Home Theater Guide

Building a home theater? Want to upgrade your home cinema experience? This guide provides the tools you need to get started.
There’s a big difference between watching a movie on a TV or mobile device versus a home theater. A true home cinema experience is immersive, taking advantage of a big screen and optimal sight lines to bring you closer to the action on-screen, while placing you in the center of a high-end sound system. It’s designed to minimize distractions, letting you suspend disbelief—like you are in the movie rather than watching it.
With today’s technologies, it’s not essential to build a dedicated home theater room to have an enjoyable cinema experience. But for those who have the means, a customized home theater can take your cinematic experience to the next level. In a dedicated room, you have more control over acoustic elements, sight lines, and other factors that can impact your experience. Here we’ll discuss the audio, video, and design elements you’ll want to consider while building out your theater room.
The Importance of Sound
A well-designed home theater starts with better sound. Sound is more than half of the cinematic experience, and it’s often what triggers the emotional cues in a scene. Better sound requires a dedicated sound system that’s capable of producing more accurate sound—at higher volumes—than built-in TV speakers are capable of reproducing. With the technology available today, investing in a surround sound format or spatial audio setup will add to the immersion and elevate your entertainment space.
The pinnacle of home cinema sound starts with acoustic engineering. Rooms optimized for acoustics are designed to avoid excessive sound reflections that can create live or dead spots. Distracting sounds inside the room, such as noisy A/V components and HVAC, are minimized or eliminated. The highest quality home theaters are built in acoustically isolated rooms with walls, doors, and ventilation specifically designed to stop sound transmission. This is the only way to have a truly immersive experience. Learn why in Beyond Immersion: Escaping into the You-Are-There™ article by Keith Yates, preeminent home theater acoustic designer.
Screen Size Matters
Whether you’re in your living room or your dedicated theater, the bigger the screen, the more immersed you’ll be. Large screens relative to where you’re sitting enable a wide field of view, similar to a movie theater. Depending on the room size or configuration, you’ll want to invest in a flat-panel display, such as an OLED or LED TV, or a projector with a screen. New models generally support 4K Ultra HD video and HDR (high dynamic range). If you opt for an 8K display, keep in mind that the current content set is limited (no Hollywood movies are available in 8K).
Choosing between a TV or a projector will depend both on how big of a screen you want and how much ambient light is in your room. Larger flat-panel displays can be more expensive (100” or larger, such as a wall panel) than a projector/screen combination that’s the same size. But they can also be brighter, so they may be more ideal in brightly lit installations, such as a room with windows, or an outdoor entertainment space. Depending on where the room is located, you’ll also want to consider the logistics of getting a larger TV into the room (such as if you’re taking it down a flight of stairs and around a corner) versus the portability of a projector/screen combination.
Design Considerations
A great home cinema experience requires comfortable seating. Specialized theater chairs have built-in automation, with reclining presets, articulating headrests, and other advanced technologies that activate when you press “play.” Whether you want individual seats for each person in the room or a cozy couch or sectional, several options are available that enhance the cinematic experience while adding to the aesthetics of the room.
You’ll also want to consider lighting and, in non-dedicated theaters, shades. With the touch of a button, your lights can dim while the shades close and the movie plays. Intelligent lighting and shades can be programmed into your control system, making it feel like you’ve brought the movie theater home. This will instantly set the mood for a cinematic experience in any room, at any time.
Getting Started
While it’s possible to design and build your own dream theater, there are many design firms specializing in home theater design and construction. Depending on your budget, it’s worth reaching out to a theater designer as well as a home theater integrator before you start your project.
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