Let a blockbuster theater design entertain you at home. Full-service home theaters include everything from the big-screen TV to a sound system and seating. Unlike watching a movie in an open family room, this customized room can have all the amenities of a movie theater, where all you have to bring is the popcorn.
“When you watch a movie on a home theater system, the aim is to become completely immersed in the experience, as opposed to when you watch something in the TV room,” says David Pedigo, senior director of technology with Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association. “Advances in technology — along with more affordable electronic components — make building or retrofitting a home theater more of a realistic option for homeowners.”
Having a home theater was a trend that started in the 1980s, but it was such a pricey ticket involving a projector and screen that most people couldn’t afford the amenity. But Pedigo says lifestyle trends, such as informally entertaining at home, the popularity of the “man cave” and people investing in home entertainment for a “staycation” experience, are all bolstering the sales of home box-office setups.
While a home theater can run the gamut in accessories and price, Pedigo says there are several factors to keep in mind when building a room. Of course, it’s better to start from the ground up and have professionals customize the space. But for some, retrofitting an outdated TV room or basement space makes for the best couch-side cinematic experience.
“There’s a huge do-it-yourself market when it comes to trying to build a home theater, and for some, a basic DVD player and a good-sized television with speakers is the only upgrading they want to do,” he says. “But, if you want that movie theater experience, with a large screen and fantastic acoustics, you’ll want to bring in a home theater expert and contractor.”
The architecture of a home theater room should emulate that of a movie theater, which is ideally, a larger enclosed, rectangular room, with very little outside light. Rooms with an open design do not enhance sound quality or provide optimal acoustics. Soft surfaces on the walls and floor — such as curtains and carpeting — cut down on disruptive echoes. Pedigo had two layers of drywall erected in his own basement home theater to both enhance sound quality and soundproof the room.
Once a homeowner has determined the best place in the house for the theater setup, Pedigo says that seating — not the screen — should be the homeowner’s first consideration.
“In a home theater, everything revolves around the chair,” he says. The size of the screen and the placement of the speakers are all determined by the seating setup.
Pedigo says to choose seating that is comfortable, but avoid high-backed chairs, because they may obscure viewing. Some home theater seats even have speakers built into them.
After the seating has been arranged, Pedigo says determining the size and placement of the TV screen is the next step. The picture should be large enough to be easily visible, but not so large that viewers have to crane their necks to take in all the on-screen action.
“I’ve seen screens that are 15 feet wide, but obviously, that wouldn’t work in everyone’s home theater,” he says. “Buying the best in today’s home theater electronics is more affordable and attainable than ever. High-definition television (HDTV) gives a crystal-clear picture, and the 3-D television set is some of the newest technology.”
No matter where you sit in a home theater, every seat should be the best in the house, due in large part to a dynamic surround-sound system. In a home theater, viewers should be able to hear different parts of the soundtrack coming from different areas throughout the room.
A proper surround-sound system needs two or more speakers in the front — from which the primary sounds emanate — and two or more speakers toward the back of the room, which will fill in background sounds, such as birds chirping, dogs barking or water rushing.
Having a subwoofer speaker strategically placed on the floor or against a wall will help the low-pitched frequencies carry throughout the room.
While there shouldn’t be a lot of ambient light in the room to cause glare on the screen or distractions, a completely dark room may strain eyes or cause a hazard, should someone have to leave while the movie is rolling. Ideally, a home theater should have soft, ambient lighting, which is connected to a dimmer or controlled by a remote.
Pedigo says the best game plan for creating a home theater is to patiently play the waiting game. Often, he says, home theaters can be tailor-made to be part of a “media room” in which people can both watch the big game and socialize at a home bar or play pool. His advice is to consult a professional, try to purchase electronics with newer technology that can be easily upgraded, keep the number of remotes to a minimum and run conduit to contain all the wiring.
“Don’t just jump into a home theater project and piece components together without an overall plan,” Pedigo says. “Know what you’re going to be using the space for and try to plan accordingly.”