One of the most important elements of a home theater is cabling. Without it, your DVD player couldn’t send pictures to your TV, and your receiver couldn’t deliver audio to your speakers. It takes a fair amount of wiring to connect everything together and lots of patience and skill to snake the spaghetti around the room. If the space you plan to convert into a theater sits on a concrete slab and has no attic above it, getting the wire from point A to point B can be extremely difficult. But there is hope, thanks to some clever installation techniques practiced by seasoned home theater designers.
Problem #1: Sitting on a Slab
The job of wiring up a home theater is fairly painless when the room sits above an unfinished basement. Your installer will easily be able to route the wiring underneath the floor to each speaker, component and display. In many parts of the country, however, homes are built without basements. These houses rest on concrete slabs, a material that’s very tough to penetrate.
Saw and repour - If you’re willing to pull up the carpet and subfloor, wiring can be installed within the concrete. “We’ll use a concrete saw and lay conduit,” says Scott McAllister of MediaWorks in Sacramento, CA. “We’ll pull the wire through the conduit so it’s protected, then have the concrete guy repour the foundation.”
Flat wire - Cutting into the concrete may sound extreme … and it is. But when hidden that way, your audio/video spaghetti will never be in the way. However, if you’re not up for such a big, messy project, flat cabling is a good alternative. Built to be paper thin, this wiring can be placed underneath the carpeting “as close to the walls as possible,” says McAllister, so that it’s less noticeable and so that no heavy furniture sits on top of it.
Baseboards and cable chassis - The floor may seem like an obvious place to lay wiring, but don’t forget about the walls. Wiring can be placed behind baseboards, chair rails and moldings. In fact, companies such as Wiremold make baseboards and moldings specifically for home theater wiring.
Problem #2: No Ceiling Space
An attic is another popular place to pass wiring. It’s an especially good option when there’s a video projector and roll-down screen in your home theater plans. The attic offers plenty of room to store the motors and mechanisms that hold and move the screen and projector. In fact, you may even be able to place the screen and projector entirely in the attic so that nobody sees them until you press a button on your remote control. This is a great setup for a home theater that also functions as a family room, a home office or something else.
When there’s limited space above the ceiling of your home theater, you’re also limited in where you can put some of the most important parts of your home theater system. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stow some of the pieces overhead. You just might need to get a little creative.
Add ceiling soffits - Even when there’s no space above the ceiling, you can still conceal a motorized drop-down projector and screen inside specially constructed ceiling soffits. While the purpose of a soffit may be solely for holding and hiding the big machines of a home theater system, they can also add architectural interest to a room. Your home theater designer may use materials and finishes that match the room’s existing design so that the soffits actually complement the decor.
Go to the walls - Having a screen and projector slowly descend from the ceiling may give your theater an extra kick, but placing them on the wall can evoke the same sense of drama. A flat-panel TV mounted to the front wall, for example, can be set off with draperies on either side. Attached to a motor, the drapes can open and close to impart a theatrical feel. On the other side of the room, the projector can be built into the rear wall or even placed inside a coffee table.
Put your speakers on the sides - In-ceiling speakers can be nearly impossible to install in a room with no space above the ceiling. In such cases, in-wall speakers are a good alternative. If you’re concerned about the speakers being too obtrusive, the entire wall can be covered with acoustical fabric paneling, which can actually enhance the look of the room. Simpler yet, the speakers can be painted to match the existing wall surface. Some manufacturers such as Sound Advance have created speakers that can be rendered completely invisible when they are mounted flush with the wall and covered with a layer of plaster, wallpaper or paint.
Problem #3: Poor Acoustics
The shape and size of a room directly affects how the sound from the speakers reaches your ears. For example, in a square-shaped room, sound waves hit the walls at about the same time, which causes peaks and voids in the audio reproduction. You’ll still hear some of the low-frequency bass of an action scene, but it may not have the depth and power it should, says Michael Conners of Hometech Custom Design in Lincoln, RI. “The roar of an engine, the rumble of an explosion and the swoosh of a light saber will all lack dimension.”
Get it into shape - Changing the dimensions of the room or rearranging the furniture can make a huge difference in the overall audio experience. For example, you could alter a room’s depth by building a false wall at the front or back. If the side walls need adjusting, acoustical paneling could be added to bump them out by a few inches. Bookshelves, soffits and other decorative pieces can also help. If your planned home theater space is L-shaped, turn the bottom of the L into a home theater lobby, a small game room or a computer nook, suggests Scott McAllister of MediaWorks in Sacramento. Also be sure to close off the area with a door.
Play up the positives - Sometimes a room’s oddities can be a blessing. Small alcoves, sloped ceilings and angled walls lend character and can often improve the acoustics. Your home theater designer will be able to tell you for sure, so don’t get rid of those details just yet.
Shift the speakers - There is a proven formula installers follow when positioning surround-sound speakers. Unfortunately, that formula only works when the dimensions of the room are perfect. However, you can still enjoy great-sounding audio by experimenting with the speaker placement and equalizer settings, says Sean Weiner of Starr Systems in Baltimore, MD.
Problem #4: Tricky Equipment Placement
Sometimes the natural spot for a big-screen TV or a rack of equipment is not the best in terms of performance. For example, the front of the room where you had hoped to put your video display might be covered by a large window, or the back wall where the rear speakers should be placed might be lined with a built-in bookcase.
Reorient the room - Maybe the only reason it feels like the screen should go on a certain wall is because your couch faces that way. Changing the orientation of a room can help integrate your gear into the room much more effectively.
Add shades - If there’s no other workable spot for your big-screen TV than in front of the windows, go ahead can put the display there. Covering the windows with shades or draperies can create a dark backdrop for the video presentation.
Clever placement - When wall space is limited, speakers can be mounted in the ceiling. And if the only spot for a TV is in a corner, try placing the set on an articulating arm that can be pulled out and aimed at the couch.
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