How to Choose a Room for Your Home Theater

4 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Home Theater Planning

Choosing a room for your home theater plays a big part in optimizing the home theater experience. It's especially important to choose the right room or location if you have limited space. A full home theater setup can be overpowering in a small home. Placing a 19-inch TV is quite different from positioning a big-screen TV with six (or more) speakers and associated A/V gear.

Defining your home theater space is a necessary first step. If the only place to put a TV is on the mantle above the fireplace, then you’re looking at a flat-panel (plasma or LCD) TV and not much else. If you have to fit the whole system into the corner of the living room, that narrows the search as well. You don’t want to buy a home theater that just won’t fit into your home and your lifestyle. A home theater is all about creating a theatrical atmosphere, so choose your spaces and work from there.

Here’s a list of things to think about when determining the right place for your home theater:

  • Lighting: The amount of ambient light in a room, day or night, can substantially affect the experience. A dark room makes the room itself disappear when watching a film, enabling that suspension of disbelief you may aspire to. Think about how lights from other rooms or street lighting might affect the experience.

  • Dimensions: Perfectly square rooms can create awkward sound patterns. 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. You can pull heavy curtains across an open wall when watching your display.

  • Sound: People typically place a couch up against a wall, but in a home theater the couch should have enough space behind it so that the sound can get in back and truly surround you. The ideal position for seating is toward the center of 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 grainy picture from 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 muted color or wall covering — bookcases are ideal — absorbs stray light. A dark gray or black room is 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. Think also about removing or covering mirrors and framed picture glass; they do the same thing.

    Take note of the front and rear wall surfaces because, in general, you want to control the way your sound reflects off these surfaces. The back wall should be a bit 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. A good rug can absorb stray sounds that can affect audio crispness.

  • 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. If the sound is external, such as from the dryer or washer, consider some cheap absorptive wall coverings to muffle it.

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