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Installing Your Home Theater: The Plain English Guide to Installation Part 5

Okay, by now we have the DVD player set up for digital audio and video. I know, you are anxious to enjoy your new system but there are a few more things to get out of the way. This time we are going to consider the room in which your system resides. Yes, the room is the often forgotten component of the home theater.

There are several aspects of a room that will greatly affect your appreciation of your system. As with everything home theater the factors are divided into audio and video. With all of these factors there is certain realities that have to be overcome. The shape of the room, placement of doors and windows often create problems that have to be considered. Some of this may seem trivial but trust me, paying attention here will greatly enhance your enjoyment of your system.

First lets consider the factors that will impact the video quality of your TV. Here, light sources are the most important aspect of the room you have to consider. The two types of light source are natural and artificial. There is usually little we can do about the natural sources. Most rooms have windows and sun tends to enter the room through them. Our goal here is to control the light as much as possible. Consider what a real theater looks like. It’s dark for a reason. You want the focus of the room to be on the screen. You also have to avoid ambient light washing out the details on the screen. Look into blackout curtains. These are dark, usually heavy curtains that block out all the light in the room. If you don’t find them very attractive don’t worry. When they are pulled across the windows you will be sitting in the dark anyway. Next there is light that comes in through the doorways. This can be usually be handled by buying an inexpensive folding door that can be pulled across the doorway. You can also set up another curtain to block the light from other rooms.

Since most of us are not bats or other nocturnal creatures we do need some light in the room. There are vital functions that must be performed such as finding the remote, location of your drink and grabbing the popcorn. After all, what is watching a film without a snack? For this you want a small amount of light positioned behind the TV, backlighting to use the technical term. One nice way I have seen to accomplish this is track lighting. You run some metal brackets across the ceiling and set lights on it. The lights can then be positioned to focus on the corners of the room or directly behind the TV. You need only a small amount of light for this purpose so consider low wattage bulbs, around 20watts will usually do. You can also install a dimmer switch to lower the amount of light during viewing and bring it up when you wan to work on your system. For those of you intent on recreating the old time theater experience teen-age children or senior parents can be dressed up as ushers and given small flashlights to guide you and your guests to your seats. Be careful with this approach, they may tell you to keep quiet if you try to talk during the film.

You think we are done with the TV set up for your room? Not quite yet. We still have to consider the type of TV you have. There are basically three types of television sets available. The most common is the standard cathode ray tube. This is just an updated version of the TV sets most of us grew up with. With this type of set electronic "guns" project electronic streams at phosphors located on the screen. The advantages of this format are the picture is very bright and the viewing angle is wide. Typically the screen sizes can be from a few inches (not good for home theater) up to about 38" or a bit more. The optimum viewing distance is up to around 15 to 20 feet for a 32" set. The angle for viewing is approximately 70 degrees. This means you can sit well to either side of the set and still see the picture. There are now extremely flat screens TVs that can be mounted on a wall like a picture. I have even seen them pole mounted so the set can be rotated to accommodate the current primary viewing position.

The next type is the front projection set. The draw back here is there are two units required, the projector and the screen. The project is usually mounted on the ceiling or in a coffee table sized box placed in front of the screen. This set needs the darkest room possible to be really effective. The nice thing is by playing with the distance between the project and the screen you can get very large picture sizes, I’ve seen 100" with very good picture quality. These sets are very expensive and have a fair amount of maintenance including replacement of the projector bulbs. You also have to keep the area between the projector and the screen free of any objects or you will emulate the wonderful theater experience of seeing shadows on the screen.

Next is a compromise between the two previous sets, the rear projection TV. With this format of television the project is contained in the same box as the screen. The image is projected to the screen from behind, hence the name. The down side here is the viewing angle ad amount of ambient light that can be tolerated. The viewing angle for a rear projection television is about 40 degrees. This will mean that people off to the sides will not see the picture properly. This is great for bringing families together; you have to set very close to each other. You should also invest in a anti-glare screen. This helps keep the room’s light off the screen. This type of set is prone to washout from any extra light in the room. You need a fairly dark room for a descent picture.

So, here are the factors to consider for your room to help you get the best picture possible. Control the lighting. Make sure you can block out extraneous light from windows and doors and use soft backlighting. Pick a set format that suites your needs. If you often have a lot of friends over to watch films the rear projection TV may be too limited in the amount of seats in the best viewing positions. Next time we’ll make your room audio friendly.