Home Theater
How to Reduce Window Problems in Home Theaters
Windows wreak havoc on home theater lighting and acoustics. Use these tips to minimize interference.
windows
Soften up your windows with blinds, shades or drapes. It’ll make your home theater sound better. Photo courtesy of Artcoustic.
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February 08, 2007 by EH Staff

Windows add architectural interest and beauty to any space. It’s too bad they’re such a pain when it’s time to watch a movie. You know the drill: Close the drapes before you pop in the DVD; open them back up when the final credits roll. The glare that sweeps across the screen when sunlight hits it is just one of many problems windows can cause. Fortunately, there are a slew of solutions that are easy and affordable to implement.

Problem #1: A Washed-Out Picture
There’s something unnerving about seeing Superman in pink tights. Oh wait, those tights are really red. Sunlight has a way of muting even the most vibrant hues, tossing a distracting glare over the movie action and casting weird shadows while you’re trying to catch a key play of the ball game.

Solutions:
Bright displays - Allowing light to spill into a home theater is never a good thing, but thanks to advances in technology, it’s not as problematic as it used to be, say professional home theater designers. “Plasma TVs work great in high-light environments, and now they come in big screen sizes,” says Aaron Carmack of Progressive Audio in Columbus, OH. Even newer video projectors, devices that once required complete darkness, can function admirably in sunny rooms. “You can actually enjoy a DLP projector without having to put up any window coverings at all,” claims Jim Sweeney of Hometronics Lifestyles in North Haven, CT.

Window coverings - Covering the windows with drapes and shades is an obvious solution. But you can go a step further by attaching the coverings to a motor that can be controlled from a handheld remote or automated to open and close based on certain conditions, like whenever the DVD player is activated. If your home theater will exist in a room that’s unfinished, like a basement or a bonus room, you could simply cover up the windows with the newly constructed walls.

Problem #2: Nasty Acoustics
Windows are highly reflective surfaces, meaning that when sound from your system hits them, it bounces back fast and hard. Sound traveling to a wall, on the other hand, absorbs into the drywall surface. This creates an uneven dispersion of sound that affects the overall sonic experience. In this case, the room needs to be neutralized, says Carmack.

Not all sound reflects off a window pane, however. Some of it can actually escape into the yard. While this might not be an issue if you live in the country, urban dwellers could end up bothering their neighbors or worse yet, could be distracted from their own movies by barking dogs and backyard barbeques.

Solutions:
Tweakable equipment - Many surround-sound receivers and processors can be tweaked to eradicate some of a room’s inherent sonic imperfections. Speakers can also be custom engineered to the special needs of the room.

Window treatments - Drapes offer an absorptive surface for the sound to sink into, eliminating harsh reflections and minimizing the amount of audio that seeps through the panes. Doubled-paned windows can minimize leakage further. If you’re in the market for new windows, replace your old ones with specialty soundproof panes, like QuietHome Windows from Quiet Solution. 

Problem #3: No Space for Speakers
Speakers designed to be mounted into or onto the wall are popular among home theater designers for a combination of great style and performance. Unfortunately, the more windows a room has, the less wall space there is for the five or more speakers of a surround-sound system.

Solution:
In-ceiling speakers - New designs in in-ceiling speakers make these devices a viable alternative to in-wall speakers. Featuring moveable tweeters and angled grilles, in-ceiling speakers can now be pointed toward the listening area to create a sonic experience that’s nearly as good as what you’d get from wall-mounted speakers.

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