Building a Home Theater - Part 1: Introduction and Planning
Basic Design Goals - Source Material and Location
I can't emphasize enough how important the planning process will be to the ultimate success of your home theater project. And the more sophisticated the home theater, the more planning will be required. Each person will have their own unique set of goals and the planning process will vary greatly from one home theater to another.
Something as simple as just adding a big-screen TV and surround speakers to an existing family room will most likely require rearranging the furniture and figuring out where and how to run speaker wires. Consideration should also be given to both direct and reflected light. On the other hand if your plans include building or remodeling a new dedicated home theater you will have even more things to consider starting with building codes, room layout, power, air conditioning, etc, etc.
To help start the planning process, ask yourself the following questions.
• What types of material are you interested in watching and/or listening to?
• Where will your home theater be located?
• What is the size and shape of the room you plan to use?
• How much of the work are you planning to do yourself?
• Do you want to use a Flat panel TV or Projector?
• What speaker configuration do you plan to use?
What types of material are you interested in watching and/or listening to? One of the first steps in designing a home theater is deciding on the type of environment you want to create and prioritizing the types of material you are most interested in watching and/or listening to.
Will your home theater be a general purpose media room that offers a variety of material in a casual family room environment or do your goals lean more towards a dedicated theater room focusing on a particular media type?
How important is optimum picture quality and are you willing (and able) to provide near perfect light control?
For some, watching movies may be their main objective but for many others the home theater will be more versatile, enabling users to not only watch movies but also enjoy sports, TV and games. Answering these questions will go a long way in defining the type of video display, speaker configuration and ambient light control that will be necessary to build a successful home theater.
If your main focus is watching movies then you are a good candidate for a front projector in a dedicated room that can provide near perfect light control. However this wouldn't be the optimum setup if you plan to do a lot of socializing in a party environment watching a mix of sports, TV, an occasional movie, and playing games. In this case a family room type setting might be a lot more suitable and a bright flat panel TV that doesn't require a darkened room would be a good choice.
Audiophiles will most likely be interested in a comfortable setting with excellent acoustics (good sound control) placing an emphasis on speakers, amplifiers, and speaker configuration.
Where will your home theater be located? Do you plan to use an existing family room/living room and turn it into a multi-use media room or are you planning to remodel an existing room and make it a dedicated home theater? Maybe your plans include starting from scratch by adding a home theater to an unfinished basement, adding on to your house, or incorporating a theater into new home construction? Using an existing space will typically fix the size and shape of the room. Ambient light from windows and skylights may be an issue as could sound isolation from adjoining rooms; all things to consider when picking the optimum location.
Building from scratch will provide greater flexibility and freedom to select the size, shape, and materials used in construction. It also makes it much easier to run wires and cabling, control ambient light and soundproof walls and ceilings if needed. New construction offers the advantage of not having to design around pre-existing conditions.
Adding a home theater to an unfinished basement is a popular choice. One of the biggest advantages to having a home theater in the basement is the potential for total light control. This will be particularly important if you plan to use a projector. On the down side, ceiling height may be limited.
Note: One of the things that is frequently overlooked or forgotten during remodeling or new construction is supplying adequate electrical power to all the home theater components. A standard 15A branch circuit may not provide enough capacity to power all your new audio/video gear. Depending on the equipment requirements you may need to have one or more dedicated 20A circuits run from the main circuit box to various locations in your home theater, especially if you are planning to have several large power amps and multiple subs.
Once you have decided on the location for your new home theater, the next big step is to look at the size and shape of the room.