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Choosing a Room for Your Home Theater

As you build your home theater, all roads lead back to making viewers feel as if they are really in the scene they're watching. Where you place your system plays a big part in creating this illusion of participation. Here's a list of factors to consider about when determining the right place for your home theater — and there are definitely wrong places to put your home theater:

  • Lighting. The amount of ambient light in a room, day or night, can substantially affect the home-theater experience. A nice, dark room actually helps make the room itself disappear when you're watching a film, enabling that suspension of disbelief which makes movie watching so magical. Think about how lights from other rooms or street lighting might affect the experience.
  • Dimensions. You tend to get more awkward sound patterns in perfectly square rooms. The best place to put the centerpiece of your system — the TV display — is along the short wall of a rectangular room, preferably a wall without windows or doors on it. Fully enclosed rooms are best for sound. If you don't have a fully enclosed room, though, you can pull heavy curtains across the open wall when you're watching films in your home theater.
  • Sound. Although people typically place a couch up against a wall in their home, with a home theater, you want enough space behind you so that the sound can truly surround you. So the ideal position for your home-theater seating is more central to the room.
  • Picture. Sit close enough to your display to maximize the perceived size of the picture, but not so close that you see a somewhat grainy picture (that's caused by the lines on the TV set). The bigger your display, the farther back you need to be to not see the lines. Also, think about angle of viewing — all displays have a preferred angle of viewing.
  • Walls. A rather muted color or wall covering — book cases are ideal — absorbs stray light. A dark gray or black room absorbs light best, or one with heavy, colored drapes. (Now you know why you see all those drapes and carpeted walls in theaters!) The last thing you want is a brightly colored high-gloss paint that reflects light, creating light ghosts to the sides of the screen. Think also about removing or covering mirrors and picture frames; they can also create light ghosts.
    Take note of your front and rear wall surfaces because, in general, you want to control the way your sound reflects off these surfaces. Typically, you want the back wall to be a little reflective to help build a more general sound field behind your seating area.
  • Floors. Yup, the floors, too. Bare tile or wood causes acoustical reflections that mess up your sound field. Carpeting or a good rug can absorb stray sounds that can affect the crispness of your signal.
  • Stray noise. Listen closely to your room for regular interfering sounds, such as a clock ticking or a fish tank pump. Consider moving these devices if you can. And if the sound is coming from a different room, such as from the washer and dryer in the laundry room, consider putting up some cheap absorptive wall coverings to muffle it.
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