Installing a Home Theater: DIY or Hire a Pro?

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

Installing a home theater? Do it yourself (DIY) or hire a pro. Lots of home theater setup is DIY-easy, and you can hire a pro to complement your work. Of course, installing the home theater by yourself or with some helpful buddies saves money, but if you don't have the time, energy, or know-how, then go with the experts.

One advantage to having experts around: There’s nothing like having your system fine-tuned by a professional who can tell if your video and sound are just right.

High-end home theaters (at least $10,000) likely need professionals because of the complexity of the equipment and installation. If you're on the low end of the equation, you’ll probably do a lot yourself or rely heavily on the local installation services of the store where you buy your equipment. If you buy online, expect to do most of the work yourself.

All sorts of people are available if you need advice or help with your home theater installation:

  • Architect: If you’re building or renovating, an architect is probably involved. An architect can help you lay out the initial plans for your home and coordinate with other designers to get their respective visions on paper.

  • Audio/video consultant: An audio/video (A/V) consultant helps select the right mix of components for sight and sound systems and then integrates all those components. An A/V consultant ensures that the appropriate wiring is run to support your installations and then installs the gear when you’re ready. If you’re installing a dedicated home theater, expect the A/V consultant to get involved with the architect early on, too, making recommendations for room sizes, building materials, and so on.

  • Contractor/builder: The general contractor/builder’s role is to direct the other specialty contractors and make sure that they carry out the intent of the designers. Passing correct information from one contractor to the people doing the work is crucial. The details are what count here, such as cutting out the right size cubbyhole for the kitchen media center.

  • Computer systems contractor: If you work at home or have complex computer-networking needs, bringing in a computer systems contractor to network your computer hardware and interface it to the appropriate systems can be a great timesaver.

  • Electrical contractor: Your home theater may require additional or different electrical wiring (for example, running dedicated electrical wiring to your media center).

  • Home networking consultant: Your home networking consultant will help you create a wired computer network, or wireless computer network, or both that can carry voice, data, and video all over your home. Many alarm companies, electricians, and others are expanding their services to include home networking. These folks can also help with a whole-home automation system that can control your home theater and automate things such as lighting, drapes, and even movie screens.

  • Interior designer: This person is responsible for making sure that your home theater technology doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Installing a home entertainment center in the living room is one thing; making it fit with the overall scheme of your home is another.

  • Lighting consultant: Often an overlooked task, lighting design has an important effect on the ambiance of your home theater, so consider specialized lighting in key accent areas.

Depending on the amount of money you want to spend, you may indeed have this many people making your home theater a reality. A more modest project has fewer people stomping around your house. Also, many of the previously mentioned professionals — A/V designers, for example — include their services when you purchase their equipment.

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