How BIG is Your Home Theater Room?
Home Theater Room Design Basics (2)
The size and nature of your home theater room play a determining role in your home theater experience.
However, whether you are installing a home theater in a small apartment, sharing a place in your living room, bedroom, or study, or going for a bigger dedicated room specifically designed for your home theater entertainment, it is always possible to build a functional home theater irrespective of your room size. As we have already stated in our introductory article in this series on home theater design, the whole issue is careful planning that takes into account the room characteristics.
In this article, we look at the requirements associated with small and medium size home theater installations; in the second part of this article, we discuss the dedicated home theater.
Picture: Minimalistic Look living room home theater - by The Sound Room as featured in our Home Theater Pictures Gallery.
Are you planning to install a home theater in a small apartment, possibly sharing a place in your bedroom or a big living room?
Will you be making use of a bigger dedicated room for your home theater system?
Available room space as well as the nature of your room will impact heavily both on your home theater system design and on the quality of your home theater entertainment. Why?
A dedicated home theater room is the ideal solution as this enables you to design your room around your home theater system. But it is also the approach that imposes greater demands, both on your home theater room design efforts and on your budget requirements.
Before we continue with our discussion on this subject, it is important to realize that having a dedicated home theater room, though ideal, is not a pre-requisite for an enjoyable home theater experience.
Going for a small home theater in a shared environment would still yield a functional entertainment solution. It just requires some extra careful planning, in particular because of the room limitations. Unlike the dedicated room where you design your home theater room to suit your system, now you have to proceed the other way round: you have to design your home theater system around your room.
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Available space is definitely one of the very basic considerations in any home theater design. While most of the considerations discussed in this series of articles will always apply independent of the room size e.g. room acoustics, home theater lighting, wiring, etc., yet there are some basic room design issues that are completely dependent on the nature and size of your room.
Nature of your Room
For the scope of this article, this refers to the room main purpose of use — a living room, bedroom, an empty space under the stairs or in the attic, a surrounding hall, a dedicated home theater room, etc.
If you are installing your home theater system in a shared environment, you will have to decide at an early stage in your home theater design, what type of design approach you will want to take.
Will it be a low-key non-intrusive approach — possibly even hiding your system components in built-in cabinets, or... would you prefer the other extreme — thus selecting a high impact design to turn your system into a key feature in your overall room design?
Whatever approach you adopt, you should always aim at fully integrating your system with the rest of your room furniture and decor.
Room size will impact mainly the selection of your home theater furniture, seating arrangements, etc. It will also have a major impact on your selection of the various system components - both audio and video. Some home theater components will simply work beautifully in small home theater rooms, but then their use may be totally inappropriate in larger spaces.
Our advice when selecting your home theater gear is to search for the appropriate THX certification standard. As indicated in our guide to THX Home Cinema, there are two main certification categories within the remit of home theater; these are 'Select' and 'Ultra', (plus their sub-categories Select 2 and Ultra 2). These different certifications have been designed specifically to target different room sizes.
In other words, the best way to ensure that the selected system components are suitable for your home theater room size is to ensure that they comply with the respective THX certifications.
Home Theater Audio
If you plan to buy a home theater system for use in a small-shared environment, the simplest way forward would be an all-in-one home theater system complete with a DVD player, surround sound decoder, amplifier, and speakers.
Referred to as HTIBs or home-theater-in-a-box solutions, these packages come complete with a minimum set of audio and video connecting cables; this simplifies the whole set-up for the non-techie. However, features vary between different systems. For example, not all HTIB solutions come complete with a sub-woofer, nor do expect that all come up with a full set of 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 speakers. Some just provide a 2.1 speaker setup and rely on the use of virtual surround sound technology to simulate a surrounding soundfield.
Furthermore, a universal DVD player is not always part of the pack. This may or may not be much of an issue - rather, to a certain extent, this can turn out to be an advantage as you will be able to get a universal DVD player with Blu-ray support that best suits your needs.
Home-theater-in-a-box solutions are optimized for smaller spaces, and place emphasis on ease-of-use and decor-friendliness.
Expect to pay anything from $300 for a very basic system, up to close around $1,000 for a high-end THX certified solution such as the Onkyo HT-S9400THX 130W per channel 7.1 THX-certified home theater solution.
The Onkyo package does not include an integrated DVD/Blu-ray player and is mainly an AV receiver speaker package. It comes with seven relatively large two-way multi-driver speakers, 12-inch powered subwoofer, and a full-size A/V receiver that offers generous connectivity complemented by HDMI-1.4 with 3D and audio return channel support, ample power, and support for the latest audio standards.
This is one of the best AV receiver speaker packages around for the price, offering all the features you will ever want from a medium size system, great audio and video performance, and a matched AV receiver - speaker package at a price that would be impossible to match should you decide to go a separate AV receiver and independent speakers solution. All it takes to complete the Onkyo is a universal disc player.
If what you want is a fully integrated disc player home theater solution, possible options include the Sony BDV-HZ970W with its much-touted Sony's S-AIR wireless technology, the interesting LG BH6820SW 3D Blu-ray Home Theater System with LG Smart TV featured at the top of this page, and the Samsung HT-E6500 3D Blu-ray disc player with Samsung Smart Hub. These represent typical HTiB solutions presently available on the market that also come with integrated wireless rear speakers.
Purists in home theater sound would probably accept nothing that costs less than a few thousand dollars. But as stated in our earlier discussion on home theater design, budgetary constraints are a primary consideration; therefore budget accordingly!
Keep in mind also that the weakest component in home-theater-in-a-box solutions is usually the speaker pack; that said however, the speakers included with the systems referred to here should be adequate for most small to mid-size home theater room applications.
When opting for a low-key approach in your home theater room design, pay particular attention to the size of the speakers. Some speakers may be too bulky to integrate well in a small room. Instead, consider compact satellite speakers; these are less intrusive and usually deliver plenty of sound to fill a small to medium size home theater room once combined with a powered subwoofer. Depending on the space available, larger tower front speakers might be an option worth considering, but first ensure that these would not be too dominant and too close to the seating area for their size.
The Big Screen TV
In a small home theater room, the lack of available space may also limit your choice of a suitable big screen HDTV for your home theater viewing. Mounting your flat-panel plasma or LED/LCD TV onto the wall may prove to be a space saver in the small space environment. You may even consider mounting your HDTV over the fireplace as further detailed in our HDTV mounting guide here for that unique look.
There is more to setting up a home theater than just buying a TV that fits your budget and wall space. The TV screen size should match your home theater room size. In a small room where you need to sit close to the display, you may be able to see the pixel build-up structure forming the image as well as any other video artifacts, thus distracting your attention and spoiling your home theater experience.
In this respect, 1080p HDTVs support a closer viewing distance than 720p TVs; however, how close you can sit also depends on the quality of the program material you are viewing. Standard TV programming would not look good from too close a distance even on a 1080p HDTV, so watch out on your viewing distance.
For more information on selecting the optimum TV screen size for your viewing distance, check our TV Viewing Distance guide.
Setting up your home theater system in a shared medium-size and even larger shared spaces impose greater demands on your home theater room design, in particular on your home theater audio components; a bigger screen TV is also required if you want to ensure a truly immersive viewing experience. At the same time, your options are literally wide open.
Some may still prefer the all-in-one home theater package but in general, separate system components and handpicked home theater speakers/powered sub-woofers solutions would offer greater performance and flexibility in the larger space.
For the larger size home theater room, definitely consider quality as your primary selection factor for your home theater audio; check that you have enough sound power to fill your entire home theater space. And as already pointed out earlier on, your best bet is to ensure your system components carry the appropriate THX certification.
In general, high current power rated A/V receivers are capable of delivering higher sound levels more clearly while rendering your home theater sound more realistic.
When shopping for your big screen TV, take into account your viewing distance as well as the number of people that may be watching at any one time. Go for the biggest screen your room layout, viewing distance, and available budget will allow.
Finally, when planning your home theater room layout, ensure that your audience is comfortably seated and without any obstructions in the field of view. While in a shared space, you would not generally go for more than a single row of seats, yet if you plan to have more than a single row, ensure that each seat is a good seat. Moreover, remember that for optimum viewing, your eyes should be level with the center of the screen.
More on this can be found in our Home Theater Seating guide.