Home theatres were once reserved for the very wealthy but not anymore. For the past decade, this technology has become less expensive, while getting better. Components can now mix and match with gear from different brands, making a home theatre more obtainable.
As an increasing number of people are spending more time relaxing and entertaining in their homes, a home theatre provides an ideal hang-out in a comfortable, safe environment.
So how about you? Have you’ve been thinking about installing a home theatre? If so, there’s a lot to consider, but Designer Dream Homes™ is here to help you make informed decisions, guiding you to the home theatre of your dreams.
So gather your pad and pen, and be prepared to ask yourself a lot of questions. Reflect on how you and your family live; think about how you entertain or would like to entertain, and write down all your thoughts.
Before you even establish a budget, decide if your home theatre is going to be a dedicated theatre or multi-function media room. That is, will it be solely for movies and special events like the Super Bowl or Oscars, or will it be for the nightly news and broadcasting your morning music throughout the house?
Where do you want your theatre to be located: in a secondary bedroom, part of the basement or incorporated into a section of the great room? Your theatre system may depend on its location, room size and shape. Patrick Romero of Home Theater Inc., in Florida says its important to know how many people you want your theatre to accommodate and remember that chairs or sofas must be a specific distance from the screen.
“Measure your screen, divide that figure by 2 and add that amount to the original measurement. For example, if you have a 100-inch screen, divide by 2. Then add that 50 inches to the original 100 inches. Your chair shouldn’t be any closer than 150 inches to the screen,” said Mr. Romero. “This formula is the general rule of thumb and can be applied to any size television or projector screen.”
It isn’t just the size and shape of your room that matters. The type of ceiling treatment you have might effect the sound of your system. A vaulted ceiling may bounce sound, whereas a coffered ceiling may absorb or diffuse sound.
Regardless if your theatre will be installed in new construction or retrofitted, think about the furniture. Is there existing furniture or built-ins, or will you be choosing between custom cabinetry or modular furniture/shelving? If choosing built-in cabinetry, will it be designed specifically to fit your equipment? Always keep in mind that cabinetry or furniture built for specific machinery may restrict you from expanding or adapting to different equipment in the future.
On the other hand, you can choose equipment to coincide with existing furniture or focal points. A plasma screen can be hung like a picture over a living room fireplace. A motorized projector screen can descend from the ceiling or ascend from custom furniture. And if you don’t want to see your theatre equipment until you’re using it, it can be hidden or disguised.
You have a plethora of choices for seating also. Sofas, recliners and theatre chairs offer traditional options, but ottomans can serve dual roles as seating and coffee tables. Just remember comfort and convenience are the objectives here.
Answering all of these questions from the start will actually help you determine your budget. Once you come up with a figure, you’ll need to decide if the budget includes just the equipment system or everything: equipment, décor and furniture. At this point, it gets a little trickier.
You may want to take your budget and consider working with an integrator. From the design and construction to the audio/visual and décor installation, an integrator makes sure everything fits properly, is installed correctly, and is easily operated and maintained. They can show you the equipment that best suits your needs and budget, saving you some time and a few headaches.
“As a homeowner, realize the complexity of the system and approach it from a ‘how am I going to control all of the equipment’ perspective,” said Mike Ridenor from ComTec in North Carolina. If you decide to hire an integrator, make sure they’re willing to work directly with you or under your general contractor, depending on what you want. If they work under your general contractor, arrange a time for the integrator to personally show you how to use your equipment. “Interview two or three integrators,” said Mr. Romero. “Get references from clients. Check out samples of their work.” Assuming you have gone through this same process with your builder, you may want to leave the integrator choice up to his or her discretion. Regardless if you hire an integrator or decide to tackle this home theatre project on your own, there’s more to consider.
Research equipment. Find out the pros and cons of each type you’re considering. Find out what is available in your price range and what sizes you need to fit into your room or space.
First decide if you want a television or projector and screen. Then get more specific, according to your budget and needs. Do you want a flat panel such as plasma or LCD (liquid crystal display)? Do you want DLP (digital light processing) or the standard CRT (cathode ray tube) technology? Do you want a large screen television or HDTV (high definition television)? If you want a projector, do you want a front or rear projector? If choosing a screen, do you want it to be drop-down, fixed or motorized?
Now think about power amplifiers and speakers. Your speakers must include fronts, surrounds and a subwoofer. Do you want surround sound 3.1, 6.1 or 7.1? A retailer may be able to give you specifications for an off-the-shelf speaker system, but they may not be able to help you combine it with the rest of your system. So what other cables, equalizers or system accessories do you need?
What about controllers, receivers and game ready hook-up? What about including a VCR, DVD or Laser Disc? Do you want your whole house automated with security cameras and intercoms that can be connected to your system and operated through or from your home theatre remote?
Above the velvet theatre curtains, concession stand or any special feature incorporated into your room or space, the most important elements are compatibility and controllability of the equipment. Your system must be interconnected for optimal performance and user-friendliness, and your equipment maintenance should be easy.
This filters down to the remote control and is the most difficult part of planning and installing your home theatre. Be it hand held or touch pad, your goal is to have one remote control, so your equipment must be programmed to work together!
This is where an integrator can really save you time, headaches and even money. As a specialist or programmer, he or she will work with you to troubleshoot any equipment, networking or control problems you might have. An integrator can program your lighting and sound, so if you want the theatre lights to dim and the volume to increase at the touch of a button, they will. You know your technological proficiency, decide at what level you need assistance, if any at all.
Next, you’ll want to consider lighting. How dark is your room? How dark do you want it to be? Do you want blackout blinds or curtains – hand-pulled or motorized? What kind of fixtures do you want to include: wall sconces, rope, recessed? Do you want your lighting automated? Consider your paint choice also; flat paint has a tendency to absorb light, while gloss reflects it.
Another element that can be reflected or absorbed is sound. While sound enhances a theatre experience, sound control is important to the rest of the home. Double drywall, insulation, solid-core doors and carpets act as sound buffers, decreasing the amount of theatre noise distributed to the rest of the home. Heavy curtains, upholstered panels and fabric wallpaper help diffuse noise, and a growing trend is to completely carpet the floors, walls and ceiling, trimming in molding and chair rail for a finished look.
The overall appearance and décor of your theatre is up to you, but make sure you keep function in the forefront. Think about how the room as a whole will perform. If there’s closet space in the room, do you want to utilize it as a control room, storage space or both? Is there enough storage for your equipment, videotapes, DVDs and laser discs and what ever else you need or want? How many movies do you have? How fast does your collection grow? Will you weed your collection on occasion, or will it keep expanding? Will adjustable or permanent shelves better serve you? Will your shelving need to house your music collection too?
Ergonomics and positioning play an important part in the design of your theatre. Will you have to do a lot of bending to obtain favorite movies or operate machinery? Are screens at or near eye-level to reduce eyestrain? Do you want to include a riser, so everyone has a better, less obstructed view of the screen?
Along with positioning is placement. Most of the time your equipment helps determine placement, and you’ll need to work around your equipment. For example a projector may be attached to the ceiling, mounted on a cabinet or motorized to ascend, depending on the type of projector.
When setting up speakers, would you rather have the speakers mounted on the wall, on stands or on the floor?
Of course you’ll have to decide on how you want to hide the speaker wiring, and touching on the subject of wiring, you may need to speak with an electrician or your general contractor about additional outlets, wiring and wattage. If you are considering whole-house automation, it is very important to speak with an electrician or integrator early in the project.
Bulbs and fuses don’t last forever, so find out life expectancy, cost replacement, availability and change-out difficulty before purchasing. “Some front projection bulbs only last about 2,000 hours. This type of home theatre is not the kind of system where you’d get home, pour yourself a glass of wine and watch the news,” said Mr. Romero. “It would be too expensive to operate everyday.”
As stated earlier, there’s a lot to decide. Your notes should give you an idea of what you’re looking for and what you need. Divide your notes into two columns: needs and wants. Apply your budget to the need list first; then as time and money allows, fulfill your want list.
“Most people think to have something nice, you have to spend a lot of money, and that just isn’t the case,” said Mr. Ridenor. Including installation and integrator fees, a sufficient home theatre system will range from $3,000 to $10,000 – with some systems costing well over $100,000.
Now that you have an outline to go by, grab yourself an ice-cold beverage, make a bowl of hot, buttered popcorn and start planning the home theatre of your dreams. Get as creative as you want. You’re the only one stopping you from putting a drive-in in the garage.