A properly designed home theater space, whether it's a multipurpose family/media room with a nice HDTV and AV setup or a dedicated theater room with a grand screen and top-notch surround-sound system, can greatly enhance the enjoyment of movies and TV shows.
A poorly designed space can lessen that enjoyment in a number of ways.
Here are five common pitfalls and what you can do to avoid them.
1. Unbalanced Sound
Hard-to-hear dialogue and overly loud rear surround speakers are common problems with home theater sound, which comes from five or more speakers spread around the room.
Sound must be properly balanced to create the illusion of "being there," which is why most AV receivers include an auto calibration routine. You set up a tiny microphone, press a button and the processor works its magic. Still, auto setup isn't perfect and can almost always benefit from professional tweaking if you want to really "dial in" the sound.
2. Unrealistic Picture
If you buy a new TV and set it up without making any adjustments to the picture, the image will likely be overly bright and the color imbalanced - too red, too green, etc. You can improve things by using a set-up disc like Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics.
If you're a stickler and want to squeeze every last drop of performance from your TV, you can have it professionally calibrated by an ISF- or THX-certified technician who uses special equipment to ensure its picture is as accurate (realistic) as possible. Prices vary, but expect to pay a few hundred dollars.
3. Seating That Compromises the Entertainment Experience
Comfort and proper neck support are paramount, but if the seat back is too high and/or cushiony, you'll miss out on the ambient environment sound engineers work hard to create when they mix a soundtrack. Whether it's chirping crickets or ricocheting bullets, the goal is to pull viewers into the story.
Look for comfortable seating that supports your neck without obstructing sound. Also pay attention to seating height, especially with extra squishy couches - the kind you sink into. The center of the screen should be more or less in line with your eyes.
For more on home theater seating, see "Home Theater Seating: Comfort, Form and Function."
4. A Screen That is Too High
Mounting TVs above fireplaces may look cool, but the screen is often too high for comfortable viewing. As noted above, if you have to look up to see the screen, don't be surprised if after watching a two-hour movie you have a crick in your neck.
See "When to Mount a TV Over a Fireplace" for more information on this subject.
5. AV Gear That is Buried
All too often, receivers, Blu-ray players, and other AV components are stuffed haphazardly into a cabinet. Consider a rack or cabinet from one of the many companies specializing in AV furniture. Components will be easier to get to and you'll have built-in wire management and ventilation.
For more on racks and other home theater accessories, see "Home Entertainment Accessories that Count."
To learn more about home theater options and professional installation, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.