Which Home Theater Upgrade Should I Invest in Now?

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Q I have a substantial amount of money invested in my home theater. With the arrival of object-based Dolby Atmos/DTS:X audio and High Dynamic Range video, not to mention the forthcoming ATSC 3.0 Digital TV standard, I’d like to know which components in my rig should I replace first? Also, how much should I plan to spend for each upgrade? —R. Hill / Chattanooga, TN

Q The first component I’d recommend upgrading is your AV receiver. Why? New 2016 receivers from Onkyo, Denon, Marantz, Yamaha, Pioneer, and Anthem are equipped to provide Dolby Atmos and, in some cases, DTS:X processing (either out of the box or via a firmware upgrade). Along with offering the latest advancements in home theater audio, 2016 receivers should all be outfitted with HDMI 2.0a connections. Why is that important? Because HDMI 2.0a, the latest HDMI version, accommodates a range of new video technologies including 4K/Ultra HD resolution, 10-bit color, and High Dynamic Range (HDR). Plan to spend $500 and up for a new HDMI 2.0a-equipped receiver with object-based audio support.

Now that you have a receiver that supports Dolby Atmos (and possibly DTS:X), the next thing you’ll want to upgrade is your speakers. No, you wont have to replace your current rig. What you will have to do is augment it with speakers capable of conveying the height information in object-based soundtracks. There are two paths you can take here: install one or two sets of in-/on-ceiling speakers, or add Atmos-enabled speaker modules to your existing setup. Atmos-enabled speakers, which mount on top of your existing front left/right speakers and reflect sound off your room’s ceiling to deliver overhead effects in Dolby Atmos or DTS-X soundtracks, are sold by companies including Definitive Technology, PSB, ELAC, and Klipsch at prices ranging from $230-$699/pair.

The last item I’d look to upgrade is my TV. While many new UHDTV models can handle 10-bit color and HDR, sets equipped with ATSC 3.0 tuners aren’t expected until 2017— the year that ATSC 3.0 broadcasts are also expected to commence. So if having a set capable of receiving next-gen TV broadcasts is important, you may want to wait things out for at least another year. If you decide to pull the trigger early, HDR-compatible Ultra HDTVs are now selling for as low as $600.

mtymous1's picture

...is to recommend a new AVR.

However, you should think about your use cases. In other words, what are your home theater enjoyment habits? Do you mostly watch TV in 5.1? Stream movies? Watch BluRays? Listen to high resolution music? Stream lossy-compressed music?

Do you have a digital library? Are analog components such as a turntable, important to you?

You'll be better off considering how you enjoy your set up most, rather than automatically running off and buying the AVR du jour.

*IF* you care more about sound quality than the number of channels or WPC ratings, you should follow the cardinal rule of purchasing speakers that make you fall in love with them, THEN get equipment that bring the most out of them. It is indeed possible to get audiophile quality sound from some home theater equipment today.

sachinkggn's picture