Home Theatre

By Nancy Moffett

Type “home theater design” into Google, and you’ll find lots of sites offering advice, products and pictures of home theater installations. The information and ideas can be both mind-boggling and intimidating to those of us who aren’t well-versed in the latest audio/visual offerings. So, we asked several Lehigh Valley experts to give us a primer on getting started and what options to think about if you want to capture the movie experience at home.

Let’s start with the “where.” Tom Kucsan, owner of Advanced Residential, says many people build home theaters in their basements, but some opt for a specially-built room elsewhere in the house. Advanced works with affiliated contractors to achieve acoustical isolation by using the proper construction materials. “It doesn’t cost that much more to do it right,” he says. Sound needs to be isolated from the rest of the house, and the room has to have good acoustics. To achieve these goals, both exterior and interior walls need to be insulated. The ceiling needs good acoustical tiling, and the floor needs to be done properly as well, says Baran Schultz, owner of Schultz Technology Solutions. The floor doesn’t necessarily need to be all carpeted, Kucsan notes. “Flooring shouldn’t be 100 percent absorptive or reflective, but a combination of the two. For instance, you can use area rugs on tile or wood and still get a good result.” Schultz adds that the do-it-yourselfer should at least consult an expert before getting started or they could end up with a room that doesn’t work acoustically.

The next step is to lay out the room. Where will the display go? Where will the surround sound speakers be placed? What about lighting and seating? HouseLogix operations manager, Ryan Quinby, says these decisions are critical and must be decided before room construction is finished in order to run cables and wiring in the walls and ceiling. Schultz agrees and recommends having a professional run the cabling. “It’s low voltage, so you need someone familiar with it, which most electricians are not,” he explains. Quinby urges DIYers to label their cables in case they need service later on, which will cut service time by 70 to 80 percent.

Now to the “what.” Here’s where the choices range from modest surround sound systems in a box to top-of-the-line speaker systems and displays. In the past, a real “home theater” would have a front projector with a screen, some as large as 120”. “These are being phased out,” Quinby explains, because the newest televisions (LED, LCD and Plasmas) come in sizes up to 80”. These “smart” TVs also give you internet access. “They work as well or better than projectors and are comparable in cost,” he says. Schultz holds that you get a better picture with the projector, but advises spending more on what’s most important to you…the picture or the sound. And, of course, the more you spend, the better the result.

Larry Golden, owner of Digital Future Now, explains that surround sound systems can range from a 5.1 up to a 9.2. A 5.1 system equals a receiver and five speakers – two front speakers, one center channel, two rear surround speakers and a subwoofer. Regarding surround sound, Kucsan says speaker placement is crucial and must be incorporated into room planning. The next component is a receiver that accepts input from the sound system and from a wide range of multimedia devices, such as a Blu-ray player, cable or satellite feed, a gaming system, etc. “The Blu-ray player is the gateway to streaming (Internet access and services like NetFlix), sending signals to the projector or TV,” Golden says.

After all the electronics are in place, Golden and Quinby advocate for a universal controller to make the system easy to use. “A proper remote system can take four remotes and condense them to one and be usable with only a few pushes of a button,” Quinby explains. Golden says how much automation the room gets comes down to budget and control. “Lighting controls with dimmers and automatic window shades can also be added,” he points out. Everything has to easily work together to make viewing a pleasant experience for the whole family.

Finishing up includes decisions on seating. Theater-style seats can range from cloth models similar to those in the local cinema to high-end leather recliners with built-in tray tables, arm storage and cup holders. Schultz says how many seats you need depends on the size of the room, but the minimum is four to seven. A comfy couch and occasional chairs aren’t the ideal, but will suffice if that’s what the budget allows. The pros all agree it’s more important to spend your dollars on good audio/visual components rather than concentrating on accessories.

Both Golden and Quinby note that many homeowners are opting for a multi-purpose “entertainment/media room,” that incorporates a viewing area, but also includes other activities. These rooms may include a pool or ping-pong table and space for playing games with Nintendos, PlayStations, Wiis, etc. “You won’t get perfect surround sound in the whole room,” Quinby says, “but this set-up allows for family time around the TV.”

If you’re serious about installing a home theater, budget first, then consult an audio/visual professional for guidance before you begin your search for the ultimate entertainment experience in your own home.

Advanced Residential
1036 West Tioga Street
Allentown PA 18103

Digital Future Now
45 Warwick Street
Bethlehem PA 18018

1015 South Cedar Crest Boulevard
Allentown PA 18103

Schultz Technology Solutions
3117 West Ridge Pike
Pottstown PA 19464

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