A Helpful Introduction to Home Theater Systems


Have you considered creating home theater systems in your home? Have the kids grown, and it’s time to move that ping pong table out of the basement “rec room”? Or maybe you aren’t using the “den” as much as you thought you might, and would like to turn it into a kick-butt center for entertainment.

You’ll find ads for “home theater systems” from most consumer electronics retailers, but to create a true home theater system, you’ll need more than just a bunch of speakers. The easiest way to achieve your dream room is to find someone else to do it. Professional integrators and installers will design a system to match your space, install all the pieces and make them work together. It’s no small task, and the budget can easily run into five or six figures, but you can wind up with a system that will deliver a viewing experience that will rival your local multiplex (without the noisy talkers in the row behind you or cell phones ringing at pivotal plot points).

However, if you want to tackle this task on your own, it is certainly something you can accomplish with careful planning. Here are some points to keep in mind.

Get a Big Screen

If you’re going to share this experience with more than a couple of people at a time, or if you just want to have a cinematic experience at home, be sure to get a large screen. For 1080p resolution HDTV images, you’ll want at least a 60″ screen if you’re seated 8 feet from the image. That means you’ll want a rear projection or front projection screen; you can get a flat panel set in this size range, but the costs get astronomical pretty quickly. If you get a front projection system, be sure to get a good quality screen. You can get a screen that is permanently mounted (and you can cover it with curtains, just like in the movies), or you can get one that unrolls and rolls up by remote control.

Control the Lighting

To get the most from your display system, you’ll need to limit the light that strikes the screen while you’re watching. If the room has windows, install room-darkening curtains so that light from the sun or streetlights does not diminish the image quality. You’ll also want to control the artificial ambient light. In most cases, recessed lighting is the way to go, as it illuminates the floor without splashing a lot of light on the screen.

Make Some Noise

In order to get a viewing experience that will really convince you that you’re in the middle of the action, you need to saturate your senses. You’ll need a big screen that fills your field of vision. It is just as important to fill your sense of sound by implementing a good surround system that is properly sized for the space. Home theater systems include front speakers for the left, right, and center channels, plus additional surround speakers. They also have a sub-woofer which is non-directional and provides those gut-shaking low frequencies. (Non-directional means that it’s hard to locate the source of low frequency sounds, which lets you place the subwoofer just about anywhere that’s convenient.) A 5.1 system has the left, center, and right front speakers, plus two surrounds for the side, plus a sub-woofer. Some systems offer 6.1 or 7.1 configurations that add one or two rear surround channels. Remember, surrounds are not supposed to be overt; while watching a movie, you may not even notice the sound capability until, for example, a rainstorm scene.

Plan for Wires

You don’t want your guests tripping over cables all over the floor, so plan your wiring from the start. For a truly professional touch, snake the wires under the floor, above the ceiling, or through the walls as needed. Be sure to check with local building codes about any wiring requirements, and use top-quality cable for best results. A less strenuous approach is to use cable wall channel. These are two-part plastic strips available at your local home building supply center. You mount the back strip to the wall, then run your cables through the channel and snap the top strip in place. When mounted just about the baseboard, the channel hides well. And many are designed to be painted with the same paint as the wall, which practically makes them disappear.

Note that you can simplify your wiring needs by using surround speakers with support for wireless connections. All you need to do is plug the speakers into an electrical outlet, and they will receive the sound signal wireless from the base unit without the need for additional wires. Many affordable home theater sound systems offer this feature, so look for it if it will make your installation easier.

Home Theater

Take Control

Once you have chosen all the pieces for your home theater, make sure that they all work together including compatible signal connections. For example, you may need to use HDMI cables in order to get the full resolution from your high definition DVD player, so make sure that all the necessary devices support HDMI connections.

You may also want to invest in a central control system. Those programmable systems are designed to control all the parts with minimum effort on your part. Instead of shuffling through a stack of remotes, you can just press one button and get the display, DVD player, and sound system all to turn on and adjust their settings so that they are all active. It takes some time and money to get it all set up correctly, but the end result is a system that is much easier to use.

Decorate Home Theater Systems for Success

Finally, make sure that the space is comfortable and attractive. You don’t want to put all this effort into creating an awesome experience, and then sit on folding metal chairs. People don’t need to spend a fortune on dedicated home theater systems furniture, but you do want functional and comfortable seating. Make sure that you make accommodations for refreshments. Wall and floor treatments should be designed to enhance the sound system’s output. And you may want to consider using sound insulation to deaden unwanted noise from components within the room, as well as from other parts of the house.

You need to invest some planning time and make some additional purchases, but you can end up with an entertainment setting that goes far beyond simply watching a movie on a flat screen television. You can end up with a space that will be as good or better than your local cinema, with all the comforts of home. And, best of all, you get to control the program selection and schedule.


Photo credit: favaro JR. via photo pin cc