I love movies, and have spent my share of rainy weekends and “sick” days in front of the TV watching marathons of Scorsese movies or entire seasons of great TV shows.This makes my “home theater” is of great importance to me, and I put a lot of thought and energy into my set up. So I want to give you a few tips that I learned both from experience and from a wide array of websites around the internet to help you out.
Now let me clarify what i mean by “home theater” for a moment. This does not need to be a room in the basement of your house with a dozen leather stadium seats, a 70- inch flat screen and DOlby surround sound. I simply want to address any area of your house where you have 2 or more pieces of audio/visual equipment connected together. This can be your living room, bedroom, or den.
Remove and Hide The Wires: This is almost always the biggest problem with common, non-professionally installed home theaters set ups. I understand wanting 5.1 surround no matter what you happen to be watching, but you need to know what you NEED and what you don’t. Use the bare minimum. Simple mistakes I have seen is people hooking up a device twice (HDMI cable and a the yellow/red/white cable). Decide what devices really should be interconnected and go wireless wherever possible. Many Blu Ray players that use Wi-Fi are around the same price as those that need to be hard wired now. For an extra $10, it will be worth not having to buy the Ethernet cable anyway.
When you decide which wire you absolutely need, organize and hide them. You may not want to put them into a wall (I’ll explain why later) but keeping them in a wire guard or in a piece of pipe. Your guests want to see the game, not the stockpile of copper you have accumulating behind the TV.
Be Ready For an Update: Its been about ten years since projection TV was the best way to go. Five years before that you had a cathode tube TV. You now longer have 8 track, record, tape or CD players; you have MP3s. Technology changes quickly, so make sure whatever devices you have are fairly easy to change out when you decide to update. People who had cabinets built for their massive 60 inch projection TVs now have a worthless piece of bulky furniture now that they are switching to Plasma or LED. Even things like wires have become obsolete. If you put in a Yellow/Red/White connection into your wall, now you are stuck with it as everything moves to HDMI cables. The same thing happened with people who put speaker wire through the house now that many are wireless.
Now it may be impossible to guess which direction technology will move in the next five years, but by making it easy to get rid or a piece of equipment easily you are at least somewhat prepared.
Layout: Not everyone watches movies the same way, and you will have to decide which way is best for you. You may like to watch from a recliner, or laying on your back, or on your side. These are things you will have to consider when you decide what type of furniture you want. Recliners are a favorite option, but if you are most comfortable on your side you’ll want something flatter like a long sofa or a bed.
You’ll also want to think about what media you are going to use. If you play a lot of motion capture games (Nintendo Wii, Xbox Kinect, Rock Band/Guitar Hero) you’re going to need space. up front. You’ll want to take this into consideration before you buy furniture. Large rocker/recliners will take up more of your video game floor space than a more traditional sofa.
Sound: This will be a tough thing for many people who aren’t sound engineers, but you want to make sure you optimize your sound while minimizing how much people outside the room can hear. There isn’t much better than watching an action movie with the bass on high. However, there isn’t much more annoying when your neighbor is watching an action movie with the bass on high. Look into soundproofing if you live in apartment or in an area where you are really close to your neighbors. Keep in mind you may not even be the only person in the house who is watching the movie. If your wife/son/daughter are trying to get some work done, they don’t want to here an explosion every fifteen seconds just because you decided you wanted to screen a Michael Bay movie. If you have the means, get a receiver with an auto calibration feature. These automatically calibrate the sound for your room to yield the best results.
(For other tips on managing sound, click here)
Think about Windows: Getting a glare off the TV gets annoying. Think about where the sun rises and sets and put the TV in a place where you won’t get glare. Consider when you watch TV. If you watch TV primarily after work, don’t have it face west. You’ll get the reflection every night. The same thing with having it face East when you watch TV primarily in the mornings. If you have no choice but having your TV facing the glare, buy a high quality set of blinds or drapes. These will also dampen sound and help prevent an echo effect.
Lighting: This is where you want to keep things simple and soft wherever possible. Keeping the room dark gives you a better picture, so avoid using higher wattage bulbs. Try to stay 40 watt or less and using fixtures that don’t have exposed bulbs. This will make the light stronger, and you want to keep it dim whenever possible. Invest in a dimmer whenever possible. You may also want to stay away from lighting that can create ambient noise, like some florescent tubes a ceiling fan. These may not be enough for you to notice,but when you do, it will drive you nuts.
Paint It Dark: It doesn’t matter how much of a modernist you are, if you want a dark room (For optimal picture), white paint is not the way to go. Lighter colors reflect light, and reflected light means more light. You don’t want the entire room pitch black, that would look horrible. You merely want to ensure that whenever possible, you use darker colors. Keep the lighter colors to accent pieces or smaller furniture. You may also want it on things you want to see when you have to get up and hit the head. The white chair rail on the wall will help prevent walking into said wall when the lights are out.
Consider Sight Lines– This applies mostly to home theaters with multiple rows of seating. If you do not raise part of your floor, having one seat directly behind another will make the second row a pretty lousy seat. Consider a 4-3-4 layout or simply raise part of the floor so everyone can see the screen. something as simple as 8 or 16 inch platform can make a world of difference.
Drinks and Snacks: Who wants to watch a football game without a beer and some junk food? While you don’t need to buy love seats with built in cup holders, but you may want to grab a coffee table to rest a drink on. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy, something as simple as a coffee table will work.
If You Need Professional Help, Get It: No matter how many internet searches we do or how many people we talk to at Best Buy, you probably won’t be an expert. It takes years of experience and encountering hundreds of problems before you really earn that title. Just as there is no shame having someone install central air conditioning, there is no shame having someone set up your home theater. They can foresee problems that you and I never could and they are usually much better at playing with the brightness/color/contrast than you are.
Another benefit of contacting a professional is the savings. Many people who design home theaters buy a lot of electronic equipment. Needless to say, loyal customers who give a lot of repeat business tend to get discounts, and those discounts get passed to you. So you may be paying a designer $250 for his services, but if he has a 10% discount its worth it. In fact, you might be able to make that up on the Bose 5.1 system or the 3-D TV alone. Just make sure to ask if he gets a discount before you hire them.
Don’t Overspend: This can a tough thing for some guys. We are not always “shoppers, and tend to simply read packages and deciding without asking for help. We want the best, and we usually have to pay for it. We don’t. Do your research. Things like HDMI cables can be expensive, but you don’t need to spend a lot here. Look around, figure out what is real and what is not. There are a lot of marketing gimmicks out there, and you need to figure out what is real and what isn’t for yourself.