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Find answers to commonly asked questions and terms here in the Knowledge Base. Find definitions to the latest terms so you can know more about how you'd like to change your living room for the better.

#'s - B

  • 1080i
    An HDTV standard that specifies an interlaced resolution of 1920x1080.
  • 1080p
    1080 progressive. One of two currently used formats designated as high-definition television in the ATSC DTV standard, this technology comprises 1080 vertical pixels and 1,280 horizontal pixels. The p stands for progressive, as opposed to interlaced, scanning, which is used in the other accepted HDTV standard, known as 1080i.
  • 16:9
    Sometimes expressed as 16x9 or 16 by 9 (known as 1.78:1 in the film world); the standard DTV wide-screen television screen size, or aspect ratio--16 arbitrary units wide by 9 arbitrary units high, as compared to a standard TV aspect ratio of 4:3. The phrase describes the shape of a TV set or program, not an actual inch measurement.
  • 3D
    A 3D film is a motion picture that enhances the illusion of depth perception. A special motion picture camera system is used to record the images as seen from two perspectives and special eyewear is used to provide the illusion of depth when viewing the film.
  • 4:3
    Standard "square" NTSC TV screen-size aspect ratio of 4 arbitrary units wide by 3 arbitrary units high; often expressed as 4x3 or 4 by 3. It was originally known as the Academy Ratio (as in Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the film industry organization that awards the Oscars) prior to 1954 and the introduction of wide-screen aspect-ratio film formats; also known in the film world as 1.33:1.
  • 480i
    480 interlaced; form of standard-definition digital television (SDTV) that approximates the quality of analog television but not considered high-definition television (HDTV). Even though the native resolution of DVDs is 480p, they are viewed at 480i on an NTSC analog television.
  • 480p
    480 progressive; form of standard-definition digital television (SDTV) comparable to VGA computer displays but not considered high-definition television (HDTV), though 480p is discernibly cleaner and slightly sharper than analog television. The native resolution of DVD is 480p, but that resolution can be seen only if a DVD player outputs a progressive-scan signal and the DTV has progressive-scan or component-video inputs; it is also known as EDTV.
  • 5.1 channel digital surround sound
    The popular digital surround-sound technique used by Dolby Digital technology in which audio is recorded on six, or 5.1, separate tracks: front left, front right, front center, rear left, and rear right, with an extra track (the .1) reserved for very low bass. This method (also called AC-3) mimics the three-dimensional quality of sound in real life and has become ubiquitous in home-theater systems. Although analog surround sound such as Dolby Pro Logic also often uses six speakers, the analog format simply splits a traditional stereo signal into front and rear components.
  • 720p
    720 progressive. One of two currently used formats designated as high-definition television in the ATSC DTV standard, this technology comprises 720 vertical pixels and 1,280 horizontal pixels. The p stands for progressive, as opposed to interlaced, scanning, which is used in the other accepted HDTV standard, known as 1080i. Contrary to myth, 720p is not inferior to 1080i; 720p has fewer lines but also has the advantages of progressive scanning and a constant vertical resolution of 720 lines, making it better able to handle motion.
  • Aspect Ratio
    The ratio of image width to image height. Common motion-picture ratios are 1.85:1 and 2.35:1. Television screens are usually 1.33:1 (also known as 4:3), which is similar to the Academy standard for films in the '50s. HDTV is 1.78:1, or 16:9. When widescreen movies (films with aspect ratios wider than 1.33:1) are displayed on 1.33:1 televisions, the image must be letterboxed, anamorphically squeezed, or panned-and-scanned to fit the screen.
  • Bass
    Low frequencies; those below approximately 200 Hz.
  • Black Level
    Light level of the darker portions of a video image. A black level control sets the light level of the darkest portion of the video signal to match that of the display's black level capability. Black is, of course, the absence of light. Many displays, however, have as much difficulty shutting off the light in the black portions of an image as they do creating light in the brighter portions. CRT-based displays usually have better black levels than DLP, plasma, and LCD, which rank, generally, in that order.
  • Brightness
    For video, the overall light level of the entire image. A brightness control makes an image brighter; however, when it is combined with a contrast, or white level control, the brightness control is best used to define the black level of the image (see Black Level). For audio, something referred to as bright has too much treble or high-frequency sound.

C - H

  • Center Channel
    The center speaker in a home theater setup. Ideally placed within one or two feet above or below the horizontal plane of the left and right speakers and above or below the display device, unless placed behind a perforated screen. Placement is important, as voices and many effects in a multichannel mix come from this speaker.
  • Coaxial
    An audio or video cable with a single center pin that acts as the hot lead and an outer shield that acts as a ground.
  • Composite Video
    A signal that contains both chrominance and luminance on the same 75-ohm cable. Used in nearly all consumer video devices. Chrominance is carried in a 3.58-mHz sideband and filtered out by the TV's notch or comb filter. Poor filtering can result in dot crawl, hanging dots, or other image artifacts.
  • Component Video
    A signal that's recorded or transmitted in its separate components. Typically refers to Y/Pb/Pr, which consists of three 75-ohm channels: one for luminance information, and two for color. Compared with an S-video signal, a Y/Pb/Pr signal carries more color detail. HDTV, DVD, and DBS are component video sources, though most DBS material is transcoded to component from composite signals.
  • Contrast
    Relative difference between the brightest and darkest parts of an image. A contrast control adjusts the peak white level of a display device.
  • Distortion
    Any undesired change in an audio signal between input and the output.
  • DLP
    Digital Light Processing. A Texas Instruments process of projecting video images using a light source reflecting off of an array of tens of thousands of microscopic mirrors. Each mirror represents a pixel and reflects light toward the lens for white and away from it for black, modulating in between for various shades of gray. Three-chip versions use separate arrays for the red, green, and blue colors. Single-chip arrays use a color-filter wheel that alternates each filter color in front of the mirror array at appropriate intervals.
  • Dolby EX
    An enhancement to Dolby Digital that adds a surround back channel to 5.1 soundtracks. The sixth channel is matrixed from the left and right surround channels. Often referred to as 6.1. Sometimes referred to as 7.1 if the system uses two surround back speakers, even though both speakers reproduce the same signal. Software is backwards-compatible with 5.1 systems, but requires an EX or 6.1 processor to obtain additional benefit.
  • Dolby Digital
    An encoding system that digitally compresses up to 5.1 discrete channels of audio (left front, center, right front, left surround, right surround, and LFE) into a single bitstream, which can be recorded onto a DVD, HDTV broadcast, or other form of digital media. When RF-modulated, it was included on some laser discs, which requires an RF-demodulator before the signal can be decoded. Five channels are full-range; the .1 channel is a band-limited LFE track. A Dolby Digital processor (found in most new receivers, preamps, and some DVD players) can decode this signal back into the 5.1 separate channels. Most films since 1992's Batman Returns have been recorded in a 5.1 digital format, though a number of films before that had 6-channel analog tracks that have been remastered into 5.1.
  • Dolby Pro Logic
    An enhancement of the Dolby Surround decoding process. Pro Logic decoders derive left, center, right, and a mono surround channel from two-channel Dolby Surround–encoded material via matrix techniques.
  • DVD
    Officially known as the Digital Video Disc, though marketers unofficially refer to it as the Digital Versatile Disc. DVD uses a 5-inch disc with anywhere from 4.5 Gb (single layer, single-sided) to 17 Gb storage capacity (double-layer, double sided). It uses MPEG2 compression to encode 720:480p resolution, full-motion video and Dolby Digital to encode 5.1 channels of discrete audio. The disc can also contain PCM, DTS, and MPEG audio soundtracks and numerous other features. An audio-only version, DVD-A uses MLP to encode six channels of 24-bit/96-kHz audio.
  • DVI
    Digital Visual Interface. Connection standard developed by Intel for connecting computers to digital monitors such as flat panels and DLP projectors. A consumer electronics version, not necessarily compatible with the PC version, is used as a connection standard for HDTV tuners and displays. Transmits an uncompressed digital signal to the display. The latter version uses HDCP copy protection to prevent unauthorized copying. See also HDMI.
  • HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface)
    HDTV connection format using a DVI interface that transfers uncompressed digital audio and video with HDCP copy protection and multichannel audio.
  • HDTV (High-Definition Television)
    High-Definition Television. The high-resolution subset of our DTV system. The FCC has no official definition for HDTV. The ATSC defines HDTV as a 16:9 image with twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of our existing system, accompanied by 5.1 channels of Dolby Digital audio. The CEA defines HDTV as an image with 720 progressive or 1080 interlaced active (top to bottom) scan lines. 1280:720p and 1920:1080i are typically accepted as high-definition scan rates.

I - M

  • Interlace
    Process of alternating scan lines to create a complete image. In CRT displays, every second field/frame is scanned between the first field/frame. The first field represents the odd lines; the second field represents the even lines. The fields are aligned and timed so that, with a still image, the human eye blurs the two fields together and sees them as one. Interlace scanning allows only half the lines to be transmitted and presented at any given moment. A 1080i HD signal transmits and displays only 540 lines per 60th of a second. 480i NTSC transmits and displays only 240 lines per 60th of a second. Motion in the image can make the fields noticeable. Interlaced images have motion artifacts when two fields don't match to create the complete frame, often most noticeable in film-based material.
  • Keystone
    A form of video image distortion in which the top of the picture is wider than the bottom, or the left is taller than the right, or vice versa. The image is shaped like a trapezoid rather than a rectangle.
  • LCD (Liquid Crystal Display)
    Liquid Crystal Display. A display that consists of two polarizing transparent panels and a liquid crystal surface sandwiched in between. Voltage is applied to certain areas, causing the crystal to turn dark. A light source behind the panel transmits through transparent crystals and is mostly blocked by dark crystals.
  • Midrange
    The middle of the audio frequency range. Also used as a term for loudspeaker drivers designed to reproduce this range.
  • MP3
    MPEG-1 Audio Layer-3. Compression scheme used to transfer audio files via the Internet and store in portable players and digital audio servers.
  • Multi-Room Audio
    System that provides audio or video to multiple areas. Usually with only one source.
  • Multisource
    System with multiple sources. Can also be used to describe a receiver that can provide multiple different sources into different rooms.
  • Multizone
    System that provides different sources into multiple areas simultaneously.

N - Z

  • Pixel
    Contraction of picture element. The smallest element of data in a video image.
  • Plasma
    Flat-panel display technology that ignites small pockets of gas to light phosphors.
  • Power Output
    A measure, usually in watts, of how much energy is modulated by a component.
  • Preamplifier
    A control and switching component that may include equalization functions. The preamp comes in the signal chain before the amplifiers.
  • Progressive Scanning
    Each frame of a video image is scanned complete, from top to bottom, not interlaced. For example, 480p means that each image frame is made of 480 horizontal lines drawn vertically. Computer images are all progressively scanned. Requires more bandwidth (twice as much vertical information) and a faster horizontal scan frequency than interlaced images of the same resolution.
  • Projection System
    Using a home theater projector and screen to create the perfect home theater.
  • Rear Projection Television (RPTV)
    Display that projects an image on the backside of a screen material, usually after having been reflected off of a mirror. Usually DLP and LCD Rear Projection.
  • RF (Radio Frequency)
    Radio Frequency. Television signals are modulated onto RF signals and are then demodulated by your television's tuner. VCRs and DBS receivers often include channel 3 or 4 modulators, allowing the output signal to be tuned by the television on those channels. Also, laser discs used an RF signal for modulating Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks on some movies. This requires an RF demodulator (usually referred to as an AC3-RF demodulator) before or in the surround processor to decode the signal.
  • RGB
    Red, Green, Blue. Can refer to an unprocessed video signal or the color points of a display device. Together these three colors make up every color seen on a display device. Also referred to a computer cable.
  • S-Video
    Video format where color and detail signals are kept separate, thus preventing composite video artifacts. tThe cable uses four-pin connector. Used with S-VHS VCRs, DVD players, Hi-8, and DBS receivers.
  • Scan Lines
    The lines drawn by an electron gun in a CRT system to make up the picture. Drawn horizontally, from left to right, starting at the top left and working to the bottom right.
  • Source
    A component from which the system's signals originate. DVD player, AM/FM tuners, and VCRs are sources.
  • Speaker
    A component that converts electrical energy into acoustical energy.
  • Subwoofer
    A speaker designed to reproduce very low bass frequencies, usually those below about 80 Hz.
  • THX
    Certification program for home theater equipment. Uses some proprietary features, but mostly assures a base quality level for a given room size. (See THX Select or Ultra.) Is compatible with any and all soundtrack formats. Stands for either Tom Holman's eXperiment, after the engineer who drafted the original standard, or is named after the company's founder George Lucas' first movie, THX 1138. Nobody agrees on which.
  • Tweeter
    A speaker driver designed to reproduce high frequencies; usually those over approximately 5,000 to 10,000 Hz.
  • Universal Remote
    Remote that has the commands of numerous brands stored into memory and can control several different devices simultaneously.


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