With the holidays fast approaching, your thoughts have surely turned to gifts -- whether for that special someone or for yourself. Hey, why not? You've been good this year, right? And, as you happen to be reading this at a site whose focus is movies, it stands to reason you may want to watch a few of them once in awhile. I'm sure many of you remember the good old days when you went to a theater to watch a movie in all of its wide-screen, THX enhanced splendor. These days, with ticket prices, parking, waiting in line and those jerks on cell phones, actually going to the theater is something people do less and less.

Instead, people are staying home, curling up on the couch and watching their favorite movie on DVD in the comfort of their homes. I have to admit that its getting harder and harder for me to go to the theater too. Even though I can go to screenings and all that, its still, in many cases, much more of an ordeal than it needs to be -- or that it seems to be worth. Consequently, I spend more and more time watching movies at home. And that, friends, is why we're here today.

If you watch movies at home and want to maximize the "cinematic experience" of those movies, following are some essential tools that will help you get there. As its not possible for me to have owned every different kind of equipment out there, this list will focus primarily on the items that make up my personal home theater setup -- which was put together over the last few months after exhaustive research. Plus, these items make great gifts too. So, on with the show!
1. Television -- This one might seem obvious but sadly there are people out there in the world who still watch movies on a 20" TV and wonder why they're not getting the "cinematic experience." A large TV is essential to your enjoyment of movies at home. The size helps simulate a theater and adds greatly to the enjoyment. Plus, with HD technology, today's televisions offer greater picture quality than ever before -- which is exactly what you're looking for in a TV.

There are many brands out there from which to choose but call me a TV snob, I prefer Sony. Of all the ones I've tried, tested and otherwise watched, Sony consistently delivers quality of picture that exceeds other brands. Yes, in some cases you pay more for Sony. But in the end, you get what you pay for. Besides, you're gonna spend quite a bit of time in front of this TV so why not get a good one, right? And don't get too caught up in the whole "bigger is better" mania. A slightly smaller TV with a better picture is preferred to a bigger screen with a crappy picture. It also depends on the size of your viewing room and how far away from the TV you need to get. To determine what size TV your viewing room can handle, check out this handy viewing distance calculator.

My pick -- Sony 46" BRAVIA XBR LCD Flat Panel HDTV. Or, if you have a more restrictive budget, the Sony 42" Grand WEGA Rear Projection HDTV is a great choice as well.

2. DVD Player -- Now that you have your HD TV, its time to get something that will showcase its great picture. Nothing else has as good a picture at the moment than HD or Blu-Ray DVDs. So, to play those, you need a player. I won't debate the merits of HD DVD vs Blu-Ray here (ok, I prefer HD DVD but that's just me) so just look at the movies you want to watch and see what format they're on and get the player that plays that format. At the moment, I'm using the HD DVD player for the XBox 360 to play HD DVD content. But if you don't happen to have an XBox 360 setup like this, there are a couple of players out there that will do the job for you.

My picks -- For HD DVD the Toshiba HD-A1 player. For Blu-Ray, the Samsung BD-P1000 player is a good choice. Or, for Blu-Ray you could always get a Sony PS3 and have a gaming console and Blu-Ray player all in one -- that is, if you can find one. And no, I won't sell you mine.

3. Home Theater Receiver -- A good surround sound receiver is a very important component of any home theater system. I know, movies are a visual medium but still, you also want to hear the dialog and experience as much of the sound mix as you can -- in its full surround glory. This is an essential part of the "cinematic experience." When picking a surround sound receiver, its important to get one that provides enough power for the speakers you are going to get as well as quality of sound, reliability and the features you want. You'll want one that does all the flavors of Dolby, DTS and all that as well as 7.1 surround sound. Even if you don't use the 7.1 feature immediately, having it gives you some place to go and improve your system even more.

Its also important, and often overlooked, to get a receiver that's not so complicated you can't figure it out and consequently don't get the full benefit from it. Yes, reading the manual is important and you should, but you should also be able to figure out the system without having an advanced degree in electrical engineering. I've tried almost every flavor of surround receiver but in the end I always stick to one brand in particular -- Denon. Denon delivers the goods in all areas and is a great choice for you as the audio cornerstone for your home theater system. Plus, Denon equipment lasts a long time so spending a little more for a quality product pays off that way too.

My picks -- DENON AVR-2807 7.1 Channel Home Theater Receiver. Or, for the slightly smaller budget, the DENON AVR-2307CI Home Theater Receiver is also a great choice.

4. Surround Sound Speaker System with Subwoofer -- Ok, you've got your great TV, cool HD DVD player and high-tech A/V surround receiver. Next, you need some speakers so you can hear all that great sound being put out by your new Denon unit. For speakers, you could really spend a lot -- more than you really have to. I have. friends with a great deal of disposable income who've spent as much on speakers for their home theater system as you could spend on a decent used car. Unfortunately, the quality of sound wasn't that dramatically improved to justify the expense. Don't tell them I said so.

Fortunately, you don't have to go quite that far. However, you do need to spend a few bucks here to help maximize your surround sound and take advantage of your Denon's ability to push out quality audio. For your ultimate setup, you will want at least seven speakers and a sub-woofer. The speakers are right and left front, center, right rear, left rear and for a 7.1 system, you need a right and left "surround" speaker as well. Yes, that's a lot of speakers but it's worth it the first time you hear the Batmobile rumble across the screen and through your living room. Really, speakers are subject to people's own ears. So, take a piece of your favorite music and listen to a bunch of speakers and pick the ones you think sound the best.

My picks -- Atlantic Technology System 4200e plus two additional 4200e SR speakers for 7.1. Or, you can spend a little less and get the Atlantic Technology System 2200 and wait on the additional speakers for 7.1. You can always get those for your birthday or something.

5. Speaker Cable and Cable Connectors -- Believe it or not, I listen to the hype and buy Monster speaker cable for my speakers. Yes, I know people say its not worth it but I haven't had the time or the inclination to test every different type of speaker cable to see for sure so in this case, Monster is going to get my money because they just work. Besides, they're not really that much more money in this case. As you now have quite a few speakers (at least 6), be sure to get quite a bit of cable. That way, you'll have enough. As my old shop teacher used to say "measure twice and cut once," and be careful.

To help make sure i am getting the best bang for my speaker cable buck, I also like to put connectors on all of my speaker cable. You take the raw wire and feed it into the ends and then they make a nice plug that you can plug into the speaker posts on the back of your speakers and on the back of your receiver. Nice and neat. Plus, these help prevent that annoying corrosion that will inevitably take place at the ends of your speaker cables resulting in loss of sound quality. So, cap your ends people.

My picks for speaker cable and caps -- Monster XP Clear Jacket Cable and Monster Cable Flex Pin Connectors.

6. Video Essentials DVD or AVIA Guide DVD -- These DVDs have been around for awhile. I even had one on laser disc back in the day. Remember laser disc? Anyway, these DVDs are great and help you calibrate your TV for maximum picture quality. Keep in mind that most TVs sold these days at places like Costco or Best Buy come from the factory with settings that aren't best suited to your home theater. Sure, you can adjust the settings yourself and put them where they look good to your eye -- and that's fine. However, if you want to get the most out of your equipment, these DVDs are essential. They do have a pretty steep learning curve and are pretty intensive, but if you're going to pay all that money for a great TV, why not calibrate it to its maximum efficiency?

There are two different ones available but being the person I am, I use both and see which one looks better. Here they are: Video Essentials DVD and AVIA Guide DVD.

7. Some HD DVD or Blu-Ray Movies -- At the moment, I'm watching the following DVDs in HD DVD format and they are a great example of why this format is as good as it is: Serenity, directed by Joss Whedon, Mission Impossible III, directed by J.J. Abrams, Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan and Superman Returns, directed by Brian Singer. In fact, if you want to test out HD TVs in the store (and you should, even before you take my recommendations) Superman Returns and Serenity are excellent HD DVDs to use. Take them to the store and make them play one for you on the exact TV you're thinking about buying. That way, you can see your new baby in action before you take it home.

Ok, those are my picks. I know they might end up costing a few bucks but in the end, these components will allow you to truly have the "cinematic experience" in your own home. Anyone have any favorite items of their own?