Ok, so not everyone is going to go all out and build the Home Theater that dreams are made of but here are some important tips that might help you get close.
1) Search Online
Shop on eBay and Craigslist for discounted items, without compromising quality. Read reviews and forums on AudioReview.com, and educate yourself. Sound and Video quality are important, but don’t forget that if something breaks down the road, replacement parts should be easy to find and not cost more than the product itself.
2)Run wire, then Run some more
Wire isn’t that expensive. Pull as many wires as possible while you have your walls open and run snake-able conduit to those hard to reach locations (i.e. the bedroom). Now, if house-wide music is important, run conduit in open walls to places that may or may not be used. You can easily pull extra wires for all different media types (video, audio, Internet). It never hurts, really it doesn’t…and a spare wire or two in the wall is a blessing in disguise in the end…it is easiest done when the walls are open. Don’t end up kicking yourself later because of technology changes and the need for more wires…the sheetrock, paint and installer will thank you for it.
3)Plan, Plan, Plan
Room layout is key. Don’t forget to think about those pesky moments when someone needs to use the bathroom and has to walk in front of the screen, or open a back door to the room that lets light shine all over the screen and ruin the moment for everyone else. You don’t want the subwoofer to be located above your significant others bedroom ceiling, allowing them to “enjoy” the sounds of video games while they try to take a nap.
4)Call a Professional
Even if you cannot afford to have a professional installer set up and wire the entire system, have them come for a consultation anyways. You will usually find out that they can work with your budget and still allow you to do some of the work yourself to save cost. Also, nothing makes a Home Theater sound or look better than having a professional calibrate your system.
5)Plan to upgrade sooner or later
Always be prepared for the future! That means, design your home theater in a way that it is easily upgradable for future technology integration. One way to do this is by introducing two-inch cable conduit into the pre-wire design phase. Conduit will allow for future cables, such as fiber optic, to be run through finished walls and ceiling with ease. Without conduit, one may find themselves tearing into drywall and baseboards to retrofit new cable applications.
6)Not everyone likes rock and roll
Don’t leave the cost of acoustic treatments for the room out of your budget. It’s easy to focus on the projector, the screen, the speakers, the soundproofing, the electronics, the seating, etc. However, to get the most bang for your buck, acoustic wall treatments should pay a major role. There are essentially two ways to approach acoustic treatments: complete room or specific locations. For room treatments, the Acoustrack system from Acoustical Solutions or snap-trak from SoundNice is a nice way to go. For specific locations, you will need absorbers on the front and sidewalls and diffusers on the back. You can purchase these from a multitude of places (search on acoustic panel) or you can build them yourself. Just don’t go overboard or you’ll end up with a dead room – sound-wise that is.
If you have a theater with multiple rows of seating, be sure to give enough attention to the sight lines from both the front and back rows. This usually involves some calculations and the interplay of riser height, ceiling height, screen height, distance from screen to floor and ceiling, and distance from the seating to the screen. Since riser construction is not easily changed at a later date, it really pays to do the calculations ahead of time.
8)Cables matter, or do they?
Cables matter, but you don’t need to break the bank. The thing with cables is that cheap ones sound cheap and pricey ones suffer from diminishing returns. James Randi offered up his million-dollar challenge to anyone who could tell the difference between Monster cables and $7,000 Pear cables. Nobody has claimed it. Monster Cables or similar quality will sound just fine. Make your own if you want premium cables; there are a ton of resources for this on the web. There is also a video of Digg founder Kevin Rose getting a lesson in building cables – and they sound great. However, not to throw a wrench into your house of glass, when you go over a certain length in HDMI etc, I’d strongly suggest going with a heavier gauge wire, and testing it PRIOR to the installation.
9) Easy isn’t Always Better
In planning a theater, most assume that a good receiver would give the best bang for your buck, eliminate precious rack space, and at the same time provide you with a versatile piece of equipment capable of good sound. However, one route to go that the high end systems utilize is using separates. Separates, meaning a video processor, audio processor, amplifier, and possible XM/FM/AM tuner. After listening to the difference in some of our customers’ houses, and the ability to really process specific sound fields and how “clean” the sound sounds, you would probably kick yourself. Going for the separate route, your budget would be more on the short term. However, your enjoyment level and satisfaction will be long term. Each component can be replaced or upgraded as technology advances without the hassle of re-configuring your system.
10) Black is Better
Black sidewalls significantly reduce the spread of light reflection from the screen to the sides and keeps everyone focused on the film screen. Dark sidewalls are the way to go in your home theater.