So you’ve mastered the art of movie theater popcorn (hint: Flavacol and coconut oil), and you have all of the X-Men movies on Blu-ray, not to mention all five Die Hards. All you’re missing is the home theater. But before you go shelling out money for expensive equipment and stadium seating, you should know the basics. Because there’s nothing more annoying than sitting down to your favorite movie—popcorn in hand—only to realize that your surround sound is sounding more surreal than anything.
The Basic Systems
Unless you’re planning on opening an IMax Theater, there are basically three options for home theater set-ups: virtual surround sound, home theater in a box, or a custom mix. Let’s look at the pros and cons for each:
Type of System
Virtual Surround Sound
- Low cost
- Very easy to set up
- Cannot provide true theater-quality sound
Home Theater in a Box
- Low cost
- Contains everything you need to set up your system
- Only works well for small to medium rooms
- Potential for the best sound quality
- High cost
- Can be extremely confusing to set up
- Time-consuming to research, understand and match components
Ask the Right Questions
Before you hop into the closest Best Buy and start comparing prices, you’ll want to be prepared to answer a few basic questions:
- What is the size and shape of the room you want to outfit?
- Do you have any existing equipment you’d like to use? If so, take note of the connections you’ll need.
- Do you plan on using a flat screen or a projection unit?
- Do you have a Blu-Ray system, DVD player, streaming videos, or all of the above? Again, check on which kind of connections you’ll need.
- Where will the audience be sitting?
- What is the lighting situation in the room (both natural and artificial) and how will it affect your viewing?
- How much do you want to spend?
- Where will the components be located? (Out in the open, in a closet, in a wall, etc.)
- What is the ventilation level in the room?
- What will be the main purpose of the room? (Do you plan on viewing only movies and TV? Will you be listening to music as well?)
- How experienced are you with assembling a home theater?
Get Some Tips from the Pros
After you have all of your answers together—and any other research on specific products you had in mind—take your informed self to either a big box shop like Best Buy or a more specialized shop that focuses on outfitting home theaters. They can help you choose a system based on your specific needs, and they can also recommend an installer if you need one. It all depends on the complexity of the system and your comfort level. With a little luck and the coolest technology out there, you’ll be an expert in no time.
A Quick Peak at Home Theater Trends
From sci-fi to old-school vibe, home theater products have come a long way since the days of bulky equipment and pull-down projector screens. Now the options are endless, making home theaters more mainstream than ever. Here are some of the new trends and products we’ve been seeing:
Retro-Looking Floorstanding Soundbar Speakers: We could go on and on about speakers, but we don’t have the time. If you do want to embark on that scholarly journey, here’s a good primer. But something we’ve noticed is that there’s a growing trend toward the aesthetic appeal and superior sound quality of Floorstanding Soundbar Speakers.
Integration of Whole-House Systems: Gone are the days of multiple remote controls. From the touch of an iPad or similar devise, you can access lights, heating, security and other systems, including all elements of your home theater system.
Disappearing Televisions: Today, even the largest screens can be installed to be unnoticed when not in use. They can fold into the ceiling, pop up from armoires, even appear as mirrors or paintings when not in use.
Smart TVs: As if we need any more access to social media—here’s one more. In addition to using smart phones and tablets as viewing devices, Smart TVs offer online access, social media updates and the ability to stream multiple media outlets at once.
4K Televisions: They may not be commonplace now, but soon will be. 4K televisions are capable of displaying four times the resolution of today’s HD sets, provided you’re playing true 4K content on them.
Sound Bars: These tiny sound systems sit in front of your TV and pump out HD stereo and 5.1 surround sound audio, ideal for the super-slim televisions of the future.
Curved Televisions: Some say curved televisions are a gimmick. Others say the curved look appeals to them, reduces reflections and adds to the viewing experience.
Virtual Reality In-Home Movie Experience: Not yet available for purchase, prototypes like the Immersis and Illumiroom will turn your whole theater into an IMAX-like viewing experience.