Home Theater Systems on a Budget

How to create the ideal viewing environment on any scale or budget

Many a movie buff dreams of a home theater of their own, and it's now possible to create the perfectly personalized viewing experience with products created especially for home use. Just begin the home theater show with careful planning and smart shopping, and the big finish will be a fun home cinematic getaway no matter what the scale or budget.

Picture size.  Home theater begins with the big screen, and its scale in relation to a room makes all the difference when it comes to viewing enjoyment. Yes, you want a grand, clear picture, but a TV screen that's too close for comfort will destroy the viewing experience.

Home theater on a budgetBefore you buy the big screen of your dreams, think through the room layout and make sure that the available viewing distance from the television is two to two-and-a-half times the width of the TV screen. This suggested ratio may vary depending on the type of television you select (HDTV-enabled units may allow closer seating depending on their size, for example), so also pay attention to viewing specs provided by the manufacturer, including those for lateral placement of seating for your new home theater enjoyment.

Sound.  Next comes sound for your home theater, which should be equivalent in quality to your picture purchase. It's important to choose all of your sound components from the same manufacturer to ensure system compatibility, and, if at all possible, buy an entire sound suite for your home theater in one shot rather than piecing it together over time.

With your home theater's size and setup in mind, grab a handful of your favorite DVDs and CDs and head out for some in-store testing of sound systems. While there will be variations from store to store in terms of listening environments (especially in comparison with your own listening environment at home), auditioning component possibilities with an ear to your ideal motion picture audio experience will help you to make an investment for your home theater that continues to satisfy over the long term.

Don't be shy about shopping at different stores before making your final home theater sound system selection, and whether you set the sound system up yourself or enlist the help of a professional installer, take the time to sample the results of home theater sound system calibrations from different points around the room.

Soundproofing.  Part of producing optimum home theater sound is creating the ideal environment in which to enjoy the home theater. To prevent unwanted sound reflections within the space, choose fabric-upholstered furnishings and sound-absorbing floor, window and wall treatments.

Acoustic seals can also be added around doors and windows to keep outside sounds from sneaking in and prevent home theater action movie antics from escaping to disturb the neighbors.

Home theater on a budgetLighting.  You may think of a commercial movie theater as being completely dark during the show, but in reality, there's always a bit of strategic lighting present for safety as well as viewing comfort. At home, this includes dimmable lamps placed around the room, including one dimmable lamp situated behind the home theater viewing screen for fill around its picture; none should reflect off of or be visible in the viewing screen surface.

For even better results, outfit lighting fixtures with 6500K color temperature bulbs, which are available at specialty stores and offer the perfect level of light to enhance the picture you're watching on your hoem theater screen. Finally, if the room has any windows, equip them with blackout curtains in order to avoid further reflective lighting distractions.

Making the right system connections.  Once all components have arrived in your new home theater space, it's important to keep things orderly, as tangles of wires are not only potentially dangerous but can impact sound and picture quality with line interference. Keep cabling neat, making sure connections have enough slack that they're not strained, but not so loose that tripping and tangles are dangers.

Depending on the configuration and amount of components involved, you may also want to consider replacing the cabling provided for the home theater with a more heavy duty variety to help reduce interference and extend life. Add a universal remote for the ultimate convenience and control of the Hollywood-style suite of components you've just assembled for your home theater.

And if you're electronically challenged or in any way overwhelmed by the prospect of a home theater system setup, enlist the help of a pro to do the job for you. It will be money and time well spent, getting you into a front row home theater seat that much sooner.