With today’s technology, a night at the movies can take place in your own home, bringing a new meaning to “coming to a theater near you.” This residential theater experience—complete with big-screen picture and surround sound—can be produced with the installation of a home theater system.

Home Theater Types

To add a home theater system, you can outfit a family room or set up a dedicated home theater. A media room has a centrally located, flat-panel TV with surround sound. It’s a multipurpose room with flexible seating; the couches, chairs, and stools can be rearranged based on what’s playing, whether a video game, sporting event, or movie. Alternatively, a dedicated home theater is specifically designed for viewing movies: the entire makeup of the room revolves around creating an in-home cinema experience, complete with special, theater-like seating—typically armchairs placed in rows—and mood lighting. Not surprisingly, a dedicated home theater is usually the more expensive option.


Components of a home theater system can be purchased separately or as a home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) system.

Display. A high-definition (HD) display will provide the best viewing experience. Many people purchase flat-screen HD TVs for media rooms, but if you have a dedicated home theater, you might consider a front projector and screen, which will give you the biggest picture. Choose a screen size (measured on the diagonal) suitable for the dimensions of the room, and take into account how far away viewers will be sitting. Basically, you don’t want to be sitting so close that the screen looks pixelated, which can also depend on the screen’s resolution and what you’re watching. One rule of thumb is to take the screen size and multiply by 1.5, and that will tell you how many inches away to sit for optimal viewing. For example, if you have a 60-inch TV, you’d want to sit 90 inches away, or about 8 feet.

Sources. A Blu-ray player is the highest-quality device available today, but you could also have a DVD player, a separate media-streaming player, a cable or satellite box, a separate music-playback device, or any combination of those sources.

A/V receiver. A digital audio-video (A/V) receiver decodes and amplifies signals from source components and sends them to the display and multiple speakers. It is easy to switch between audio and video sources with an A/V receiver.

Speakers. Surround sound produces theater-like depth and volume of sound. It is achieved through an A/V receiver and speakers placed throughout the room. The 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 systems are the most common, with the first number denoting the number of speakers and the “.1” referring to the subwoofer. For example, the 5.1 system has one subwoofer for deep bass and five speakers—three front, one left surround, and one right surround. The 6.1 system adds one rear speaker, and the 7.1 system adds two rear speakers.

The number of speakers you want will depend on the size and setup of your room. You’ll need to consider the acoustics of the room, including its dimensions and ceiling height as well as whether or not it’s an enclosed space. For instance, for a space between 150 and 250 square feet, the 5.1 system typically works best. Bigger rooms and dedicated home theaters can handle additional speakers.

Configuration and Installation

Display. Flat-screen TVs can be mounted on the wall or set up on a stand, depending on where you want the display located in the room. If you decide to mount it, you’ll want to place it so that your eyes are level with the bottom of the display; placing it too high can lead to viewers sitting awkwardly or craning their necks.

Speakers. Sound is a critical aspect of the home theater experience, so speaker placement is key. The three front speakers should be placed near the screen. For the best sound, the front left and right speakers should be placed at ear level about six to ten feet apart and at least three feet from a corner. The two surround-sound speakers should be placed on the side walls about six feet off the ground and slightly behind the seating area.

Aesthetics. You might consider adding drapery or rugs to improve the sound quality. Also, all of the components will have plugs and cables, and you will want to avoid a visible mess of cords. Typically, everything will run back to and be stored at a single location, like a closet or shelf. It’s important to consider ventilation when storing your equipment—overheating can cause the equipment to underperform. Specialized A/V racks that incorporate cooling devices are available for this purpose.

Consider hiring a licensed electrician to install your home theater system. An electrician can safely mount the TV for you—especially since its size and weight can make the process tricky—and then run the lines for all of the system components, going inside the walls to conceal the wiring. The installer can also determine the optimal setup for your speakers, making your personal movie theater the best it can be.

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Sources: EBSCOhost Home Improvement Reference Center: Home Theater Made Simple; Electronic House; HGTVRemodels; Sound & Vision; TE Certified Electricians; The New York Times.

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