It doesn't take much effort to turn a typical room into a home theater—just add a television. But considering how many movies and TV shows most of us actually watch at home, why not go the distance and create a domestic space that rivals the movie theater experience? Here are some simple (for the most part) steps for creating a home theater that's worthy of all the time you'll spend in it.
1. Find Your Visual Sweet Spot
Engineers and scientists have toiled long and hard to come up with the optimal viewing distance for watching HDTVs. The math is relatively simple—take the display's diagonal screen size and multiply it by 1.5 to 2.5. That's how far your couch, chairs, or other prime seating choices should be placed relative to the front of the television.
2. For Small Rooms, Try A Soundbar
Most modern HDTVs can pump out decent sound, but nothing delivers that cinematic experience quite like dedicated speakers. For small rooms, consider getting a soundbar, which packs multiple speakers into a single low-profile, horizontal package. Some of the sleeker models can fit right below the screen, while others act as a kind of reinforced base, with the TV sitting directly on top.
3. Clear Space For Wall-Shaking Bass
Another simple audio upgrade comes from a subwoofer, a bass-only class of speaker that's designed to literally vibrate the room. Don't mount these boxy behemoths in a cabinet (where their vibrations will generate more of an unsettling rattle than a satisfying rumble), but on the floor. The key here is to make sure there's enough space right against one of your home theater's walls, and preferably in a corner.
4. Stow Speakers In Bookshelves
One of the hallmarks of next-level home theater audio is separation—setting up speakers so that sound effects, dialogue, and other audio seem to come from different directions, such as left, right and center. Though you could pull this off with a pair of massive floor-standing speakers, the subtler approach (for non-cavernous spaces) is to place smaller speakers on bookshelves, positioned to the left and right of the TV. This stealthier setup also helps to hide obtrusive cables.
5. Mount Up For Surround Sound
The best, but most complex, audio setup is full surround sound, which usually entails six total audio channels, or speakers—one for the center, the right and the left, two for the rear, and one subwoofer. The biggest challenge, however, is generally rear-channel placement. Though you might stumble across the perfect pair of shelves or other furniture to set those speakers on, expect to go the distance and mount the rear channels in the wall (the upper back corners of most rooms work fine).
6. Sit Up Straight For 3D
If you plan on watching a lot of 3D content, get yourself a seat with a stiff back. Why? Because tilting your head to one side or the other can garble the 3D effect—meaning the sort of sprawling position typical to couch-based viewing is no good. So make sure your chair or couch faces forward, in a way that discourages slouching and lounging.
7. Check Your Angles
Some HDTVs can be viewed from relatively extreme angles (to the left, right, or even from above and below), while others require more of a dead-center position. Before you drill any holes or buy any new furniture, stick the TV roughly where it's going to go, turn it on, and make sure none of the room's seating options are getting completely short-changed.
8. Turn Away From Glare
While checking for bad angles, consider how much light is hitting the screen from your windows at various times of the day. The same goes for unnatural light (lamps, track lighting, etc.). Even the brightest image can't compete with intense glare, so try to position the TV in as much round-the-clock shadow as possible.
9. Kill Two Birds With One Curve
Those last two issues—bad angles and screen glare—can be largely dealt with by opting for a curved HDTV. The subtle bend in these displays actually increases the total viewing angle to either side of the TV, while also limiting total glare. Prioritizing this feature can take some of the fuss out of the overall home theater setup.
10. Put on Headphones, And Sit Wherever You Want
Until very recently, headphones and TVs were an awkward fit, requiring that you either sit uncomfortably close to the screen (since most earphone cords aren't more than a few feet long), or figure out where to put the bulky, interference-prone radio-frequency transmitters that work with wireless headphones. But a handful of newer products let you plug standard headphones directly into a remote control, giving you access to perfectly synced, perfectly private audio, from essentially any seat in the room. Only a handful of products currently offer this feature, the most recent of which is the PlayStation 4, which has an audio jack built into the game controller.