Three steps to optimising your system
1. Taming the remote
Just about as important as getting a great picture and sound from your home entertainment system is ease of use. But that can be a real challenge, especially if you have a fully-fledged system, complete with home theatre receiver. Think what that means: with a DVD/Blu-ray player, a TV, a home theatre receiver and, perhaps, a HDTV personal video recorder, you will have four remote controls.
These can all be replaced with a single remote control. It will mean spending a bit more money, and doing a little more work at the outset, but it will make life much easier. The new remote control will need a ‘learning’ function, so that it can learn the codes from your existing remotes. Many of the better ones have touch-sensitive LCD screens to make controlling the whole system a breeze.
After you’ve finished programming the replacement remote control, pack the original remotes in a safe, but accessible, place. You may need one or more of them again to do something that the replacement can’t manage, perhaps to set some obscure function. In addition, you will need them when you trade in or sell your equipment during future upgrades.
2. Control the light (for projectors only)
If you choose a front projector so that you can get a really big picture, you will need to make your main viewing room lightproof. The reason for that is so that the projector can create a credible impression of black. Remember, the ‘black’ you see on a projection screen is merely an absence of light on a white screen. If any stray light enters the room, it will look far less black. Deep black levels also make colours seem richer. So you will need blackout curtains if you are going to want to enjoy the system fully during the daylight hours.
You also need to control light within the viewing room. Many pieces of your home entertainment equipment have front panel displays. Looking at them in the daytime, they don’t seem troublesome. But in a well blacked-out room they cast enough light to take the edge off the picture quality. Some will have dimming functions, but often it is easiest to just place them all in a cupboard.
The other source of image-damaging light is light scattering from the projector itself. The projector places a bright image on your screen. This in turn lights up your room to some extent, bouncing light up to your ceiling, which in turn bounces light back down onto your screen. Having darker, light absorbing ceilings and walls can help the picture a great deal.
3. Two types of picture
Your plasma or LCD TV may often have to work in two quite different situations: during the daytime when there is a lot of light in the room, and in the evenings when you have the room lights dimmed as you sit back, sip a glass of wine, and enjoy a fine movie.
Unfortunately, if your TV has had its adjustments made for optimum colour and brightness and contrast during the day, it’s likely that it will not look very good with those lights dimmed. Likewise, if the adjustments have been made for darker conditions, it could look washed-out during the day.
Flat panel TVs with user presets allow you to program settings for optimum viewing during dim and bright conditions; switching between them is as easy as pushing a button on the remote control.
Some TVs have ‘magic eye’ features that allow them to adjust automatically for the amount of light in the room, but these rarely provide accurate settings. A better result can be achieved by adjusting these settings twice: once during the day and once at night. If your TV has two ‘User’ settings for picture quality, then it’s easy to switch between the two.
If your TV only has one ‘User’ setting, then use this to store the picture settings for evening viewing, and use one of the fixed settings for daytime viewing. It won’t be as precise, but it doesn’t need to be when there’s light in the room.
Gadget Guy tip
Lights that reflect onto the screen will affect image quality, so try to move lamps or angle the screen to avoid possible glare. Also, viewing in complete darkness can cause eyestrain, so it’s best to place a dim light behind the screen.