Once you have a terrific home theater, you need sources for high-definition TV shows and movies. A simple cable or satellite connection may be enough for you, but you can access an infinite supply of programming with a Blu-ray player and/or a streaming video player along with an Internet connection
The gorgeous new multiplex theaters springing up everywhere (you know, the ones that charge $15-$25 a ticket, depending where you live) are indeed beautiful. But naturally, the buildings don’t come with the very latest films included; just because they built the “hardware” (the theater and projectors), that doesn’t mean they automatically have the “software” (the movies they show).
You’re in pretty much the same situation when you have a spectacular new home theater system (hopefully from DTV Installations). You’ve got the perfect hardware for watching high-def programming, but you still need sources for those films and TV shows.
Here are your alternatives.
Before we start, we’re assuming that you have a high-definition monitor or television, and that your cable or satellite feed is in HD as well. If not, bookmark this page and come back when you do – since you can’t watch high-def programming on a television that’s not equipped for it.
Not many people snag their television signals directly from the air anymore (it’s still certainly possible, but you won’t have much choice in channels). Almost everyone has either a cable or satellite feed so they can watch TV, so that’s the easiest way to watch high-definition movies and programs.
However, you still need to connect the cable box to the TV, and that’s a crucial step. Ideally, you’ll want to use an HDMI cable to make the connection because it’s designed to carry both high-res video and high-resolution audio in a single cable. If you don’t have an HDMI port on either your TV (which is doubtful, if it’s an HDTV), or your cable or satellite box, you can use three-jack component video connectors instead; most will handle up to 1080p resolution.
What you don’t want to do is use the familiar yellow composite video cable, an S-video connector – or worst of all, the coax connector you’ve used between your cable box and TV for years. None are capable of delivering high-def signals, and coax connectors can’t even transfer a passable 480i analog signal. (Also remember that if you don’t use an HDMI cable, you’ll need separate stereo RCA cables for the audio).
Once your high-def TV signal is connected and working properly, you’ll have access to all of the HD shows and movies available on “regular” and cable TV, high-def on-demand channels, and pay-per-view high-definition movies.
Any modern home theater will have a Blu-ray player, the successor to older DVD players. There’s one important reason why Blu-ray technology is far superior: it can play high-definition movies. DVD players can’t; you can watch a DVD on an HDTV, but it will be “upscaled” and won’t look anywhere near as good as the same film on Blu-ray. Be sure to follow the cable connection advice in the cable/satellite section, and be aware that if you want to take full advantage of surround sound, you’ll probably need to connect the Blu-ray audio to your audio receiver separately.
There’s a second big advantage to some Blu-ray players, which we’ll get to in a minute.
Netflix, Hulu and Other Streaming Video Sources
Streaming high-definition video services (Netflix and Hulu are the ones most people are familiar with, but there are a number of others) have become such a comprehensive source for films and TV shows that many “early adopters” are dropping their cable or satellite subscriptions completely.
The first things you need to get on board are an internet connection providing WiFi access (most homes already have those, of course), and a paid subscription to the service you’ve chosen (unless you want to be severely limited in your choice of movies). Then, you need the ability to receive Internet streams on your HDTV. There are several ways to do that:
- Smart TV: Many newer high-def televisions are so-called “smart TVs” and can connect directly to the Internet.
- Blu-ray: A large number of Blu-ray players are also enabled with streaming access, so Netflix and other services can be fed directly to your television.
- Gaming consoles: You can receive major streaming services on newer Xbox, PlayStation and Wii models, which again can be fed to your HDTV.
- Streaming Media Players: You’ve probably heard of names like Chromecast, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku. Some are boxes controlled by remotes, and some are “dongles” which plug into the back of a television and are controlled by a tablet or smartphone. They each have different features and capabilities, but they all basically do the same thing: they let you easily stream high-definition movies or TV shows.
Now – go and enjoy that new home theater!