Tips To Designing The Ideal Home Theater System
Take it From Me, an Expert in the Field
What do you want from a home theater system? I don’t mean this rhetorically or even as a matter of opinion. This is a concrete question that has a concrete answer that matters to your wallet. What sort of movies will you watch? How much space do you have for audio equipment? Do you care about the surround sound experience that good movie theaters provide–and if so, how important is it to you that your system can drive a dozen speakers and several subwoofers and whatnot?
You may not think these questions matter. Your home theater needn’t be like a public one, you might think. You can just put whatever you want in there, so long as it plays the shows you like. But take my word for it–if your ideal home theater system isn’t built around a set of concrete requirements, then the result is going to be a piecemeal collection of half-measures and compromises.
(And don’t kid yourself–you care. You care about this stuff more than you think, or else you wouldn’t be considering a home theater in the first place.)
I’m not saying that having concrete requirements is easy. Thinking through what your ideal home theater system would look like can get complicated quickly. It’s one thing to sit down and watch Star Wars in your room and think, “Wow, I wish I could get the surround sound effect in here,” and another thing to move on to Blade Runner and start wondering how you’d configure the system so that it sounded good while also getting you a screen big enough for Deckard’s apartment. But this is precisely why we’re doing this–because if you start with a room full of flexible components and an open-ended list of possibilities, you will end up with something that sounds worse than your TV. You need some sort of plan.
Most people can think through this stuff for themselves. But if you are new to the whole home theater idea or just want a sanity check, I’m here to help you. I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about home theater, and while my own systems are not exactly typical (I’m more into high-tech than most people), the principles I use to put them together apply pretty well across the board. Think of this as your home theater blueprint–a series of questions you should ask yourself about how you want to experience movies at home and what sort of equipment your ideal system would contain.
The answers will guide you through the labyrinth that is a modern home theater, pointing out traps to avoid (such as buying into “perfectly good” audio formats like DTS-HD Master Audio only to find out later that they don’t actually work with your gear) and helping you avoid common pitfalls. It’s a speech, really, though I’ve broken it up into sections here–a speech that will take about 20 minutes to deliver if you read along with me at top speed, but which will provide you with months of mental preparation before even thinking of shopping for home theater components.