In Part 1 of our new Building a Home Theater series, we will introduce you to the basics of Home Theater and take a detailed look at some fundamental design goals, room layouts, and component placement options.
Welcome to our new series: Building a Home Theater!  As the old saying goes “all work and no play makes an editor a dull boy”; well you get the idea. Trust me, after some long hours in the lab testing power supplies I like to kick back and watch a good movie to relax and recharge. Combine state-of-the-art hardware that we all love with stunning video and super surround sound and you have the makings for a great hobby that can easily be shared with family and friends.  And we suspect that just like the editors here at PCPerspective, many of our readers are home theater enthusiasts as well.  So join us now as we embark on our journey into the realm of home theater.

Overview of the Series:
•    Building a Home Theater Part 1: Introduction and Planning
•    Building a Home Theater Part 2: AV Receivers and Sources
•    Building a Home Theater Part 3: Video
•    Building a Home Theater Part 4: Speakers
•    Building a Home Theater Part 5: Calibration, Room Treatments and Remotes
•    Building a Home Theater Part 6: HTPC/Media Server

In Part 1 of our Building a Home Theater series, we will introduce you to the basics of Home Theater and go over many of the critical planning steps.
•    Introduction to Home Theater
•    Basic Design Goals
•    Room Layout and Component Placement
•    Balancing the Budget

Introduction to Home Theater (Home Cinema)

Let’s start off by defining our topic.  According to the Wikipedia: A home theater is a theater built in a home, designed to mimic (or exceed) commercial theater performance and feeling, more commonly known as a home cinema. Today, home cinema implies a real “cinema experience” at a private home.  In other words the goal is to recreate the experience of going to a local theater, in your own home. 

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There are several key attributes that make going to the local Cineplex a unique experience, which will typically carry over into the design of a home theater. 
•    Large image size (immersive)
•    Sound from all directions (surround sound)
•    Low ambient light
•    Good acoustics

Initially it may sound like the main purpose of a home theater is to watch movies.  For some, watching movies may be their main objective but for many others the home theater will be more versatile, enabling users to not only watch movies but also enjoy sports, TV and games.  As we will soon see, defining the purpose of your home theater will be an important step in making it a reality.

The term “home theater” also means different things to different people, depending on your objectives and resources.  A flat screen TV, a DVD player and a home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) plunked down in the family room may be the perfect solution for some.  On the other hand your idea of the ideal home theater might be a dedicated room packed with all the latest audio/video goodies that could make a Hollywood producer jealous.  And while some people will place more emphasis on video, audiophiles may focus their efforts on the sound reproduction.

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Now let’s take a look at the main components that make up a home theater system.  Most people will immediately identify a large screen TV and surround sound system as the two main ingredients.  Throw in a DVD player, cable box and a couple recliners and we’re good to go, right?  Actually no; the room itself is one of the most important components in a well designed home theater.  How the room interacts with the audio and video components will significantly impact the final result. 

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  THX Certified Premier Screening Room
(Courtesy of THX Ltd.)

The room should provide a comfortable environment but should also be able to control sound and light.  Both direct and ambient light must be controlled for optimum picture quality and the way sound reflects around the room will greatly affect sound quality.  The room dimensions will significantly impact bass sounds and various room treatments may be needed to help control sound reflections (rugs, acoustic ceiling tiles, book cases, sound absorber panels, bass traps, etc).  The shape and size of the room, color of the walls, ceiling and floor, furniture, carpet, wall treatments, and lighting all become very important ingredients in a well-designed home theater.

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