Building a Home Theater? Avoid these Pitfalls
Are you considering building a home theater – or converting an existing mixed-use media room into a movie viewing room? If so, there are a number of things to consider before you sort of break the ground. With over 40 years of experience as a home audio and video specialist, North Carolina’s Audio Advice has identified the most common mistakes home theater manufacturers make – from choosing a screen that is too small to ignoring room acoustics – and providing meaningful advice on how to avoid these pitfalls to ensure a great home theater experience. The good news is that following these recommendations doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend more money. Often times, it’s more about re-increasing your budget to make sure your hard-earned money is being spent where it matters most.
1. Wrong right screen size
One of the most common questions Audio Advice asks is “How big should my screen be?” The goal, of course, is to create an engaging home theater experience that draws you into the story so you can make sure you have the correct screen size.
“The biggest mistake we see is the wrong screen size,” said Scott Newnam, CEO of Audio Advice. “Mostly it’s because the screen is too small for the room and the seating position. Sometimes – albeit less often – the screen is too big and the seating too tight. ”
If you choose a screen that is too small, you change yourself by settling for a viewing experience that isn’t as exciting as it could be. The screen needs to be big enough to get you into the story, but not big enough to make you dizzy while watching quick action movies. If you’ve ever sat in the front or back row of a movie theater and felt bad, you know what I’m talking about.
Audio Advice has a multi-faceted home theater design tool that makes it easy for you to visualize different sized screens in your room and find the ideal screen size for the room and facility you envision. You enter your room dimensions and choose between seating, screen and loudspeaker options. As you adjust the screen size, you can see the “immersion level” change from “very low” for small screens to “very high” for large screens and with low to medium immersion for screen sizes in between.
The patented tool is free and performs other important tasks such as: For example, showing sound scattering patterns for different speaker layouts with pop-ups that alert you of speaker position issues based on the size of the room. You can check it out here.
2. Wrong wall color and surface
If you think the color you paint the walls of your home theater doesn’t matter, think again. The walls in a movie theater are dark for a reason – to absorb light from the screen and keep your eyes focused where they should be. If you choose the wrong color and finish, the light from your TV or projector will bounce back into the room and wash out the image. This can be particularly problematic with video projection configurations.
“If you go into a room that has a great projector and a great screen with white or light-colored walls that reflect light everywhere, it just doesn’t look good,” Newnam notes. “Ideally, you want darker colors.”
One of Audio Advice’s first options is the Sherwin Williams Grizzle Gray color with a flat or matte finish as opposed to a glossy or semi-gloss finish that reflects light. The color is dark enough to keep light from reflecting back on the screen (but hopefully not so dark that it will alienate your significant other) and neutral so that it doesn’t affect the images on the screen. You should stay away from primary colors like red as these can “affect” the image and give the characters on the screen a reddish tinge.
Also, make sure that the cabinets and surfaces around the screen are not reflective. If you place a surface such as granite under the television or projection screen, the image from the screen will appear on that surface, creating a distraction that destroys the illusion of being there.
3. Bad sight lines
The thought of providing a comfortable, unobstructed view of the screen is so simple that it is often overlooked, leading to an unbearable situation where the viewer has to stretch their neck to see the screen, or worse – cannot see the entire screen because it is blocked by the seat / person in front of you. What could be worse than spending the time and money building a home theater only to find out on a movie night that not everyone can see the screen?
The first scenario occurs when a television or projection screen is mounted too high on the wall – an all too common mistake often made for aesthetic reasons such as mounting a television over a fireplace. The second scenario occurs in rooms with two or more rows of seats when the seats behind the first row are either not raised at all or are not raised sufficiently.
Planning is key here. Before you even think about picking up a hammer or screwdriver, you need to map the seating to ensure a clear line of sight for all viewers and to ensure that the screen is at eye level. In rooms with two or more rows of seats, it can be difficult to figure out the lines of sight because you need to calculate the correct height of the “risers” used to raise the second, third, and fourth row seats.
“When your risers aren’t high enough, you’re basically looking into the back of someone’s head,” warns Newnam, “so you really need to think about the layout of the room.” Bottom Line: Any theater with more than one row of seats will need a riser unless you place the screen high off the floor, which, as mentioned earlier, makes viewing quite uncomfortable for everyone.
Audio Advice’s home theater design tool calculates and provides the riser height based on the room parameters you entered. The company also offers a tutorial that covers the pros and cons of riser design, including the depth of the risers, which is vital to your planning to have seats that recline.
4. Blow your budget on video and save on audio
Nothing excites the professionals at Audio Advice more than when they walk into a theater room and see a big TV hanging over a $ 150 soundbar. Such a mismatch is usually the result of a failed budget with a disproportionate amount spent on video and next to nothing on audio – a novice move that can all but dampen the excitement of watching movies. If you need to cut corners, audio is definitely not the place to go.
Fortunately, with a little planning, this danger is easy to avoid. Audio Advice notes that video is the first thing most people explore when they choose to do home theater. The problem is, they dream so much about dreaming about this big screen that they never stop thinking about the essential role that sound plays in creating an engaging theatrical experience. To see a blockbuster like Godzilla on a big screen hooked up to a cheap soundbar would be … let’s just say, less than exciting.
“If you go to a theater and immerse it in the emotions, it’s because the designer found the balance between great video and great sound,” Newnam explains. “If you turn off the sound and paste it all into a video, you just won’t get the great experience you’re looking for.”
With all of the amazing audio technologies available today – whether it’s Dolby Atmos, DTS: X, Auro-3D, or IMAX Enhanced – audio is more relevant than ever with today’s best soundtracks designed to create a lifelike feel Envelope and an ever-growing range of speaker systems ready to turn an ordinary audio experience into one that will leave you chilling.
Audio Advice has a rule of thumb recommended for those working on a home theater budget of $ 10,000 or less: do not spend more than 30% of that budget on the television or video projection system. This leaves plenty of room for a Dolby Atmos (or equivalent) surround sound system, electronics, cables, seating and everything else you need for a believable home theater. For the audio part, it is recommended to allocate 40-50% for a speaker package and about a third of that for audio electronics.
Of course, the bigger your budget, the more you can (and should) spend on video. As the numbers increase, you will reach a point where it makes sense to devote a larger percentage of your total budget to a television or video projector / screen combination. For more information on Audio Advice on Allocating a Home Theater Budget, click here.