Home theaters are no longer the exclusive domain of the wealthy. Thanks to technological advancements, it's now easier and more affordable than ever to access, program, and control quality audio and video for your home. Here's a roundup of the latest trends in home viewing.
The latest advancement in TVs is 3-D technology. Movie studios, gaming companies, and broadcast networks are creating more content for the format, and manufacturers are responding by offering a variety of 3-D-capable TVs and Blu-ray players. To enjoy the multidimensional visual experience, homeowners must buy a compatible TV, now available for as little as $800, as well as 3-D glasses, which cost about $100-$200 apiece.
For a true home theater experience, many believe a jumbo retractable screen and a video projector are essential elements. The latest advancement in projection is LED "lampless" technology. Traditional projector lamps are notorious for burning hot, draining energy, and dying quickly. These new high-intensity LED versions, however, run cooler, last thousands of hours longer, and are energy-efficient. The technology isn't, with projectors averaging $2,000. A retractable screen, measuring 70-200 inches diagonally, will add $1,000-$2,000 more to the home theater bill.
Speaker systems are trending toward compact, affordable, and wireless designs. Sound bars replace multispeaker systems with a single thin bar that creates dynamic surround sound without a separate amplifier. Many also include MP3 docks, satellite receivers, and built-in DVD players.
Put your smartphone or tablet to work in a new way using a Web-based mobile app that turns the touch screen into a centralized home automation control system. From a single spot you can now control your home's lights, HVAC, security, and home theater components. Turn on the TV, select a pay-per-view movie, adjust the volume, and dim the lights -- all from the comfort of your couch or bed.
The Internet is quickly changing how people watch TV. Forget the national networks; there are now thousands of sources for music, movies, and TV shows, and many ways of accessing that content beyond cable or satellite subscriptions. Internet-enabled TVs offer one-click access to Web-based content. Homeowners who are happy with their current TV or theater screen, however, can opt for an affordable Internet-enabled Blu-ray player, gaming console, or stand-alone media extender (Roku, for example). Any of these devices provides a portal to free, subscription, and pay-per-view content.