently have little in the way of front projection available, and may not have any front projection on display. While some of the sales personnel may be particularly knowledgeable and helpful, it is not unusual to get inaccurate, incomplete or biased answers to your questions. If you are going to shop via an electronic superstore, we recommend researching independently to supplement the information you may get there.
Internet Sales: Almost all home theater equipment is available for sale on the Internet, as is a mountain of information and advice, such as what you are reading now! On one hand the Internet can be a terrific resource (like WalVisions!), but on the other hand it can be a place of greed,
miss-information and fraud, thus the reader and buyer must be cautious. A lot of reliable information can be obtained by researching manufacturer's sites, magazine review sites, store review sites, and home theater forums. But always be wary, as manufacturers will embellish their products, magazines write favorably about their advertisers, stores want to sell their goods and consumers all have their own prejudices! But taken collectively, this is a fountain of information and can be a tremendous resource.
Much has been written about buying via the Internet. Using reputable, well known sellers to purchase a product with a credit card is normally not a problem. There are downsides, however, as you don't get personal sales attention, may not get any technical information at all, won't get the product immediately, can't take it back when you find it is broken "out of the box", can't call to get help setting it up, etc. In other words, you're pretty much on your own as far as making the correct product decision before the sale, and then taking
on all after sales responsibilities.
The Home Theater Specialist: The home theater specialist is usually the best single place to get personalized service, accurate information, good demonstrations, quality products, good support before and after the sale, and quality installation services. Of course not all such dealers are equally reputable, and the costs will clearly be higher, but for overall customer care and reliable service, this is the best option.
Installation and Calibrations: Getting you equipment installed and properly setup may be something that you do yourself, something handled by a delivery/setup team, or something that the home theater specialist does with little or no assistance from you. Here the big element is cost. Doing it yourself saves money, and just may give you the best system if you are handy and have done your homework. Getting your system delivered/setup by a couple of guys in a van can be pretty cost effective, but remember the delivery personnel may be hired partly on the basis of cost and how many deliveries they can get done in a day's time. Unfortunately this frequently is not the way to get the best installation, and sometimes incorrect setup means you are not getting the best performance. The home theater specialist will cost the most, but will be much more likely to get things installed and setup correctly, probably including at least a basic calibration which will remove the "store" setup and tune the system for the best sound and pictures.
Also be aware that cable and satellite installers may not be fully understand all newer home equipment, and may therefore not get your home theater wired and setup correctly. We have known of a number of cable and satellite installations in which high definition services and displays were purchased, but were setup to only display at the standard definition level, or to have an installed surround system that is wired or setup to operate in a stereo only mode. You can make sure that this doesn't happen to you be understanding your equipment and knowing what to expect. If you aren't sure, check
Common Installation Problems, and ask questions until you get knowledgeable answers.
A couple of comments concerning cables is appropriate here. You likely have noticed that some relatively low cost equipment, such as DVD players, VCRs, TVs, come with some cables. And on the store shelves you may notice some similar cables that cost more than the complete VCR might cost! The difference can be described in two words, quality and margin. The relatively expensive cables really are of better quality, and generally are both better constructed and will perform slightly better. And the store will make pretty good profit on the additional sale. Is it worth the price? You will have to decide - the cheap cables can be a problem,
either with mechanical breaking or poorer performance (poor shielding, intermittent connections, etc.), and
while the most expensive cables really are the best, they are generally overpriced and the performance improvements frequently will be undetectable. Like most things in life, moderation is best - we recommend higher quality, but moderately priced cables.
Please be aware we are trying to honestly present buying and installation options, and we are not attempting to sell or recommend anything in particular. Our goal is to assist others in achieving a entertaining home theater system, and there are many ways to research, purchase and install a successful home theater system. We recommend that you learn about home theater and the available options, and then act on whatever matches your desires and budget.