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9 Important Ingredients to Look for in a “Home Theater”

For starters, “Home Theater”, is a term owned by the multinational Japanese electronics brand Sony. But since the advent of it, just any and everybody in the world has used this term so freely. Just like the terms ‘Fridge’, ‘Xerox’ and why to forget our ‘Dalda. Hence calling such rooms Home Cinema or a Personal Theater would be more sensible and appropriate.

A typical “Home Theater”, as the term goes, is an ensemble of 6 (5.1) speakers, with a matching AVR (Audio Video Receiver), which is essentially an Amplifier, a source switcher and a video receiver & video out.

But much more goes into a Customized Home Cinema or a Personal Theater than just the audio-video jargon. AV equipment is just 10% of the total ingredients that go into the making of a good Listening Room.

Taking care of the following points can curate an experience many would desire: 1. Room Shape and Dimensions A perfect cube or a long corridor and circular rooms indeed make poor ‘listening rooms’.

Although there are many permutations, almost any room can be made to sound good with the right kind of speakers’ selection, placement, and well-planned acoustic design.

The position of the door and the absence of the windows play an essential role in planning the layout of such Rooms with ‘purpose’.

2. Well Designed Acoustics

Acoustics is the most important factor in any space where the sound is a concern; May it be ambient sound or amplified one. In the case of a Home Cinema, the sense of ambiance is provided by the multi-channel soundtrack, which is reproduced through multiple speakers.

The essence of a great Home Cinema is the dynamic range of spatial experience. In the movie industry, there are standards for every channel - The front left and right channels (speakers), produce the major ‘stage’ sound. The Centre speaker is designated to essentially produce the dialogues, and so on.

Hence the ‘standard’ requires that the ‘listening-room’ be relatively dead or anechoic. This means the ‘listening-room’ reverberations or echo must not dominate and needs to be designed accordingly.

3. Color of Walls and Ceiling

We need pitch-dark while watching a video through a front projection. Even a small light, direct or reflected can fade the picture.

Hence, it is essential for the ceiling and the screen wall to be matt black, to absorb the light that reflects off the screen and not bounce it back to light up the room substantially enough to fade the picture.

Similarly, care should be taken that the remaining walls are dark-colored too, if not black, for the same reason - to maintain the eye's focus only on the screen.

4. Choice of Speakers

There are very few companies that manufacture dedicated speakers for Home Cinema. Though these speaker sets may cost much more than the regular speakers, which were designed for music initially and then a center speaker, a pair or two of surrounds and a subwoofer added to them to call it a “Home Theater” speakers set. These speakers, designed for listening to music may not be able to do justice to the audio tracks of today.

We recommend a Cinema speaker set armed with Horn Tweeters as compared to the dome type for their wide dispersion of sound. After you finalize the speakers for your Home Cinema, it needs to be matched with an AV Receiver that can, at least, match the rated short-term wattage of your speaker system, if not more.

If your speakers are of high wattage, say 300 watts RMS each and above, we recommend separate power amplifiers for all speakers, with a preamplifier which has onboard Sound Processors, both DTS and Dolby Digital or higher.

5. Screen & Position

The Position of the screen is slightly more important than the screen itself. We may buy the more expensive screens than needed but if the position of it, with respect to the ‘Screen’ wall of the ‘Room’, is not right, some of the fun of watching a movie is sure to be lost.

So to assess the size of the screen and then the position we must first fathom the clear height of the room, after the false acoustic ceiling than the width of the room.

Hence, with large room dimensions and relatively low height, we end up compromising the size of the screen. The most important part never to be forgotten, no matter what, is never to place the screen off-center of the room. The screen at all costs has to be in the center of the room.

6. Seating Layout & Sight Lines

Ahhh..! Seating. One of the most neglected aspects of the Home Cinema. We should not forget, seriously watching a movie is at least sitting in one place (chair, Sofa, Recliners, etc.) is a minimum for two hours, if not more. So to do that dedicatedly the seating not only has to be comfortable with good lumbar and neck support, but the placement of the seating with respect to the position of the screen is more important.

The two things we calculate are:

a) Sightlines - It ensures that the whole frame of the screen is visible from every seat.

b) Neck angle - Your neck should not be strained while watching the movie.

7. Lighting & Controls

Lighting is something that we consider overhyped for a purposeful ‘room’, where the lights are switched off all time while the movie is on.

We suggest subtle lighting and all the different lights on separate circuits so that they can be switched off and on individually.

Three main Circuits/Lights that we suggest are as follows:

a) Indirect or cove lighting,

b) Downlighters from the ceiling which also double up as cleaning lights.

c) Wall washers, again either from the ceiling or from the floor.

But all said, the only purposeful lights are the step lights, which act as guiding lights in the dark. These are the only lights that can be left switched on at all times, without disturbing the projection.

8. Sources & Content Quality

The most important but also the weakest link in the chain of a perfectly equipped Home Cinema. Most of the time people buy a videodisc player (DVD player or lately a BluRay Disc Player) and don’t have discs to play apart from maybe one or two. This is a scenario of around a couple of years back.

Now things have changed. We have everything digital now, hence ample choices are available right from Netflix and thousands of movies stored in a server. There was a time where the content was in short supply, now probably, it is the time.

9. HVAC or Air conditioning

The window AC is a complete NO. Best Air conditioning recommended would be Split AC and with a cassette unit in the ceiling. Central Ductable Air conditioning systems work equally well, though with a rider. Most of the time the sound might travel to adjoining rooms connected with the same ducts through the plenum, which might be very disturbing at times.

Along with the ceiling, the AC grills are to be painted matt black to avoid visual disturbance while watching a movie.

Having mentioned the key factors above, it is always advisable to retain a Home Cinema consultant right from the inception of the architectural drawings.

In the end, some things, in some situations, may be left to the experts. Just sit and enjoy!

- Dr. Himanshu Kumar, Mentor, Mini Theaters India

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