Home Theater Basics

So you’ve already got the perfect design in mind and picked out one or two essential pieces of audiovisual hardware? Congratulations: The goal of enjoying a great home theater is almost in sight. Following are just a few crucial tips that can help you make the most of your new system, cut down on clutter, effectively complement central components and minimize the hassle of any upgrades going forward.

Calibrate Your Display

We can’t stress it enough, setting up your home theater and not tweaking your video display is like buying a Porsche 911 and never going over 50 miles an hour: You simply won’t experience the true potential of the machine. Making even rudimentary adjustments to the display through the picture controls in the menu system will dramatically enhance performance. See our article on giving your HDTV a tune-up and improving picture quality for more details.

Enhance Speaker Performance

We live in a video-centric world in which speakers often get short shrift. There are several things you can do to enhance speaker performance. First, make sure to buy speakers as a matched set. If you throw a bunch of different speakers together, audio won’t be cohesive. Also make sure that the speakers’ tweeters are positioned at ear level when you are sitting down. Invest in high-quality speaker cables too, and use the stands or wall brackets rather than putting speakers in bookshelves, which can have negative impact on audio. Finally, test your speakers using the test-tone generator on your receiver to make sure you have them set up properly. It’s easy to mistake a right front speaker for a left front speaker, an error that if unaddressed will produce discombobulated sound—especially on movie soundtracks.

HDMI cableCut the Cords

There is nothing worse than having an unintelligible jumble of wires waiting behind your equipment rack. Without a preemptive effort at organizing cords, managing your system, upgrading equipment or running simple troubleshooting can become an all-day system overhaul. To eliminate issues like these, label each component’s wire clearly using masking tape. Bundle wires together with twist ties, and whenever possible, use HDMI cable instead of component video cable: Component video cable has five connectors to HDMI’s one, making for a messier installation.

Likewise, exposed wiring is probably the biggest aesthetic no-no when you are trying to create a room that looks even the slightest bit put together. There are several solutions to exposed wiring. A lot of AV furniture, for example, has wire-management features built into the cabinetry. Additionally, manufacturers like KEF offer wireless rear speakers so you don’t have to run speaker wire from the receiver to the back of the room (though you’ll still need to plug wireless speakers into a power outlet). If you prefer wired speakers, some cable manufacturers offer flat, paintable speaker wire that seamlessly blends in with its surroundings. Of course, the best solution is to hide the wires within your walls, which can be complicated if you don’t know what you are doing. Consult a professional AV installer before you start drilling holes in drywall.

Get Lighting Right

Lighting your theater appropriately is crucial to the overall experience. There is nothing more jarring than turning the lights off and on before or after a movie. In fact, flipping all the lights on after a movie can actually hurt your eyes as your pupils readjust from total darkness. Use dimmers to avoid a scenario like this, whether you install simple wall dimmers or use a more sophisticated lighting system, such as those from Lutron. Also consider aisle rope lighting so that you don’t trip if you need to take a snack or bathroom break during the middle of a film. Some even use lighting to create a dramatic effect, such as a fiber-optic ceiling that mimics the night sky.

Purchase the Right Gear

Whether you know a lot or a little about technology, it pays to do your research before you lay down your credit card. While it might be relatively simple to go out and purchase a new Blu-ray player, buying a receiver to go with it might not be so easy. For example, if you purchase a Blu-ray player with support for the new high-resolution audio formats then buy a receiver that doesn’t decode these formats, you won’t be able to take advantage of all that Blu-ray has to offer. Additionally, several new receivers have special features that include room correction. These modes are often invaluable in adjusting speakers to the optimal levels for your room. Make sure you know what you are buying and how it is going to work within your desired system – a simple glance at our in-depth home audio and home video reviews section can provide a good starting point.

Klipsch RF-62 Speakers
Klipsch RF-62 Speakers