Creating the perfect home theater experience at home may seem like quite a daunting task. However, with a little know-how and a lot of sweat equity you too can replicate nearly the same look, feel, sights and sounds you experience at your favorite movie theater in the comfort of your own home.
In the following article we will highlight and describe the various components of the perfect home theater experience, and explain how to bring those components to—and set them up in—the favorite room of your home.
- Home Theater Components
- Video Equipment
Home Theater Components
While the following components are not all completely necessary to create a home theater experience at home, they are all necessary when trying to create the “perfect” home theater experience. Below we have provided a detailed list of these components:
To create the perfect acoustics in your home theater—acoustics that are needed to augment and support the audio of your system—you should definitely consider making the following changes and upgrades.
Acoustic Ceiling Tiles
When building a home theater system, acoustic tiles are the ideal surface for your ceiling. If you go to any cinema in the country, you will notice that the ceilings are shrouded with fiberglass panels, much like the ones you may see in the dropped ceilings of office buildings. In creating a home theater, these tiles are the most affordable way to augment your audio system from above.
In many cases, these panels can be placed directly over your current ceiling, however, if the room you are selecting for your home theater already has dropped ceilings—such as in a basement—you may need to replace the existing tiles with the acoustic fiberglass varieties.
Depending on the age of your home, you may have wall surfaces that are made of either drywall—newer homes—or plaster—older homes. Both of these materials are great for regular rooms, but both have absolutely awful acoustics that may cause your sound to get lost or mumbled. Fortunately, fixing this problem is fairly easy and straightforward.
At almost any home improvement or hardware store you readily can pick up acoustic boards—lightweight boards that are easy to install directly over your current wall surface. Some of these acoustic boards can be very decorative, but these decorative acoustic boards tend to be much more expensive. One creative solution, which will also save you a buck, is to buy and install regular acoustic boards, and once these are installed you can cover the walls with an inexpensive and very thin indoor carpet—the same type of indoor carpet used in movie theaters around the country. This carpet is available in a variety of colors, allowing you to get as creative as you want the color scheme of your new home theater.
Light Blocking/Sound Dampening Curtains
In terms of window coverings for your new home theater, you definitely have a lot of options. However, for the best possible home theater experience, we recommend you select light blocking curtains that are also rated for blocking out exterior noise. Light blocking curtains, such as the “blackout” curtains you may have used from time to time in a hotel room, can totally block out outside light, allowing you to enjoy your home theater system at any time—day or night.
Some of these blackout curtains are also rated for noise control—known as sound dampening curtains. Made from heavy materials that will not vibrate and allow only a minimum amount of sound to enter the room, these are a great addition to any home theater. After all, you certainly don’t want to sit down to your favorite movie or television series only to be competing for sound thanks to road construction on a nearby street.
Although we never recommend that you tear up your floor just to add some of the best acoustic flooring, there is something you can do to improve the acoustics of the theater’s floor. The materials that may be covering the sub floor in your home theater—such as hardwood flooring, concrete, tile or linoleum—have absolutely terrible acoustics. To counter this problem, we recommend you use a nice plush carpeting instead. This may seem like a semi-expensive addition, but if you truly want to create a good audio experience, carpet—the thicker the better—is definitely the best way to go.
In this next section we will speak to the subjects of color and lighting and how each can transform your standard living room, family room, basement, etc. into a great home theater of which you can be very proud.
The Color of the Room
If you go to the cinema, you may notice they use colors to help manage reflections of light off the screen. They also use color to make the room appear larger than it is. We recommend you vary the colors between your floor, walls and ceiling to capture these effects. To control light and glare off of your home theater viewing apparatus, we recommend you use dark colors on the ceiling and the walls, but not the same color for both, as this will make the room seem smaller. Many home theater owners go with a black ceiling—perfect for absorbing glare—and a darker blue or red color on the walls. This may seem drab, but it will help produce the most optimal lighting effects. To light up the room a bit, you can always go with a much lighter carpet surface, such as white or egg shell, which will also make the room appear larger than it is.
Creating Balance with Your Lighting
Creating balance with your lighting is something you should definitely strive for when building the perfect home theater experience. Of course, you will want ample lighting in the room for before and after the show begins, but having too much lighting during the showing will damage the quality of the picture and kill the room’s ambiance. Therefore, when purchasing lighting for your home theater we definitely recommend a dimmable product. Dimmable lighting is the easiest and cheapest solution for varying the lighting conditions in your home theater.
When setting up your lighting—the lighting that will be on when the film is playing—you will absolutely want to make sure that lighting is “indirect.” What we mean by this, is you want to avoid having lighting coming from the ceiling, because the darkness of the ceiling will make the room feel larger. Instead, direct or place your lights along walls or even along baseboards—as they do in movie theaters—to achieve indirect lighting that won’t interfere with the picture.
Remote Control Lighting
Who wants to get up out of their comfortable home theater seating just to un-dim the lights before and after the movie? Instead, we recommend you purchase dimmable lights that can be hooked to a remote control. This way you can handle and adjust the lighting in your home theater without ever leaving your seat—talk about a genuine cinema experience!
Now that you have your new home theater set up for the perfect sound and lighting conditions, it’s time to start thinking about furnishing options for your new theater.
In terms of seats, you will first need to consider how large of a seating area you wish to build. Is this going to be a small home theater system for just you and your family to enjoy? Or do you plan to invite over many family and friends to enjoy the true cinema experience with you?
With home theaters being all the rage right now, there are many different furnishing options available. Specialized home theater seats are always a great addition. These recliner-like seats have everything you would find at your local movie theater, right down to the swinging tray for snacks and a handy cup holder for your drink. The truth, however, is that these types of seats can really put a dent into your wallet, but if price is not an issue these chairs, which are available as single chairs, rows of two or rows of three, are a great touch.
If your home theater space is large enough to accommodate two or more rows of seating, you will first need to build a platform that is about six to twelve inches high and place the second row of seats on that platform behind the first row of seats. This will require some hard work and a lot of know-how, so don’t be afraid to ask for help from your favorite construction buddy before embarking on a project such as this.
If you do not want to spend an arm and a leg, chances are you can use your current furnishings to set up your home theater. With just a couch flanked by recliners on either side, you will instantly have the perfect home theater seating for five without ever having to open up your wallet.
There are many other steps you can take to try and replicate the genuine theater experience. Adding things like old movie posters from some of your favorite classic movies is always a great touch, as are decorative light fixtures on the walls of the theater.
Some home theater owners have even gone as far as adding red curtains on either side of their movie screen—a touch that is sure to blow away your friends. Just be creative—within your budget—and your theater is sure to be a space you will want to enjoy nightly.
The room for your new home theater system is now perfectly setup, so now it’s time to get down to the nuts and bolts of the system, beginning with the video equipment, which represents the heart and soul of your new theater. However, regardless of its importance, try not to get so carried away that you blow your entire budget.
Projector or Television
Today there are essentially two options when it comes to how your video will be delivered: a television or a projector. Both are good options, so it is really more a matter of preference than anything else. If your home theater is fairly small to medium sized, we recommend a good LCD or LED television, ranging in size from 32 inches to 60 inches. These televisions typically have tremendous picture quality, and their price in recent years has gone down quite a bit. Currently you can expect to spend between $300 and $1000 for a good television in your home theater system.
A projector is another good option, but make sure the projector you pick up is a high-definition (HD) projector. This is a great option for a large home theater and offers great picture quality even from far away. If you wait for sales and bargains, today you can pick up an HD projector, one with a picture of 100 inches or larger, for between $500 and $1,000.
If you opt to go with a projector rather than a flat-screen television of some kind, you will also need a projector screen. Bought new, these projector screens—especially the high-quality variety—can set you back quite a bit moneywise. You could, of course, merely show the picture on a blank, white colored wall, but you will not get the type of picture quality you would with a dedicated screen.
For a “middle-ground approach,” there are several tutorials on the Internet that will show you how to build your own projector screen for a $100 or less using materials you can find at any home store or hardware retailer.
Source for Video
Again, if you opt to go with a projector rather than a LCD or LED television, you will need a video source, as projectors do not come with their own tuner. Thus, if you want to watch regular television in your home theater room you will need to purchase an additional cable or satellite box or, for free television, an antenna and a separate tuner. Your best bet is to buy a DVD or Blu-Ray device, usually available for under $100.
In order to transmit the video signal from the video source to the projector or television you will need to purchase video cables. For the best quality, we recommend you purchase a high-quality set of HDMI or DVI cables.
Now that the video portion of your home theater is set up, it’s time to look at how you will hear your media. This is called the audio. Unless you are setting up your home theater in a very large room, you do not need to run out and buy the largest and most expensive audio system. In fact, with the acoustics you set up, a small system will usually sound better in your small home theater and will not overpower the room.
Speakers comprise the lion-share of your home theater audio system. It will be difficult or near impossible to exactly recreate the sound you are used to hearing at your favorite movie theater, but you can come close by installing a surround-sound system rather than just a pair of stereo speakers.
When purchasing a surround-sound audio system, we recommend you select a 5:1 system—5 smaller speakers and 1 large sub-woofer that will help reproduce the lower frequency sounds. Two of the smaller speakers should be placed at ear level on either side of the screen; one should be placed directly in the center (the center channel speaker); and two speakers will be placed in the back of the room, at either corner of the room.
The audio receiver enables you to accept audio from all of your sources and amplify the signal sent to your speakers for the very best sound. If you do indeed choose a surround-sound system, you will need a receiver that can play back surround sound in your chosen format—5:1. The good news is, now that surround sound technology is fairly commonplace, this capability is now standard on most receivers. For a high-quality audio receiver, you can usually expect to pay about $200-$250.
Good speaker wire is used to tie together all of the audio components. In other words, speaker wire is used to connect the receiver to all of your six speakers. When purchasing this wire, you could of course pay more and buy wire that is dedicated to speakers; or you can buy what is known as “bell wire” at your local hardware store, which is the exact same thing only a lot less money!
Of course, once you have purchased all of your video and audio equipment, you will need to locate it around your space and install it. This is not as difficult as it may seem, and can usually be accomplished in a single morning or afternoon.
If you become stuck and are looking for ideas on how and where to install the various components of your new home theater system, the Internet is a virtual treasure trove for “how-to” videos and articles related to this topic.