How To
Nine Tips for Choosing a Home Theater
Before you jump into the home theater buying process, go through these nine steps to make sure you're heading in the right direction.
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Flat-panel TVs don’t just appear over fireplaces as if it’s a Miracle. The right setup usually requires a lot of planning. Baumeister Electronic Architects of Niles, IL, helped achieve just the desired ambience. Miracle Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved.
September 01, 2005 by EH Staff

You’re doing this: You’re going to buy a home theater. But where to begin? Do you start shopping around now? You should definitely think about some things before you start looking at HDTVs and surround-sound systems. For example, you should know how much money you want to spend, where your home theater is going to go, what you want that room to look like, and whether getting that home theater will require you to bind your significant other to a chair with duct tape (just kidding). But we think you get our overall planning drift. Here are some good places to start. And don’t just take one or two of these ideas. The best home theater will result if you follow them all.

1. Know your budget. You can get a home theater for a few hundred dollars if you buy a home-theater-in-a-box system, or you can spend a few hundred thousand for a super high-end custom room. Much more likely, you’ll spend some amount in between. A decent, basic home theater can be had for a few thousand dollars. Features and performance quality increase with costs. But know the limit you want to spend before going any further.

2. Know your room. Where’s your home theater going to go? In the family room, recreation room, media room, dedicated theater room, kitchen, bedroom, bath or patio? Know where you want to put your home entertainment system, and know where you and others will sit. Take measurements, and draw up a basic floor plan. (See “Rooms with Views,” page 28.)

3. Think about how you’ll use your home theater. Will you just be watching movies, TV and sports? Do you like to listen to music? Will several people be enjoying the system at once? Will you have parties in this room? Do you want to operate a computer via the big-screen? Are video games a must? These questions will go a long way toward determining what kind of home theater system and room layout you’ll need.

4. How soon will you want to use the room? Is it in a week, a few months or a year from now? If you’re planning an addition or your home is in the process of being built, you’ll want to get going on plans before the interior walls are erected and finished.

5. Are there any special needs? Does the room require wheelchair access? Do some people need to sit closer or farther from the screen? Any overly sensitive ears?

6. Lights on or off? Do you and others in your home like to watch TV and movies in a lit room or in darkness? How much light from windows do you want in the space? Do you also want ventilation from windows? Answers to these questions can determine what types of video displays you’ll need and even the room layout you should choose.

7. Think beyond your home theater. Do you want to tie it into a whole-house music system or a home network? It can be done if you budget for it. Or you can plan on adding that feature later.

8. Compare home theaters. Buy books and magazines to look at some home theaters and to get ideas of what you’d like to incorporate in yours.

9. Shop around for help. If you’ve gotten this far, you probably need professional help—from a custom electronics retailer or an installation company. These professionals can assist you in choosing a system, getting the right equipment for your needs and setting it up.

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