People may believe that a full and rewarding digital lifestyle is restricted to a few super-rich techno-geeks but, in fact, just about anyone can enjoy quality entertainment that suits their pocket.
Most consumers already have some of the building blocks they need to craft a complete home entertainment centre, says John Silver, MD of Audiosure and also acknowledged as South Africa's leading lights on the digital lifestyle experience.
Barry Neethling, IT director of First Technology and colleagues from sister company Audiosure will use Futurex & Equip Cape Town this month to show consumers how to achieve top-quality home theatre at an affordable price.
The Cape Town demonstration is a preview to what will be on show at the Futurex & Equip show in Johannesburg in May next year, when visitors will not only be able to experience thrilling home theatre but also buy all the elements they need to replicate the experience at home.
Audiosure and First Technology will be showing the top end of the home theatre experience but will also offer consumers advice and tips in setting up their own living rooms to take the best possible advantage of the available technology.
Barry explains that they will show users how to achieve the best possible quality within their budgets – and also how to spot poor quality and thus avoid making expensive mistakes.
"We are appealing to the broadest possible range of consumers – and we are going to show them the 'wow!' factor," he says.
"Visitors to the show will be able to experience a sample of home theatre that will blow their socks off. And, contrary to popular belief, they can have it for themselves."
He explains that any consumer who has a Playstation 3 or an XBox already has the base building block for a home theatre system as these devices come equipped to play high- definition multimedia output.
"In Europe and the US, it's not at all unusual for people to be installing home theatres," he says. "It's still a bit out of the ordinary in South Africa but it is definitely a trend.
"In addition, all the equipment that's needed is readily available in South Africa at affordable prices, and its not rocket science to set it up."
There is a prevailing belief that home theatre systems are expensive, difficult to set up and deliver questionable quality. But Barry and John believe the demonstration at Futurex & Equip will blow that perception out of the water.
"This technology has all been available in South Africa for the past year and we're going to show consumers how it can work together to deliver an awesome experience.
"We'll even show visitors how to put their cabling together and explain the importance of cabling technology."
Anyone who loves watching a good movie should take time to visit the show, Barry says, and learn how to put together a system that suits their own lifestyle and pocket.
What you'll need to start experiencing true home theatre is a player – Playstation 3, XBox, PC or dedicated player – along with some speakers, a processor with amplification and either a television monitor or a projector plus a screen on the wall.
"It's literally that simple," he says. "And most consumers have already got some or even all of the elements they need. What we are trying to get across at the show is that this is not something that consumers need to be afraid of – they can achieve it themselves."
Of course, some visitors will want to go beyond the basic home theatre and will be interested in trying out the latest in what Barry refers to as "buttkickers".
"These are linear magnetic engines that are built into chairs and are set up to vibrate according to the bass output on the movie," he says.
"These improve the viewer's sense of immersion in the experience.
"They also mean that the bass sound doesn't have to be so pervasive – since the viewer is literally feeling it rather than hearing it – and so the sound isn't invasive for other people in the house."
These linear magnetic engines are available ex-stock and can be installed in any suitable chair. In addition, they are "absolutely affordable", according to John.
The team at Futurex will show visitors how to choose the best available products and configure them for the best quality output.
They'll also share some little-known facts about cabling, and help consumers ensure the best possible quality by selecting the right cabling components.
John explains that cheap or inefficient cables can ruin the home theatre investment by degrading the quality of the output.
"If someone buys a R1 000.00 HD-DVD player and then connects it up with a cheap or even free cable, they have just degraded their investment down to less than R400.00," he says.
"This is because transferring content from the player to the screen or projector requires a huge amount of bandwidth, so the cables have been developed to do this efficiently."
Consumers need to look at an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) cable to get the best experience, especially if they are running the best level of high-definition player, which outputs video at 1080p.
"It's not so much about speed as it is about interference," John explains. "If the different conduits within the cable interact with one another they can cause the signal to degrade over space and time."
It's not just poor-quality cables that can degrade the user's experience, though. Silver explains that projectors and televisions can also cause a poor picture which will result in an uncomfortable experience.
"For example, low-definition projectors and televisions can cause eye fatigue, for example people can develop tension headaches from watching a bad picture.
"The problem is that many people don't even know they're watching a bad picture and actually hurting their eyes and ears as a result.
"We want to show people what good quality means, how good the experience can be, and how to spot the difference between good quality and bad."
There's no doubt that the traditional CRT (cathode ray tube) television is outdated, and consumers wishing to watch any form of high-definition content must look to one of the flat-panel models on offer – either plasma or LCD.
There's little to choose between the two standards, says Barry, and users should opt for whichever model best suits their lifestyle and pocket.
"With today's standards, the technology debate between plasma and LCD is a moot point," he says.
"Generally, LCDs will have a more pleasing picture, but there are some excellent plasma models available as well."
Barry explains that LCD screens consume less power and thus radiate less heat, which is a point to consider for users concerned about the environment.
"The screen is eye candy," he says. "Consumers must buy what looks good to them and suits their pocket."
However, he warns consumers not to be fooled by the test images on television screens, and to understand what to look for in a high-quality screen.
"It's easy to be fooled by test images which have a lot of bright colours; you need to look at the monitor using images that are dull and don't have a lot of colour. Never evaluate a screen based on a cartoon or pictures of flowers; and never evaluate with images you aren't familiar with."
If consumers prefer a projector to either an LCD or plasma screen, they must steer clear of the "bulk" projectors used for boardroom presentations, Barry adds. The best projector for the job is a dual-lamp 1080P projector, but users should evaluate based on screen size and quality.
Content: Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD
Any self-respecting home theatre buff needs to have a collection of movies, music videos and documentaries to watch.
While new-technology hardware will make even today's DVDs look better than ever, the true high-definition experience will kick in with high-definition content.
There are increasing quantities of high-definition content coming on to the South African market, in both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD formats.
As in the early days of the video machine, these two formats are currently battling it out for supremacy – but Barry believes both will win through in the end.
"Sony machines play the Blu-Ray format and Microsoft XBox machines HD-DVD, as well as a number of other players, use the HD-DVD format," he explains.
"Both camps have enough of a following that they won't be superseded and we will probably see content manufacturers starting to put Blu-Ray content on one side of the disk and HD-DVD on the other so they can play in any device."
In addition, a number of standalone players can handle both formats – LG already has a player on the market that does exactly that – support both.
Futurex & Equip
These technologies will be on show at Futurex & Equip Cape Town, being held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from 26 to 28 September 2007.