1. Pick a Number. Major theatrical producers start with a budget, and so should you. Decide how important the media room is to your lifestyle. Will it be part of a family room or a full-blown theatrical experience in a purpose-built space? Your answer will help determine a primary factor: the size, type and cost of the screen. Andrew Guenther of Advanced Audio Design notes that he's done home theaters from tiny to Travolta's and even one installation where the owners wanted a system that "cost more than the house they were living in. But it was important to them."
2. Add the Special Effects. With a designated media room, more people are adding movie posters, marquees, popcorn machines, theatrical wall sconces and rope lighting on steps. You can even purchase CDs of orchestral movie music and the ambient sound effects of people entering a theater. The only difference is that your media experience takes place comfortably in your own home!
3. Go for the Big Screen. DVD players offer cinema-quality video, so a big-screen TV, from 30 to 65 inches, is a great start. Consider the size of your room. As a starting point, Bolduc says, "typically, we are installing 50-inch televisions in leisure rooms where the homeowner is sitting eight to 10 feet away. Usually people go for too small, and the effect is underwhelming," Guenther adds.
If money is no object, the picture can come from a projector that provides up to a 10-foot image. But projectors don't work well in a bright room, so if you have a lot of ambient light choose a plasma or LCD television, which is typically brighter. Of course, you can lower the light level with blackout blinds. Some operate silently, at the touch of a button. "We do a lot of these in media rooms where one button turns off the lights, brings down the blinds, and starts the movie," says Guenther. Screen shape makes a difference, too. A DVD shown on a television will black out the top and bottom. Movies fit properly on a screen with a 2.35-to-one aspect ratio, the proportion recommended for a dedicated home theater.
4. Surround Yourself with Sound. Strategically placed speakers can create theatrical sound quality. You should be able to stand or sit anywhere in the room, not just in the exact center, and hear the complete sound as though you were in a concert hall or a movie theater. Center the television or screen on the front wall and arrange speakers on the left, right and in the center behind the seating area. The left and right speakers should be the same distance apart as the distance from the front wall to the seating area. And if you're aiming for the ultimate experience, tactile transducers placed under the floor or directly onto the seating let movie watchers feel the thundering bass.
5. Plan the Space. Choose a rectangular space, not a square one, and place the screen on the short wall. Seating should float in the room just in front of center. Mark Bolduc of Tempus Electronic Lifestyles says, before anything else, determine where the viewing and sound equipment will be situated in order to install the wiring properly. If you have a dedicated theater, install acoustic paneling on the ceiling and walls to keep powerful audio from interfering with others at home. Sub floors are the ultimate in soundproofing. Try to install the media room away from bedrooms or other areas where sound would bother. Furniture, carpeting and rough surfaces help diffuse and improve sound, but avoid large windows and sliding glass doors, which distort it.
6. Find a Seat. Determine the seating arrangement that will accommodate everyone in your family. You can choose sofas, recliners or authentic movie-theater seats. You can even add a riser or two to provide the home version of stadium seating.
7. Take Control. Watching that movie should be fun, not a chore. Professional A/V installers can provide devices that simplify the equipment controls, often by performing a series of operations at the touch of a single button. Touch-screen remotes can be customized to a specific user's needs or perform a series of actions, such as dimming the lights, lowering blinds and starting the movie. A movie server can store up to 1,000 full-length feature films on its hard drive. At $15,000 to $50,000 each, they're not cheap, but Guenther has installed several recently. "The neat thing is you can search by artist, genre, title and rating, plus there's no delay in starting," he says. Movie management software networks, so TVs in other rooms have access to the movies.