If you have decided to invest in building a home theatre system, you have come to the right place. Provided you know the basic concepts, have a strong idea of what components to choose, and understand exactly what you want to get from your system while working with the limitations of your space and budget, you can create a home theatre that will make you and your family very happy for many years to come.
This expert guide to the basics of home theatre, from the bigger picture to the fine details, will help you arm yourself with the knowledge you need to bring the cinema into your living room and start watching your favorite movies, as they were meant to be seen – in the comfort of your own home. Many people get overwhelmed by the technical details involved with home theatre systems, but this really is not necessary. The concepts are easy to grasp, and even the most advanced systems are designed for ease of use. With a little research, you will be well on your way to installing the home theatre you have always dreamt of.
Here’s why a home theatre is better than going to the movies
The main appeal of home theatre systems is that they offer the possibility of a home entertainment experience that is every bit as good as going to your favorite movie theatre. Actually, home theatre is even better than that! Here are five reasons why a home theatre is better than going to the movies.
- It is much cheaper. Yes, there is obviously the upfront cost to consider, but once you start using your new system, you will find that you quickly make that back in savings. The average price of a movie ticket across the US is around $10, not including anything you might buy at the concession stand. This also doesn’t take into account what it costs to travel to the theatre. With a home theatre, you cut out travel and ticket prices, and you can prepare your own snacks at a fraction of the prices charged in multiplex lobbies.
- It is more comfortable: At home, you can stretch out on your couch in your most comfortable clothing, without having to consider any other audience members. You can pause the movie and resume whenever you feel like it. Home theatre viewing is simply much more convenient and comfortable.
- It is cleaner: In theaters, you have to deal with sticky floors and dirty seats. The cleaning staff may be very thorough in some theaters – and not so much in others. At home, you are in complete control of your space, hygiene and cleanliness.
- You have more choice: At theaters, you are limited to watching whatever is being screened at any given time. At home, you have access to streaming services or your own Blu-Ray or DVD collection. You can watch whatever you want, for as long as you want.
- The sound and picture quality is better. You might get lucky and go to a theatre where the technical staff are really on top of their game, meaning that you can enjoy premium picture and sound quality, with perfect surround sound coming through new or well-serviced speakers. On the other hand, you are more likely to have to settle with a system that ranges from passable to poor. Either way, you have no control. At home, provided you have set up and calibrated your system correctly, you can enjoy excellent quality every time.
How to Choose a Home Theater System
Now you understand the benefits of home theatre systems, the next question is, which one is the right one for you? You are truly spoilt for choice in this regard. There are scores of brands with a variety of options and components to suit all budgets and needs. Your home theatre installer will be able to guide you through what is best for your particular situation, but here are the key elements you should consider:
- The screen: Start with your TV – or whatever visual device you will be using. If you have the space for it, you may decide on a projector instead. Either way, your screen is the heart of your system. If you don’t already have a high-quality screen, then you will need one. There is no reason to go with anything less than 4K these days, and by choosing a smart TV, you will future proof system with all the connectivity you will need.
- Your space: The shape and size of your room will determine what kind and size of speakers you should buy. Aside from sound quality, you will also want to choose speakers that look good and fit in with the room’s décor. Some speakers are large and free-standing; others are small and designed to sit on shelves or be wall-mounted. Look at your space and consider which option would suit you.
- Streaming devices. The best home theatre receivers become versatile hubs for all your streaming media. Connect your phone, tablet, or laptop to stream audio, play music from your home theater to wireless speakers anywhere in your house.
- Set-up: Some people want to plan their home theatre system as if they were designing a home, drawing up floor plans, carefully selecting separate components and building it up one step at a time. Others are happy to buy a home theatre in a box that can be set up and ready to go in minutes. You will know which of these cases best suits you. It is a question of budget and preference. Committed audiophiles and cinephiles will often opt for separate components if they can afford them. However, there are many home-theater-in-a-box options that will deliver everything you need at high quality levels.
Stereo vs. Surround – Which audio system is better for you?
The next question is what kind of audio system you want. For most people, five-, six- or seven-channel surround is the only option. If you are a real movie lover, then this is likely the way you will go. However, it is also a question of space, purpose and quality preferences. Surround works well because it suits the sound mixes on most movies – whether you stream them or watch on Blu-ray/ DVD. It also suits movies, gaming and music equally well, so if your system is going to be used for all of these purposes, then surround is a good choice. A smaller space, and/or a focus on music rather than movies, would make stereo a perfectly passable choice. It is also worth remembering that stereo audio mixes will play back perfectly well on surround systems, but you will not be able to enjoy the full benefits of surround mixes on a stereo system.
An Acoustic Guide to Home Theater Design
The visual aspects are the easiest parts of setting up a home theatre system. As long as you have selected a high-quality TV or projector and screen, you will enjoy crystal clear HD picture. Your sound system is where you should focus most of your planning and preparation. Home theatre sound design is not simply a question of choosing quality speakers. You also need to consider and optimize the acoustics of your theatre space. Excellent acoustic design entails the following basic steps:
- Carefully plan the best placement for your surround speakers. Arrange all the elements of your space in such a way that your surround speakers are placed in optimal positions for the best audio experience.
- Consider using sound-absorbing treatment. Sound absorbing materials can be placed on your walls and ceiling to help create that authentic theatre audio set-up. Think carefully about where to place these on your walls. You can even make your own sound-absorbing panels without spending too much.
- Incorporate your furniture and drapes into your acoustic design. Sound reflective glass and window surfaces should be covered with drapes or curtains. All the fabric in your room, from your curtains to your couches, can play a role in optimizing the acoustic environment.
How to Choose a Home Theater Receiver
Your AV receiver is one of the key elements of your home theatre system. It needs to cover a variety of functions, each of which will have a direct impact on your video and audio quality. Let’s take a look at the features and technologies you need to pay attention to as you shop for your receiver.
- Switching capacity: Firstly, you need to make sure that your receiver can accommodate all of your source components, so check that there are sufficient HDMI inputs to switch everything you have. If you have special requirements, such as analog source components – a turntable, for example, then make sure that your receiver can accommodate these. Ensure that you have one or two spare inputs for future use.
- Number of channels: Receivers can have anywhere between five and thirteen channels. If all you want is the basic Dolby Digital system with five speakers, you need a basic five-channel receiver. If you have something more elaborate in mind, or would like to future-proof your system for any developments in home theatre audio, then get a receiver that can accommodate more channels.
- Power ratings: Movie soundtracks are dynamic – they can shift from silence to loud explosions in a second. To deliver these, you need a receiver that can offer the appropriate output range. It is best to opt for a receiver with a large power supply. The bigger the supply, the better the receiver will be able to cope with the full range of possible audio dynamics.
These are the core considerations when it comes to receivers. Some of the other things you should consider are multi-room capabilities, app control, setup flexibility, voice control capabilities, streaming service capabilities and the digital-to-analog converter (DAC).
Projectors vs. TVs: Which is Best for Your Home Theater?
Finally, one of the questions we are most often asked: is it better to get a projector or a TV? There are pros and cons in either case. There was a time when projectors were the primary choice for people who wanted the big-screen experience. However, TV designers have rapidly closed this gap and you can now get an 85-inch screen for less than $3,000. On the other hand, projector screens start at around 100 inches, and you can get a projector and screen for less than a UHD TV. If you want to get a really large screen without blowing your budget, a projector is usually the best choice.
To achieve a great picture with a projector, you will also need to have a room that you can darken sufficiently. The more ambient light you have in the room, the more washed out your picture will appear. TVs are brighter in comparison and serve better in rooms where you are not able to block out all of the ambient light. TVs also offer higher contrast and resolution, while both media are pretty effective when it comes to color accuracy.