Pixel pitfalls

The path to creating a satisfying home theater system can be blocked by a few minor missteps. Here are some offenders.

Reading the receipt, but not the instructions—As audio system retailer Norman Smeltzer puts it, “People spend the money to get a nice system … and they don’t hook it up right, and it doesn’t perform right. [Worse], for someone who doesn’t have the experience to know what it’s supposed to sound like, they’ll never know.”

Pushing a camel through the eye of a needle—Smeltzer again: “The rule of thumb is, your audio system is only as good as its weakest link. If you’ve got high-end components but cheap cables, you won’t get the bang out of your buck. … Cheaper cables [can] let in radio interference, cell phone signals, wireless networks, or clicks and pops from a house’s electrical system. Size does matter.”

Not recognizing what you’ve got—Many consumers don’t recognize DVDs present movies as they are shown in theaters. “A lot of people don’t realize when they get a DVD and plug it into their TV that the picture is not going to fill the screen,” Maurer says. “There’s a black space at the top and bottom. … A lot of people get their DVDs home and think it’s broken.” It isn’t.

Getting bad movies—Call it the DVD effect. Often new home theater enthusiasts want the newest, biggest, loudest movies. Usually, they find themselves getting bad films, Pearl Harbor or the new Planet of the Apes, laden with big sound and a lot of extras. Advice: Cool your head. As more older films are released, consumers are no longer relegated to last summer’s "blockbuster."