Enjoy the Show! Home Theatre Options
Thanks to a variety of options, home theaters can be set up to suit any space or budget.
Whether being absorbed in a Hollywood blockbuster, steering through the latest version of Mario Kart, relaxing to Beethoven or rocking to Aerosmith, a home theater system enhances the overall listening and viewing experience. With a proliferation of high-tech equipment and viewing technology-from custom-built home theaters (complete with stadium seating, a projector and a screen) to off-the-shelf systems found in electronics stores-it can be difficult to choose. Fortunately, there are systems available to fit any home or budget.
"We educate customers," says Jason Hillard, general manager of Control Audio Video in Bedford. "Few know exactly what they want or how much to spend when they're looking at home theater systems."
Visualizing what you want is key, says Paul Ford, owner of Atlantic Home Systems in Barrington. He asks customers about their needs: will the system be used for watching movies, listening to music, playing video games or a combination of all? "One of the benefits of having a good system is that you get the whole sound and visual experience of a movie or video game," Ford says. "Good sound and video contribute to a much larger experience."
First things first: budget
The scope of a home theater system is largely determined by budget. Theater systems range from pre-packaged, off-the-shelf models for several hundred dollars to somewhere in the five figures for a state-of-the-art, customized home theater room.
There are two types of rooms for a home theater set-up:
A dedicated home theater room
Whether built as part of new construction or a re-purposed existing room, a dedicated home theater room requires more specialized construction and, therefore, a larger budget. An architect's input may be necessary for room layout or design as well as a contractor to consider HVAC systems and room specs (for example, soundproofing or acoustical panels).
"If you're turning your basement into a home theater, you're building a room within a room," says Pat Molettieri, owner of Xtreme Audio & Video in Pelham. "You want to speak with an audio-visual professional and, depending upon your budget, a sound engineer who can advise on acoustics."
Costs for a dedicated home theater typically start at $25,000. "A dedicated home theater is going to give you a more authentic movie experience," Hillard says. "So you're more likely to install higher-end components like a full screen, a projector and rows of seating."
A multipurpose room incorporating home theater components
Less expensive than building a dedicated home theater, rooms that are used for multiple purposes (such as a living room or family room) involve installing a television or video screen as well as speakers. Depending on the type of system you choose, this approach starts at $1,200.
Off-the-shelf home theater systems appear to be a bargain, but "aren't well-designed for family rooms," Ford says. "You're better off putting those in bedrooms because they don't have good power and don't put out ample sound."
A living room or family room equipped with a home theater system allows the entire family to enjoy music, a movie or video games in an area that's accessible to the rest of the home. "They give people an opportunity to use their living rooms as all-purpose spaces where they can spend time with their families," Molettieri says.
If you're not a do-it-yourself-er, an audio-visual expert can assess your living space, work with your budget and recommend the individual components-such as, speakers, a projector or television, seating, and lighting-that will best meet your needs.
Planning your space
Whether building a dedicated home theater or incorporating one into an existing room, be sure to think about:
- Room's size, shape and location.
- Room size determines the size and type of television or projector screen. For a dedicated theater, Hillard recommends a room that is between twelve-feet and thirteen-feet wide and is twenty-one-feet deep, with an eight-foot ceiling height. Ford says he was able to construct a home theater in his basement, which is eleven feet wide by twenty-two-feet long with a seven-foot ceiling.
- Seating. Even if your budget doesn't include theater-style seating, a wraparound sofa, loveseat or sectional can provide the necessary layout to comfortably watch a movie.
- Room acoustics. A room that contains sound may require the installation of acoustic panels. If you're concerned about ambient sound in other parts of your home, membranes can be installed to prevent sound from traveling through floors, walls or ceilings. Carpeting and heavy drapery can also provide soundproofing.
- Lighting. Determine if ambient light will affect the viewing enjoyment. Today's high-tech systems include lighting controls that can dim or illuminate room lights with the touch of a button.
- Projection screen vs. large-screen television. This is one of the most important elements of your viewing experience. Choices vary from HDTVs to a flat-panel LCD to a video projector-screen combination, even 3D technology. An audio-visual expert can determine what's appropriate for your space and budget.
- In-wall or standalone speakers. Sound technology today is quite sophisticated. Movies and television shows are shot with certain sound characteristics. Most theatergoers expect sound to come from every direction during a movie or musical performance, technically called surround sound. Surround-sound home theater systems typically include five speakers, including a center speaker (which is important because it provides most of the sound for dialog and major sound-effects) and a subwoofer (a large speaker that produces bass tones and provides the rumbling tones of an action movie or exciting piece of music). These systems are called 5.1 systems but you can purchase 6.1, 7.1 and even 10.1 systems that include more speakers.
- The speakers can be placed on the wall-even inside the wall and plastered over-or stand alone on the floor near the video screen or television. Avoid hanging one speaker in each corner of your room, high up on the ceiling, Ford says. "Speakers shouldn't be positioned that far apart," he notes. "It means you'll hear sound on the left and right, but not in the middle of the room. You'll lose the realism of your movie or music if the sound is that far apart."
Component storage and a universal remote. Determine whether you want your system's wires and/or cables to be visible, or stored in a cabinet or drawer. Also, consider a universal remote, which is programmed to control your entire system-from turning on a DVD to controlling a gaming system. Voice-activated controls are among the latest technology available.
With a little planning, you'll be dimming the lights, sitting back and enjoying a show in your own home.