Readers' Submissions

What Makes a Home Theater Extraordinary?

by Joseph Milillo - Envision Audio Visual
(Long Island, NY)

Designing the Extraordinary Home Theater...

There are many factors to consider when designing a home theater. Some are obvious and some, not so much. Here is a list of things to consider:

1] Audio: At EnVision, we consider your sound system to be the most important aspect of your system.

Yes, even more than your video display. Emotional response is the key. Big sound coupled with good content enhances the intended experience. We're not talking about how loud the system plays - although that helps, but how accurate the reproduction of the content. Big loud explosions are cool but that is not where it ends.

Surround sound gives you a feeling of being in the action. Whatever happens on the screen typically will play through your center channel. What happens off the screen will play through one of the other speakers. For example, when a plane lands, you first hear it come from behind, then you see it on your screen and hear it from your center and fronts. In a horror movie, you see the potential next victim on the screen and hear the ominous footsteps of the bad guy behind you.

Don't forget that music plays a major role in movies and TV. Good sound reproduction for music should not be overlooked.

Home Theater Audio can get complicated if you want to do it right. You need to deal with: speaker selection and placement, amplification, surround possessing and acoustics. You need someone who knows what to look for, see your space ahead of time and design it based on your circumstance and budget. I assure you this cannot be done at a big box retailer.

Audio equipment can literally cost whatever you want to spend. You can by a home theater in a box for a hundred bucks or you can spend $150,000 per speaker if you want. My guess is that somewhere in the middle will work for you.

2] Video: A very close second. A lot of people put the major emphasis on the video display, with good reason. The whole purpose of having a home theater is to watch movies or TV. These days flat panel TV's and monitors are a dime a dozen. As with most things in life, cheap isn't always good. Sure, they all look good in the store where they feed the best possible signal into them. In reality you don't always watch a perfect 1080p signal. Sometimes we watch analog TV or old movies that are not in high def. A good TV or projector will have quality video possessing that will make any video source look good. Most box stores don't even sell the high quality sets, so you can't even see the difference but trust me, when you see a Hitachi Director's Series, Fujitsu, or Pioneer Elite, you'll know what I'm talking about. A high quality plasma almost looks three dimensional.

Then there is the debate over technology. Should you buy plasma, LDC, DLP or a projector? If you go to a store some sales people will tell you plasma is better, others will tell you LCD is better. The truth is they are both wrong, and both right. You need to figure out what is the best for you, based on location, budget and how you will use the display. A quality projector will give you the largest picture for the money but you need the right situation and lighting for that.

3] Remote: Having quality home theater without a remote to control everything with 'one touch' macros is almost pointless. If you go to the store and buy a display, amp, processor, scaler, and DVD player, then you add your cable or satellite box, you end up with about half a dozen remotes. At EnVision, this is unacceptable. Remotes vary in format style and cost. You can choose a touchscreen remote, a more traditional button remote or a combination of both. RF remotes will allow you to house the equipment in another location.

Which ever remote you choose if fine, as long as it has intuitive, easy to use macros to control everything. You should be able to turn everything on and off with one button. Choose sources with one touch and let the remote do all the necessary switching and adjust the settings to desired presets in case someone messes with the controls. This will allow your theater to be used by everybody without the hassle of people calling you because they don't know how to turn the TV on.

4] Source Components: As the format finally shook itself out we have a winner. It looks like Blu-Ray is here to stay and HDDVD is going the way of Betamax. If you want to buy a standard DVD player for the kids bedroom that's one thing, but for your Home Theater you should opt for a Blu-Ray player. Even if you have a 720p set, the picture will look better. You will also get the new updated surround modes and yes, they make a big difference. Unlike the shift from VHS to DVD, this player will play the DVDs you already have and they probably will look better with your new Blu-Ray player.

Cable or satellite? Your call. Choose the one that has the channels you want and priced to your satisfaction. VHS? Why not? You may have content on VHS. If you have a quality display or video scaler, it should look OK. These units are becoming rare and you may not be able to find them soon. If you have irreplaceable VHS content, you may want to have it converted to DVD.

5] Acoustics: I know that wood floors are in but when it comes to your theater, opt for carpet and padding. Wall carpet, curtains and fluffy furniture all help. That's the basics. You need to get the echo out one way or another. An expert from Envision can come in and look at your room to help get it right.

6] Lighting: Often overlooked, proper lighting will round out the experience. First of all, fixtures should all be dimmable. No florescent fixtures please, including those squiggly light bulb things. Environmentalists, before you pull out the poison pen, you should know that dimmed incandescent light bulbs save as much energy as those expensive, non dimming squiggle jobs. Lights should be positioned so they do not cause glare on the screen.

Once you got the perfect lighting, control should be available on your remote. Presets for 'Play'. 'Pause', and 'Stop', should happen automatically. This is an inexpensive way to get a ton of 'wow' in your home theater. When your friends come over and the lights dim when you press play, they will be more impressed with that, then your AV system. Don't ask me why, they just will.

7] Atmosphere: Comfortable seating goes without saying. When it comes to enjoying a movie, (decorators, hold your ears) aesthetics are the least important aspect of your home theater, mainly because it should be dark! Seriously, hire a good decorator, this isn't my bag. EnVision has a list of talented decorators who know how to balance aesthetics, comfort and acoustics. Together with EnVision System Integrators, we can design the perfect home theater for you.

Article date: September 27, 2008

Article submitted by Joseph Milillo from EnVision Audio/Visual Inc. EnVision specializes in the custom design and installation of home theaters, home automation systems, computer networks, security/video monitoring systems, and phone systems.

Editor's Update December 2012: Detailed articles on how to go about designing your home theater appear under the Home Theater Design section of our sites; topics covered include room design basics, room audio and soundproofing, room lighting, home theater wiring, room seating, and overall room decor.

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