Home Theater Design - Installing a Home Theater (1) - Space and Budget Constraints
Updated: September 6, 201

Installing a Home Theater
...it all starts here!

Introduction to Home Theater Design: Space and Budget

Are you planning to install a home theater in your living-room, bedroom, or some share-space in the house? Or is it going to be a dedicated home theater room in some unused space in the house like attic or basement?

Whatever are your plans for your home theater, available space and budget issues will determine your approach and level of investment.

This guide to home theater design takes you step-by-step through the primary considerations in any home theater installation project - space and budget; in the process, it shows you how to best deal with any constraints in this respect.

Use of fiber-optic star ceiling lights for that unique touch!

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

Picture: New York Style Home theater by Glen Hoffman as featured in our Home Theater Pictures Gallery.

Hollywood in your Living Room, or a Dedicated Home Theater Installation?

Are you installing a home theater in a small apartment, sharing a place in your living room, bedroom, or study?

Will you be making use of a bigger, dedicated room specifically designed for your home theater entertainment?

In this first part in this series of articles on home theater design, we discuss space and budget.

Put aside the available space when installing a home theater and you risk purchasing a system that is too big for your room. Do not consider any budget constraints prior to a home theater installation and you risk an incomplete project.

This article discusses these two key issues in home theater design, while helping you explore possible solutions to constraints resulting from limitations in space and budget.

A Primary Consideration: Available Space

The first key consideration one has to put into the home theater design equation is available space. When installing a home theater, available space will determine whether you can opt for a dedicated room for your home theater, or to opt for a shared space in your house such as in the living room, bedroom, or that empty space under the stairs.

The following explains the basic different requirements between a dedicated home theater and a share-space home theater installation.

The Dedicated Home Theater Room

Installing a home theater in a dedicated room gives you the possibility to set-up your system components, speakers, seating, lighting, etc., for optimum system performance.

It will also give you total freedom on the most appropriate home theater decor to adopt - like the use of movie posters and related memorabilia to decorate the walls of your room, thus achieving the best movie theater ambience for a most immersing cinematic experience.

Under such an environment, you can seriously consider a video projector and projection screen set-up, full size front speakers, dedicated home theater seats and dimmable lighting, etc. What may appear out of place in a shared environment such as in the living room may be turned into key features in the dedicated home theater room.

Installing a Home Theater in a Shared Environment

While the dedicated home theater room can turn out to be the ultimate in any home theater design, yet this is not a pre-requisite for an enjoyable home theater experience.

If space is a major issue, you can still come up with a functional home theater in a shared environment such as your living room, study, or even the bedroom. Always take care to adopt the respective design principles as further discussed in the rest of this series of home theater design articles.

It definitely requires careful planning when installing a home theater - and the limitations imposed by a shared space in the house can be truly challenging due to possible room limitations. But there still exist various options that come to your rescue when installing a home theater in a shared space — by taking either a low-key approach or opting for a high-impact design.

A Low-Key Approach Design

One may adopt a low-key non-intrusive design with your system components being hidden in built-in cabinets. This is possibly the best approach in any shared space.

When it comes to built-in cabinets and other home theater furniture, please ensure that these are designed to:

1] Take the full load of your equipment - home theater system components can be extremely heavy.

2] Allow for adequate air circulation within the units to avoid any over-heating. Overheating not only result in annoying temporarily system shutdowns, it will also lead to latency defects and pre-mature system failure. If there is the need, install a small cooling fan (similar to those used in PC systems), within the built-in units to help improve ventilation. Check our guide to Equipment Racks for details in this respect.

A High-impact Design

The other extreme when installing a home theater in a shared room is to adopt a high-impact design concept, thus turning your home theater system components into a key feature in the overall living room, bedroom, study, etc.

However, this is a rather tricky approach in that professional design assistance may be required for the best results. If in doubt, our advice is to go with a low-key concept.

Installing a home theater - Budget Considerations

Directly coupled with the issue of available space when installing a home theater, is the available budget. Determining your available financial resources to complete your planned home theater installation project is as basic in any home theater design as is the available space for your installation.

Home theater systems are expensive; your budget will therefore dictate your level of investment. A home theater installation may vary from just a few thousands for a basic project in a small room, to several tens of thousands for a premium dedicated home theater installation with multiple row seating.

It is important that you search around, check prices and see what fits in your budget prior to finalizing your home theater design plans.

If you are installing a home theater over different 'phases' because of budgetary constraints, ensure that your present decisions when selecting your equipment will not limit your future additions or upgrades. In other future-proofing your approach is essential when phasing your home theater installation.

In other words, take a holistic approach. Plan your purchases with a view of what you aim to do in the future; your present purchases should ideally be complemented by your future ones rather than rendered obsolete.

Match your system components careful - easily achieved when purchasing the various home theater components together. Yet, if you are planning to purchase some of your components separately at a later date, then the whole issue may get somewhat trickier. 

In addition, certain system components are best purchased together; a case in point are the speakers since you need to ensure that the tonality of each speaker component matches with the rest. This will help ensure you get a more unified soundfield. We cover the subject of speaker choice in our Home Theater Speaker Guide. Take note however that unlike any other home theater gear, a set of good quality speakers may last a lifetime, so invest that extra effort in your speak selection process. It is better to go for a smaller TV or a mid-range AV receiver and replace these at a later date since improvement in technology will surely force you to do so within a few years, then to go cheap with your speakers.

As a minimum, your home theater budget should cover a good universal DVD player with Blu-ray and high definition audio support, a home theater receiver and matching speakers.

And... You cannot have a home theater without a big screen! Include at least a 37- or 40-inch wide screen TV. A smaller size TV screen simply would not do the job for an effective home theater experience. Keep in mind however that the TV screen size should be chosen such as to match your room size, and consequently the available viewing distance. More on the issue of screen size and viewing distance can be found in our TV Viewing Distance Guide.

Do not forget to budget for a suitable projector screen if you will be making use of a video projector as a big screen TV solution for your home theater. Check our projection screen guide on how to best choose your screen.

Similarly, reserve enough of your budget for good quality audio/video cables. This is another issue that is often overlooked by many. We are not saying to opt for the most expensive AV cables or speaker wire but good quality cables can contribute to a substantial expense when installing a home theater.

Another greatly overlooked aspect in any home theater design is equipment power protection. May be seen by many as unnecessary expense when installing a home theater - yet surely worth every dollar; after all, you would have invested thousands of dollars in your home theater equipment. More information on this can be found under the Home Theater Power Protection section of the site.

The shopping list does not stop here!

You may also want to think about home theater decor, appropriate home theater seats, room lighting, etc.  And if you are after a shaking home theater experience, you may also like to consider installing a few Bass Shakers or Buttkickers. These topics are all covered in detail in this series of Home Theater Design guides.

The list can be as long as you would like it to be! After all, you will be spending long hours watching your favorite movies; a comfortable and pleasing environment is essential for an enjoyable home theater experience.

A Final Remark

If you are planning to move on with the idea of installing a home theater, we suggest looking at the rest in this series of home theater design guides appearing on our web site. These cover various aspects of home theater design, ranging from acoustics and room lighting, to home theater decor, seating, optimum TV viewing distance, etc. For a complete list of home theater design articles appearing on our site, please click here.

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 Article Content

Issues discussed in this home theater guide:

Blue bullet  Introduction to Home Theater Design: Hollywood in your living room or a dedicated home theater?

Blue bullet  Available Space: Dedicated home theater installation and shared space constraints; use of low-key and high-impact designs

Blue bullet  Budget Considerations and how to best phase a home theater installation due to budget limitations.

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