It doesn’t take a genius to know that you want a home theater. But it might take a genius to help you figure out what to buy. The options for electronic equipment, the methods of content delivery, and the sources of information are overwhelmingly abundant and changing every day. It may be time to call a professional. A conversation with an expert could cost you as little as nothing and, at the most, a couple of hundred dollars for a consultation. In contrast, bypassing expert advice could cost you thousands, especially if you spend money on the wrong screen, sound system or even room construction.
Before you call a professional, ask yourself these questions. They are organized by the following categories: people, room and budget. Your answers will give you some perspective before you speak to a professional and help you feel more confident about the process. In the end, you’ll be on your way to making the best decision about your new home theater.
- Is your home theater professional certified by the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association? This international trade association has 3,000 company members worldwide that specialize in designing and installing electronic systems for the home. You can find a certified professional by visiting www.cedia.net. (Note: by clicking on the link you will be leaving the Discovery Design Center.)
- How many people will be the primary users of your home theater? The answer could influence your seating choices. If it’s just the two of you with occasional visits from the grandkids, then don’t dump most of your budget on stadium seating. On the other hand, if you have a family of six with frequent weekend movie parties, perhaps tiered seating would be worth the investment.
- What are your interests? Do you watch mostly sports? Movies? If you answered “yes” to both, maybe you need more than one screen. Are you a music buff? If so, it could impact the kind of speakers you’ll buy.
- Are you comfortable with technology or technically challenged? Be upfront about your level of knowledge. The professional installer can customize a remote control system to suit your needs. And by the way, don’t skimp on the controller. Buy one that does it all, and pay to have it custom programmed. When done right, a remote control should operate everything with just a few button pushes.
- Are you converting an existing room? Or are you in the process of building a new house or a new room onto an existing house? It’s not difficult to convert an existing room, but you may have to compromise on room size, layout, and the location of wires, speakers and lighting. Obviously, a new build will give you much more flexibility in these areas.
- What size is the room? Sound travels best in a rectangular room with uneven dimensions; for example, one that is 9 feet wide by 12 feet long with a 10-foot-high ceiling. Avoid square rooms (e.g. 12 feet wide by 12 feet long with a 12-foot-high ceiling). Room dimensions will also determine the size of the screen you purchase. You don’t want to get a screen that is too big; the image will appear grainy. However, you also don't want to go too small or you'll be disappointed.
- What is the lighting situation in the room? How many windows does it have? If you have a lot of windows, you may have to spend some of your budget on room-darkening drapes. The lighting situation, along with room size, will also influence the type of projector screen you buy — if you decide to go that route. A matte white screen provides the most natural colors and the widest field of view. It works best in a wide, super-dark room. A gray screen will help enhance black tones in a narrow room that cannot be completely darkened.
- Does the room receive any external noises such as excessive street sounds or rumblings from your heating, air conditioning or central vacuuming system? Can you see exposed duct pipes? Those big metal tubes will carry sound from your theater room to other parts of the house.
- Have you estimated the cost of seating, lighting, the control system and installation?
- What is your budget? Expect to spend about the same amount on the audio as you do on the visual. In other words, if you spend $1,500 on a projection system, expect to pay $1,500 on surround-sound speakers, including the receiver and amplifiers.
- Have you considered a home theater-in-a-box? These all-in-one systems take the guesswork out of choosing individual electronic components and typically include speakers, a receiver, a DVD/CD player, possibly a VCR or DVD recorder, and cables and a remote control. Systems are priced between about $300 and $2,000.