A Couch Potato's Guide to Gear What you need to turn your TV room into a mini-moviehouse
By William C. Banks

(MONEY Magazine) – Close your eyes and remember your last picture show: the screen stretches mesmerizingly wide, the sound effects are shiveringly real, and you sit back and sink your toes . . . right into the gummy remnant of someone's discarded Milk Duds. Couch potatoes, your liberation is at hand. With the new generation of giant-screen TVs, laser-sharp video movies and Dolby surround-sound, video buffs can turn their homes into pleasure domes matching the sybaritic standards of a Bel Air movie mogul's private screening room. The centerpiece of a home theater is a projection television, an oversize TV that enhances and magnifies its picture before projecting it internally onto the back of a large screen -- 40, 50, even 60 inches measured diagonally. Beefed-up circuitry, improved screen design, plus clearer signals from laser- disk players and the new breed of super VCRs add up to a new standard of brightness and clarity for projection sets. If broadcasters or cable companies make good their promise to double picture detail with a new high-definition signal a few years hence, big-screen sets may benefit most because they are already engineered to display two to three times more video information than an ordinary TV. Then there is the software. Although they nearly went to the LaBrea tar pits when VCRs emerged in the late 1970s, laser disks remain to movies what CDs are to music: their digital tracks deliver the clearest audio and video signal possible. Lately, laser disks have been staging a comeback. Pioneer, the major manufacturer of videodisks, reports that sales are up about 40% this year, with 3 million disks sold in 1987. Today's videophiles complete the full cinema effect with surround-sound, an audio system that divides the sound track into four parts for routing to speakers placed around the room. The crown of this setup is a fifth speaker known as a subwoofer, which generates that spine-strumming bass tone you hear when, for example, Top Gun's jet jockeys kick in their afterburners. Ready to blast off yourself? Turn the page for some specifics.

A supersystem for the compleat videophile

Dozens of manufacturers, including Pioneer, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, NEC and Sony, now make excellent big-screen TVs. The price tags for projection sets with screens up to 46 inches typically range from $2,000 to $3,000. Models with screens in the 50-inch range cost about $1,000 more, and jumbo sets with 60- inch screens have suggested retail prices near $4,500. Most stores routinely knock off 10% to 30%. Whatever set you buy, insist upon high-performance features: full stereo sound, two built-in speakers, complete cable-readiness, and special sockets, known as jacks, for links to other equipment. Laser-video players, such as the Pioneer LD 838D at right, are the least expensive route to the best big-screen picture. If you are willing to spend around $800, you can buy a combination laser disk and CD player made by Magnavox, Pioneer or Yamaha. There are more than 2,000 movies available on laser disk, but you will probably have to buy the titles you want ($30 to $37 each) because few video stores rent disks. If you plan to use one of the new ultrasharp, super-VHS VCRs ($1,000 to $1,400), get a set with an S-video input plug. Prerecorded movies are not yet available in this format. To get bone-tinglingly real movie theater sound, you'll need special circuits to decode the surround-sound tracks on videodisks and tapes. Decoders cost about $150, but a more practical solution for most people is an all-in- one audio-video amplifier ($500 to $700) that incorporates the decoder with plugs for easy connections to all manner of audio and video gear. This unit serves as an amplifier for your existing stereo setup, and it will unite your entire audio-video system under one remote control. You will need at least four speakers to get the surround-sound effects plus a subwoofer, which can cost $150 all by itself. If you prefer just the decoder, you can bring all the elements in your system to heel with a universal remote control. Selling for about $120, models by Memorex and Onkyo can tame almost any audio-video array.