Are you in the process of planning a home theater? Possibly you are well into the design or even already have some construction underway. Or, you may have only recently started to consider the possibility. In any case, you have likely been overwhelmed with copious, confusing and often misleading information on just exactly what creates a great home theater experience. To make sense of it all, it is a good idea to step back and consider what is possible, and what is essential to attain the results you desire. This article will consider three key ingredients of proper home theater design.
To be clear by what is meant by the term "home theater" in this article, we are referring to a room dedicated and optimized for movie, music, TV, and increasingly, video gaming. Other synonyms home technology professionals may use interchangeable for the term "home theater" are "home cinema" and private "screening room". What we are not referring to here are dual-purpose rooms that may double as the Living Room, Great Room, etc, that are open to other rooms in the home and that are not able to be optimized for high-performance audio and video. In home technology professional speak, these dual-purpose, more casual rooms are called "media rooms".
The considerations of a great home theater design go beyond counting how many seats will fit in your room or what kind of equipment is needed. In fact, it becomes a more personal question of what can a private home theater offer you and your family. What are the benefits? We find this is a question many of our clients have never really considered. Unfortunately, by the time many get around to asking that question, a lot of advice has been proffered and decisions made, often to detrimental effect.
In the most basic sense, a private home theater is a room in your home where you, your family and friends will be able to gather to watch movies, television, listen to music, play games and generally be entertained. That sounds pretty good. But all those things can be done in the kitchen as well! What makes a private theater special?
A recurring theme in interviews with our clients is the value of time. Our lives are busy and life seems to pull us in many different directions. Time is irreplaceable and time with loved ones is priceless. A private home theater, designed correctly, can be a special place that will draw us together. Whether it is the professional couple who never went out to the movies and now enjoys movie date nights on a regular basis or the growing family that is drawn to their special theater space to enjoy new and old favorites together, a private theater can be that place where memories are made.
What is essential to make your private home theater that special place? The willing suspension of disbelief. This is what happens when the experience is so good you have forgotten that you are watching a movie. If your home theater does not do this, you are better off in the kitchen. What does it take to make this willing suspension of disbelief possible?
1. Sound. Real, accurate sound
Ironically, sound is one of the most frequently given objections to properly designing a private theater. Many people have become intimidated by the idea that high quality sound is something that only audiophiles or other specially gifted people can appreciate. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, sound is arguably the stimulus we have been designed to be most sensitive to and impacted by. Sound affects us physically, emotionally, mentally and behaviorally. The hair-raising effect of a guttural growl in the dark or the nostalgic warmth felt after hearing that first love song of our youth exemplify this fact. The mistaken notion that not all of us can appreciate good sound is costing many a rich portion of what life should offer. In fact, music is more rooted in our fundamental brain structures, those connected with motivation and reward, than language. We were made to enjoy music, to live with sound.
2. A distraction-free environment
Much like the quality of sound, this essential attribute is also spurned by many. Most likely because a distraction-free environment takes planning, expertise and skill to produce. Many home theater consultants will advise you that it is not necessary. Unfortunately, when you discover the folly of that advice, it is irreparable! This misguided advice is intended to save you money and effort, but in fact, steals the ability for your home theater to deliver the detail that is essential in soundtracks and recordings as well as visual details and nuance that pervade great cinematography. Imagine the disappointment if during the long-awaited viewing of the latest thriller, at the precise moment where suspense has built and in that anticipatory silence, you hear water running through your home’s pipes. Talk about a spoiler. Or because of poor lighting management you fail to notice the subtle change in the color of the sky as the sun sets on the heroine. A detail carefully orchestrated by the director in order to fulfill the emotional climax, to really tell the story. These are the details that make great films. You should not have to miss them, so do not allow someone to tell you “sound isolation” isn’t necessary when in truth a quiet room is; and that lighting design will not matter in a dark room when pinpoint control is actually a necessity. After all, it is your home theater, and you deserve the best!
3. Image matters
It is in the area of video technology that one of home theater's great myths persists. This myth being it will be cheaper and better soon. While somewhat true in the world of basic consumer displays, for a private home theater imaging system, this can be a disastrous perspective. The precise balance of viewing positions, sight lines, video projector positioning, picture resolution, screen material and more make the correct engineering and specification essential. We have seen instances where a client has been convinced a typical consumer product will be good enough, only to subsequently experience a truly high resolution image and then be terribly disappointed in the performance of their own home theater. The real trouble comes when it is time to replace the typical consumer product. Many such lesser performance consumer projection systems are designed for convenience instead of performance. The manufacturers want to sell a lot of them and do not want many limiting criterion, meaning their form factor will fit into many different room situations, though usually at the expense of performance. Whereas the performance-oriented products are designed to deliver a superb picture quality as their chief design criteria. Producing a non-compromised level of performance will likely require the home theater's design to be specially optimized for such performance. The result of these divergent philosophies is that a performance-engineered projection system cannot be retrofit into a marginal home theater without significant reconstruction, if at all.
How good are these higher-end video projection systems? The depth of color and purity of the image is profound. The true testament to this is in the world of commercial cinema. Where film reigned supreme due to its superiority in color rendering and resolution, digital cinema is now universal. Movies are created to be experienced in theatrical settings and scale, and at rigorous performance criteria. This is the experience you can have in your own private home theater with the right projection system. To attempt to achieve this with a lesser choice will never fail to disappoint. There are many essential design elements to a truly great home theater experience. I have discussed 3 that are often overlooked, disregarded or misunderstood. Others include the integration of a fine interior design with performance-focused engineering, the careful quality control required of the build-out of your home theater's space, the careful fine tuning and commissioning to deliver your home theater’s full potential, and finally, the aftercare support to assure years of great experiences in your private theater. You and your family deserve to realize the full potential of enjoyment that a private theater perfected at this level can bring. This kind of satisfaction will transform what could have been just another room into the Essential Private Theater.
This article was authored by Sam Cavitt, President & Founder of Paradise Theater
About Paradise Theater:
Paradise Theater is a design and engineering firm specializing in the creation of high performance private home theaters. Every Paradise Theater is a bespoke creation, crafted for the vision of each client. Owners of a Paradise Theater enjoy sensational performance and unique experiences that are a direct result of Paradise Theater's careful design, sophisticated engineering process and explicit attention to detail. Learn more at www.paradisetheater.tv