You hear about them every-where, but where do you start? Many new home designs are incorporating media and bonus rooms that serve a t ideal home theater. While it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the choices available, the average homeowner can easily find and assemble their perfect idea of a media epicenter.
When you break home theater down to its core, it essentially consists of a television, receiver, speakers and DVD player. Some choose the easy route of the all-in-one, home theater in a box (HTIB), while others will choose a high-end projector and a professional-grade speaker system. Designer Dream Homes breaks down the essentials, as well as the do’s and don’ts of home theater.
Home theater at its best is designed to bring the experience of going to the movies into your home, and can be interpreted in several ways. A dark room with surround-sound speakers and a projection screen will ultimately do the trick. But the HTIB (a combination of small speakers and a DVD player/receiver) is a fine idea for those seeking convenience and cost-effectiveness.
Because room placement is important, carefully choose a place that will make the perfect home theater. Bonus rooms or basements with no windows are best, but are not always feasible. Several upscale plans incorporate theater-style seating that creates a cinema-like experience for family and friends. Otherwise, comfortable chairs and couches work just as well.
Next, measure the available space to determine the size of your television and how to set up your viewing area. One rule of thumb is that the minimum optimum viewing distance from the viewer to the TV screen should be about two to two-and-a-half times the width of the screen. If you have a 34-inch television, you should not sit closer than about seven feet from the screen. If you’re using your great room or family room for home entertainment, avoid positioning your TV on a wall opposite windows to eliminate glare. If avoiding windows is unfeasible, install heavy drapery and blackout curtains to keep out light and absorb sound. Because sound bounces off wood, carpeting is the best flooring choice.
Once you’ve chosen your room and measured the available space, the television will be your next biggest decision. But what kind is best? Choosing a TV should not just be about price or size because often the most expensive and the biggest are not always the best. There are several factors to consider when buying a television and each situation is different. Are you a movie buff, or do you just want a nice place to relax to watch TV? Do you like to show off, or want the easiest-to-maintain set?
When purchasing your television, take the dimensions of your measured space with you to the store. Remember to include space around the TV if you’re using an entertainment center, so you are still able to access cable plugs. Next, ask a store associate for help. By discussing your requirements and criteria, an associate can often point you in the right direction. For the true enthusiast, consulting with a home media specialist before even building/designing the room is optimal.
For those overwhelmed by the different types of TVs on the market today, here is a brief description:
Streamlined and spacious, the plasma screen can be wall-mounted and is typically more consistent than other television types with its uniform brightness. Lower-end plasma models, however, cannot display high-definition images.
Similar to the Plasma TV in thinness, these sets can also be wall-mounted and feature an extremely high resolution and high-definition capability. It could also double as a computer monitor. Higher end manufacturers are best for this type of television, as lower-end offerings have poorer contrast and slow pixel response.
These are the least expensive and low-maintenance televisions on the market. Make sure the screen is as flat as possible so the picture tube does not reflect glare from windows and lamps, nor distort objects displayed on the screen.
These are often forgotten about or ignored by many consumers who are unknowledgeable about this option. These are popular for those seeking a truly big screen as the picture size and quality closely mirror that of the movie-theater experience. Maintenance costs are greater than in other sets, due to the need for periodic lamp replacement. Now that you have the television, it is time to determine how you will listen to it. For those not wanting to spend a lot of money, the popular HTIB might be best. These kits usually include a DVD player and four front and rear speakers, a center channel and a subwoofer. The problem with these kits is that there is usually no separate receiver, as the DVD player and receiver work as one. Because receivers are the brains of your home theater system, they should not be overlooked.
All of your inputs flow into the receiver and it becomes the control center of your home theater system, since a receiver’s output is its main function. It can handle your TV, VCR, DVD player, CD player and even satellite. With today’s technology progressing so quickly, you will need a receiver with at least Dolby Digital sound decoding. Dolby Digital 5.1 adds flexibility and accuracy by adding stereo rear-surround channels that enable sounds to radiate in multiple directions, as well as provide more power for lower frequencies through a subwoofer channel. A good quality receiver should cost between $250-$1000. The price ranges are indicative of the receivers’ power rating. The higher the power handling of a receiver, the greater its volume capabilities and sound clarity at higher volumes. The difference between using a home theater receiver and your current home audio receiver is going to be the difference between enjoying a movie in surround sound or not. You can hook up multiple speakers to a regular audio receiver but it will play equal sound out of each. A home theater receiver will reproduce the sound similar to that of a movie theater with each channel, or speaker, working differently to give you the maximum movie experience. Sound will travel from the left to the right or forward and backward, putting you in the middle of the action.
The days of using a VCR to create a home theater experience are long gone as VCR tapes deteriorate over time. DVD players are cheaper than ever and allow the encoding of multiple digital sound channels and digital video to provide the best sound and image quality. Because many people now burn their own CDs and often replace their CD players with DVD players to play music, be sure to purchase a DVD player that can play CD-R and CD-RW discs with MP3 files.
Speaker setup can be very easy but is also very crucial to your home theater. When purchasing speakers, be sure to listen to them in the store before you buy. You will need at minimum, a subwoofer, front and rear, right and left satellite speakers and a center channel to achieve true 5.1-channel surround sound.
While budget is a major factor in deciding what speakers to buy, so is the space in which you plan to use them. If you’re looking to fill a cozy bedroom or small living space, the HTIB will work to give this room a large sound. These can be purchased for under $500 and include everything you need for a pleasurable viewing experience. When trying to fill a larger living room (300 square feet or more) consider purchasing separate speakers and components, preferably from the same manufacturer. Many stores will often put together a package with multiple components, but this is not to be confused with the cheaper home theater in a box. These high-end packages are more costly but offer a first-rate system for your intimate home theater.
Because each of these speakers performs a different job, placement is critical to ensure all of the components work together. Position the speakers around the room for maximum impact within your viewing zone. Try out a couple of different movies to find the sound you most enjoy.
While all of this might seem like information overload, the best way to design your own home theater is by choosing which components are most important to you and how much you can afford to spend. With a little bit of research and work, it is easy to find and create a home theater that works best for you and your family.