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Sound advice for home flicks

Soundbars, ‘home theatre in a box’ or mix-n-match audio? What’s your pick?

Consider a warm blanket and/or a beanbag, with homemade popcorn or some nachos as you watch your TV. That does not quite take you to the movie hall experience, does it? Even if the screen is smaller, the real issue is the sound that you need to make your home viewing experience match that of a big hall. Here is where home theatre systems come in. There are a number of options available for this - from a plain, simple "soundbar" plus bass module, to a "home theatre in a box" and do-it-yourself systems.

Key players: Intex, Boston Accoustics, Philips, Yamaha, Bose

I experienced my first soundbar about five years ago. It was from Yamaha and looked like one flat speaker with an array of speakers (drivers, as they are called) inside it, producing a heavy sound. Though it was not the best quality, it sounded great with the TV. Soon, the market was flooded with companies such as Boston Acoustics, Philips and even the venerable Bose launching their own soundbars.

Put simply, the soundbar supplements your TV speakers with an external one that is long in width, small in height and easily wall-mounted under the television. It also comes bundled with a bass module in some cases, or a built-in DVD Player in some models.

A wireless bass module can be placed anywhere in the room. Soundbars range in price from 10,000 in low-end models to 112,400 in the case of Bose.

Home theatre in a box

Key players: LG, Samsung, Philips, Bose, Panasonic, Sony

The soundbar creates a virtual sound that simulates a surround sound experience. However you are looking at the real surround sound that resembles a movie theatre, the home-theatre-in-a-box is more helpful. This typically comes with an amplifier that may also have a DVD/Blu-Ray player built in. The amplifier unit connects using various cables to your speakers, in a 5.1 (5 speakers, plus a woofer) or 7.1 (7 speakers and a woofer) option. This means you will need to wire up your room with cables and is best done when you are rebuilding your room or are open to setting up external pipes to run the speaker cables. The speakers have to be arranged properly — two behind the couch or the bed where you watch the movie from, three in the front, (centre, left and right) and a bass unit somewhere.

The good part is that it can also work as a standalone music system. If you buy your music on DVDs, having a surround sound can give you the experience of sitting centerstage at a concert. The sad part is the cabling. Wireless speakers are a less common option. The catch is that you will still need electrical points at all the locations where you put the speakers.

But there is value for money as home-theatre-in-a-box options start as low as 8,000 while going up to 300,000 at the upper end.

Do-it-yourself systems

Key players: Denon, Yamaha, Cambridge Audio, Onkyo, Marantz (for receivers). Mordaunt-Short, Bose, JBL, M-Audio, Thiel, Anthony Gallo, Totem, Aperion (for speakers) What do you do when you want a top-quality sound system with the options to scale it up by adding speakers as you grow — or change them? Welcome to do-it-yourself systems, or build-it-yourself, if you will.

These DIY kits have a receiver unit that acts as a central console to which all your devices will get connected. You can go for a 5.1 or 7.1 or even a 9.2 system that is THX certified, 3D Ready. (THX is the trade name of a high-fidelity audio/visual reproduction standard for movie theatres). This sound comes close to pristine, audiophile quality.

Receivers start at 20,000 and can go as high as 5,00,000. Speakers start from 15,000 and sky is the limit on the higher side, as it were. The higher you go, the purer is the sound.

Tech querie

I have a budget of 30,000. Should I go for a desktop PC or a laptop? I want an amazing speed, with a RAM that helps me play games. Please help! — Anu Verma

If you are looking for a PC that doubles as a game playing machine, and with better processing power, I would suggest you go in for a desktop now. As your gaming needs grow, you can add a graphics card/accelerator to help you graduate to more intensive games. You can upgrade to a 3D card for 3D games, and, if your motherboard supports it, you can even swap the main processor at a later date and switch to a faster processor. All this would not possible on a laptop.

Given your budget of 30,000, for the configuration I speak of, I would suggest you work with a build-to-order PC supplier. Explain clearly what you are looking for with your plan to upgrade later.

Can we put two OS (operating systems) in the same PC? Also, which OS platform is good - between Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 8? — A A Verghese

Yes, you can load multiple OS on the same PC. One way is to use a "virtualisation environment" such as VMWare or Microsoft Virtual PC. The Virtual PC from Microsoft will allow you to run Windows XP and Windows 7 at the same time, at one click, while VMWare will allow you to even install Windows 8 on top of Windows 7 in a "virtualised environment." However, if you need to use both the OS options at the same time, you need to install them separately and choose the one you want to boot into while booting the PC.

If you are running a virtualisation software, it will slow your PC down. If you are running a multiple-boot option, the PC's performance will depend on its basic configuration and its OS requirements.

Windows 8 is still not available as a product but only as a consumer preview version. My preference is for Windows 7, until its successor formally hits the market.

(Gagandeep Sapra is a technology entrepreneur, who calls himself The Big Geek)

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