When I first thought about the title for this post, I couldn’t help but think about a classic Byrds hit from the 60s, “So You Want to be a Rock & Roll Star.” In the song, the band laid out four simple steps to rock stardom: first, get an electric guitar; second, take some time and learn how to play; third, grow your hair right; and fourth, wear tight pants. What could be easier?
It’s in that frame of mind that I‘m approaching this blog series. I want to share my thoughts as well as insight from other industry experts on how a beginner–someone who’s never owned or set up a home theater before– can get their arms around the technical and aesthetic issues necessary to create a home theater that really rocks, regardless of the budget. And while I can’t promise that my advice will have the same life-changing effects as hitting the top of the music charts, I can promise that when you’re sitting in your new home theater watching your favorite movie, TV show or even classic rock video, you will feel like a rock star.
So here goes. The first of this series will look at project planning.
Part 1: Project Planning
Like starting any important project, having a plan that helps you think through a wide range of important issues and anticipates potential hurdles is critical. And while your plan may require somewhat more or somewhat less, the following five plan elements are a good place to start.
- Location: Determine where you’re going to set up your home theater. The answer for some might be easy and obvious. If you live in a small apartment, your home theater will most likely need to share a space that may also be your living room or bedroom. If this is the case, you need to think about where your screen will go and where your projector will be placed or mounted (I’ll get into projector and screen technical issues in Part 2 of this series.) If you live in a house, you might have multiple options, ranging from an underused guest room, a basement or attic, an enclosed patio space for those living in warm weather climates, a garage, or a living room or other communal space that you’d like to convert. Of course, a home theater in a home, even a big home, can easily be set up in an area with multiple uses. In my house we set up our home theater in a main living area where it serves multiple purposes – a play room for the kids, a living room area to host guests and a home theater for watching our favorite flicks.
- Purpose: What you’ll be doing in your home theater. Will it be limited to watching movies and TV shows? Do you plan on playing Xbox 360 Kinect or Wii-style games like bowling, dancing, skiing or supporting your child’s Minecraft addiction? Do you plan on a space that will let you snuggle up with your significant other or host movie nights with the kids, or do you plan on having movie parties for a dozen of your closest friends? All of these considerations are important to the layout of your home theater room.
- Layout: Determining where you’ll be seated when you’re in your home theater may very well be one of the most impactful decisions you can make. If your theater is in a rectangle shaped room, you might need to take advantage of the room’s length; however, if your space is square, you probably have many more options. Of course, windows, doors, fireplaces and other home features may require some creative thinking. From outdoor chic to traditional home theater to cozy and unconventional, there are plenty of ideas online to get your juices flowing.
- Light: If you’re constructing a dedicated home theater in a renovated or add-on space, you can easily control the amount of outside light that will enter your home theater. If your home theater will be in a family room or other shared space, you will need to think about how dark you’ll want the theater. The good news here is that many projectors and screens can deliver very bright extremely vivid images in rooms with ambient light.
- Budget: Saying you want a home theater is a little like saying you want a new car. You could get a Rolls Royce or a Ford Focus. Both cars will get you from place to place and each has their distinct benefits. Building a home theater from scratch will require a projector, a screen, a sound system (speakers), and possibly some in-wall/in-ceiling wiring. It may also need to include new seating and other fun features that will make it a home theater you’re proud to call you own. The best place to start this process is setting your maximum. From there you can scale your theater’s performance and features to meet your budget.
As I said before, planning is key. Whether you’re a back-of-a-napkin kind of planner or a spreadsheet aficionado, the sooner you start planning the sooner you’ll be enjoying your home theater.