Introduction

1 Introduction

In an industry climate where streaming services have leapt to the forefront of visual entertainment, more and more people are realizing they can have the ideal cinema experience in the comfort of their own homes.

Whether it’s because you’re a casual fan, a movie buff, or you have friends and family to impress, it’s about time that you jumped onto this trend.

Here we have a guide that details what you need to know and the components you’ll need to put together a great home theatre.

There’s a lot that goes into setting up the perfect home theatre but we’ve made it easy for you by breaking the process down into these sections:

  • Choose Your Location
  • Lighting
  • Surround Sound
  • Seating
  • Screen and Projector
  • The Benefits of a Home Theatre
  • Materials and Décor
  • Finishing Touches

So, here’s what you can expect to learn in this guide. As you can see, it’s quite comprehensive by covering everything from where your home theatre should be set up to which equipment you should use for it.

While this guide keeps things simple, we have linked away to other websites where we reference any information they contain.

That way you can do some extra reading into this subject if you want and we can back up our claims, so you know that you’re getting well-sourced and factually accurate information about this field.

Without further ado, let’s get on with the show.

Choose Your Location

2 Choose Your Location

Before you can start acquiring the technology required to set up a home theatre, you first need to identify where that theatre is going to be.

The room into which your home theatre will be built determines the layout of everything in it so that you get optimal visual and audio quality.

Rooms that are spacious and separated from other rooms with other functions tend to be the best for a home theatre as there are fewer distractions and it makes the position of the screen and the speakers much easier.

Stuck on ideas? Here are some of our recommendations:

Attic Conversion

A loft or attic conversion is ideal for a home theatre system.

It has the spacious interior a home theatre requires and it’s suitably isolated from the rest of your home, so you can retreat here after a long day and watch the new movie or show that you’ve been itching to see.

If your home is terraced or otherwise connected to another home, you may need to beef up the walls in the attic.

1 Attic Conversion

These can be thinner than other walls in your home and you don’t want any sound from the theatre travelling through into the neighbour’s attic and causing any disturbance.

If you’re liking the idea of an attic conversion but haven’t made the leap yet, it’s surprisingly affordable and there are many guides online on how to clear out a loft and turn it into the perfect home theatre foundation.

Garage

2 Garage

More common than converted attics, many of us have a garage.

If yours isn’t in use or it’s large enough that it has a lot of spare space, it’s possible to set up your home theatre here too.

There would be distractions here, however, and garages aren’t exactly known for being warm and cosy spaces where you can curl up and watch a movie.

If you have a room above the garage, that’s better for converting into a home theatre. It’s not just suitably isolated from the rest of the home but it’s also going to be comfortable enough to facilitate a comfy night in.

Basement

Everything that makes an attic perfect for a home theatre system also makes a basement ideal and then some.

Unlike an attic, you don’t have to worry about converting a basement that much since most already have electricity and lighting built into them.

Basements also tend to be warmer since they’re subterranean and you also don’t need to worry about noise pollution spreading to neighbors.

3 Basement

Lighting

3 Lighting

You know how a cinema looks, they can be fully lit or barely lit and can switch between the two with ease. That’s the kind of lighting you want in your home theatre too.

Remote control lighting is the obvious solution here. Home lighting has progressed far enough that you can have a remotely controlled, tier-based lighting system in the comfort of your own home.

With any old television, you’ve probably shied away from viewing it in the dark to avoid eye strain.

The lighting of a home theatre should be sophisticated enough that you can view your screen when the lights are down low, just how they do it in the cinema, to deliver the best visual experience.

When the lights are on, you don’t want them to be too bright either.

You don’t want a chandelier in your home theatre room, the lighting should be subtle even when it’s fully on. When you’re in the cinema, you can find the lights on the walls or the ceiling, but they’re not making you squint when you look directly at them.

The reason you want lights is so you can find your way around the theatre and see what you’re doing.

Then, when you’re comfortable and ready to start the show, you can use the lights’ remote control to dim them right down. We’d suggest looking at the following light types for your home theatre:

  • LED rope lights (preferably inlaid into soffits).
  • Recessed lights (also in soffits).
  • Dimmer lights.
  • Star ceiling lights (a popular and aesthetically pleasing choice for home theatres).

Remember that you can have a combination of all of these if you want to, it’s all up to you. Just aim to have these lights around the perimeter of the room to keep them as subtle as possible.

Try to have most of the lights behind the viewer too, so that you don’t have to worry about any residual light distracting them from the big screen.

You also don’t want any natural lighting from the outside world to come in, so limit that as much as possible. If your theatre is in a space where you must have windows, solid shutters or blackout curtains are ideal for stopping the light from coming in.

Whatever lighting you decide on, remember to keep reflective surfaces out of the home theatre space as they’ll catch the light and send it your way, creating a potential distraction.

If you need some inspiration, image-sharing sites like Pinterest have you covered.

Surround Sound

4 Surround Sound

Just as important as the lighting is the sound, you need to hear what’s going on, after all. If you want to make the best home theatre, that old speaker in the corner isn’t going to do it.

One of the main differences between watching a movie at home or the cinema is the sound you experience. Fortunately, you can bring that experience to your home with the right audio equipment.

Before you do anything, having the home theatre space suitably soundproofed is a good idea.

You don’t have to plaster the walls with acoustic panels but we’d advise you to cover up any wood, concrete, or linoleum flooring with carpet or another material that absorbs, rather than reflects, sound waves.

Replacing the wall surface with carpet is also an option but that’s up to you. It’s better for audio quality but many find it to be too unsightly for their tastes.

You’ll also want to distance the room from any ambient sounds. Just like how lighting from the outside world will affect your watching experience, you don’t want to be mid-way through a tense scene only to hear the ping of your microwave from the kitchen.

Take your dedicated home theatre space and install solid doors and sound-absorbing curtains.

If you have the resources and a taste for DIY, you can even add a second layer of drywall to the walls to make sure the room is audibly isolated from the rest of the house.

With all that out of the way, we can finally get to the sound system itself.

To mimic the sheer audio power of a cinema multiplex, you’re going to want surround sound. That much is obvious but there are quite a few ways of achieving this.

We’d advise you to keep it simple by having a small but robust sound system that doesn’t demand much, if any, pre-wiring or structural changes to the room you’ve chosen. For most rooms, you can do this with a receiver, five speakers, and a subwoofer.

Speakers and Subwoofers

4 Speakers and Subwoofers

Whether you go with our recommendation of five speakers and a subwoofer or not, what’s important is that your speakers are voice-matched.

This is where each speaker has the same tonal quality, so there aren’t inconsistencies between each speaker’s sound.

These inconsistencies degrade the sound quality of the system.

Imagine a sound from a movie, like a roaring car engine, sounding different when hitting you from a side speaker as it does from the front speakers. That takes you out of the movie and harms your viewing experience.

You can use more speakers if you want but five speakers placed at the front and then the four corners of your room will generally suffice for surround sound, just remember that they need to be voice matched.

Voice matching is also called timbre matching and it generally helps to get speakers that all belong to the same brand. A sixth speaker so that you have two speakers on either side of the screen is popular too.

The subwoofer can go anywhere as long as it’s compatible with your receiver. Keep the subwoofer away from corners or anywhere where the sound can’t project into the room properly.

All of these should be placed at roughly the same elevation as your head when sitting.

As for speaker type, that’s up to you and the room you want to turn into a home theatre. Here are the most popular speaker types you can expect when shopping for them:

  • Bookshelf Speakers – These speakers are the most common, being smaller models that are often mounted on shelves, hence their name. With some fitting, you can also mount these to walls if you want to save some space. They’re ideal for mid and high-end frequencies.
  • Floor-Standing Speakers – Like the bookshelf speakers, the positioning of these models is in the name. They stand up independently, sometimes as tall as you, and they come in different widths. The larger ones are more expensive, obviously, but they’re often well worth the investment as they tackle the whole range of sound frequencies.
  • In-Wall Speakers These are more like bookshelf speakers that are instead enclosed into a wall. This limits their positioning, of course, since they can only face perpendicular to the wall that they’re mounted in. Having audio devices built into the walls of your home theatre is great for surround sound.
  • Subwoofers – You should have one of these. They’re large, low-frequency audio devices that are bigger than all of the above speaker models. You should have one as part of your surround sound system.

Sound Test

You’ll want to sound test your equipment before you use it for your home theatre.

Comparative sound testing is where you listen to every part of your sound system to make sure that they sound the same when reporting the same audio.

Once you’ve found speakers that do sound the same, you can incorporate them into the theatre setup. You can also stick a movie on to perform a final sound test.

5 Sound Test

Seating

5 Seating

Next, you should look at the seating in your home theatre. It needs to be comfortable, of course, but there’s more to it than that.

You need to figure out the positioning of any furniture in the room and consider how the seating may affect how sound travels through the theatre space.

The size of your home theatre area will change the type of seating that you can have installed.

Some people go so far in replicating the cinema experience that they get row cinema seating, complete with cup holders, and place a few of them in the centre of the room.

You don’t need to go that far in making a home theatre but your seating should be comfortable and have ample space around it. You need to decide whether the seating will be reclining or non-reclining too since recliner seats need to have more space.

Here’s what you should keep in mind when picking out your seating arrangement:

  • Style and Format – This is the type of chair you get and its layout relative to the room and the sound system in it. It can be an individual chair, several chairs, or a row of interconnected seating for the bona fide cinema experience.
  • Comfort – The first step to comfort isn’t how cushioned your seats are, it’s how much space you have around the seat so that you don’t feel too claustrophobic. Then you can start thinking about how the seating will feel when you rest in it. If buying online, you can ensure you get a comfortable chair by going with a brand you trust and a product that has positive reviews from prior customers. As we mentioned, you can buy a reclining seat if that’s what you desire.
  • Amenities – These are the relatively small things that make cinema seating differ from household seating, like popcorn and drink holders. You can buy chairs that come with these pre-installed or you can have a separate piece of furniture next to your chair, as long as the furniture doesn’t interfere with how sound travels across your theatre.
  • Upholstery – Pay some mind to which material your seating will be made from. Like with all furniture, the material it’s made from will determine how sound waves interact with it. This is why cinemas opt for the same fleece/carpeted fabric material that covers the walls but they’re considered unhygienic by many. The typical home theatre chair will be offered to you in leather, which is easier to keep clean and stain-avoidant. The choice is yours.

Viewing Angles

6 Viewing Angles

While there are better, more expensive seats, every seat in your local cinema is positioned so that you can see the screen. You need to see the movie you’ve paid to watch, after all.

Professional cinemas achieve this through tiered seating, which is why the seats at the back are placed higher than the seats in front of them, all the way down to the bottom of the room.

That’s how you get close to a hundred people seeing the same one screen at once without anybody stepping on each other’s toes, but how do you do that in a much more limited home theatre space?

Some DIY theatregoers install their own tiered seating to replicate the cinema experience.

Sure, it’s not rows upon rows of chairs that reach up ten or twenty feet, but as little as a six-inch boost from the chair in front of you can be enough to guarantee a clear vision of what’s ahead.

For many of you, who likely want a small number of seats in your home theatre, you can settle for ensuring that the seats are at the correct height and distance away from the screen so that everybody has a viewing angle.

Like with ordinary TVs and computer monitors, you need to have more distance from larger screens to avoid eye strain and fully appreciate the visuals on display.

Since all of your home theatres will look slightly different, there’s no real formula we can give you. The best we can provide is a calculator like this one where you get to enter your own metrics.

In our experience, the best way to get an adequate seating layout is to arrange it in a way that nobody is too close to any of the speakers aligned along the perimeter of the room.

They should all be at the same height and not obstructing one another, or you should consider raised seats if that will be a problem.

Whether you’ve used the calculator above or not, it’s then a good idea to place your seat around the room and use your own eyes and ears to determine the distance from the screen that’s comfortable and convenient for you.

Screen and Projector

6 Screen and Projector

All this time we’ve referred to your home theatre display as a screen but there’s a choice to make here, too. You need to decide whether you’re going to get, or maybe you already have, a generously large TV to watch your home theatre entertainment on.

If not, and if you want to make your home theatre as much like a cinema as possible, you might be considering a projector display instead.

There is not a right or wrong answer for this one, and the right answer might even change for you as the prices of each technology changes over the years.

The best we can do is break down how each option compares and allow you to go with the one that’s right for you.

TV vs Projector for Home Cinema

You need to decide whether you want to go with the popular and trusty television screen or explore the projector options available to you instead.

Many advocates of projectors note that it can be hard to go back to relatively small TV screens once you’ve grown accustomed to projectors.

Here are the five things you should keep in mind:

7 TV vs Projector for Home Cinema
  1. Price for Performance

The landscape for domestic television has changed drastically over the last two decades. Along with most other consumer tech, you can get much more for less when it comes to televisions nowadays.

Based on informed estimates, the average TV screen size for the world in 2021 is nearly 50 inches. That dwarfs the cubed, colourless TV sets of the past, and the TVs cited in those statistics are for modern LCD TVs.

In the past, 40 and 50-inch TVs would be as expensive as a high-quality projector that could give you a full wall of display. Not only were projectors bigger, but they also had better contrast as long as they weren’t placed in a light-polluted environment.

Look into your wallet and figure out what you can get. If you’re buying purely for size, projectors will win any day.

Nowadays you can get great TVs with sophisticated colour gamut and OLED tech for a few thousand while the latest in projector technology, 4K projectors, don’t have anywhere near the picture quality of TVs.

If you want a larger screen for less, get a projector. If you want a (relatively) smaller screen with better picture quality, get a new TV model.

  1. Image Contrast

The superior picture of TVs comes from their higher High-Dynamic Range capability, which modern projectors fail to replicate.

Can they catch up? Most likely, so maybe double back and consider upgrading to a projector in a few years if that’s what you had your heart set on.

The problem is that projectors aren’t as bright as TV, which makes sense since it’s an image cast to a wall instead of the sophisticated panel and pixel technology that you’re looking directly at.

Cheaper projectors also suffer from a lackluster contrast ratio that can make the image look grey, samey, and washed-out.

High-end projectors might have a wider colour gamut and a decent HDR performance but these are the models that’ll set you back much more than the average large TV, and still literally pale in comparison.

Of course, HDR isn’t a requirement for a good visual that you can enjoy and many casual watchers will have no problem with a projector, so it’s still a viable option for your home theatre.

Otherwise, you’ll want a TV if you’re buying just for image quality. For most home theatres, a 50 or 60-inch plus TV is a must. You can get screens that are close to 100 inches if you have the cash for it.

  1. Light Performance

We’ve mentioned it once or twice so far but this is something that needs to be tackled if you’re considering getting a projector. Ambient light bleeding into your home theatre will kill the performance of your projector.

Any light in the room will add to the projection and make it almost unwatchable. There’s a reason the cinema turns the lights down before beginning the movie, you know.

We’ve all probably had those moments where a dark image on your TV is hard to see when the morning sun catches it through the window. That’s what happens when ambient light hits your projector, only much worse and on a bigger scale.

You can still get away with watching event television centred around brightly lit stadiums or fashion shows but you’ll be lost if you put on a crime drama or other shows with darker visuals.

As we said, blackout curtains are your friend if your home theatre space must have windows.

  1. Popularity

There’s something to be said for the popularity of one solution over the other. A lot of things factor into it, of course, but you can generally see where the public consensus lies with TVs and projectors.

For most people, having a television is all they know because it’s the more space-efficient and historically affordable option over large projectors.

Consistently, TVs have been more popular than projectors for use in home theatres and out.

A home theatre shouldn’t break the bank or take months out of your life by trying to emulate the cinema perfectly, and for many people that means skipping out on the projector too.

With the arrival of OLED, QLED, and 4K TVs, we’re not expecting the projector to storm ahead of the TV anytime soon. Projectors will always be the more niche choice of home entertainment, which brings with it its own charms.

Also keep in mind that for projectors to become as popular, if not more popular, than TVs, other factors not directly related to the technology will have to change.

For example, people need more space in their homes which requires a larger home or costly building extensions for many.

The projector market isn’t going away any time soon. As more innovations are made in this space and projectors are used for professional use, it’s guaranteed they’ll bleed into consumer usage too.

The Benefits of Having a Home Theatre

7 The Benefits of Having a Home Theatre

We’ve talked a lot about how to plan and set up your home theatre without answering one core question – why? Let’s take a break to go through the benefits of your home theatre before finishing up with some decoration and ideas for finishing touches.

Stress Relief

8 Stress Relief

An obvious but important advantage, you want a home theatre for a reason.

It’s somewhere you can relax and watch your favorite entertainment, in a world where streaming and on-demand services are bringing high-quality media to your doorstep.

That’s why comfort is so paramount when planning and designing your home theatre, so it can be a place for you to unwind after a long day.

It’s also a great hub for social gatherings. Whether you all want to hang out casually or you’re all movie buffs, the home theatre can be a great place to watch entertainment with snacks.

Also, in a home theatre, you can socialise without having to worry about other people or getting told off by the cinema staff. You have more freedom in a home theatre. You can even kick back with a few beers where you can’t in a public cinema setting.

Save Money

After the initial cost of setting up your home theatre, you can save a lot of money by simply enjoying the space in your home rather than going out to the cinema.

If you’re anything like us, an evening at the cinema can look like this:

9 Save Money
  • A drive to the cinema, and possibly between some of the places further below.
  • Eating out at a restaurant before the movie.
  • Watching the movie, perhaps with popcorn and a drink.
  • Another activity afterward, especially if the cinema is based at a retail park. Think bowling or an attached arcade.
  • The possibility of drinks if traveling back home can be arranged.
  • A drive back home that night/the next morning.

By installing and enjoying a home theatre, you can save money on fuel costs, eating out at a public venue, buying the cinema tickets and amenities, and other activities or drinks if that’s what you usually do.

That money adds up and can be used instead to buy your own amenities and alcohol for your home theatre if that’s what you’d prefer.

Of course, the amount of money you save is proportionate to how often you go to the cinema. If you go out to the cinema for every major release that catches your eye, you’ll have a lot to save by getting a home theatre over somebody who doesn’t.

Adds to Home Resale Value

10 Adds to Home Resale Value

This one’s pretty simple. You’ve invested money and effort into your home by adding a home theatre and this will be factored into the asking price of that house should you ever sell it.

Maybe you can’t see that happening ever, in which case this isn’t something to keep in mind, but if you aspire to sell your home one day and move onto greener pastures then an installed home theatre can bump the price up a bit.

Great for Sports Too

Though they’re modelled and inspired by lofty cinema multiplexes, a home theatre is essentially a TV area that’s separated from the rest of your home. This means you can watch ordinary programming on your setup and, even better, sports.

Whether you have a family who hates sports or friends who can come over and watch the latest game, you can seal yourself in the home theatre and watch your favourite sports without being distracted or distracting others.

11 Great for Sports Too

Also, sports events are universally well-lit to the point that a projector is great for watching them.

If you’ve wanted to get a projector and had planned on using your home theatre to watch sports, consider this a job that a projector can do just as well as a television.

Control

12 Control

All of the above can be summed up in a word – control.

You have control of your home theatre. It is your home theatre.

It’s not a musty seat that you rent for 120 minutes at a time.

Ultimately, you can do whatever you want with the home theatre.

You have to deal with the consequences too, of course, so try to treat the space like you’d treat any part of your home but otherwise, you have full control over what is done with the room.

Materials and Décor

8 Materials and Decor

We’ve already covered a lot of the materials you’ll be working with but part of a home theatre’s appeal is the aesthetic. It’s a part of your home like any other room, so you want it to look good.

Here are our tips:

  • Dark paints and materials that keep the room dark are great for image quality, especially with projectors. Dark green will work well too.
  • Durable and dark-coloured carpet is best for the floors. See our note on themes.
  • Adding sideboard or moulding along the walls can make it look more like a cinema.
  • The walls might be bare, so posters and other wall decorations are appreciated as long as they don’t distract from the big screen.
  • A friendly reminder to reduce ambient light and ensure there are no reflective surfaces in the room. Matte paint is your friend.

To Theme or Not To Theme

A theme can be as simple as a unified colour scheme or using the same materials to actively make your home theatre look like somewhere else.

There’s no shortage of inspiration online for what you can do to your home theatre to make it stand out.

Leather and matte are always a classic combination when choosing wall furnishings and furniture.

13 To Theme or Not To Theme

Some prefer to carpet both the floor and the walls to ensure that their attention is on the TV and the TV alone.

If you have kids, you might want to theme a home theatre after some of their favourite entertainment, though this is a relatively short-term decoration style that they’ll outgrow someday. If anyone you know is artistic, having illustrations on the wall is an option.

Otherwise, you can theme the theatre after period pieces. Pick a time, any time, whichever is your favourite, and go with that theme when decorating the place.

Whether it’s the interior of a rustic bar, instantly recognisable 1920s art deco, or something wackier like a setting from your favourite fantasy or sci-fi show, how you decorate your home theatre is up to you.

Need some inspiration? We have you covered.

Finishing Touches

9 Finishing Touches

With that, your home theatre should be in place and operational. Anything you add now will be the finishing touches.

These are things like a universal remote to control the smart lighting that we’ve advocated for above, or a drop-down movie screen so that you have a clean, easily visible surface to view your movies on if you’re using a projector.

The finishing touches you want to add will be dependent on what you’ve got in your theatre.

Looking online, you’ll find some who go as far as to get their own popcorn machines inside or adjacent to their home theatres. That way you can make your own popcorn on the spot and have the area feel more like a cinema.

Others add arcade games like claw machines, whether it’s for the aesthetic and nostalgia’s sake or to have it played during get-togethers.

Summary

10 Summary

That’s about all from this guide. Above is everything you need to know when planning and designing your home theatre and why you should take the leap if you’ve been considering it.

Building out a home theatre can be a costly and time-intensive process at first, a project that takes a while and is added to in parts as components become cheap or available. 

In those cases, check back here and follow this guide like a checklist to make sure you’ve included everything. Whatever style or setup you go for, following our guide is a sure-fire way to make the home theatre of your dreams.

About S. Santos

Tech columnist and tech blogger, audiovisual aficionado trying to keep up with the ever-evolving world of gadgets, home entertainment, and personal technology. If not fiddling with AV cables at home or in front of the computer, he can be found playing tennis or padel.

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