Tips for Maximizing Your Home Theater Experience

There's nothing quite like a night out at the movies. According to Lewis Ostrover, Senior VP New Media Applications and Operations, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, “People love going to the movies for more than just the great picture and sound; it’s a special experience that’s difficult to replicate in its entirety. That said, watching a movie on Blu-ray Disc with a well-calibrated, high-definition display or high-performance digital projector and screen, plus a multi-channel audio system, delivers an immersive in-home experience that’s as close to the theater as you can get without leaving your living room.”

It's All About the Display

To properly simulate the theater environment, there's no substitute for a home theater projector that offers unparalleled size without requiring a large footprint during the off hours. To maximize the quality of a projector display, minimize ambient light and pair the projector with a reflective screen that fits the desired image size. High-definition TVs are alternatives that offer higher-quality images in lighted environments, but you lose near wall-to-wall screen size and much of the theater ambiance. In either case, opt for a 1080p resolution and calibrate the display according to the device’s manual to maximize the image quality. If you plan to watch 3D movies, choose a HDTV or projector that natively supports 3D.

Size Matters

The audience's distance from the screen largely dictates the maximum size of the screen, because you could notice pixilation on screens that exceed this maximum. To calculate the maximum size of a 1080p HDTV, multiply the viewing distance by 0.84. As an example, if you sit 80 inches away from the screen, multiply 80 times 0.84 to derive a maximum screen size of approximately 67 inches.

Projectors offer more flexibility with screen sizes, but you should still consider personal preference and the rated "throw" distance, which is the maximum distance a projector can produce a clearly focused image. This throw distance is directly related to the throw ratio, which is the relationship between distance and screen size. In general, the further back the projector, the larger the screen size, but some projectors have variable throw ratios for enlarging images even at relatively close distances.

Rock Your Neighbors

No aspect of your home theater immerses you in the movie like an optimally configured 7.1 system that surrounds you with seven speakers and a nondirectional subwoofer. The center speaker emits the majority of a movie's soundtrack, so proper center placement just above or below the screen is critical. Position the front-side speakers about two feet to the sides and slightly above the horizontal center of the screen; this placement makes most dialog appear to originate from actors' mouths, which reduces distracting misalignment. Side and rear speakers should be away from obstructing objects and approximately at height with the audiences' ears. Consider using a wireless speaker system to avoid running unsightly and potentially hazardous wires.

Tie It All Together

Although HDTVs and projectors enable you to directly connect a player, you might have trouble integrating the sound system and multiple devices. A receiver solves this problem by running multiple components, such as players, decoders and sound systems through a common source. Choose a receiver that has enough connectors to house all your devices and use HDMI cables to ensure proper delivery of high-definition content.

Blu-ray All the Way

To supply maximum quality video to your home theater, you'll need a Blu-ray player. Unlike a DVD's 480i, 480p or 576i resolution, which offers decent quality, Blu-ray supports a full 1080p for amazing high-definition viewing. Some cable and digital television broadcasts provide 1080p feeds which work well with home theater setups. Configure the Blu-ray movie or HDTV decoder to use your sound system to maximum effect. Many movies default to a standard two-channel sound system unless you specifically choose your beefier 7.1 system.

Make Yourself Comfortable

Center comfortable, low-back seats within the room and away from walls to reduce audio interference and the viewing angle. Avoid distracting pictures or objects next to the screen and light sources behind the audience that could create glare on the screen. Install a ceiling mount for projectors to reduce this distracting element, decrease its footprint and prevent unintentional bumping. Because this places the projector vertically off-center, adjust the projector’s skew to produce a rectangular image.

Darken the room with light-blocking curtains and close any doors to the room to minimize ambient light and noise. Even if you want some light, it’s better to block variable outside light and stick with artificial light that offers complete control.

Finishing Touches

No movie night is complete without refreshments, so offer some popcorn, soda and other movie snacks. For an added touch, include a few movie mementos, such as mock tickets and movie-specific memorabilia. You can even install a dimmer switch to gradually transition the room into the darkened home theater; this replicates the sense of anticipation you feel just before a movie begins.

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