Feature Article
New TV, DVD Player, and Surround Sound System

October 1, 1998
By Scott Lewis

The TV in my bedroom starting blinking its picture. It did it for a couple of days, but it only lasted for a couple of minutes. Then one Saturday it did it constantly. It did not matter what channel we were watching, whether we had the cable box attached to it, or even if we were using the VCR. The picture kept blinking like it was getting bad reception.

The TV is a 10 year old 20" Sony TV. We took it in for an estimate. The estimate said it needed a new tuner at a cost of $140. That seemed a little steep to us, so we started looking at new TVs.

We were definitely going to get another Sony TV. We have a Sony VCR in the bedroom, and while we were waiting for the estimate we took the 13" TV from my son's room. It was not a Sony, and the remote required us to flip the switch from VCR to TV just to adjust the volume. Then we had to switch back to VCR to change channels. The remote is from the VCR, and controls the cable box. With the Sony TV the remote always adjusted the volume regardless of which way the switch was. In fact, the only time we had to switch the remote to TV was to turn the TV on or off.

Also, since we have a 27" Sony TV in the living room, with the same model Sony VCR, we can move the remotes between the rooms seamlessly, and even turn the living room TV off from the bedroom (there is a direct line of sight out our bedroom door).

No argument, we are getting a new Sony TV. My wife wanted to get a another 20" TV. I wanted to take the opportunity to get a larger TV. While shopping around my wife saw Best Buy had a deal that gave $50 off of a home theater audio system with the purchase of a 27" or larger TV. So we looked at the sound systems.

I had previously read an article on Kenwood's theater-in-a-box, and we thought we would get something like it. The Kenwood caught my eye because of its build in AC-3 decoder. AC-3 is the sound on DVDs. And most DVD players have an AC-3 output. Very few theater-in-a-box systems have AC-3 built in. (Read about the Kenwood here.)

None of the systems at Best Buy had AC-3 built in. But many of them were digital ready. This means that they have RCA style jacks for all the sound channels of AC-3, but they can't decode the AC-3 signal. The channels are: left front, right front, left rear, right rear, center, and sub-woofer. To use one of these sound systems with a DVD player would require a separate AC-3 decoder (similar to this Sony model).

I didn't like the idea of this extra component. We decided to roam over to the DVD players. Low-and-behold... Sony has a DVD player with the AC-3 decoder built into the player. We took another look at the home theater systems, and found this one to have everything we needed.

The audio system takes 5.1 channels from the DVD player. Then it has all the speakers to hear it all. The sound is great. I have not turned the volume up to the maximum, and with two small children around probably won't, but at low to moderate (even moderately loud) volumes the system sounds excellent. Highly recommended.

If you should get one of these, keep a couple of things in mind. You will have to buy the RCA cables to hook them together. Not enough come in the box. Also, just attach the speakers to the back of the receiver. You do not need to attach speakers to the output on the subwoofer. Done this way all connections are simplified, and easier to maintain.

What about the TV? Glad you asked. Since we were getting DVD and surround sound, we thought it would be a good idea to get a bigger TV in the living room, and move the 27" to the bedroom. Alas, we couldn't do it. The 32" TV was 2-1/8" too wide to fit in our entertainment center. So we got a Sony 27" TV. (I am linking to the model KV-27S22. We bought the KV-27S40. They seem to have the same features, and I couldn't find my model online.) My existing 27" TV has more jacks on the back of it, including S-Video that matches the DVD player. So the new TV went into the bedroom.

So far I bought two DVD movies. Conspiracy Theory, and Lethal Weapon. Top Gun is due for release on October 20th, and I will probably get it as soon as I can. If anyone knows where I can get DVD movies cheap, let me know. Also, if anyone has found a way to get around the recording problems trying to put a DVD movie on VHS tape, also let me know. I do not plan to pirate movies, I only have one family member that has a DVD player, and it would be nice to tape a DVD movie for when we go over a friend's house and want to watch a movie.

What this means to you

So what does this mean to you? Simple. There are three kinds of DVD players (four if you count the new 5 disc carousel unit Sony makes), and I have recommendations for two of them.

1) The first DVD player has only stereo output sound. There is no AC-3 output (digital or otherwise) DO NOT buy one of these. You will regret it.

2) The second kind of DVD player has the digital AC-3 output. It it a small jack on the back of the unit that should have a little square peg in it when new. This is the output to a digital built-in sound system.

3) The third, and the one I bought, has both the digital AC-3 output, and has a built-in AC-3 decoder for use with a digital ready sound system.

My recommendation is this: If you get a DVD player with AC-3 output, spend the extra bucks for a good sound system with digital built-in. This should provide the best quality sound.

If you are on a budget, spend the extra $100 for a DVD player that has an AC-3 decoder. These usually say 5.1 channel output (or something like that). Then get a sound system that is digital ready. From what I have seen, stereo receivers with digital built-in cost a lot more than a good receiver that is digital ready. You can save some money going this without much lose in quality. My ears are not good enough to tell the difference.

Enjoy (I know I am)!