What makes a great home theater?
We are asked all the time, what makes a great home theater? A well designed home theater is a wonderful place to spend family time or to entertain friends and guests. So before we go into the details some things to consider are who and how many will you be entertaining, and for what will you be using the space. Will you merely be viewing movies, or will this room also be used to watch television, view sporting events, or possibly play video games? In any case, the key to long term enjoyment is proper planning and selecting the appropriate components.
Sound Control & Sound Proofing
The first step in great home theater design is to soundproof the room. This is necessary so the powerful movie you are enjoying isn’t keeping the rest of the house awake or the sound of the kids playing isn’t disturbing your entertainment. This can be accomplished simply by installing R30 insulation in the walls and ceiling, and a solid, well sealed door at the entrance.
Second, creating a “dead” or quiet room is imperative. By dead, we mean a room that absorbs sound and doesn’t create an echo. To test and understand the difference, go into your garage, close the door and clap your hands a couple of times. Can you hear the echo? Your garage is a hard or “live” room with a lot of reflective materials like concrete floors, glass windows, hard ceilings and walls. In a media room, this echo will cause your sound to reflect back over itself creating a traffic jam in your ears.
Now go into your walk in closet and clap your hands. Notice that there is no echo here…provided that you have clothes hanging and a carpeted floor. This is a “dead” room with little or no audio reflection. This is what we are looking for in your media room or home theater.
This can be accomplished with carpeting on the floors and strategically placed acoustical treatment on the walls and ceiling.
Once your room is sound proofed and quiet, we can move on to the fun part.
What you hear is as important to the viewing experience as what you see, and the quality of your audio system can make or break your entertainment experience. The good news is there is an easy solution. Some companies will try to sell you individual components like pre-amps, processors, tuners, single multi-channel power amplifiers or even separate amplifiers for each channel. This can create amazing sound…but will be very expensive and unnecessary for a typical home consumer.
A good quality surround audio system will deliver the sound quality and functionality for a memorable experience plus will include most of the bells and whistles necessary to impress your friends.
Surround Sound 101
Most people have heard of 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound systems but may not fully understand what the numbers mean. The first number refers to the number of channel speakers that system uses, the second number refers to the number of sub woofers employed. So a 5.1 surround sound system has 5 channel speakers (left, center, right and two side speakers) and one sub woofer. A 7.1 system adds two additional rear speakers behind the side speakers. Some more advanced systems like a 7.1.2 or 5.1.4 incorporate additional ceiling speakers that completely wrap the viewers in sound like a movie theater.
With all that said, a good quality 7.1 Dolby Atoms system will deliver the sound quality and functionality for a memorable experience most people desire plus will include most of the bells and whistles necessary to impress your friends. Click on the Dolby Atmos video for more information.
Speaker Choice and Placement
The placement of your speakers is as important as their quality to produce rich, balanced sound that fills your room. Although it isn’t necessary for functionality, most people prefer to have speakers that are hidden in the walls and ceilings providing a nice clean aesthetic look.
Next, and most importantly, your speakers should have good response times that can handle the wide range of decibel levels capable of delivering a powerful theater sound experience.
The centerpiece for your home theater is the video display. The size of your room will help determine the size and possibly the type of display you will choose. There are several options from which to choose; from flat screen televisions to home theater projectors.
The resolution or clarity of video image is where you will want to begin your search. The current standard as of the publishing of this article is 1080p, however the direction of video display is quickly headed toward 4K Ultra HD TV (2160p).
Within the next year or so, 4k TV will be the new standard so upgrading to 4K system now will keep you ahead of the curve and deliver a richer viewing experience. And not to confuse the mix but 8K HD Video is already on the horizon. For the budget conscious however, a 1080p system will suffice.
Now the question is do you use a panel or projection system? This too depends on budget and room size. 45 to 65-inch flat panel video monitors are common place today and very affordable but you can also find displays as large as 90-inch, although they can be quite expensive.
If your room is large enough, a projection system can be the perfect solution. The options available are vast from a basic home model to a Laser Phosphor Projector with options such as a mount that disappears into the ceiling when not in use. In any case, projection systems can deliver video quality rivaling many flat panel displays especially if the correct screen is incorporated. Matching the proper screen and projector will drastically improve the imagery.
Just like a sports bar
One aspect that many people desire is the ability to view multiple channels on a single video screen. This is known as a video wall.
A video wall can be installed in one of two ways; the first is by using video monitors. A simple 2×2 video wall incorporates 4 separate video monitors installed side by side, two above and two below. This format allows the viewing of 4 separate images simultaneously or one large image over all four monitors.
The second option is to use a Video Tiler. A Video Tiler can divide one monitor or projected image into multiple windows allowing you to display several video feeds at the same time. Both of these options can accomplish virtually the same result, which way to go depends on personal preference and budget.
Light & Shade
Home Theater Lighting
Lighting your home theater is all about creating a comfortable atmosphere. Think about how a movie theater is illuminated; bright enough to move around safely but dim enough to not be distracting or compete with your viewing screen.
Some options you should consider are recessed lighting, wall sconces, ambient lighting, LED or fiber optic lighting strips in the floor or baseboards, or task lamps next to seating. In addition, your lights should be dimmable and remote controlled.
Home Theater Drapes & Shades
Nothing can affect your viewing more than the sun directly or indirectly on your video screen so placement of is critical. Ideally, your theater room should have no windows at all; however since we don’t always have that luxury, black out blinds, curtains or automated shades can be almost equally effective.
Universal Remote and Control Systems
The first option to simplify the control over multiple components is to incorporate a universal remote. A universal remote is a remote control device that can be programmed to operate one or more types of consumer electronic devices. This means that one remote can control all your electronic devices.
The next question is do you use a RF (radio frequency) or IR (infrared) remote? An infrared (IR) remote control is the most commonly used type used by many consumer electronics. IR remotes send a low-speed burst of light up to 30 feet and require direct line of sight with the to affect control.
Radio Frequency (RF) remotes are easier to use because they don’t require line of sight to affect change and can even be operated from another room. Your garage door opener is an example of an RF remote. Although the garage door is closed and you are outside, you are able to open the door from outside without direct line of site to the receiver. The RF remote can communicate with the receiver even though there are walls or other obstacles in the way.
The advantage with a home theater is you can place your equipment behind solid doors or cabinets, or even in other rooms and still have total control of their operations. Since it works on a radio frequency rather than a line of site, you don’t have to point the remote directly at the equipment.
Home Control System
Finally, the direction most high end consumers are headed is to design their house as a Smart Home using a fully automated control system.
Through your personal device (smart phone, tablet, ect) you control not only all aspects of your home theater including lighting, sound and video, but you can also control all electrical aspects of your entire house with either voice of touch activation. Raise the shades while you’re getting ready for work or adjust the temperature from bed.
You can even take it one step further with smart home scenes. “Dining” could dim the chandelier to 60% and turns on the tunes. “Bedtime” could shut off every light in the house, lock the doors, and activates the alarm.
Watch this video to learn more.
Whether you spent $5000 or $200,000 on your home theater, I suspect that money is important to you; so protecting that investment should be your highest priority. Protection against electrical spikes such as lightning strikes or blown transformers in your neighborhood can save you thousands of dollars by employing a simple surge protection unit.
However, do not mistake a power strip for surge protection; these are two completely different products. Power strips add additional outlets but do not offer much protection against an electrical surge. Surge Protectors suppress electrical surges protecting your components against damaging electrical spikes.
On the other hand, a complete electrical surge filter system installed into the breaker panel cleans & filters all of the low and high voltage power in your entire house before it hits any of your electronics. This includes your computers, appliances and light bulbs. Although this can be a little more expensive, the level of protection offered by a single unit is far greater and will protect your entire home theater system as well as your entire house far longer than a typical wall plug surge protector.
Home Theater Furniture
Home Theater furniture is all about personal preference although there are some common denominators that most people desire. First, there is nothing wrong with using basic living room furniture: sofas, recliners, or love seats with end tables and coffee tables. However, many people who are building a home theater want to create that theater experience with individual theater type recliners strategically placed in rows. This concept also lends itself to a multi-tiered floor set-up allowing the people in the back to easily see over the front rows.