Setting up a home theater space gives you an entertainment experience comparable to what you expect in a movie theater, minus the ticket price, expensive snacks and noisy crowds, and with intermissions whenever you want them. To ease the process of choosing components and setting them up, base your layout on a preconfigured home theater package—including receiver and speakers—and compatible HDTV. Getting your system up and running may take less time than standing in line to buy popcorn at the theater.
TV Size & Placement
For the best-possible picture quality, your seated position places you directly in front of the horizontal center of your TV screen. You'll find many formulas to help you determine the distance between the set and where you sit, based on screen dimensions and their effects on the size at which onscreen details appear. Placing a set too far away makes it difficult to read captions and see small nuances in the action of sporting events. Place the TV too close, and the viewing experience becomes overwhelming.
To include more than one row of theater-style seating in your home entertainment space, locate each row within the comfortable maximum viewing distance range for your TV. Some sets include wall-mounting hardware you can use for greater flexibility in the vertical placement of your set without locating it on a stand or table. If your TV also plays 3D programming—live or recorded—test viewing distances and seating setups with your 3D glasses, too.
Connecting your TV to your home theater system typically requires only an HDMI cable. Your system may include six or eight speakers of various sizes, including a subwoofer to reproduce low bass. Most of these speakers should set on either side of the home theater's receiver or immediately under the location of your TV. Speakers that provide surround-channel information belong on either side of your seating position. If your subwoofer can connect wirelessly to your receiver, you can reduce the amount of cabling required for a complete setup. A satellite receiver or cable TV set-top box also plugs in to your home theater receiver, as well as any other audio components you want to integrate into your system. If you choose a home theater package that includes a Blu-ray player, you don't need a separate playback device for optical media including commercially produced discs and those you burn on your computer.
Adjustable light levels help you tune your home theater environment for optimized viewing. If the room becomes too dim, you may feel yourself straining to view onscreen programming, especially during dark scenes. Unless you're turning up the lights to watch a scary movie, you probably don't want your home theater too bright, either, as ambient illumination distracts from the TV picture.
To give yourself complete control of light-source levels from off to bright, substitute dimmers for conventional on/off switches and use energy-efficient LED lighting instead of incandescent, halogen or fluorescent bulbs. LED bulbs outlast other lighting technologies, make better use of energy and produce less heat in the process. An incandescent bulb uses 60 watts and a compact fluorescent requires 15 watts to produce the same amount of light as a 10.8-watt LED. The incandescent bulb converts a small percentage of the energy it uses into light. The rest turns into heat, which can force your comfort systems to work overtime to control room temperature.
As you lay out your media room, eliminate any design elements that can interfere with the ways you operate your equipment. Your TV may include a camera and microphone for motion and voice control, and both your home theater receiver and TV use remotes that may require a clear line of sight to function properly. Home theater systems can tap in to your Internet connection to display streaming content, search for programming choices and view or post to social media.
To access your network, you may need to plug your home theater receiver into a router. This connection also gives you access to other devices that can use your network, including tablets, smartphones, cameras, camcorders, computers and media players. You'll also need to attach an antenna to pick up over-the-air digital TV or FM radio signals. Some home theater systems lack support for the AM radio band, so if you want access to this programming, you may need to connect a separate tuner.
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