As home theater systems have evolved to be able to process escalating amounts of digital information, surround sound systems can now provide multi-directional audio that is increasingly lifelike and deliver the immersive experience of “being there”. When a home theater combines this immersive audio with increasingly detailed images on progressively larger HDTVs, the space can be transformed from being just a room in the house to almost anything depicted on the screen, whether it’s a seat on the 50 yard line at a football game or a luxury suite on the Titanic. Here are some of the basics of surround sound systems for home theater installations.
Pairing great audio with the vibrant images of HDTVs is the key to an optimized home theater. While there is an almost endless number of system combinations and configurations, you can also opt for an out of the box solution which can get your system up and running quickly and easily.
As video technology continues to evolve with increasingly high resolution resulting in lifelike imagery, it is essential that the quality of home theater audio systems keeps pace as well. To ensure that the audio aspect of your home theater delivers the same “Wow” factor as the video on the screen, there are three factors to consider before making a purchase.
1) The size of the room – The consideration of the size of the space will provide an indication of how much power your speaker system will require. In a smaller home theater, for example, a surround sound system rated at 50 to 100 watt RMS will likely suffice, while a larger space may require a system with a continuous power rating 150 watt RMS or higher. For surround sound systems that require higher RMS levels, you’ll want to make sure that the home theater’s media player/receiver can deliver sufficient power.
2) The shape of the room – Speaker power should also be considered when the shape of the room dictates that speakers be located a fair distance from where the audience will be seated. This can occur in a home theater space that is wider than it is deep with surround speakers that will located close to the side walls. In this type of configuration, mounted speakers can provide a solution but may not be feasible under certain circumstances, with the result being that higher powered surround speakers will be required. A deeper room, on the other hand, may call for the addition or speakers behind the viewing area, which would call for 7.1 surround system instead of a 5.1 version.
3) Assess how the space will be used – It’s not uncommon for a home theater to be installed in a space that is actually intended for use as a media center. The difference between these two types of spaces is the way in which the action on-screen is consumed, with a home theater providing a movie theater experience while a media center would be more like watching an event in a bar. While the video gear may be the same, a true home theater can be set up with speakers on stands in the proximity of the audience while the same setup may get in the way of people moving around in a media center.
It’s difficult to depict sound in visual layouts of home theaters, which can lead to an underestimation of the importance of high quality audio. By considering these three factors, you can ensure that the audio in your home theater is as impressive as the on-screen imagery.
Building a home theater that maximizes its potential is as much about the components as the space in which it will be installed. In fact, installing a home theater in a room that isn’t suitable for the audio and video that is provided by a system can diminish the entire experience, even when the components are of the highest quality. On the other hand, the right room for a home theater can enhance both the audio and the video to movie theater levels. Here are the characteristics of a perfect home theater space:
-A room located on the shady side of the house – In terms of the room’s location in the house, being on either the north or east facing side will eliminate direct sunlight that can affect the picture quality while also keeping the space cooler than the fully exposed south and west sides.
-A rectangular shape – Putting the screen on one of the short walls of the room provides two advantages; it minimizes the viewing angle from the seats on the sides of the viewing area and provides an optimal environment for acoustics.
-Controllable light – Even when the home theater is located on the shady side of the house, light from the outdoors can affect the display. The best home theater spaces are designed to control ambient light as well as reflections for optimal viewing by using heavy curtains and other lighting controls to darken the room.
-Wall and ceiling coverings – Hard flat surfaces, such as the ceiling and empty walls can hurt the audio portion of the experience by reflecting sound waves around the room. Bringing in wall and ceiling coverings such as shelving, wall hangings, soft textiles, and drapes can absorb and break up sound waves for an optimal audio experience. Two types of coverings to avoid are mirrors and art that is framed behind glass as these surfaces will reflect light from the screen as well as sound waves from the speakers.
-A soft floor – Much like hard flat walls and ceilings, tiles, pavers, and hardwood floors can reflect sound as well. For high quality acoustics, bring in carpeting and/or area rugs to soften the floor and absorb sound waves.
-Sound insulation – Insulating the room for sound delivers two benefits; it contains the booming audio from the system within the room and prevents outside noise from coming in.
Keep these 6 characteristics in mind when planning your home theater. The result, when the perfect room is paired with a great system, will be amazing every time.
Home theaters and media rooms share so many similarities that the terms are used on an interchangeable basis, generally without much of an argument. The two types of rooms do have distinct differences, however, which can help to define the specifics for the type of space you want to create. Here are some of the key differences between the two types of entertainment areas.
-The room – A home theater space is typically dedicated for the single purpose of delivering as close to a movie theater experience as possible. To that end, the space will likely be “enclosable” with doors than can be shut and windows with blackout curtains to allow audio and video to be enjoyed without distraction. A media room, on the other hand, may be a space that serves multiple purposes as a living room, family room or den. Even in situations where the space is a used for single purpose, it will typically be an open room with traffic that moves in and out of the space during the course of a televised event, movie, etc.
-Equipment – A home theater, with its focus on the viewing experience, will typically have a larger display as the sole focal point of the room and an immersive audio system that is calibrated precisely and powerful enough to discourage conversation. In a media room, the TV usually doesn’t have quite as strong of a visual presence and the audio system will only be used at full strength on occasion due to the social nature of the space.
-Furnishings – Home theaters are often designed as mini movie theaters with individual seating. If there are multiple rows, the back rows may be installed on risers for optimal viewing. Additional furnishings are often focused on enhancing the movie theater ambiance of the room. The furnishings for media rooms are typically more diverse, with furnishings designed for viewing as well to encourage socializing. For example, a media room may be arranged with seating in front of the screen for those who are watching the TV with high pub tables in back for those who aren’t.
While there are numerous similarities between media rooms and home theaters, there are differences in terms of the design of the room, the equipment and the furnishings. The purposes are different as well, with the design of a home theater being all about delivering a movie theater quality experience, while the same on-screen action may serve as the background to socializing in a media room.
While high quality home theater components can be put into almost any room and deliver an engaging experience, the best home theater systems are built on a planning process that optimizes four different aspects of the installation. Once developed, these aspects can be woven together, with the result being a system that provides crisp video and enveloping sound in an environment that delivers a movie theater quality experience. Here are the 4 pillars on which to build your home theater system.
1) The space – The first consideration regarding the space will be the dimensions of the area as well as the appropriate scale of the home theater system. Additionally, there are several aspects related to setting up the space that should be included in the planning process, including; acoustic enhancements such as carpet and wall treatments, a seating arrangement that optimizes audio and video, and lighting controls such as dimmers and blackout curtains.
2) The display system – While the objective of the video display is to deliver a big screen experience, you’ll want to install a display system that fits the scale of the home theater area so that it doesn’t overpower the viewers. The one of the best ways to scale the display system is to measure the distance to the center seat and then size the screen at two thirds of that distance. For example, a seating distance from the screen of 72 inches would call for a diagonal screen size of 48 inches.
3) The sound system – Like the display system, the sound system should be installed to stay within the scale of the space. In small to medium sized rooms, a 5.1 surround sound system with a subwoofer, three speakers across the front and surround sound speakers on each side of the viewing area will deliver a sound experience that is commensurate with the quality of the video. In larger rooms, especially those where the seats to the rear of the theater are a fair distance away from the screen, a 7.1 system with two additional speakers in the back of the room can provide quality audio that envelopes a larger audience.
4) Seating and decor – If the home theater is a dedicated space, consider adding individual reclining chairs for a luxurious theater-like experience. To carry the theater experience even further, consider adding decor pieces such as vintage movie posters and a popcorn machine to engage all the senses.
The best home theaters are built on the four pillars mentioned above. When each of these aspects are optimized and integrated, the home theater can take on the characteristics of the best movies theaters.
While the attention of many home theater installations is focused on the video aspects of the design, creating a space that delivers a movie theater quality experience goes well beyond setting up a huge screen with crystal clear picture resolution. Here are three design aspects which are commonly overlooked during a home theater installation that can detract from even the most exceptional picture quality:
-Audio quality – A sound system that doesn’t have enough output for the space can take the energy right out of the room, especially when compared to a state of the art visual experience. Using a sound bar is an ideal solution for a small space, but larger spaces will require a surround sound system to deliver a quality audio experience. For medium-sized spaces a 5.1 system, which includes a subwoofer, front speakers, a center channel and side speakers can deliver audio that fully complements the high definition picture on the screen. For larger spaces, expanding to a 7.1 system adds two speakers to the 5.1 channel configuration with defined audio coming to the back of the room for truly authentic sound.
-Lighting – Being able to control the lighting within the space is an essential aspect of optimizing the quality of the picture, but this aspect is commonly overlooked until the first time too much afternoon sunlight comes into the room and fades the TV picture. Be sure to install window coverings that control incoming light, especially if the home theater is on the south or west-facing side of the house. Installing dimmers can help to control lighting at night, especially if the space adjoins other rooms that may bring ambient light into the home theater area.
-Air conditioning – Another design aspect of home theaters that is commonly overlooked is the necessity of providing adequate air conditioning, especially if the space will be used to host crowds for sporting events, award shows, etc. Two things occur in a crowded space, the temperature rises and the level of oxygen decreases, a combination that can make the room stuffy and uncomfortable after just a few minutes. When designing your home theater, calculating the square footage of the space as well as the number of people that will gather there can give you the appropriate air conditioner size to ensure that the unit is strong enough to provide adequate cooling and ventilation when the space gets crowded.
Designing a great home theater space requires the consideration of a variety of factors. By incorporating a great sound system, controllable lighting, and effective air conditioning your home theater can deliver the quality of a movie theater experience.
Home theaters can range from basic installations with an HDTV, a sound bar and a Blu-ray player to spaces that are equipped like and resemble luxurious mini-movie theaters. Regardless of the intended scale of your installation, there are several aspects that should be prioritized to ensure that your home theater delivers the performance that you expect.
-Sizing the screen for the space – This is an essential calculation that can keep the screen size to scale with the space while also delivering a great viewing experience. As a starting point, the screen size (diagonal width) should measure about half the distance to the center viewing seat. For example, if the center seat is 96 inches from the screen, the diagonal width of the TV should measure 48 inches. Remember, this is just a starting point, so if you’ll be setting up multiple rows of seats you may want to go with a slightly larger screen.
-Installing an immersive sound system – A sound bar will suffice in a small space but once the home theater space gets larger than a den, you’ll want to install a surround sound system. In a medium-sized room a 5.1 system with a subwoofer, three speakers across the front and speakers on both sides of the seating area can deliver powerful audio that moves with the images on the screen. In a larger home theater or media room, expanding to 7.1 surround sound adds two more channels to the back of the room to fill the space with detailed audio effects.
-Key accessories – Key accessories include a Blu-ray player that can connect to the internet and a receiver that can support the sound system. The Blu-ray player can facilitate streaming services, 3D viewing, movies on disc, and more. In addition to delivering a highly defined picture, the Blu-ray player will deliver movie theater-quality audio resolution as well. The receiver is the central hub that connects the TV, Blu-ray player, speakers and the rest of the components. In addition to serving as the central hub of the system, the receiver decodes the signals to determine the speakers that should broadcast each aspect of the audio spectrum.
By prioritizing the key components of your home theater system, you can create a space with detailed audio and video for an experience that envelopes the audience every time. Once these pieces are in place, you can continue to enhance the space with customized seating, improved acoustics and accent pieces such as a popcorn machine and a soda dispenser for an authentic movie theater experience.
Your new Blu-ray player will be one of the key components of your home theater system, playing DVD and Blu-ray discs, enabling the streaming of audio/video from the web, facilitating connections with social networks, etc. To ensure performance at its highest level, follow these 4 steps to connect your player to your home theater system.
1) HDMI connections – A single HDMI cable transmits the high resolution picture for 1080p sets as well as high definition audio. The typical home theater installation will require two HDMI cables; one that connects the HDMI output from the Blu-ray player to the HDMI input on the receiver and another that connects the HDMI output on the receiver to the same input on the TV. Ignore the calls for buying expensive cables as 6 foot versions should cost about $10. The only reason to spend more is if there is a significant distance (20 feet or more) between the player, the receiver, and the TV.
2) Connect to the web – New Blu-ray players can be connected to the web either via Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable for audio/video streaming, internet access, firmware upgrades, etc. While Wi-Fi offers the convenience of connecting without wires, streaming audio/video through an Ethernet connection eliminates buffering and delivers a better overall experience.
3) Select the desired Aspect Ratio – HDTVs have 16:9 ratio settings which displays the usual rectangular picture shape. You may have additional options to fine tune this ratio if the top and/or bottom of the picture are cut off. You can also choose your preference for the way in which older video is displayed; either retaining its almost square 4:3 picture or stretching it across the screen, which can result in minor picture distortion. These options can be found in the “TV Setup” menu.
4) Check the audio format – If you are connecting your new player to a new receiver, the default setting (Bitstream) will transfer the audio information via the HDMI cable to the receiver for decoding and subsequent distribution to the proper speakers. An older receiver that doesn’t have Dolby or DTS-HD decoding capabilities may require the setting to be changed to “PCM” which then sends audio signals through the receiver’s integrated decoding systems. These options can be accessed in the HDMI Audio Setup menu.
Your new Blu-ray player will play an important role in your home theater system. By following these steps to connect your player, you can maximize your system’s functionality as well as its performance.
While the television screen serves as the focal point in a home theater, the quality, calibration, and configuration of the speakers can either enhance or detract from the visual experience. For this reason, audiophiles will often spend a far greater percentage of the home theater budget on the speakers than almost anything else due to the fact that even the most highly regarded TVs have sound systems that can’t match the quality of the picture.
Getting quality sound for your home theater, however, doesn’t require taking out a second mortgage on the home as long as you have a basic understanding of how a surround sound system works. To that end here are some of the basics of home theater speakers:
-5.1 channel systems – This is the system that is found in most home theaters with a center channel positioned above or below the screen and front speakers on the left and right of the TV. Additional speakers on both sides of the room create the immersive experience of surround sound. The subwoofer’s job is to broadcast the low frequencies that deepen the audio quality.
-7.1 channel systems – A 7.1 channel system will be configured much like a 5.1 system but will also include speakers in the rear of the home theater. These speakers, in order to provide a uniform audio experience, should at the same height as well as the same distance from the seating as the side speakers.
Here is the “job description” of each set of speakers:
-The front speakers and center channel – The center channel serves as the anchor for on-screen dialogue and action while the right and left speakers deliver off-screen dialogue as well as audio for directional movement.
-Side-surround speakers – Positioned slightly behind the audience, side surround speakers add richness to the audio and can continue the directional sound that started with the front speakers. For example, if a car travels from left to right on the screen and then continues to move away from the camera’s point of view, the sound would start with the left front speaker, travel to the right front speaker, and then over to the right side speakers.
-Rear speakers – Rear speakers deliver the experience of full surround sound, specifically in situations where sound is coming from all angles toward the camera’s point of view. For example, a scene shot at a bar that focuses on the bartender would have dialogue coming from the center channel and ambient noise coming from the front, side and rear speakers for immersive audio that makes it feel like the viewers are actually in the bar.
While watching a crystal clear picture on a big television screen can be a great experience, video is only half of the equation for a home theater system. Only through the integration of a speaker system that envelopes viewers can the experience become truly immersive.