Nomenclature is a challenge when it comes to home technology. We struggle with terms that resonate with homeowners. From the “AV guy" to system integrators to custom installers to technology designers to low-voltage contractors, the home technology industry seems to have an identity crisis, even though all those terms mean essentially the same thing to an insider. The same goes for the terms that we use to define rooms in the home, which brings us to the topic du jour: What is the difference between a media room and a home theater?
Most homeowners do not know or even care about the difference.
You will hear them referring to their dedicated home theater space as a media room and vice versa. For architects, interior designers, builders, lighting designers, and other contractors, however, these distinctions can be important in defining your vision and communicating with each other. In other words, it’s good to know the difference between the two.
This article will clearly answer the question of what the difference between a media room and home theater is and includes two photo slideshows with great examples of each.
Thoughts Behind a Home Theater
The Home Technology Association (HTA) defines a home theater as a space that is optimized for a theatrical experience. This means a controlled environment that foments the best entertainment experience possible. Other terms for a "home theater" are "home cinema" and "private home theater". What is so unique about a dedicated home theater space? You need the ability to control (or completely eliminate) ambient light, for one. Many home theaters are designed without windows or have blackout shades to eradicate outside light sources. The absence of unwanted light creates a better onscreen image.
Because you have the ability to completely control your environment in a dedicated theater space, you have more options when it comes to image size. Larger screens and video projectors are available to you because they perform well in light-controlled environments, and because homeowners are more apt to allow a large portion of their wall space to be taken up by a projection screen if it isn’t a multi-use space.
Home theaters are usually acoustically-treated for sound control. Home theaters are designed to optimize sound quality inside the theater (and keep it from leaking out), while also keeping outside noise at bay. This means special sound isolation design, acoustic treatments, and special construction techniques (in practice it is like building a room within a room). Because the room is optimized for sound quality, surround sound is more palatable with speakers hidden behind acoustic treatments or displayed loud and proud without getting in the way of the room’s other functions. After all, you would not put seven floorstanding speakers and massive subwoofers in a great room/kitchen area. That is why dedicated home theaters exist! And the audio experience is one-of-a-kind and more immersive than can be obtained from a media room. The following home theater installations are from HTA Certified home technology designers: