Recipe for a Home Theater - A Full HD system starts with great ingredients

The giant balloons in the Thanksgiving Day Parade cry out to be seen on a big screen. The roar of a football game shouts surround sound. Classic holiday movies demand to be seen anew in high definition. And home videos and digital slide shows of gatherings past signal family members to come to the sofa.

The holidays and home theater were made for each other. After all, when the eating's done, it's then that sports nuts and movie connoisseurs get down to some serious holiday viewing. Unless you're a video equipment enthusiast, though, creating a crowd pleasing system can be as elusive as putting together the perfect black truffle soufflé.

Setting up a home theater isn't difficult once you understand how each component contributes to the big picture. Here's grandma's recipe for what you need – or what someone you know deserves.

One TV Screen

There seem to be as many flat screen choices as boxes in the cereal aisle. Don't despair. Your first choice should be a known brand featuring "Full HD" resolution, meaning if you counted the number of picture elements, you'd find 1920 pixels across and 1080 pixels down. The bigger the screen, the more you'll appreciate the lifelike quality of high definition programs. So, a 40-inch model (measured diagonally) is an entry point, but a 50-incher is even better.

LCD and plasma technologies have become such strong performers that you can't go wrong with either type of TV. One example is the Samsung LN40A650, a 40-inch LCD model. Another is the Panasonic TH-50PZ85U Viera 50-inch plasma HDTV. Both come with built-in stands for placement on furniture, but the stand can be removed if you'd prefer an optional wall mount.

Samsung LN40A650
Samsung LN40A650

Digital Audio to TV Viewers: You're Surrounded!

An external sound system completes a home theater, and turning one on yields unexpected pleasures. Recently, I stumbled upon a new TV series on HBO and a romantic drama on Blu-ray Disc both designed to indulge the ears.

The series, True Blood, features a waitress who can hear what people are thinking. As she works her way past tables, thoughts cascade toward her from every direction. And the audience hears the cacophony, too, brilliantly steered from multiple speakers at the sides of the TV and near the sofa.

The movie, August Rush, on Blu-ray and also available on DVD, features a humdinger of an opener: a child prodigy deciphers the musical nature of wind rustling the field in which he's standing. As the wind shifts, the sound washes over the audience from various directions. The powerful effect is all but lost on viewers relying on the TV's internal speakers alone. The same is true for the restaurant sounds in True Blood.

Sony STR-DG820 7.1-Channel Home Theater Receiver

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