An opulent home theater room isn’t just the ultimate way to enjoy your favorite films; it is also a trophy item that adds thousands of dollars to the value of the home. Although you undoubtedly want to build the best home theater possible, quality is costly and your expenses can quickly spiral out of control. When planning your home theater budget, consider these five essential elements without which no home theater would be complete.

Screen

Although it goes without saying that every home theater requires a screen, it might not be obvious to you that the type of screen you select will impact the viewing experience significantly. For example, many large LCD screens exhibit poor color saturation for viewers seated too far to one side. On the other hand, projection screens — while relatively inexpensive — work poorly in rooms with too much ambient light.

You’ll also need to consider the size of the screen. Although a 42-inch screen might seem large in your living room, it wouldn’t suffice for most home theaters. If your home theater room is already built, you can experiment with various screen sizes before making a purchase. Have two volunteers hold a tape measure diagonally where you plan to position the screen and imagine yourself viewing films on a display of that size. If you are still unsure, buy the largest screen you can afford. Few people have ever complained about a screen that was too large.

Sound System and Acoustics

Positional audio is one of the most magical elements of the theater viewing experience. Whether it is the left-to-right “whoosh” of a starship at warp speed or floorboards creaking beneath the feet of a zombie that seems to be perched just behind you, nothing puts you in the middle of the action like a great sound system. The 7.1 audio standard — three front speakers, four rear speakers and a subwoofer — is arguably the most popular among home theater owners. Remember that you’ll also need a receiver capable of processing surround-encoded audio and sending it to the correct speakers; you won’t hear positional audio if you connect your speakers to a stereo receiver.

Likewise, pay careful attention to the acoustics of your home theater; this may be even more important than speaker selection. Carpeted floors and walls are common in home theaters because they deaden the sound and prevent echoes. If your home theater is comprised primarily of smooth wood or tile, you can minimize errant echoes by hanging sound baffles from the wall and ceiling. Without proper acoustics, you won’t be able to hear the fine audio details in your films and may even have trouble discerning dialogue; don’t skip this step. If your home theater setup includes a computer or projector with a fan, make sure that it is completely isolated from the viewing area.

Seating

Comfort is the primary factor to consider when selecting the seating for your home theater. A chair or couch that fails to provide proper back support and cushioning for the buttocks and legs will cause discomfort and disrupt blood circulation to the lower extremities, forcing viewers to fidget or stand frequently. The material used to upholster the seating is also critical; you wouldn’t expect your guests to sit perfectly still while watching films. Select a material that doesn’t make loud noises when a viewer changes positions and make sure that errant spills and popcorn kernels are easy to wipe away.

When shopping for seating, you’ve likely noticed a large price discrepancy between “affordable” and “premium” furniture. Generally, chairs at the low end of the price spectrum have particle board frames and plastic fasteners while more expensive seating uses solid wood and metal. In short order, a chair of poor quality will begin to sag and squeak as the frame loosens and the cushioning loses resiliency.

Wireless Controls

Modern data storage technology makes it possible for even budget computer hard drives to store hundreds of high-definition films. More than ever, people are adding computers to their home theaters to avoid disc swapping and to enjoy games and streaming media. This presents a problem, though; if you isolate a noisy computer and storage array from the viewing area in your home theater, you’ll need to control the computer wirelessly. Bluetooth keyboards only function properly within a few feet and an infrared keyboard only works with a clear line of sight to a receiver. As an alternative, use software that utilizes a smartphone or tablet to control your computer over a wireless network.

Bear in mind that it is possible to go too far with wireless home theater systems. Thanks to modern technologies such as 802.11n and Bluetooth, it is possible to transmit audio and video streams over the air, eliminating costly and messy cables. However, this convenience comes at a cost as these streams are compressed before transmission. If you choose to go completely wireless with your home theater, audio and video fidelity will suffer slightly.

Refreshments

You probably have fond memories of your favorite box of candy or the unmistakable smell of movie theater popcorn. Before you add refreshments to your home theater, though, consider the type of environment you want to create. If you want an intimate home theater focused solely on film viewing, a simple refrigerator and cabinet filled with snacks and bottled beverages will suffice. On the other hand, some people prefer home theaters that function as all-around entertainment areas including such elements as a bar and pool table. In this case, you may want to add popcorn and soda machines.

When selecting refreshment options for your home theater, remember that popcorn has a persistent smell easily absorbed by carpets and cushions and nearly impossible to remove. If you don’t want your home theater to smell like popcorn, don’t purchase a popcorn machine. In addition, make sure that alcoholic beverages can be securely locked away if children are allowed unsupervised access.

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