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Things to consider when planning a custom home theater

Things to consider when planning a home theater installation:

There are many many things to consider when planning a home theater project! The most basic thing to consider really is the overall space where you plan to install your theater. Is the space a dedicated theater space, or more of a multipurpose room? Other considerations to keep in mind are the layout of the room, equipment that you are using, wiring, lighting considerations, furnishings, room acoustics, color schemes and much more. Designing and installing a theater project can be quite complex depending on numerous factors.

The space. Is the space you are using a small or large area? Will you be able to set furniture a minimum of 6-8’ back from the screen for comfortable viewing? The size of the room determines the size of the screen as well as what kind of projector you might consider using. Almost every aspect of the theater design really depends on the space you have available. How is the room shaped? Is it square, rectangular or have an odd shape? Where is the Audio-Visual equipment going to be installed? Will the equipment rack be visible or will the AV equipment be situated in a space outside the room altogether (generally this is better when dealing with a smaller theater space.) Assuming you have the room to install a reasonably sized theater complete with furnishings, other considerations in the space may include things such as windows. If you are using a projector in the room, you want the room to be as dark as possible for the best movie viewing experience. You may need to consider using black out shades or otherwise blacking out any windows in the room so you can get the room as dark as possible, even during the day. The layout of the room is important to your overall experience in your new home theater. You want to make sure that you have plenty of room to move around, as well as find that your furniture is placed well for a comfortable and enjoyable viewing experience. There are infinite options when furnishing a theater, with dedicated theater seating available from basic seating to elaborate powered seating options that recline, lay back, or even shake at the appropriate time in the movie! If you are using a sloped floor with terraced seating, make sure that each level is high enough to see over not just the seat, but over someone’s head when viewing your movie. Also try and avoid placing seating right next to a wall as bass frequencies tend to pile up near walls and corners…

Other factors concerning the space includes what materials you would use to cover the walls and floors, as well as space requirements that can depend on the equipment you are using, as well as the acoustic requirements of the room and are discussed below…

Electronics and wiring. What level of movie experience are you looking to achieve? Are you looking to put in a small 5.1 Surround Sound system that is very basic, or are you considering a complex installation utilizing a more robust surround sound configuration, multiple subwoofers or Dolby Atmos? Knowing this determines the wiring you require as well as speaker placement. Placing wire in the wall also requires knowledge of building codes and determines the wire that you can use! “Clear” speaker wire is NOT recommended for in-wall installation. Use 16/2 or 12/2 at a minimum, and this can be found at an electrical supply store, or your local hardware store… Another consideration might be whether you plan to do a small system now and expand the system down the road. Before the walls are sheet rocked is the time to wire for all the possibilities that you may actually utilize in the future so that you won’t find yourself in a situation where you are running wires on the floor (trip hazard) or having to cut sheetrock to get that one pair of surround speakers installed down the road. Plan for it, wire it, and it will be ready in the future for expansion. Are you using a projector? You need to pull the correct wire for the type of signal you plan on delivering to projector. If you are going 4K (it is recommended that you wire for AT LEAST 4K), you should make sure that cabling to the projector location can pass a 4K signal! Is there a power outlet at the projector location? I have seen professional installers put up a projector in the middle of a ceiling with no electrical outlet at the location (which is not pretty) … How high is the ceiling in the space? Will the projector hang down in the way? Is someone going to hit their head and turn the projector so now the movie is playing on the ceiling? What kind of projector do you need? There are long and short throw projectors on the market that depend on the size of the room to function properly. If the room is smaller, and it’s only 15’X15’ a long throw projector is not recommended because it needs 16’ of distance from the screen to properly image and focus right. Short throw projectors can be ceiling mounted or can literally sit under the screen as close at 11” and deliver a spectacular 4k resolution! Another consideration is the receiver. Are you going to be switching video along with the audio? Does it support 4K or does it NEED to support 4K right now? You can use equipment that only supports 1080p resolutions with 4K capable wiring if you are looking to save money on equipment for right now – and when you upgrade, you will have the proper wire to carry 4K signals down the road. If you only wire for 1080p (HD) you cannot support 4K video signals without replacing the wire later on – which may prove to be expensive. Make sure the receiver can support the speaker configuration you are currently going to install, as well… doing your homework on a receiver when gauging sound quality, power and performance is tantamount to a good theater install. There are very expensive receivers out there that well, sound like crap and there are receivers out there that won’t break the bank AND sound GREAT. What kind of subwoofer are you going to use? Is it powered, passive, in wall, or free standing? – You will have to wire accordingly depending on the product that you choose… What kind of sources are you going to use? DVD? Blu-Ray? All streaming sources such as Roku or Apple TV? Are you going to Cast or Airplay movies from a phone or tablet? Be sure to plan the equipment location to have room for all the equipment and have all the wiring neatly run to that location. If you are streaming, is there a hard-wired network connection available for all your streaming sources? Do you have a ROKU that can only utilize Wi-Fi? Is there Wi-Fi signal where the ROKU will be located? What kind of electrical power is provided to the equipment location? Is it a dedicated circuit, or is there a washing machine on the circuit? Dedicated circuits are really the way to go when you are dealing with video and amplifying sound, so you don’t get screen glitching, or loud pops when the washer goes into a spin cycle. Always use a line conditioner as well as a surge protector, this filters out electrical noise and surges that can damage your equipment over time or blow it in a single spike! Another important consideration is how is the equipment going to be controlled? If it is in a closet or behind a wall, an IR repeater system might be a solution, perhaps a Google Home Assistant can control the equipment, or you may consider a home automation product such as RTI or URC to make that control connection. These products can perform many functions at the press of a single programmed button and can really simplify the function of the theater so that anyone can easily use it without needing an advanced degree to figure it out… Another important consideration is the placement of speakers in the space. Depending on the size of the system there are many tools and guides online to use when determining where each speaker should go for optimal sound and overall experience. You also want to make sure that the speaker that you use is a good fit for the surround receiver that you chose. Be sure that the speaker can handle the wattage and is within the impedance range of the amplifier, so you don’t inadvertently blow the receiver, or the speaker! There are a ton of screen options available on the market. You really need to match the screen to the projector that you are using. You can get projectors that have a lot of flexibility as far as the amount of light is being used to project an image on to the screen. You can also find that some projectors are not flexible in this regard. Projector screens come in a variety of flavors. Some screens are designed to maximize the amount of light bouncing off the screen and can slightly amplify the brightness of the picture because of its reflectivity, some screens actually reduce the brightness of the projected image. Some screens are grey, and some are close to black but are highly reflective. If you pick the wrong projector for the screen, you can end up with a picture that is too bright to comfortably look at or can simply look dim.

Acoustic considerations are up to the theater owner and are strongly advised. I have done theaters in rooms with zero acoustic consideration, and they sound ok if you don’t mind hearing things from the front bouncing off the back wall and creating an echo and or phasing. Speakers should be placed about 1/5th of the overall width of the room – from the wall. This cuts down on unwanted reflections of the sound bouncing right off the wall. There should at least be some acoustic treatment such as curtains or acoustic panels in the middle of the side walls covering most of the wall on both sides. The rear wall should also be treated to cut down on echoes and sound bouncing back at you. It is suggested that the floor also be wall to wall carpet, but if that is not completely feasible, an area carpet in the middle of the space works ok too. Another consideration is certainly sound escaping the room and being a nuisance to others. There are sound dampening and sound proofing materials on the market that you might want to explore before you get that sheetrock installed.

As you can tell, there are many considerations that go into a home theater installation, and even though you can do it yourself, you should at least consult with an expert if you have zero experience with audio and video installation or experience in construction. One last consideration you might want to think about is lighting. If you are going for the whole theater experience, you should consider some low voltage lighting or lighting control that can be dimmed and controlled from a keypad, app or panel. You can program a lighting scene that makes you truly feel that you have started watching a movie in a commercial theater by dimming down at appropriate times, and then fading out totally when the movie starts. What a finishing touch! (You should get a popcorn machine too!) Planning and design are crucial to a great theater design as well as a good knowledge of the available technologies that are currently on the market. If you are planning a home theater, feel free to contact us – we would be happy to meet with you to discuss your project, and give you a quote based on your wants and needs of the project with no obligation!

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