The Perfect Home Theater

By Kendra Walker | Photos by James Ray Spahn

The lights are dimmed, the popcorn is ready and your feature presentation is about to start. Watching the latest blockbuster, a longtime favorite for the tenth time or the big game is a special treat. Why not do it from the comfort of your own home?

Adam Zatorski, of audio/video design and installation company King Systems, shares his expertise on how to take your in-home entertainment to the next level.

Talk to a specialist
Working with a contractor or specialist early in the planning process will help you think through the whole layout of your desired theater space, which will ultimately help the order of operations from the very beginning. Based on your budget, an expert can also help determine which elements to focus on and which amenities can come later or are less of a priority. Zatorski recommends finding someone with CEDIA-certification through its professional finder page,

Figure out the room
“The room itself is a speaker and has incredibly important characteristics when putting together the home theater,” Zatorski says. Determining the number of people you would like to seat in the room will help you size the rest of the room’s construction. “Rectangular is good, square is bad,” he says. The shape allows you to build things like speakers and a separate closet for storage and temperature regulation.

Sound absorption is key
When it comes to sound, the front and back walls are incredibly important. Use wall material and insulation that will absorb and deaden sound waves. Also consider irregular-shaped materials on the room’s corners to better break up dead spots. This sound absorption will better calibrate the room to how the movie was intended to sound, getting the most out of loud action sequences without dialogue sounding muddled.

Audio package
Creating the ultimate theater experience is all about the audio. “By far, the speakers and audio are the number one thing you want to spend your budget dollars on,” says Zatorski. “Whether you’ve got the right size screen or a small screen, if you don’t have the audio right in the first place you won’t have the true theater experience.” The key is to keep the technology hidden and install speakers behind the screen. Speakers should also be at the same height throughout the room, though speakers in the ceiling allow for three-dimensional sound effects, such as a plane flying above your head or race cars speeding past from right to left. Placing projectors in a back room behind glass will also reduce fan noise during the show.

Video package
A true home theater will include a two-piece screen system with a projector and a screen, says Zatorski. An acoustically transparent screen allows the sound to come through the screen. Zatorski also endorses getting a screen motorization setting that allows for both the standard 16:9 aspect ratio for watching television, as well as an anamorphic widescreen format for movies.

“Believe it or not, there is a tremendous difference between having a traditional couch or lazy boy recliner and actual theater seats,” says Zatorski. Theater-style seats are generally made of wood and have a resonance that allows the viewer to feel the vibrations of the bass, as experienced in a movie theater. Traditional couch seating actually deadens or eliminates those vibrations, making the room less lively. “Theater seats add to the experience and makes it that much better.”

Lighting is there to create different moods, says Zatorski, and allows a theater to adapt to other uses. “You want to be able to control it, dim it and go from the movie experience lighting to having fun with your friends,” he says, though notes that having a completely blacked-out room is not necessary. The most important element to lighting is to be able to darken the front of the room near the screen, and then consider dimming settings on the side walls.

Using deeper, darker tones throughout the room will reduce glare from the screen. “You don’t have to paint all the walls black, but pick colors that aren’t going to interfere or create light reflection,” says Zatorski. He also recommends a darker carpet, but it’s not a deal breaker because carpets don’t bounce light. Lighter carpet can actually create a dampened lighting walkway for viewers during a show, if desired. 1