Consider this fact: Americans spend one-third of their leisure time in front of the television screen. That’s more than any other leisure activity, including sports and shopping! It’s no surprise that home theaters are rapidly gaining in popularity. New technology has made building a home theater easier and more affordable than ever before.
For a moment, think about the difference between watching your TV at home and going to your neighborhood cinema to see a movie. In the theater, the pictures are large and luminous and the rich sounds literally envelop you.
The consumer can feel that same viewing pleasure at home by borrowing from the technology of the professional movie theater. A home theater system has four key ingredients: audio and video components, lighting and room furnishings.
Movie fans everywhere know that surround sound has become an integral part of the home theater experience. You hear the sound effects, music and dialogue, not just from the screen, but all around you. A standard movie theater has three front speakers-one to the right, one to the left and one in the center. A 5.1 surround sound system incorporates the three front speakers plus two more additional rear speakers for added sound depth. Many home theaters are now installing 7.1 systems that add an additional two rear speakers. Atmospheric sounds-such as falling rain drops, the rustling of leaves, or running footsteps are all part of the surround sound system.
The acoustics of a room play a key role in good sound reproduction. When planning a home theater, I incorporate soundproofing panels made of absorptive and diffusive material on the theater walls. They are pleasing to look at and eliminate sound distortion. Fabric covered seating, drapes and wall-to wall carpeting absorb sound as well.
A chief component of the theater experience is the large size of the screen. In a theater, the screen takes up most of your field of vision. Movie-theater-style front projectors are the best way to get the “big-screen” experience. Front-projection setups don’t take up a lot of floor space like a rear-projection TV can. Front projection can also provide the biggest screen size.
There are no hard and fast rules that dictate the relationship between room size and screen size. In a movie theater, people naturally spread out from the front row to the back, and everywhere in between. The Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE) states that for optimum TV viewing distance, the nearest seating position should be limited to approximately twice the screen width while the furthest seating position should be no more than five times the width of your screen.
As every film buff knows, the movie can’t begin until the lights start to dim. To make your home theater experience ideal, select window treatments that open and close easily and can block out glare-causing sunlight. Or better yet, choose electric shades that operate with the touch of a button and close within 1/16″ of each other. During the movie you will want to have some low-level floor lighting, so if you get up to get some popcorn, you’ll have a lit pathway. All theater lights should always be placed on dimmers and positioned to the side and back of the room.
“Smart” remote controls allow you to pre-program specific tasks. I often select Lutron’s Homeworks program for my client’s theaters. With one press of a remote, your theater comes alive with sound and picture; the shades lower, the lights dim slowly and your DVD starts playing.
When choosing built-in cabinetry for this room, check that the cabinet is built strong enough to take the full load of the media equipment. Make certain that there is adequate air circulation within the cabinetry to avoid heat build-up. Many furniture retailers are now carrying media recliners that come complete with cup holders and built-in trays that hold CDs and DVDs. There’s an array of specialized theater furniture, art, movie posters, popcorn machines, etc. that can be found online to help make your media room fashionable.
To complete the movie theater look, I often paint the walls a rich, dark color. It’s a bold move, but the result is striking and effective. Dark walls decrease glare and enhance viewing. This especially applies when it comes to a front-projection setup. The idea here is to avoid having light from the projected image being reflected by the walls and ceiling back onto the image on the screen.
Advances in technology have given people many choices for exciting home media systems. Your very own home theater is a wonderful place to spend time with family and friends!
Donna Avedon, recognized as one of New York’s top designers, creates environments that reflect her clients’ personal style. For more information, go to avedondesigns.com.