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10 common home theater mistakes

Series sponsored by Axiom

The prospect of putting together a home theater is extremely exciting. For the less than technically inclined, however, the process of purchasing and setting up the components can be equally intimidating. We’ve put together a list of the 10 most commonly made mistakes when assembling a home entertainment system so that you can avoid these pitfalls and enjoy the experience of putting your system together as much as you will enjoy using it.

1. Mounting a TV 8 feet or more above the floor

Ever walk out of a big, commercial movie theater with a stiff neck? We have. If you get stuck in the front 5 rows, you’ll be spending most of your time tilting your head back so that you can see the movie. One of the best things about building your own home theater space is that you don’t have to put up with that sort of thing. For that reason, plan on mounting your TV or projector screen at a level that doesn’t require you to pull your neck back. Not only will you be more comfortable, but with a direct view of the display, you’ll enjoy better picture quality.

2. Purchasing the wrong size display for your room

It’s natural to want to get the biggest TV that you can afford. A gargantuan TV makes a big statement in the room and, hey, you’ve got to get a bigger TV than the Jones’ just got, right? The problem is, if you choose a TV that is too large for your viewing distance then you aren’t able to take in the entire image. Also, low resolution images will look worse from a tight distance on an overly large display. Conversely (and less surprisingly) a display that is too small can be rather underwhelming.

Rather than buy the biggest TV or projection screen you can find, determine what the ideal size is for your viewing distance. You can find simple calculators online that will tell you what range of sizes will work best for the distance at which you view your TV. As a general rule of thumb your viewing distance should be between 1.5 times the diagonal width of the screen for HD and 3 times the diagonal width of the screen for SD.

3. Choosing small satellite speakers for a large, open room

Small, satellite speakers have their place, it’s true. They will sound great in a small room or office environment. Unfortunately, as the room gets larger and your distance from the speakers increases, these unobtrusive satellite speakers become less and less impressive. If you have a large, open great room with cathedral ceilings and you want impressive sound, then you need to step up to a bookshelf or floor-standing speaker. In-wall speakers can also work well too – just make sure that they are large enough to fill up your big space. You’ll be glad you did.

Image courtesy of Sound Cinema Integration

4. Placing speakers and/or subwoofers inside an entertainment cabinet or another piece of furniture

Speakers already have their own cabinets. There’s a reason for this: The cones (drivers) that the speaker uses need to have a certain amount of space and air resistance to sound their best. The cabinets that speakers are built into have been carefully designed to help the speakers sound fantastic. When you place a speaker inside another cabinet, you essentially undo all the work that the speaker designer put into making the speaker sound great. If you need the speakers to be hidden, consider an in-wall or in-ceiling option. These speakers are designed to sound good without taking up space in your room and will yield better sound than a cabinet speaker placed inside another cabinet.

This rule goes double for subwoofers. Placing a subwoofer inside an enclosed space goes against the point of having a subwoofer. Low frequency sounds have really long wavelengths which means the sound needs to travel around the room quite a bit for you to feel their full effect. When a subwoofer is placed inside a cabinet, you prevent the low frequency sounds from being able to interact with your room. The result is a muddy, booming sound that takes away from, rather then adding to, your home theater experience.

5. Purchasing electronics from a store that also sells groceries

We can appreciate the convenience and super low prices that these mega-stores offer but their electronics departments are best suited for purchasing video games and batteries rather than speakers or A/V receivers. The items that they carry are usually stripped down, budget versions of what you see in a dedicated electronics store. They may come cheap, but they’ll sound that way, too. It’s worth the extra time and gas to travel to a vendor that specializes in the kind of equipment you are looking for.

6. Purchasing an A/V receiver made by a company best known for their TVs

It may seem logical that a company known for making outstanding televisions would also be capable of making great A/V receiver. It’s all electronics, right? Well, no. Making a great sounding receiver requires a great deal of dedication and know-how. For this reason, it is important that you research the top brands in audio before you head out to start making your purchases. While it may seem intuitive to purchase a TV, Blu-Ray player and audio receiver from the same manufacturer, doing so robs you of the opportunity to put together a truly stellar system. Components from different brands WILL play nicely together if care is taken when matching them up.

7. Allocating your entire budget for the big ticket items

With all the time spent researching and budgeting for the more expensive TV, receiver and speakers it is easy to overlook the need for accessories. You’ll need speaker wire, HDMI cables, perhaps a wall mount for your TV or a universal remote control. Many are understandably caught off guard when it comes time to make a purchase and the salesperson brings this up. As a result cheaper items get purchased and the performance potential for the system is compromised. Speaker wire, for instance, is extremely important. Anything under 16 AWG is not worth using. You needn’t spend $1000.00 on wire, but these accessories need as much consideration as the rest of your system. A good trick is to purchase the bulk of your accessories first. In fact, those that are doing custom installations on a new build are actually required to do so. With quality accessories in place, you are sure to get the best possible performance.

Image courtesy of Girl Geekette

8. Spending less than $30.00 on a surge protector

You don’t have to live in tornado alley to need a quality surge protector. Electrical problems can and will happen anywhere. Over the years, we’ve heard far too many heart breaking stories of elaborate systems being laid to waste by a brown-out, lightning strike or sudden surge of electricity. Most budget surge protectors aren’t capable of taking a real hit and none of them offer insurance for your connected components. A quality surge protector may cost a bit more, but they will do an effective job of protecting your investment against unforeseen electrical issues. Quality surge protectors generally claim to offer protection up to X number of joules and stand behind it with a warranty so that, if they do fail, they will compensate you for your loss.

9. Not auditioning speakers in your own home

The problem with electronics boutiques and even the big box electronics stores is that their demonstration rooms are designed so that almost any product they set up and play for you will sound good. Buyers are given a demonstration and it sounds great. They take it home, set it up in their room and, to their dismay, the system doesn’t sound nearly as good as it did at the store. This is why it is essential that you purchase speakers and A/V gear from a vendor with a gracious return or exchange policy which allows you to experience the products in your space with all its unique attributes. Speaker placement, furniture, wall location and ceiling height are just a few of the factors that influence your system’s sound. Without an in-home audition you have no way of knowing if you’re purchasing will satisfy you in the long term.

10. Not taking the time to do some research and ask for help

Folks, in the age of the internet, there is no excuse for not taking the time to do some research. With just a half-hour of some searching and reading, you can increase your knowledge exponentially. Need a little help? There are actually folks sitting by their computer RIGHT NOW, waiting for your questions so that they can impart their vast knowledge to you. If you don’t feel like diving into discussion forums, visit some manufacturer websites. Many of them will offer some solid advice on what to look for when shopping for speakers, TVs or A/V receivers. Remember, knowledge is power. Being armed with the right information keeps you from being talked into making a hasty and uninformed decision and saves you the trauma of suffering from buyer’s remorse and spares you the hassle of making a return.