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10 Mistakes to Avoid When Building a Home Theater System

Everyone loves going to the movies. It is a classic choice for an outing or a date night, but with the soaring prices of movie tickets and snacks at peak hours, it might be time to consider other options for your movie fix. A night out at the movies can easily cost you and your family upwards of $50, especially if you decide to splurge on popcorn or candy at the theater.

More people are investing in home theaters. Many of us hear “home theater” and think of the lavish theaters with enormous screens and plenty of seating that celebrities have dedicated one of their rooms in their mansions to. However, building a home theater does not need to break the bank, and you do not need to be a celebrity for your house to boast its own home theater. It is an investment that pays back in spades. After all, what a great space for family movie nights, and one that is safe and fun for your kids (if you have them) and their friends!

You may be nervous about the money and space apparently required for a home theater, but that is what we are here for. There is a vast amount of information out there about building your home theater, but we have compiled the best tips from experts, vendors, and home theater veterans to help you navigate the process. Read on to discover the ten crucial mistakes to avoid when building your very own home theater.

Popcorn-Don't Buy Uninformed


Don't Buy Uninformed

It may be tempting to walk into your nearest retail store and sweep up all the components a store representative assures you will need for your home theater, but make sure to do your research! Store representatives may not have in-depth experience with home theater equipment, or simply may be eager to make a sale. Plus, televisions and speakers sound different on the store floor; this misperception may cause you to make purchases that do not work for the type of home theater you are building. Reading reviews of televisions and sound systems from professionals, as well as from past purchasers who have extensive experience with such things will serve you well.


Don't Over-Budget

Home Theatre - Don't Go OverbudgetWe get it – once your home theater is built, you want it to last for years, if not decades. Those building home theaters who want their hard work to last may feel compelled to spend more money to get the so-called “best products” on the market. This is an easy trap to fall into, especially given the vast amount of sometimes contradictory information out there.

Splurging on features such as increased power, may not, in the end, make a huge difference to your home theater’s video and audio quality. Until you understand the features that you will be paying more for, hold off on buying high-end products. You will find the less expensive versions of components such as cables or receivers work just as well as the more expensive ones.

The flip side of this tip is to not under-budget, either. Keeping costs low is important for almost every family in the U.S., but if the eventual quality of your home theater suffers, it may not be worth it. Your home theater should be something you have worked hard on, and which you are proud of. If equipment starts failing soon after you complete it, even the money you have sunk into the project could be lost. Find a good balance between spending money on quality products, and finding good deals.

You may want to upgrade your home theater in the future. Save your money for the upgrade instead of shelling out unnecessarily now.


Don't Take the Easy Way Out

Cables - Don't Take Easy Way OutIn this day and age, you can find package deals for the components needed to equip a home theater. For those who are new to home DIY projects, going for such package deals is attractive, seemingly saving them time and money. However, what you gain in ease, you may sacrifice in quality. This does not mean that building a home theater must be a long and arduous experience; just that the easiest choices may not be the right ones for you.

For example, you may purchase a perfectly good receiver for a slightly higher price, but find later on that purchasing the components – video and audio processors, and an amplifier, for starters – may have yielded a better viewing experience. You’ve saved yourself hassle but have ended up with a suboptimal home theater, leaving you with a lower level of satisfaction. Take our advice and invest the time to research separate components in addition to attractive package deals.


Don't Look Up

image-4Those of us who have been to an IMAX theater will tell you what an amazing experience it is to be surrounded by video and audio. However, unless you are planning to build a full-out IMAX theater in your house – which you are probably not – do not place your television too high up on the wall (or on the ceiling). Even if you have a television with a large screen, placing it too high can cause viewers to sustain neck and shoulder pain from straining their muscles. Experts suggest placing the television so that the viewers’ gaze falls on the top quarter of the screen. This translates to roughly three to five feet above the floor, but may vary depending on the elevation of the seating.


Don't Sit Too Far From or Too Close To the Screen

Don't Sit Too Far From ScreenJust as looking up at your television screen will eventually become uncomfortable, so will sitting too close or too far away from the screen. For this reason, think about the size of the space you have to work with, and the arrangement of seating in relation to the television screen. Sitting too close to the screen diminishes how much of the screen you can see well. If you sit too far away, you may not see the fine details.

You can go through calculations to determine the best viewing distance, but we recommend to save time and hassle. Keep in mind that the best viewing distance can be impossible to achieve given the size of the room, in which case you can tweak the size of the television or the seating arrangement. That is where the planning stage comes in handy.


Don't Ignore the Seating Arrangement

Don't Ignore Seating Arrangement

Many people who build their home theaters focus on the television and the speakers, but forget that the way in which viewers are arranged within the room can make a huge difference to the viewing experience. In the same vein, more seats do not necessarily mean a better home theater. If you decide to go with multiple seating tiers, you may be in for some calculations, which will pay off in great viewing experiences for all viewers.

These calculations take into account ceiling, room, and screen heights, as well as optimal viewing distances for each tier. By using risers, you can elevate second or third tiers to the perfect height. In the end, all viewers should be able to see the screen unobstructed.


Don't Ignore the Location of the Door


You can have the perfect home movie theater – optimal viewing distance, a high-quality television, surround sound, and so on – but if people and other viewers are constantly moving in front of the television, you will not be able to enjoy it. It is annoying when people do that in public movie theaters, so why would you want that for your home theater?

When constructing your home theater, consider how you want to arrange the room in relation to the location of the door. If people must pass in front of the television to get to the kitchen, the front door, or the room’s door, consider placing the home theater in a different room or changing where the television is. You can also rectify this problem by moving the seating forward a bit, while remaining within optimal viewing range, or by placing a coffee-table in front of seating to block it off from passers-by.


Don't Forget to Factor In Lighting

Don't Forget LightingThis seems like an obvious consideration; nobody wants their home theater to be flooded with light, but if your television is placed in front of or near to a large window, sunlight may fall on the screen, ruining image quality. Even if you mainly watch movies at night, longer summer days may mean that light could be streaming in even in the late evening hours.

You can account for this problem by locating your home theater in a room of your house that lacks large windows. If that is not a possibility, consider buying blackout shades or blinds for your windows.

Furthermore, if the television is opposite to a door, opening the door may flood the room with light from the hallway, disrupting the movie. Again, this can be remedied by adjusting the arrangement of the seating and screen in the room. Also, installing a sliding door may allow people to come and go without letting much light into the room, causing minimal disruption.

The color of the walls may affect the lighting in the room. It may seem classy to have tan fabric lining the walls, but light fabric contributes to increased light reflection in your home theater. This results in a brighter room and decreased viewing quality. As a result, stick to black walls and insulation. This will minimize light reflection, keeping all viewers’ attention on the main screen.


Don't Automatically Choose Surround Sound

image-9Many home theater owners consider surround sound to be a non-negotiable feature, but that is not necessarily the case, and may not always be possible. Especially if you are short on space, consider forgoing the surround sound speakers. If your home theater is on the smaller side, you will need to buy costly wireless speakers, running speaker wires under the carpet, and so on. This is a lot of work for something that may not have the payoff you hoped it would.

Some choose to work around the problem of a smaller space by placing their speakers in the furniture or in cabinets. That way, they feel that they have gotten the benefits of surround sound without the space restrictions. However, doing this may muffle and muddy the sound emanating from the speakers, foiling the primary purpose of having good speakers in the first place.

Bottom line: You do not need surround sound, and don’t place your speakers in your furniture or cabinets.


Don't Forget About Surge Protectors

image-10Many who build a home theater often forget about power, which most of the high-tech devices need to function. So your home theater has a television, speakers, a DVD player, and a game console, but do you have enough outlets to accommodate all of those devices? Even if the room has enough outlets, they may not be within reach of the devices you need to plug in.

This is where surge protectors come in, and where splurging is not such a bad thing. Maybe you have already spent $3,000 on the television, speakers, an amplifier, and seating, but are considering cutting back on costs on the surge protector. However, if your $25 protector does not survive a power surge, anything and everything connected to it will be damaged, if not permanently out of commission.

For this reason, we recommend investing in a high-quality surge protector from a trusted company, as well as a sturdy warranty that covers not only the surge protector but also any equipment lost or damaged in a power surge.


Final Thoughts

These cautions should be sufficient to get you started on your very own home theater. By avoiding these ten mistakes, you are already on the right path. Although these tips are meant for people building their home theaters, do not hesitate to get professional advice or help if you think you need it. Spending an extra couple hundred dollars on good advice is worth it for a fully functioning home theater and peace of mind.

Even if your home theater happens to be located in an apartment, these tips will help you create a home theater that you can enjoy for a long time!


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