Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Home Theater

Thinking of creating the home theater of your dreams? Before buying electronics for your media room, consider these elements to make your TV room a star performer.

Thanks to technological advancements, home theater systems are now easier to install and operate, and more affordable than ever to access, program, and control quality audio and video for your home. This home theater guide includes the latest trends in home viewing and tips for planning your home entertainment set-up.

Televisions

The latest advancement in TVs is 3D technology. Movie studios, gaming companies, and broadcast networks are creating more content for the format, and manufacturers are responding by offering a variety of 3D-capable TVs and Blu-ray players. To enjoy the multidimensional visual experience, homeowners must buy a compatible TV, now available for as little as $800, as well as 3D glasses, which cost about $100-$200 apiece.

And if your home theater just happens to be your main living area, too, and the idea of a big black box imposing on a room isn’t your idea of decorating, look into options that are designed to mimic artwork when the TV isn’t on.

Projectors

For a true home theater experience, many believe a jumbo retractable screen and a video projector are essential elements. The latest advancement in projection is LED "lampless" technology. Traditional projector lamps are notorious for burning hot, draining energy, and dying quickly. These new high-intensity LED versions, however, run cooler, last thousands of hours longer, and are energy-efficient. Projectors average $2,000. A retractable screen, measuring 70-200 inches diagonally, will add $1,000-$2,000 more to the home theater bill.

Sound

Home theater speakers and sound systems are trending toward compact, affordable, and wireless designs. Sound bars replace multispeaker systems with a single thin bar that creates dynamic surround sound without a separate amplifier. Many also include MP3 docks, satellite receivers, and built-in DVD players.

Automation

Put your smartphone or tablet to work in a new way using a mobile app that turns the touch screen into a centralized home automation control system. From a single spot, you can now control your home's lights, HVAC, security, and home theater components. Turn on the TV, select a pay-per-view movie, adjust the volume, and dim the lights—all from the comfort of your couch or bed.

Content

The Internet is quickly changing how people watch TV. Forget the national networks; there are now thousands of sources for music, movies, and TV shows, and many ways of accessing that content beyond cable or satellite subscriptions. Internet-enabled TVs offer one-click access to content. Homeowners who are happy with their current TV or theater screen, however, can opt for an affordable internet-enabled Blu-ray player, gaming console, or stand-alone media extender (Roku, for example). Any of these devices provides a portal to free, subscription, and pay-per-view content.

Planning a Home Theater Space

Think about how you will use your TV viewing space and optimize for how you plan to use it the most, whether it’s for the big game and all the sporting events in between, or for a home cinema experience that rivals the movie theater, or just watching the latest flick with family. Consult with a home theater service or department in a big box store to learn more about what options would work best for you, your space, and budget.

These tips and home theater ideas offer things to consider as you learn how to plan a home theater. If you’re dreaming of a state-of-the-art system with all the bells and whistles, consult a professional on your home theater project. A home theater system has plenty of nuances, and if you’re investing in it, you’ll want to get it right.

1. Consider Seating

When planning home theater seating, relate screen size to seating distance. For optimum viewing, professional home theater installers recommend a seating distance that's 2 to 2 1/2 times the width of a screen. For example, place sofas and chairs 54-68 inches from a 27-inch screen.

2. Plan Speaker Placement

Many home theater plans call for a full surround sound system, which you can create with five speakers. Place one speaker on each side of the TV screen, level with your ears when seated, and about 3 feet away from sidewalls. Place two speakers behind the sofa about 6-8 feet off the floor and at least as far apart as the front pair. Put the fifth one on top of the TV to direct the dialogue. Action-movie buffs enjoy a subwoofer that intensifies the bass as well as those dramatic booms and bangs. Position the subwoofer beneath the screen.

3. Prevent Overheating

Stash speaker systems in a ventilated cabinet or shelves so components don't overheat; be careful not to block the vents on the equipment. For easy access to the backs of the electronic components, construct the shelving or cabinet units 4 or 5 feet in front of the basement wall to create a narrow "hallway" behind the units.

4. Carve Out Storage

Keep storage for other components in mind as well. DVDs and Blu-Ray discs aren’t completely obsolete yet. Give your collection a designated spot behind a closed cabinet door for easy access when Netflix doesn’t deliver the flick you’re wishing to watch. Corral extra cords and gaming components in baskets on open shelves. And so you’re not left wondering what buttons to push, print out and laminate a list of instructions and troubleshooting tips and stash them inside the entertainment unit. (It may be a little old school, but it beats fumbling through a host of remotes and buttons, or tracking down your phone to Google “why isn't HDMI3 working” every time you just want to binge your latest Netflix obsession.)

5. Light Your Home Theater

Lighting is also an important factor in home theater planning. In a room with windows, be sure to have adequate light-blocking shades so the midday sun doesn’t disturb your viewing. Ambient, or overall, lighting on dimmer switches gives you control over how much light is emitted. Task lighting in the form of table lamps or wall sconces is useful for viewers who are multitasking while they watch TV. In dedicated theater rooms, consider pathway lights that direct light downward as to not cramp the viewing experience and illuminate walkways for safer navigation.

Have a big tv in your living room? Keep it from being an eyesore with these ideas for decorating your tv wall.

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