Having a home theater to retreat to after a long day is a feeling like none other. A home theater should isolate you from everything else in the world and allow you to immerse yourself in whatever world appears on the big screen. To some, a home theater is merely a set of equipment that allows you to play movies on a big TV in your living room. To others, a home theater is simply a smaller version of what you’d find at your local movie theater. The difference between the two can be quite a lot in both terms of execution and budget.
Creating an environment that maximizes your movie enjoyment and minimizes outside distractions means isolating that space from the rest of your home. Having a spare bedroom or a closed den to place this space is certainly helpful, though not everyone can afford that luxury.
With a few tips, you can create the perfect movie-viewing experience for yourself — and even a few guests.
Uncovered windows and improper lighting can ruin a viewing experience. Think about how a theater is lit. A dim, indirect light can make a big difference on how things look on the screen without making it so dark that you risk eye strain or tripping over something on your way to the popcorn machine.
Consider installing some accent lighting on a dimmer switch. If you can’t afford to install something permanent (or you live in an apartment) a lamp that directs light to the ceiling with a low-wattage bulb installed can do the trick. Alternatively, you can go for something behind the television to create an interesting glow that gives you a little more light in the room without risking a glare on the screen.
In my apartment, we have cheap Halloween rope lights placed along the top of cabinets to give us enough light to see without causing any reflection or distractions from the television screen.
Having the screen set so everyone has to look up to see it can be a real pain in the neck. If you want to fit more than a few people in an extra bedroom, for example, you might want to look into tiered seating. This can be accomplished by setting up chairs (or couches) on multiple levels to mimic the stadium seating available at most commercial theaters.
This tip might take a little effort and a few trips to the hardware store, but it can make a huge difference on the viewing experience of you and your guests.
Consider this, the television in your living room only has a certain acceptable viewing angle. Setting up seating in a V or side-by-side causes viewers to turn their heads or experience discolored video. By arranging seating in rows directly in front of the screen, you’re improving the viewing experience for everyone. Creating a platform for the second row makes it so everyone can see without straining their necks or being blocked by someone’s head in front of them.
This might look crazy in a living room, which is another reason why a home theater should be in a separate space.
Hide Those Wires
The last thing anyone wants to do when taking their seat or heading to the popcorn machine is trip over a speaker wire. If you have decided to go with surround sound, find a way to tuck those wires out of view. Most homes are made with a space between the carpet in the wall that is perfect for hiding wires without adding rugs or some other cover. Utilizing this won’t damage your carpet or force you to do any woodwork. The eraser end of a pencil is usually the only tool you need to do this.
We’ve written a separate article outlining popular methods for hiding unsightly speaker wires.
Invest in a Movie Theater Style Popcorn Machine
I know it sounds crazy, but a lot of people (my wife included) just can’t get over the association between popcorn and movies. Having one of those popcorn machines that look like they belong in a commercial movie theater helps set the mood for a night at the home cinema. Believe it or not, these machines can be found very cheaply. We have one from a company called Oster that looks and works great. Best of all, it cost us less than $80 and has saved us that much in popcorn costs over time.
Common home theater mistakes are easier to overlook than one might think. Here are a few common mistakes people make when designing their home theater.
Wrong Speakers for the Amplifier
Pairing the wrong speakers with your amplifier is a common mistake. It’s easy to overlook ohms and wattage numbers when shopping, and things appear to sound fine at first. Over a period of weeks or months, you run the risk of burning out your amplifier, receiver, or even blowing your speakers by mismatching audio equipment. Pay attention to the owner’s manual. It can save you a lot of money and hassle.
Buying the Wrong Size TV
Bigger isn’t always better. There, I said it. You aren’t going to enjoy a 60″ television if you have to turn your head to see the entire picture. Pick up a TV that fits the space you’re working with. For most people, that’s a television that is four times the feet of the viewing distance in inches. A 40″ television would fit perfectly in a room with a 10′ average viewing distance.
Improper Surge Protection
Not all surge protectors are made the same. You get what you pay for in this market, and buying something cheap just because it looks like everything else on the shelf can cause you more harm than good. Don’t be cheap here. It’s already the cheapest part of a home theater so there’s no reason to scrimp and save on it.
Spending too Much on HDMI Cables
We’ve gone over this one before, but I can’t stress enough just how much of a ripoff gold-plated HDMI cables are for home theaters. Stop it.
Digital signals aren’t like analog signals. You either get them or you don’t, and no amount of diamond-encrusted gold plating is going to improve your picture quality. If your video sticks, it’s probably your other equipment. If you really want to be sure, buy two cheap HDMI cables and swap them out as the first stage of troubleshooting. If nothing improves, buying a $300 HDMI cable isn’t going to do much good.