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Home Theater Systems

Read on to find useful tips on setting up home theater systems.

The shape and furnishings of a room will affect the sound quality of home theater systems. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
The shape and furnishings of a room will affect the sound quality of home theater systems.

Setting up home theater systems without a professional's help can be challenging, but with the proper equipment and instruction a homeowner should be able to accomplish this task. Before purchasing audio and visual equipment, homeowners should review the different home theater layouts that fit with their room's shape and size. This takes some time, but saves the hassle of buying the wrong kind of gear.

When choosing a home theater system before a house's framing is complete, the owner should confer with the builder about his or her home theater system needs. Whenever possible, having a building contractor run audio cable through unframed walls can ease speaker set-up once the home's interior is complete.

Placing Home Theater Equipment

To maximize a home theater system's potential, it's best to prepare the room for installation before purchasing equipment. The first step in this process is picking a spot for the television or projection screen. Digital Trends Installation Guide instructs owners, whether placing the television on furniture or mounting it to a wall, to leave room for the accompanying electronics: a space 18 to 20 inches wide by 22 to 24 inches deep will work for most home theater setups. Owners must then consider what type of seating to use and where to place it with respect to the television or screen. Additionally, they must also decide what type of speakers to use and where to place them.

Balancing Size and Space

The size of any one piece -- television, furniture and speakers included -- should not overpower the home theater room. In fact, professionals recommend choosing a seating distance from the television based on the size of its screen. According to CNET, a screen size of 26 inches suggests a seating distance of 3.3 to 6.5 feet, while a screen size of 65 inches suggests a seating distance of 8.1 to 16.2 feet.

Likewise, speaker placement and angling depends on the type of speakers purchased, although some general rules of thumb apply regardless of speaker type. Speakers will project best if placed evenly to the front, back, left, right and center of the seating area. The closer a speaker is to a room surface (i.e., the walls, ceiling or floor), the stronger the bass output will be. Moving speakers a few inches in either direction will make a big difference.

In the end, the shape and furnishings of a room will affect the sound quality of home theater systems. Hard surfaces tend to create harsh acoustics, while carpeting and window treatments will soften them noticeably. Home owners with more than one potential home theater room should opt for one with a rectangular shape, ideally with one dimension (i.e., length or width) being twice the size of the other. Square rooms create poor acoustics and should be avoided when possible.

Video Equipment

When it comes to home theater systems, video equipment is broken down by technology. High-definition televisions (HDTVs) are usually built using one of the following display technologies: liquid crystal display (LCD), plasma and digital light processing (DLP) rear projection.

LCD screens are lightweight, slim and easy to mount on walls. However, LCD screens larger than 32 inches are usually more expensive than those featuring other technologies. Plasma screens, which are the most common, have flat-panel displays and can be mounted in a variety of ways. DLP rear projection systems require the least maintenance and have the longest lifetimes, but they are not wall mountable.

Audio Equipment

Sound equipment for home theater systems is usually sold in sets of five to seven speakers, plus a subwoofer. Speakers come in a variety of shapes, sizes and power outputs:

  • Free-standing or tower speakers are the largest, the most expensive and the best-sounding
  • Bookshelf speakers are small and space efficient, and can be placed on a table or tucked into bookshelf
  • Satellite speakers are small and cost-effective, but sometimes have poor acoustic quality
  • Recessed speakers are mounted in the ceiling and must have ceiling wire access, as well as a sturdy mounting surface with enough depth for the speakers

In addition, the Office of Information Technology from Rutgers University explains that those setting up home theater systems will also need two other integral pieces of equipment: an AV receiver and an amplifier to drive the speakers. An AV receiver combines Dolby/DTS decoding, analog signal processing and, in most cases, an AM/FM radio. The receiver gets connected to the television, amplifier, subwoofer and any media-playing peripherals, such as a DVD player, VHS, cable box, satellite dish or video gaming console.

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