Creating a home theater can be a valuable investment, especially as the cost of family entertainment and the gasoline to get there continue to rise. Setting up a home theater creates a range of options for everyone in the household, from screening room to sports arena to gaming pavilion. It can be done on the cheap, as well...just mind the basics and shop wisely, and you’ll be able to replicate a mogul-worthy experience on an extra’s budget.
Follow this home theater script to create a successful theater production in a home of any size.
Set design: As with any home improvement, assess the space you have before investing in new home theater components, changing up finishes and rearranging the furniture. The comfortable distances between the placement of your screen, speakers and seating depend on the size of the room, and in turn determine how much power, screen surface area and sound stuff are needed to provide an ideal experience. Bottom line, great home theater doesn’t require a giant screen and a zillion speakers.
Screen dreams: Investing in a new television is usually the starting point for home theater endeavors, and the 2009 switch to digital TV transmission has lead to cheap deals on sets of all sizes. Make sure you’re purchasing a size and format that’ll work well with the space you’re in. A screen that’s too grand and too close for comfort can actually destroy the experience.
The ideal viewing distance from a television is usually two to two-and-a-half times the width of its screen. This 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 follow the viewing specs provided by the manufacturer, including those for lateral placement of seating.
Be surrounded by sound: Generally speaking, the quality of your home theater’s sound should equal that of your picture purchase. Another audio rule of thumb is that all theater sound components come from the same manufacturer in order to ensure system compatibility, easily accomplished thanks to the all-in-one audio packages available at retailers.
If you have a small-to-medium room with fixed seating, shop for a system providing 5.1 Surround - it’s the standard format match for DTS and Dolby Digital surround sound, as found with DVDs and HDTV. A 5.1 Surround system incorporates five main speakers and a subwoofer, and is controlled via a 5.1-channel receiver connected to your digital source components (Blu-ray disc player, set-top box, etc.).
Receive the best: A receiver is the centerpiece of your home theater’s audio system, connecting all source components and powering the speakers. Cheap receivers however, usually deliver what you paid for. Instead, make sure the one you buy has enough inputs to accommodate all of your components, and video output to match the video input of your TV (an HDTV, for example, will call for HDMI, a.k.a. High Definition Multimedia Interface).
If you think you may be upgrading or expanding your home theater over time, purchase a receiver that will accommodate those changes. Going with a 6.1- or 7.1-channel system will work with your 5.1 Surround speaker system today and give you wiggle room for later additions.
Make quality connections: One low-cost, high-impact home theater investment is cabling. You’ll get better picture and sound, extended life and reduced interference when you replace component-accompanying cables with more heavy-duty varieties.
Boxed set bargains: The home-theater-in-a-box is a budget-cheap option that can yield great quality and trim down the guesswork when you’re working with a limited home theater budget. Most of these come with all the speakers you’ll need, a surround sound receiver, and such components as DVD/CD players and recorders.
Furnishing for fun: No need to spend big on new home theater furnishings or room redesigns, because you probably already have most of what you’ll need both for comfort and optimal acoustics. Fabric-upholstered couches and chairs are ideal, and you can easily enhance the sound-absorption qualities of floors, windows and even walls with minor adjustments (i.e., a generous area rug on a tiled or hardwood floor, and insulating curtains or blinds trimming windows).
Sound investments: Further prevent unwanted sound reflections by adding acoustic seals around doors and windows - they’ll keep outside sounds from sneaking in and prevent action movie antics from escaping to disturb the neighbors.
Lights, camera, action: Finally, remember that strategic lighting in your home theater space adds to viewing comfort and enhances safety. Dimmable lamps can be posted around the room, including one situated behind a larger-size viewing screen for eye-easing fill around its picture. Avoid placements that will lead to on-screen reflections, and make sure all windows have treatments that adequately block natural light when needed.
Follow these cheap tips for home theaters and you're guaranteed to have plenty of money left for popcorn.