The audience: This is intended for people who want to set up a good home theater system. By "good," I don't mean buying the biggest screen The Bay or Sears has to offer, but a truly immersive system with an audio receiver, a variety of speakers, HDTV capability, and so on.

The author(s): The only name credited on the cover is Brett McLaughlin, but a variety of the interior segments were provided by others. In those cases, the author of the segment is credited right in the text, so there's confusion. McLaughlin did create most of the material, and seems to be the person responsible for the arrangement of the material within the text.

The format: This isn't a traditional "read from cover-to-cover" type of textbook, although it does work if you choose to use it that way. It's really a collection of tips and tricks that are provided for people who have specific questions and wish to look up specific answers. I suggest reading any relevant section, regardless of how comfortable you feel you are with the material, since McLaughlin provides a variety of viewpoints and counter-intuitive examples of how to make the best of things. (For example, he lists reasons to avoid using the built-in configuration tools that come with an audio receiver, and they make sense. If I hadn't been reading the book for review, I'd have skipped that section, because I know my receiver has a configuration mode.) The format works well, with heavy use of crossreferences to allow you to easily find related material if you're reading the text non-sequentially.

The content: There is a lot of good material here, and much of it defies conventional wisdom. If you're looking into setting up a home theatre, this is definitely a handy resource to have access to. This covers every stage of the process, from selecting the room before the remodeling begins, to long-term care and maintanence. The earlier you look into this material, the more likely you are to identify and correct subtle problems. (Well, "inefficiency" is probably a better word than "problem," but you get the idea.) McLaughlin is also good at preventing an even viewpoint, too. In cases of debate about certain choices, he will explain both sides of the debate with a fairly level playing field, showing little or no bias until the final line of a debate, in which he tells you which choice he made. The reader can decide which choice he or she will make.

The clarity: The text is expressivly and clearly written, so there should be little trouble understanding most of it. The only portions that seem to be lacking detail are those that deal with hacks that will void the warranty on your components. (For example, the hack about getting a TV down a flight of stairs it won't fit through, or the hack about modifying a VHS player by shaving a few millimeters off one of the heads.) There are pictures, but not enough for complete instructions. This may be for the best; the people who can't fill in the blanks on these on their own should probably choose not to use those hacks, anyway.

The recommendation: There is a lot of valuable material here. With the HDTV format becoming standard in a couple of years, now is a good time to look into this sort of thing. However, given how rapidly hardware and formats are changing these days, I'm not sure I'd recommend this as a purchase. Once your system is set up, there's not a lot to come back here for. If you have space for a book that will get used a lot for a few weeks or months, and then collect dust for a few years only to become obsolete in a decade, pick it up. Otherwise, find a library-type loaner option through the planning and installation stages. This is an excellent resource during a brief span of time, after which it becomes inapplicable. If you can't get a library copy, then buy it, because you really should take a look at the material inside. (Let's face it: the cost of this book is insignificant compared to the cost of the components and construction you'll need to do in order to apply what's in the book.)