How To
How to Bring Home Theater into a Great Room
Adding home theater to a large room requires careful planning and powerful equipment.
too open
Media spaces that open up to kitchens and dining areas are popular these days, but they can be challenging to outfit with a home theater setup. Gone With the Wind Turner Broadcasting © Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc.
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February 22, 2007 by EH Staff

Great rooms afford families a wonderful spot to sprawl out. The kitchen is right there, handy for a snack at any time, and there’s usually an adjoining dining area for eating meals while enjoying a TV program. There’s just one—er, make that a few—problems. Because a great room is so vast, it can be difficult to clearly see the movie and hear the dialogue from all those adjoining areas. Furthermore, because fireplaces, large windows and artwork typically adorn the walls, finding a good spot for the TV, speakers and other A/V equipment can be challenging.

Problem #1: Puny Sound
“Great rooms are rarely rooms but [rather] spaces that also encompasses a kitchen, dining area and family room,” says Jason Voorhees, a systems designer at Avalon Audio Video in Irvine, CA. “Add hallways and other areas, and you have a huge mass of air that you need to drive to create dynamic, impacting sound.” In other words, it’s tough to fill the entire area with the great audio necessary for an awesome home theater experience.

Big, brawny speakers. Speakers create sound by moving air. The more air there is (like in a great room), the harder the units have to work to create a respectable amount of sound, or pressure, for the cubic air volume of the room. Therefore, designers like Voorhees often recommend using large speakers. “A speaker with at least a single 8-inch bass driver or smaller multiple bass drivers per channel is what’s needed to move enough air in most great rooms,” he says.

Double subs - Contrary to the ideal speaker setup for great rooms, bigger is not always better when it comes to a subwoofer. “Take a 10-inch subwoofer in a closed room, and you’d probably produce enough bass,” says Andy Bentinck-Smith, a systems designer at Audio Video Design in Newton, MA. “That same subwoofer in an open area simply won’t be up to the task of creating a home theater experience. The solution would be to place multiple subwoofers in the room.”

Add a partition - If you’d rather not load up the great room with large speakers and several subwoofers, you could partition the room to create a smaller dedicated viewing area. Building a half wall or installing pocket doors to separate the kitchen and hallways from the main viewing area of a great room could do the trick. These solutions can also cut off some of the ambient light that filters in from the adjacent areas so that the video presentation doesn’t get washed out.

Problem #2: Awkward Viewing
A nice thing about great rooms is that you can watch TV from a variety of different areas: the kitchen, the dining area and maybe even the foyer. Unfortunately, those views are never going to be as good as the one you get from the couch.

Use an arm - When it’s placed on a mount designed to tilt and swivel, your TV can be repositioned easily so that it’s viewable from many different areas. When you’re done watching, it can be pushed back against the wall.

Think wide angle - Flat-panel LCD and plasma TVs offer viewing angles of up to 170 degrees. This means you get a perfect picture even when you’re sitting off to the side of the set. Go with something in the 60-inch-plus range, and the picture will also be big enough to see from the back of the room.

Problem #3: No Walls
You’d think that in a large room there would be plenty of walls to place a display, speakers and an entertainment rack. But in great rooms, much of the wall space is taken up by windows, fireplaces, artwork and furniture. Finding a spot for the rear speakers of a surround-sound system is particularly challenging.

Look up - In-ceiling speakers are a viable alternative to in-wall speakers for a surround-sound setup. Those that are designed to be tilted toward the main viewing area are particularly beneficial in a room with no boundaries.

Lift and tuck - If the screen is going to clash with a piece of artwork or a bookcase, it can be hidden inside a cabinet or the ceiling. Attached to a motorized lift, the display can lift or descend into the room, only temporarily covering up that prized portrait.

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