Tips on Building and Planning Home Theaters

Home theaters simulate the cinematic environment, minus the sticky floors from spilled soda and the ticket booth at the door. The room may be smaller than the cinema at the mall, but the ambiance you enjoy, the quality of the onscreen presentation and the audio experience that accompanies it live up to the "theater" part of the home theater label. Putting one of these media-rich environments in your home takes careful planning to create a just-add-popcorn entertainment space.

Go to Your Room

Home theater provides an immersive experience that includes the potential for high-volume audio with pounding bass. From the car chases and explosions of an action-adventure movie to the full-tilt sound of a rock-concert documentary, you want to enjoy the onscreen entertainment without it waking the baby or the neighbors. Ideally, you set up a home theater in an interior room, build a floating floor and decouple the walls from the rest of the house, reducing the potential for sound vibrations to leak out and create a disturbance. If you're incorporating a home theater into new construction, your budget provides the only limit on your plans. To turn a room in an existing home into a suitable venue, especially on a budget, you may have better luck transforming part of a basement, which gains some built-in soundproofing from its underground location. Along with soundproofing, don't neglect sound conditioning, which uses proper floor and wall coverings, along with acoustic treatment, to minimize the impact of reflected sound on audio clarity.

In the Dark

Watching a bright screen in a blacked-out room can create eyestrain from the contrast between light and dark. To tune the amount of illumination to the mood of the programming you watch, dimmers give you complete control of light levels. Choose your light sources with care, however, to avoid the buzzing, humming and flickering that can result if you use bulbs that don't offer dimmer compatibility. Look to LED lighting for energy savings and flexible installation options, including LED tape and strips that can follow architectural details, run around equipment and even display variable colors of light. If you can't place your home theater in a windowless room, opt for light-safe shades or curtains that enable you to control natural light.

Hiding the Wiring

Home theaters rely on myriad connections among multiple pieces of equipment, including as many as nine or 10 speakers. Your gear requires electrical power, audio and data connections, especially if you use Wi-Fi® and Bluetooth to integrate it with computers, tablet and media players elsewhere in your house. If your budget extends to it and you're adding a home theater to a residence you own or to new construction, design the wiring into the walls to clean up the clutter of electrical cords, speaker wires, Wi-Fi and network connections, and HDMI cabling. Some home theater equipment uses wireless speakers to provide portions of the surround-sound experience, such as subwoofers for bass frequencies. For rental property and other situations that preclude hidden wiring, avoid placing cables and wires across walkways or under foot. At the same time that you decide how to wire your hardware, verify that you can supply enough electricity to support your gear, which can add up to more wattage than you expect.

Gear to Go

You can put together a home theater setup from individual pieces of gear that you select and integrate, starting with a receiver—or separate power and preamplification—and adding speakers, a Blu-ray player and a TV. To simplify the process and reduce the hassles associated with making diverse manufacturers' products work together, look for a unified home theater system that includes amplification, playback, audio and programming equipment, and pair it with a Smart TV that can take advantage of an Internet connection to extend the range of programming sources available to you. Rather than buy the biggest TV you can afford, size the set according to your room dimensions and the distance between viewers and screen. A 3D-capable TV broadens your playback options, making visually immersive programming come alive.

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