Movies may very well be the thing Long Islanders love most, after the summer beach season and dining out. Since winter is a harder time to enjoy the first two most favored pastimes, movie watching tends to take front and center. But then again, there’s venturing out into the cold… Solution? Personal home theater.
Time was when home theaters were too tricky to put together—requiring an abundance of time, space and budget—that made them as elusive as a fifty-foot squid (everyone heard of them, but few ever saw first-hand proof).
As a compromise, many homes began to feature media rooms, where the family could congregate and enjoy a variety of entertainment from TV to music to gaming. Fortunately, all that is as much a distant memory as the early talkies.
Home theaters are becoming as accessible as they are popular for a growing number of families on Long Island. For one thing, our homes tend to be on the larger side. Even homes considered to be “medium” or “modest” afford a certain amount of spare rooms, furnishable basements and footprints that allow expansion. At the same time, the equipment, furnishings and expertise required to properly outfit a home theater is far more in reach than even 20 years ago. Not to mention the lust quotient has also increased exponentially, which again, increases the availability of options in the market.
You’ve said it yourself a million times, “If I could only…” Perhaps you just didn’t know where to start. It’s all in the equipment, staging and proper spatial relationships. Home theaters are dedicated rooms for viewing movies, they’re designed to elicit the feeling of stepping into a theater, which can now be accomplished within the size and budget that suits you (albeit bigger is better).
If you’re starting from scratch, the room’s size and shape are important for the sound quality. A length 1.5 times the width is a good starting point to create a space and soft surfaces (no tiles) are a must for sound purposes. “At a minimum, a well-designed home theater should have carpeted floors and soft materials on the walls,” says Bernard J. Austin, Principal, Harrison Design Associates New York. “To achieve a higher level of aural experience, you can extend soft materials to the ceiling. There are many different levels of quality—the ultimate configuration would be a well built, dry wall box with a frame system that allows speaker equipment (diffusers, absorbers, etc.) to be hidden behind acoustically transparent fabric.”
If it’s an existing room and your dimensions are set, there is a mathematical formula, which is based on Dolby THX and other movie industry standards that audio consultants apply to the room when doing their acoustic analysis. “When we design theaters, we use calculations to determine the best screen size, projector specifications, speaker locations, the quantity of seats and acoustical treatments. All of these calculations are based on the size of the room we have to work with,” says Brian McAuliff, President of Bri-Tech Inc. in Bohemia.
When planning the layout of your seating, Audio Den’s Aaron Miller recommends asking yourself where you like to sit when you go to the movies. If you love the front row, set your seat close to the screen. If you’re more of a middle of the room sort, smack your favorite chair dead center and configure the rest accordingly.
Accoutrements like curtains adjacent to the screen or wall sconces, which “scream theater” according to Miller, are nice touches to the atmosphere. Your goal is to replicate the feeling you get when you’re out at the movies. “Home theaters are meant to create the willing suspension of disbelief,” says McAuliff. Once you’re in your chair, you want to feel like you’re part of the movie.
Keep the colors on all those soft surfaces dark. Home theaters tend to be austere and there’s a reason for that. “People often use a home theater as a whimsical space, but ideally, it should be a dark space,” says Austin. “The lighter the materials within the room, the more reflection you will have back on to the screen, which will wash out the image.” You don’t want distractions. A clean look is important, especially in the front of the theater. If you must hang your John Hughes movie posters, place them in the rear. A room without windows is ideal, but if you do have windows, motorized drapes/shades that block out the light at the push of a button when the movie starts are a nice touch.
“Don’t go over the top on aesthetics at the detriment of performance,” warns Miller. Find the right balance on where you spend your money. Decorating wall panels in a tropical theme is one way to go, if that’s what you really want, but once the movie starts you won’t see it. The only things you’ll care about will be your comfort, the sights and the sounds.
Trust the experts when it comes to the projector and sound systems, and the placement of speakers. Plus they’ll know what’s coming down the pike so you don’t buy something that will be outdated in six months.
“They tend to have projector systems, 7.1 to 12.2 surround sound systems and acoustical treatments as well as custom theater seating,” says McAuliff. “Years ago only the wealthy could own film projectors and private screening rooms. Today almost anyone could have a near cinema experience.” In other words, anyone, even you, can have a private in home movie theater with a giant, high definition projector screen, sound you feel in your chest, a few rows of big comfy chairs and maybe even a fiber-optic star ceiling. Cool.
“Speaker technology has gotten better but the real difference is in the projector technology,” said Miller. “It has gotten much better and so has the vehicle through which we get our media. It was once VHS then DVD then Blu-ray and so on. Each step has more capacity. Now we have streaming and movie services like Kaleidescape.”
More good news? Those streaming and on-demand services are leading to the extinction of DVDs and the rickety shelves that once housed them. Hard drives and media servers, stored in pull-out equipment racks concealed by cabinetry or in auxiliary rooms, are replacing the towering racks of yesteryear.
And (drumroll) the best for last: Forget the torment of holding three remotes in your hand and none are the one you’re looking for. One universal remote with logic, or one wireless remote and a hard-wired touch panel screen, usually located in the seating area, are your top two options. The touch panel screen can be integrated into a larger home automation system from which you can control anything in your house—lights, heat, intercom, etc.—or in conjunction with security cameras to see who’s at your door without leaving your seat.
King of the Castle? Yes indeed. And with the scepter to prove it. No doubt it will be difficult to ever leave your newfound retreat, but the bittersweet truth is no matter how advanced the system is, your new home theater won’t offer you the sticky concessions stand (no matter how hard you try), interaction with a roomful of strangers or, alas, up-to-the-minute releases. For that, you’ll still have to enjoy a trip to your local movie house.
Next project: time/space portal.