Updated: January 9, 201

Home Theater Lighting Guide

for an enhanced home theater experience


Correct use of lighting in the home theater plays a crucial role in setting the right ambience for a great movie watching experience.

In this guide to home theater lighting, we first discuss the basic lighting requirements in the home theater as well as common lighting control systems suitable for this task.

We conclude this article by presenting a few practical tips to help you enhance your home theater room lighting for a more immersive cinematic experience.


 
Fiber Optic Star Ceiling Lighting

Small Fiber Optic Star Ceiling Lighting Kit
by Unlimited Light (available from amazon US)
for that unique touch to your home theater lighting

An Introduction to Lighting in the Home Theater

Many would surely agree that for the best movie experience in the home theater, viewing should take place either in total darkness - with the lights switched off, or under very low ambient light - with the lights significantly dimmed. Furthermore, door and windows should be closed, and shades down to cut on external light and noise.

This is where the use of an integrated home theater lighting control system that controls the different lights and appliances in your room, from dimmers and motorized drapes to projection screens, projector ceiling lifts, etc., can become pivotal in bringing together the various elements of your home theater in a totally unique and creative manner.

Do not be tempted to proceed with a home theater installation before having done so. Inappropriate planning not only affects your home theater experience, it may even lead to costly mistakes.

Home Theater Room Lighting Basics: Ambient Light Proofing and Enhanced Artificial Lighting

As already indicated in our introduction, the presence of light plays a critical role in the home theater.

Wireless EZ Wall Scone

Wireless Controlled Wall Sconce

An inexpensive home theater wall sconce suitable for dimmed light ambience.

Too much ambient light in the room - artificial light in your room or natural light coming from windows, can create glare on direct-view displays and washed-out images in the case of projection systems. Definitely, you have to cut on all ambient natural light. In particular, projection based systems require total darkness for the best image quality.

Choose an appropriate color scheme for the walls and ceiling. In addition, remember that the overall decor of your home theater room can do a lot to help enhance your home theater lighting.

This especially applies when it comes to a front projection setup. The requirement here is to avoid having light from the projected image itself being reflected by the walls and ceiling back onto the image.

This would eventually reduce the overall image quality as a result of a reduced image contrast.

Particular attention should be given to the ceiling - use a dark non-reflective color; go for black if your big screen size is such that the upper part of your home theater screen is very close to the ceiling.

Due consideration should therefore be given to the overall home theater lighting at an early stage of your room design. Fortunately, room lighting is relatively easier to control than say room acoustics. Use of black-out material will help eliminate any natural light entering the room while the use of dark colored paint, dimmers and drapes can do a lot towards controlling artificial ambient light in the room.

And for that extra touch of class, use a home theater lighting control system to automatically dim or switch off the lights once you start with your movie watching.

A home theater lighting control system can turn out to be a central feature in any home theater room, and is instrumental to create that much-desired ambience of a cinema-in-the-home.

Use of dedicated lighting and fiberoptic ceiling lights in the home theater

Use of specially designed wall scones and fiber optic ceiling lights to help create a unique touch to your home theater.

Picture Courtesy: PineCrest Home Theater as featured under our Home Theater Pictures Gallery.

Furthermore...

Integrating Fiber optic and LED ceiling lights within your home theater lighting system, as well as the use of even inexpensive featured wall sconces such as the wireless controlled wall sconce shown above, can make home theater lighting real fun.

In particular, fiber optic ceiling star lights represent a cool addition to any home theater lighting. These have become affordable options - with kits having over 100 fiber optic star points such as the one featured at the top of this page, selling for under $300.

Article continues after this advertisement.



Lighting Control Systems: 'X10' and Z-wave Systems

Home Theater Lighting Control Systems can range from a simple wall mountable dimmer switch that allows you to control the brightness level of an individual light or a series of connected lights, to the more sophisticated yet substantially expensive programmable lighting control systems that can control multiple channels - thus providing individual control for the different lighting fixtures in the room.

These systems generally rely on either the use of the popular X10 or the latest Z-wave protocols.

X10 Protocol Home Theater Lighting Control

The X10 protocol is by far the easiest to use to control different lights. A single X10 transmitter can control up to 256 different devices. Among the prime advantage of X10-based systems is that they are extremely simple to install. Controlling the different lighting devices is possible either via signals send over your existing electrical wiring to small X10 receivers connected to your lighting fixtures, or using wireless technology. This renders X10 based appliance/lighting control systems the perfect solution for retrofit.

X10 compatible products can be found in the majority of homes - mainly because of the many advantages X10 based products offer over other control solutions. Further more, being a standard protocol means that there are no compatibility issues between different X10 products - irrespective of brand.

Setting up an X10-based home theater lighting control system is pretty easy. These systems come in various forms, yet the two most common applications in the home theater are wired dimmer switches and outlet modules. You simply replace the standard switch with an X10 dimmer module when controlling lights. In the case of an appliance - say a motorized drape or projection screen, you replace the AC outlet with the respective X10 module and then connect your appliance through the X10 module, and it is all done!

Control is achieved through the use of an easy-to-install X10 controller. These are relatively inexpensive and provide an interesting level of control from either a wall-mounted keypad or a remote control - like turning  on/off, brighten, dim, or otherwise control each of your light fixtures, as well as any other electrical appliance in your home theater room.

Inexpensive controllers such as the X10 HR12A 16 Palm Pad Remote Control for X10 devices sell for under $20; it does not provide programmable functions but it can dim lamps and control up to sixteen different devices using RF technology.

IR-543 X10 Controller

IR-543 X10 Command Console by X10 Usa.

More complex controllers such as the IR-543 X10 Command Console can even accept IR commands from a universal remote; the controller converts the IR commands from your remote into the respective X10 signals to control compatible X10 receivers in your home theater.

Thus, with your universal remote, you can also adjust the home theater lighting, close/open drapes, adjust room temperature, etc. through the use of appropriate X10 dimmers, outlet modules and X10 thermostats. This also means that a single remote is sufficient to control all your home theater gear.

The IR-543 is a simple mini-controller. More sophisticated control is possible through the use of elaborated control modules. These need not necessarily be very expensive but price depends mainly on the maximum number of programming steps as well as the number of different programs (referred to as macros) that each controller can handle.

Macros can turn the whole process of home theater automation and home theater lighting really cool. In reality, X10 Macro controllers give you the possibility to do a few elaborated home theater lighting tricks since with the touch of a button, you can execute an entire sequence of X10 events.

For example, you can program a 'pre-show mode' where certain lights in the room are on and set to accentuate some special features in your home theater, like a movie poster box and the bar area or the popcorn machine - if present.

You can also program a 'viewing mode' which will close the drapes, gradually dim the lights to the desired level, and open the curtain in front of your projection screen to start the show. In reality, what you can do is just limited by your imagination.

Z-Wave Systems

X10-based control systems are easy to use, inexpensive and simple to install. But these are also relatively simple control devices that are not really suitable for complex control activity especially as the number of X-10 devices increases. In other words, the more X10 products installed in a whole-house installation, the less reliable the system becomes.

It is here that the Z-Wave system comes in. Z-Wave is very reliable as every command sent to a receiver is acknowledged by the receiver. In other words, this is a 2-way system. If the transmitter does not receive the acknowledgement from the receiver, it resends the command. As long as you have a Z-Wave device every approximately 30 meters, you should not have any problem with the system.

Being a two-way system also means that a Z-Wave control support feedback from the controlled point - thus ensuring more accurate control. Instead, X-10 devices assume that a command once sent is always executed.

Another major difference  between X10 and Z-Wave systems is that unlike the X10, Z-Wave does not make use of a centralized control. Instead, each Z-Wave module is a transceiver and can be used to transmit control signals over the 900MHz ISM band to other Z-Wave devices in the network. This means that unlike X-10 systems, with Z-Wave systems, you can control the lighting in any room from any other room in the house where a Z-Wave transceiver is installed. This makes Z-Wave systems more suitable for whole-house installations.

Control of Z-Wave systems is possible through any IR universal remote. While a single Z-Wave network can control up to 232 devices, yet unlike X10 systems, it is possible to tie multiple networks together using a bridging device if more than 232 nodes are required.

For those who are new to home automation and control, we suggest investing in some easy-to-follow book such as the one featured on the right column of this page here; this is a practical inexpensive book that provides basic yet useful information about automation and control - including lighting control - in the home.

Home Theater Lighting - Practical Guidelines

For the best possible results, take the following guidelines into account when planning your home theater lighting:

1] Windows that let in bright sunlight should have easily adjustable blinds or curtains made from blackout material to reduce the light level in the room, while eliminating any reflections off the screen surface.

2] A room designed for front projection should enable viewing to take place in total darkness. This is the same as watching movies at the cinema. A black colored ceiling would do a lot towards enhancing your movie experience, while the use of solid core doors and windows will have a twofold function - reduce the sound transmission between adjacent rooms, and enable viewing to take place in total darkness.

3] Big screen rear projection television systems tolerate a dimly lit room; for best results, your home theater lighting should be on dimmers.

4] With direct-view systems (plasma and LCD/LED TVs), you can watch your TV with the lights on. But care should be taken with the positioning of your home theater lighting with respect to your TV screen to avoid glare. Special attention should be given to curved screen surfaces as used on some old CRT TVs. The flat screen surface of plasma and LCD/LED TVs is less susceptible to glare.

5] With smaller size direct-view HDTVs - 37-inches and under - it is recommended to use a low-level indirect light behind your direct-view display. This would help reduce eye fatigue that may arise when watching a relatively bright small picture in your field of view; this does not apply when it comes to bigger screen sizes.

6] For the ultimate in home theater lighting, all lighting should be on dimmers; preferably use centrally controlled dimmers coupled with a lighting control system - featuring the use of a remote control for a precise adjustment of the light level from your viewing position.

Conclusion

It is a question of paying attention to the little detail when planning your home theater room design that will ultimately pay off to an enjoyable home theater experience. 

And this applies even to your home theater lighting. Unfortunately, while almost every home theater enthusiast would invest substantial effort in enhancing the room acoustical performance, many fail to understand the impact that correct home theater lighting have on the movie viewing experience. The result is that many do not give the same attention to room lighting as they do to the room acoustics, and this, despite the fact that it takes less effort to come up with a functional home theater lighting solution than it takes to improve the sound quality of your room.

At the same time, keep in mind that you need to take a holistic approach; there is more to the world of home theater design than just sound and light - seating, equipment placement, decor, equipment protection, etc., should all form an integral part of your room design effort.

To discover more on home theater room design, we suggest to go through the rest of the information contained in the series of home theater design articles appearing on our site.

We also encourage you to visit our Home Theater Pictures Gallery to see how others made use of dedicated home theater lighting to create a unique ambience in their home theater.



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 Article Content

Issues discussed in this home theater guide:

Blue bullet  Introduction to Lighting in the home theater

Blue bullet  Home Theater Room Lighting Basics: Light proofing and enhanced artificial lighting

Blue bullet  Lighting Control Systems: X-10 vs. Z-wave Systems

Blue bullet  Home Theater lighting Tips: Practical Guidelines

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