Home theatres are all the rage but do you know how to make the room and décor work?
All of us have experienced the superb audio-visuals of a well-equipped theatre. Now, with the advent of High Definition direct-to-home television channels and superior quality Blu-Ray DVDs, people want a theatre-like set-up at home as well. While most equipment and accessories are of fixed specs and standards, home-owners must modify their rooms and interiors to get the best out of the equipment.
As M.J. Thankachan, creator of Torvin, which specialises in audio and video installations using their own amplification and speaker systems, says, “A home theatre is a combination of high quality video and sound presentation in your home.” The better the sound quality of your home theatre system, the more intense and satisfying will be the experience. Many factors contribute to this.
The dimensions and shape of the room is the first important factor. Depending on the shape of the room, speaker placements affect or enhance the quality of sound. Ideally, rectangular or irregular rooms are better than cube-shaped rooms. Pick a room without too many reflective surfaces such as windows and tiles, as these make sounds overly harsh or too bright.
When planning your home theatre room, make sure your sofas are comfortable for long hours of viewing. The seating should be low to prevent blocking of audio waves and all furniture should be placed away from the speakers. Sofas and armchairs must be kept away from the walls to avoid being in the path of the sound waves.
Speaker placement is very important when you plan to do up a room as home theatre. The system requires multi-channels, with each channel feeding a speaker. The number of speakers depends on whether you are going in for 5.1 or a 7.1 set up. For a 5.1 set-up, place your speakers on the front left, front right, centre, surround left back, surround right back and add a subwoofer. Says Thankachan, “Placing your front speakers next to a wall slightly increases their bass output. This improves the sound of smaller, bass-shy satellite speakers but can muddy the sound of floor-standing speakers.” On the other hand, placing speakers away from the wall lessens their bass but improves clarity. Align forward speakers with the screen to create the effect of sound coming directly from the actors.
For a 7.1 set-up, add two additional surround speakers at the rear. Surround speakers should not be aimed directly at listeners' ears. Try for high dispersion speakers that spread sound as it emerges.
The subwoofer can be placed anywhere, as it reproduces low-pitched bass frequencies that are omni-directional. However, keep them away from walls to increase the quality. The centre speaker captures dialogues and on-screen sounds. Your room should allow this speaker to be placed at the system’s heart. It works well if placed slightly below the screen, is better when slightly above the screen, and best when behind the screen.
If you don’t have the floor space for free-standing or bookshelf speakers, in-wall speakers are the best solution. They disappear into the décor, take no floor space and don’t compromise on audio output either. Ideally, hire professionals to install them.
Light and acoustics
Acoustics and lighting contribute hugely to the quality of the experience. Pick a room that’s far from the street to avoid traffic sounds. Invest in curtains or shades for all doors and windows that dampen sound. You don’t have to invest in professional sound-proofing. Simple things like bookshelves, curtains, furniture and carpets go a long way towards absorbing and reflecting sound to a fairly good degree. Avoid rooms that are too bare where the sound will echo and boom.
Don’t place the TV opposite a sunny window, which will create a glare. Relocate wall or floor lamps that throw shadows or reflections on the screen. Invest in dimming lights for best viewing. It’s important to remove bright reflective surfaces like mirrors or large cupboards with glass doors from near the screen since they create visual distractions and hurt the eye.
The heart of the home theatre is the Dolby Digital / DTS receiver, which decodes multiple surround channels. It must provide stable outputs under a wide operating temperature range and a variety of control combinations. The amplification is usually a minimum of 100 watts per channel for normal rooms, and more for larger settings. Match your receiver to the size of the room. An over-strong receiver in a small room is a waste of money.
When deciding on a home theatre system, the first thing to do is to find a consultant who can advise you on the configuration. Your room and budget will determine what equipment you need and how much of it. If required, rope in a designer or architect to modify an existing space slightly or to create a brand new home theatre room from scratch.
Home theatre seating must be low and placed away from the walls to prevent blocking of audio waves.
5 mistakes to avoid
Avoid perfectly square rooms, which distort sound
Enclosing speakers in cabinets spoils their tonal balance
Avoid surround speakers in the ceiling; our ears are less sensitive to overhead cues
Don’t over-spend on sound-proofing; modern speakers are tonally adjusted for homes
Equipment must suit the room — over-large or over-loud spoils the experience
Home theatre components
Speakers and subwoofer
Dolby, DTS Receiver
Blu-ray Player / DVD Player
Projector / Smart TV
Cables and Inter-connectors