“Home entertainment system” is an interesting term, because it could mean just about anything. In fact, “home entertainment center” was a name commonly used in the 1970s and 80s to describe a 30- or 36-inch television placed into the same cabinet that held a stereo (or quadraphonic, if you were on the cutting edge) receiver, two speakers and a turntable or cassette recorder.
Obviously, that doesn’t describe the audio and video system in a 21st century home – but it makes an important point. A “home entertainment system” can’t automatically play high-definition video; you must have a high-def television or monitor, and video sources which deliver high-definition signals to your home. The sources won’t be a problem, as you’ll see shortly. But if you’re still using an old-fashioned, standard definition TV, there’s no way to watch high-def signals on it. You’ll have to buy a new TV first.
On the other hand, if “home entertainment system” means a modern home theater, then you’re all set.
Now that we’ve played semantics, let’s talk high-definition video.
Do you know anyone who still has an antenna attached to their TV? You’re definitely in a small minority. Almost everyone gets their local channels and what we commonly call “cable channels” (like ESPN, CNN and USA) by subscribing to either cable or satellite services. And the good news is that all major cable and satellite providers already deliver your favorite TV shows in high-definition. A few still have separate tiers of channels for standard and high-def signals (for example, ESPN might be on channel 29 and ESPN HD would be on channel 1029), but for the most part, all cable and satellite signals show up in high-def automatically.
So all you have to do is hook your cable or satellite box up to your HDTV with a modern HDMI cable, or component video connectors if necessary, and you can watch CSI, Duck Dynasty, NFL games, or any of your other favorite TV shows in high-def. If your “home entertainment system” is really a home theater, just make the connections to your receiver instead. And if you’re really one of those people with just an HDTV and no cable or satellite, you can use a high-definition antenna to pull in your local channels in HD.
You have a cable or satellite service and an HDTV? That makes an enormous range of high-def movies available to you on basic and premium (pay) channels as well as video-on-demand. We’re guessing, though, that you already know that – and that you’re interested in other HD movies sources.
The way to play those movies at home is with a Blu-ray player; old DVD players don’t deliver high-def signals, but Blu-ray was designed for HD. (If you’re wondering about “HD-DVD,” it was a format that consumers never adopted and has been abandoned.) Blu-ray players can be picked up for about 50 bucks, and connected to your HDTV or receiver as we’ve described above. DVD players can be hooked up to HDTVs, but the video displayed will not be in true high-definition.
The other major sources for high-def movies, as well as the buzzworthy TV shows we mentioned earlier, are companies that stream HD video over the Internet. To access them, you’ll need to purchase a subscription to any service you’re interested in (Netflix is the best-known, but Hulu, Amazon Prime and many others are also worth considering), and you’ll need Wi-Fi availability in your house. Then, you’ll have to connect the Internet streaming signal to your high-def entertainment system, unless your HDTV is a “smart TV” which connects to the Internet directly.
Many Blu-ray players and gaming consoles let you receive streaming Internet signals; if yours does, that’s the simplest way to watch the movies and TV shows available from Netflix or your provider of choice. Otherwise, you’ll need a streaming media player which can be a set-top box (Roku 4 and Apple TV are among the best) or a stick or “dongle” (like a Fire Stick or Chromecast). They plug into an HDMI connector on your HDTV to feed the streaming video into the television, and are controlled by smartphone or tablet.
It may sound complicated – but it really isn’t. And once you have an unlimited supply of high-def movies and TV shows available on your home entertainment system, you’ll wonder how you lived without them.