10 DIY Home Theater Tips

When you have your first child, people seem to come out of the woodwork with all kinds of advice. There are endless unsolicited tips on diapering, feeding and sleep schedules. Well, to many, a home theater is like a baby, and with its birth comes a lot of opinion. Everyone and their installer has ideas, tweaks, products and plenty of other info. After all, there are endless audio and video products, as well as spaces, setups and resources. We asked 10 do-it-yourselfers to throw out the best advice for your growing baby. Here’s what they had to share.

1) Search Online

I shopped on eBay and Craigslist for discounted items, without compromising quality. I read reviews and forums on AudioReview.com, and educated myself. If I were to do it over again, I would splurge on the projector. I ended up with Epson, since they have less expensive bulb replacement costs. I bought a business projector that was a 4:3 square format. My next projector will hopefully be a 720p HD widescreen. I’ve learned that sound quality is important, but video quality trumps it all.

Aaron Holmberg, Saint Paul, MN
Holmberg Studios

Aaron Holmberg, Saint Paul, MN

Aaron Holmberg’s Home Theater

2) Run Wire, Then Run It Again

My home theater experience left me wondering why I didn’t pull more wires while I had the walls open. Also, why didn’t I run snake-able conduit to those hard to reach locations (i.e. the bedroom) in the house? If house-wide music is important, run conduit in open walls to places that may or may not be used. I have audio and video feeding to many different corners of my house, and could easily have pulled extra wires for all different media types (video, audio, Internet). It never hurts, and is easiest done when the walls are open. I’m kicking myself now, because I need to reconfigure my wiring due to hardware and technology changes, and improvements.

Bill Schlueter
Los Angeles, CA

Run Wire, Then Run It Again

Bill Schlueter’s Home Theater

3) Lay Out the Room Properly

We have a nice-sized home theater (110-inch screen, stadium seating for nine) with plenty of floor space for the Rock Band setup. We have a set of double doors that open into the theater. The problem is that my husband loves to watch movies marathon style, and I am type A, meaning I’m done after the first hour. Unfortunately, when I go to sneak out, there is no sneaking. I have to open the doors at the back, letting the light in and ruining the rhythm of the movie – or so I am told. It would have been better if I could simply push a side door and be gone.

Susan Sanders
Johns Creek, GA

Lay Out the Room Properly

Susan Sanders’ Home Theater

4) Call in Professional Help

If you can afford it, have an ISF-certified technician adjust your TV or projector. The cost is about $300. Otherwise, rent the Digital Video Essentials DVD and follow the instructions to adjust your picture.

George Pilipovich
Richardson, TX

George Pilipovich's Home Theater

George Pilipovich’s Home Theater

5) You’ll Always Want to Upgrade

Always be prepared for the future! That means, design your home theater in a way that it is easily upgradable for future technology integration. One way to do this is by introducing two-inch cable conduit into the pre-wire design phase. Conduit will allow for future cables, such as fiber optic, to be run through finished walls and ceiling with ease. Without conduit, one may find themselves tearing into drywall and baseboards to retrofit new cable applications.

Darren Mortensen, Olathe, Kansas
Cinema at Home

Darren Mortensen's Home Theater

Photo courtesy of Dawson Stewart, Winter Creek Studio Photography

6) Not Everyone Will Enjoy Your Audio

Don’t leave the cost of acoustic treatments for the room out of your budget. It’s easy to focus on the projector, the screen, the speakers, the soundproofing, the electronics, the seating, etc. However, to get the most bang for your buck, acoustic wall treatments should pay a major role. There are essentially two ways to approach acoustic treatments: complete room or specific locations. For room treatments, the Acoustrack system from Acoustical Solutions or snap-trak from SoundNice is a nice way to go. For specific locations, you will need absorbers on the front and sidewalls and diffusers on the back. You can purchase these from a multitude of places (search on acoustic panel) or you can build them yourself. Just don’t go overboard or you’ll end up with a dead room – sound-wise that is.

Glen A. Reece, Ph.D.
Alexandria, VA

Glen A. Reece's Home Theater

Glen A. Reece’s Home Theater

7) Consider Seating Assignments

If you have a theater with multiple rows of seating, be sure to give enough attention to the sight lines from both the front and back rows. This usually involves some calculations and the interplay of riser height, ceiling height, screen height, distance from screen to floor and ceiling, and distance from the seating to the screen. I often thought I was being obsessive about the calculations and being so concerned about this, but it has truly paid off. The back row of seating has a perfect, unobstructed view of the screen, regardless of whether the front row seats are reclined or not. Since riser construction is not easily changed at a later date, it really pays to do the calculations ahead of time. There is a useful thread on the AVS Forums.

Jason Klinke
Redmond, WA

Jason Klinke's Home Theater

Jason Klinke’s Home Theater

Don’t Get Wrapped up with Cable8) Don’t Get Wrapped up with Cable

Cables matter, but you don’t need to break the bank. The thing with cables is that cheap ones sound cheap and pricey ones suffer from diminishing returns. James Randi offered up hismillion-dollar challenge to anyone who could tell the difference between Monster cables and $7,000 Pear cables. Nobody has claimed it. Monster Cables or similar quality will sound just fine. Makeyour own if you want premium cables; there are a ton of resources for this on the web. There is also a video of Digg founder Kevin Rose getting a lesson in building cables very similar to cablesI’ve made – and they sound great. Even my skeptical wife could tell the difference between my homemade cables and the off-brand interconnects I had been using.

Jeromy Timmer
Kalamazoo, MI

9) Easy isn’t Always Better

In planning my theater, I had assumed that a good receiver would give me the best bang for my buck, eliminate precious rack space, and at the same time provide me with a versatile piece of equipment capable of good sound. However, after only “living” in the new theater for a year, I strongly feel I should have went with separates. Separates, meaning a video processor, audio processor, amplifier, and possible XM/FM/AM tuner. After listening to the difference in some of my customers’ houses, and the ability to really process specific sound fields and how “clean” the sound sounded, I can just kick myself. Not to take away from the power and quality of the Marantz SR-8002, but had I gone for the separate route, my budget would have been more on the short term. However, my enjoyment level and satisfaction would have been ultimate for me. Instead, I am left trying to figure out how to sell this virtually brand new great receiver with quality sound to raise the funds for the DVDO processor and the Anthem amplifier I so desire. In this day and age I should have known the investment in separates would have yielded a better overall experience, and would have given me a higher degree of satisfaction and power.

Vincent J. Bova, Monroe Township, NJ
Total Control Remotes

Vincent J. Bova's Home Theater

Vincent J. Bova’s Home Theater

10) Black is Better

I built my home theater for my family, but also to bring associates and customers over for big games and events. We initially got all of the black HVAC insulation up after buying expensive tan fabric to complete the walls. It was then that I realized that black sidewalls significantly reduce the spread of light reflection from the screen to the sides and keeps everyone focused on the film screen. I would heartily recommend dark sidewalls as the way to go in your home theater. This has made me prolong the installation of the beautiful (and expensive) tan fabric on the sidewalls, as I decide if I should pay extra to swap out the fabric for black fabric.

Steve Lavey, Chicago, IL

Steve Lavey's Home Theater

Steve Lavey’s Home Theater

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