The Basics of Home Theater:
Terms and Technology

Last updated 6/9/2006


How often have you heard jokes about people's VCR clocks flashing "12:00" because they can't figure out how to set the time? Well, get ready, because the VCR is child's play compared to the complexity that you can encounter when setting up and using a home theater system. To get the ball rolling, I've gathered some common terms and bits of technological info that can come in handy for anyone venturing into the world of home theater. Most of this will come up again later in the guide. We'll start with some common terms, but there are also some sections looking specifically at surround sound processing, video, and cabling. I'll probably add to this page regularly as I see folks asking questions online and as terms occur to me.

General Terminology:

Surround Processing Modes:

We'll get into this again when we talk about receivers, but one area that will inevitably come up and will inevitably lead to confusion is the subject of surround processing modes. Once upon a time, there was just Dolby Pro Logic – if you had a "HiFi" VCR (which was the term used for a VCR with a stereo audio output), you could use a Pro Logic receiver to enjoy surround sound. Times have changed, however: the LaserDisc provided the first means of delivering true discrete surround sound to people's homes (the method was Dolby's "AC-3" which we now know by the friendlier name Dolby Digital), and DVD helped bring about something of a revolution in surround sound. The list below offers an introduction to the most common players in the surround sound game, including several that aren't going to be available on most receivers but will potentially come up in discussions.

Video in the HD Age

There are a number of confusing terms and abbreviations that can be found when looking at televisions and video sources today. The terms below may not cover everything, but they'll be a good start at least.

The Long and Short of Cabling:

For serious questions about cabling, check out the Cables and Sample Wiring Diagrams sections. For a quick glimpse of the subject, check out the few terms below.

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