Home Theater Planning Guide
You want to have friends over for the big game. Maybe your kids want to watch movies with their friends, or perhaps you just want something to do as a family. Whatever your motivation, there’s no substitute for a purpose-built home theater or cinema. It gives you that movie theater experience without leaving your cozy Richmond home.
So the question is, how are you going to get it? Well, there’s more to it than buying the biggest TV you can find. Home theater planning, including equipment selection and professional installation, is a process that takes care and precision.
At Moseley Electronics, we are local Richmond experts in home cinema design and installation. We will walk you through the options that fit your desires and your budget. However, if you think you can handle this mighty project yourself, we recommend checking out the pros and cons of DIY home theater planning before getting started.
Here is a comprehensive guide to planning your home cinema.
START WITH THE SPACE
A true home theater needs a dedicated room. If you’re in the fortunate position of starting from scratch, you can lay out the room to suit the screen and seating you want. Alternatively, if you are repurposing an existing space it’s important to understand the constraints and limitations that it imposes.
Good acoustics demands a room shaped more like a shoebox than a cube. The screen should go across the shorter wall with the seating going down the length of the room.
Next think about seating. If you want more than one row, consider sight lines and ceiling height. Sight lines are to ensure the screen is at a comfortable heights, and that those in the second row can see past people in the front. Typically, the bottom of the screen will be 30 – 36” above the floor with the second row of seats on a riser platform lighting them up 8 – 12″. This is why ceiling height matters.
EXPLORE OPTIONS FOR SOUND SYSTEMS
The best home theater experience requires surround sound, and sound can be complicated. Determine what audio technology you want, as well as the acoustic treatments you’ll need in the room.
Not long ago Dolby Digital and 5.1 surround sound were state-of-the-art. Today everyone’s talking about Dolby Atmos. What this boils down to is how many speakers do you want (yes, more is generally better), what kind of home theater receiver are you going to invest in, and how much electrical power are you going to provide?
As audio systems become more complex, so too does speaker placement. Modern surround sound systems create a kind of aural sphere that the viewers sit in, and the speakers must be positioned appropriately. Subwoofers can’t be just dropped onto the carpet. As with all the audio components, their placement needs careful consideration.
Acoustic treatments include special paneling and/or drapes that stop sound bouncing around in ways that limit your movie enjoyment. If they seem like a luxury, you’ll think otherwise when you struggle to hear dialog.
If this all seems complicated, well it is, and that’s why it pays to discuss your goals with someone who’s an expert in home theater planning.
If you’ve ever been irritated by a window or a lamp reflecting on the TV screen you’ll understand the importance of lighting. A true home theater room should be a windowless space but if that’s not possible, you’ll want quality blackout blinds installed. For that extra wow factor, have them electrically powered.
You’ll also want good lighting for when you’re not movie-watching, plus the ability to darken the room while highlighting the door and picking out hazards like steps. Wall sconces on dimmer switches are a good start but think about other options like undertread illumination on stairs.
How you finish the walls matters too. Dark paints with a matte finish are good, but it’s often worth consulting with someone familiar with the intricacies of home cinema aesthetics.
SELECT SEATING OPTIONS
Large and comfortable recliners are preferred for home theater seating, and with their wide armrests and extending footrests these can take up a lot of space, so plan accordingly. Don’t forget to allow space to walk between the rows while they’re at full recline and extension.
If the room goes back far enough you may want to add a third row of seats. Rather than increase the riser and the ceiling height, some home theater designers suggest placing bar stools behind a shelf or bar that can hold drinks and snacks.
In addition to loudspeakers, discussed above, your home theater needs a screen, a projector, and a receiver. The screen should be 120” diagonal or larger and made from a special projection screen material. Most likely, you’ll want it in a 16:9 aspect ratio to match the movies you’ll be watching.
Projectors vary widely in price and capabilities. Decide if you want 4k or higher resolution, and talk to a specialist about the functions you might find useful.
The receiver is the piece of equipment most overlooked, yet it’s arguably the most important. This is the unit that handles all the audio channels, deciding which signals go to which speakers and how much amplification each needs. Whether you want Dolby Atmos or you’re happy with 5.1, the receiver must have the ability to serve it up.
Your home theater needs lots of wiring, some to carry audio signals to the speakers and some to power those speakers and all the other equipment and lighting. Calculating electrical load and ensuring you have sufficient capacity is a complex job and one that must be done right. Get it wrong, and you risk the breakers tripping or more serious problems!
INSTALLATION & CALIBRATION
Getting the best from your investment in home theater technology requires careful installation, followed by painstaking calibration. Modern audio systems can be expensive; and as you add channels and complexity, there’s more involved in hooking everything up. Additionally, the picture and sound must be calibrated to the room.
Calibration is done with sophisticated equipment that measures sound and picture quality. The installation technicians then fine-tune the receiver and projector to ensure every seat receives the best of both. That way there’s no arguing over who should have the “best” seat!
CONSULT A HOME THEATER PLANNING & INSTALLATION EXPERT
Whether you call it your home theater or your multi-media room, a well-planned system is going to blow the socks off of everyone who experiences it, and give you years of viewing pleasure.
What you don’t want though is to spend a significant amount of money and then wish you’d done things differently. This is why it’s so important to work with a Richmond-based team, like Moseley Electronics, who really understands home theater technology – and is passionate about it.
MORE HOME THEATER DESIGN RESOURCES
Need more helpful advice from industry experts? We recommend you check out these resources: