Creating Your Media Room
Media rooms are a great gathering space for family movie night, for some hot competition in the ultimate gaming experience, or just someplace to kick back, listen to music and surf the Internet. Here are some hints about setting up your perfect Music and Home Theater environment.
What you’ll need
You can have an entirely affordable Home Theater with a setup as simple as a TV set, a pair of stereo speakers, and a DVD player. But usually a Home Theater is a little more elaborate if your goal is to duplicate—on a smaller scale, of course— the integration of picture, drama, and sound that you experience in a movie theater.
Surprisingly, even a basic home theater system can deliver remarkably enhanced playback of DVDs, videotapes, and even TV shows like “CSI” or “Smallville” that are recorded and broadcast in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound.
A basic home theater system consists of a pair of front speakers on either side of the TV, a center-channel speaker on top (or beneath) the TV set to anchor the actors’ dialogue at the TV screen, a pair of smaller surround speakers to either side of your seating that carry all the effects and ambient sound of a movie or TV show, and the movie score. Most home theater systems add a subwoofer for the deep bass sounds. That’s six speakers in all, but they don’t need to be big. You must add a Dolby Digital Surround Sound Audio/Video receiver, which contains all the necessary circuitry.
Electronics stores are happy to help you figure out what will work best in your home..
The Big Question: What type of TV?
CRT “direct-view”: The original TV technology set has been refined over the past half-century to an impressive and affordable level. However, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that all TV broadcasters in the US must convert to digital broadcasts and turn off their analog transmitters by 2009. Your old CRT TV set will not receive those digital broadcasts without a special set-top adaptor. Digital CRT sets deliver stunning high-definition images, although maximum screen size is limited to about 40 inches. Most digital cable boxes and small dish satellite tuners have the option of HDTV reception (with an upgraded dish). Big-screen CRT sets use rear-projection (RPTV), which looks best in dimly lit or darkened rooms, although new RPTVs are remarkably bright.
Plasma panels: Three to five inches thick and from 42-60 inches in diagonal screen size, flat plasma panels are so bright you can view them in a well-lighted room, and they remain clear and bright over a wide viewing angle. However, they use a lot of power, run fairly warm and are subject to burn-in if you’re not careful (an image permanently imprinted on the screen).
LCD flat-panel display: An LCD flat panel is like your computer screen, with a maximum screen size of about 37 inches. LCD flat panels are capable of very accurate color and HDTV resolution, but LCDs still have trouble producing a true black, and they aren’t viewable over as wide an angle.
DLP rear- and front-projection TV: The very latest. DLP is remarkably compact and capable of bright images with blacks that are the equal of plasma and better than LCD-based displays. DLP is still an emerging technology and some images can be subject to a “rainbow effects”.
Choose the Right Screen Size for your Room
Where you sit determines the clarity of the picture on the TV. If all you watch are true HDTV images, then you can sit as close as twice the diagonal screen size — about 8 feet away for a 46-inch or a bit more for a 50-inch diagonal screen. However, until the final conversion to all-HDTV broadcasting is complete, a lot of your TV viewing may well be conventional analog TV, and those images may look awful up close.
If you watch regular non-HD TV sitting too close to a big screen, you’ll see all the flaws. Figure on three times the diagonal screen size as a minimum viewing distance from standard TVs. So if you want a 60-inch diagonal screen, you should be 15 feet away to watch regular TV and still be pleased with the picture. For HDTV or DVDs, the picture will be great at that distance.
Of utmost importance in your media room is the quality of seating. You know you’ll be sitting there for at least the length of the game or movie. And it’s often the place you will come to unwind, so make sure couches or dedicated theater seats allow you to watch the screen in the way that’s most comfortable for you.
A note of caution with media room furniture:
When you put a tower speaker (or a bookshelf model) inside a wall unit, credenza, or entertainment center, the way the sound bounces off the surfaces in the wall unit’s cavity may produce some sound anomalies and unmusical colorations. Of course, if your partner detests seeing large speakers and wants them hidden away, you’ll probably never even notice the slight difference in the sound.
I have a friend with a true home theater, complete with gold twisted cord at the entranceway and a red velvet curtain that swishes away to reveal the huge screen. It’s truly an experience lounging on those plush couches and watching “Lost” . . . and the popcorn is free!