by Allison Gunkel
As the lights dim, you cast one last look around the room. Everyone looks comfortably settled into his or her seats but the anticipation lingers over them all. You smile, grab a handful of popcorn, and turn your attention toward the screen as the overture swells and floods the room. You love the movies! Which is exactly why putting in a home theater was a great idea.
There are numerous components to consider when creating your home theater. Each piece needs to be considered individually, but in the end they have to be compatible. Like a giant puzzle, the best place to start is the frame. Where are you putting your home theater? The room you choose will dictate how many people can comfortably enjoy using the space, as well as help determine what equipment and furniture will furnish it.
Once an adequate space has been chosen, it is time to gather the necessary equipment to outfit your theater. There are three furnishings that any home theater or media room needs: a big television, surround-sound, and a media player.
There is great variety in purchasing televisions so it is important to find one that best suits your needs. A television for a home theater needs to be a minimum of 27 inches measured diagonally but can get up to 200 inches depending on the space you have.
- Standard direct-view televisions - Direct-view televisions deliver excellent picture but size is limited due to the technology used. However, the maximum of 40 inches diagonally is sufficient for a home theater, so if shopping for a direct view television, pay attention to image contrast and screen curvature. Darker screens produce a good black level (meaning black images will appear black rather than a stormy gray) and flatter screens ward off distortion and glare.
- Rear and Front-projection televisions - Projection televisions are great if you desire a very large screen. Note that rear and front-projection screens typically work properly only in completely darkened rooms. This makes them most suitable for dedicated theater rooms rather than time-honored dens or family rooms.
If you are looking into rear-projection televisions the things to compare are size, resolution, and screen quality. Screen materials should be of a glare-resistant material as rear-projection sets have a smaller viewing angle than standard direct-view televisions. This results in poor contrast and glare from even soft ambient light.
Front-projection televisions use a projection screen like rear-projection televisions, however, front-projection 0televisions look more like a film projector -- the projector itself and the screen portraying the image are separate entities. Front-projection screens are ideal for someone who desires a very large screen. The further the projector can be pulled away from the screen, the larger the image appears. If this is your desire, be sure the power capacity is strong enough to support the image across the room (capacities do vary).
- Flat-panel televisions - Flat-panel televisions are very thin and lightweight making them ideal in rooms limited on space. Plasma and LCD are the primary flat-panel displays. They have great picture quality but poor black levels. LCDs are limited in size, but plasmas are subject to burn-in, leaving a permanent image and permanent damage to your television. Though they are convenient they are also quite expensive. However, if you require a smaller television for your theater, the plasma is worth the extra expense.
The surround-sound is truly what sets your home theater system apart from a typical television setup. Proper surround-sound requires three speakers in the front (left, center, right) and two to three speakers to the sides/rear of the viewers. Different sound information comes from each of the various speakers when using your surround-sound system. To get the best quality sound, you need to know what to look for when purchasing the necessary pieces.
Every surround-sound system requires an audio/video (a/v) receiver. There are numerous kinds of a/v receivers on the market, many sold with speakers as a complete home theater sound system. This is more cost effective than purchasing components separately but does not always generate the best quality so use caution.
When purchasing your a/v receiver, first decide on the speaker set-up you desire in your home theater. The number of speakers determines which a/v receivers are compatible with that system and how the sound is directed. The most common options are as follows:
- 5.1 (5 speakers, 1 subwoofer) - This set-up includes three front speakers (left, center, right) and left and right surround-sound speakers.
- 6.1 (6-7 speakers, 1 subwoofer) - This includes the same speakers as the 5.1 and adds a rear speaker
- 7.1 (7 speakers, 1 subwoofer) - This set-up directs the sound more specifically than the 6.1 or 5.1 systems
The speakers are an extremely important part of your sound system. You will want identical speakers as different models handle sound differently. If different brands are mixed together the effect will be unbalanced and low quality. Speakers can come as floor-standing, bookshelf, in-wall or in-ceiling units. Floor-standing units are high performing but also fairly expensive. Book and wall/ceiling mounts are more compact and perform quite well. The lack of bass range in comparison to floor-standing speakers can be compensated by using a decent subwoofer to ensure the floor shaking excitement of a good action-packed film.
- Media Players
No matter what television or sound system you choose, it is difficult to have a home theater without something to play your movies on. Most surround-sound systems prefer one kind of DVD formatting over another (they should play all DVD formats though the quality may not be as intended), so when installing your home - theater system, look into the compatibility of your most watched DVDs, DVD player and/or VCR with your surround-sound system.
Do not make the mistake of forgoing a VCR in your home theater. Though VCRs lack the high quality of a top-of-the-line DVD player, they are still essential to the movie watching experience. Many people own numerous favorite movies from before digital distribution that ought to be enjoyed--whether or not they have been digitally formatted yet. Consider upgrading to a hi-fi stereo VCR to increase playback quality.
Now that your theater is functional it’s time to personalize your movie watching experience. Are you going to put in squashy chairs and couches or movie theater seats? Will you put in dimming ambient lights? How about that popcorn machine? After all, the primary reason you have a home theater is to enjoy cinema in unsurpassed comfort--the way you want to. After discovering the necessary equipment and the subsequent installation, you may find it crucial to bring in a home theater expert and contractor. This is a great idea, but be sure to confide your intentions as far as decorating and amenities. This information will help your expert equip your home theater to your highest standards.
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